It appears that internal combustion engines (ICE) have been in existence forever, as of course they have changed lifestyles and economies the world over. ICE have provided stimulus to the economies in manufacturing, trading carbon footprint, the energy companies and the environment. Compared to a century ago, ICE of today is very different, equipped with most advanced features that make the automobile a fun to drive experience. They provide the pep to a vehicle, while managing power delivery through driver demand.
The basic purpose of an ICE is to provide tractive power through combustion of a fuel. Types of fuels could range from gasoline, diesel, bio-diesel, ethanol, hydrogen or CNG. Each of these energy sources has challenged the mobility fraternity to become innovative to extract the most power out of them, by maintaining longevity of engine components, their reliability and efficiency to the highest possible limits. Electronics and controls were developed to adapt to each of these avatars of fuels and engines. Packaging an ICE under the hood has its own interesting aspects in terms of NVH, thermal management, wiring, robustness and vehicle styling. The ICE have amazingly high power and energy density, are flexible enough for various vehicle platforms and capable to meet regulations across multi-modal automotive ecosystems.
In today’s context of societal needs, transportation, environmental efficiency, reliability and recyclability, the ICE plays a central and primary role. Understanding the changes in an ICE that will affect the carbon footprint of a vehicle and the gm/km of CO2 are more importantly the factors that mandate more research and innovation. The competitive edge of a vehicle is dependent on its carbon footprint through the ICE. The combustion, firing order of cylinders in an engine, shape and size of the pistons, the fuel pressure, the type of injectors, intelligent sensors, amount of oxygen with the air-density decide the tailpipe emissions and carbon footprint. In the last few decades, turbo chargers and superchargers have positively impacted the power delivery and improved tailpipe emissions. However, recent radical breakthroughs are awaited to address dramatic improvements.
In a hybrid powertrain, engine is more of a supplementary source of energy. It is integrated with a motor in the package, with unique control architectures, sequenced power delivery, and importantly the ability to deliver higher efficiency. Achieving a lower carbon footprint by integrating the ICE is more of an experienced art than a science. The physics of each of these components are known separately, but in the hybrid powertrain, it is the finesse by which they are made to work in unison to deliver the desired cahier de charge is important in a vehicle design specification.
Due to traffic patterns and socio-techno pressures, the drivers’ demands have changed along with vehicle usages. They are visual & digital, impatient to get power with the least pedal input, look for a seamless cleaner vehicle that delivers fun driving. ICE can modulate and meet these driver expectations, real-time.
The latest trend in data analytics is to be able to map such and other driver behaviours with their demands in different settings to match the ICE power delivery in a conventional or hybrid vehicle. There are technology demonstrators of virtual power delivery to change the output of an engine especially in robotized endurance vehicle testing and systems developments. This ability to increase or decrease power virtually in an engine will be a paradigm shift in ICE development, speed to market, manufacturing costs and navigating the carbon footprints in a variety of sustainable transportation models of the mobility industry. ICE is the one-off that can do it all.