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Future of the automobile?

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Future of the automobile?
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EidolonUser avatarPosts: 257Joined: Wed Sep 09, 2009 4:03 am

Post Future of the automobile?

Just wondering what everyone's opinion is on the future of automotive technology in terms of power supply.

Do you think the future of the car is entirely electric, chemically fueled (petroleum, ethanol, biofuels, or some other combustible), a hybrid of both, or something entirely new?

My personal opinion is that electric will be the best bet for the automobile for the simple reason of it being the most efficient means of conveying energy. An electric motor can be 80% efficient and possibly even better whereas internal combustion of any kind only gets about 15% at the absolute best. Even with clean fuels like propane, natural gas, or bio fuels, you still have the issue of efficiency. The only problem with full electric cars is the issue of recharging the battery in a timely fashion. However, If a battery was developed which could be completely recharged in about the same time as it takes to fill up a tank of gas, then the battery issue would be completely resolved.

An Idea I had would be to incorporate a solar panel onto the roof of the car which could help to top off the battery when the car is parked, and offset the battery drain while driving. Since most cars sit in the sun for most of the day, harnessing that energy could drastically reduce the need for lengthy recharge periods.

What are your thoughts?
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Mon Nov 08, 2010 9:45 pm
Logic-NanakiUser avatarPosts: 98Joined: Sun Nov 01, 2009 12:54 pmLocation: Norway Gender: Male

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

A Mr. Fusion on every car must be everyones dream eh...? :)

Anyways, Electric seems to be the trend. or at least Hybrids.
One flaw of your car with solar panels are in the northern and southern winter months where the sun is seen (if all) just a few hours, so an additional source is required there, so it seems that alternate fuel has its limit.
Hydrogen or other chemical may have a chance though.

But hey, maybe in 50 years, we will all fly in between the skyskrapers in our biplanes and look at the wonderful lights that surrounds us all.
Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.
-Carl Sagan
Mon Nov 08, 2010 10:57 pm
EidolonUser avatarPosts: 257Joined: Wed Sep 09, 2009 4:03 am

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

Logic-Nanaki wrote:One flaw of your car with solar panels are in the northern and southern winter months where the sun is seen (if all) just a few hours, so an additional source is required there


Well it was more of an offset than a primary energy source. Since the sun shines and provides energy the majority of the time its out, it would be ridiculous to not take advantage of the free energy when its available. If all cars had that feature it would reduce the need for grid power by a fairly large percent.
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Worldquest wrote:No. You read it.
Mon Nov 08, 2010 11:02 pm
Duvelthehobbit666User avatarPosts: 1137Joined: Sun Aug 08, 2010 7:39 pmLocation: On a pale blue dot Gender: Male

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

I think that electric (at least in the neat future) is not going to make it. The batteries are heavy and filled with very toxic and dangerous chemicals. The only way I see it going to work is if a system were developed which allows for the easy exchange of the batteries. This of course is because there is no way batteries can be charged quickly. As I see it now, hydrogen might be the best solution. If you place a hydrogen fuel cell in a car, you get great efficiency. The major problem would be storing the hydrogen but I find that could be easier to solve than the batteries. One could get hydrogen out of methanol or ethanol. Although you have the release of CO2, if you use biomass as an energy source, the net CO2 emission would be zero. Biomass for combustion would be good in the short term, seeing as the technology for full biomass auto economy is here, but would need to be replaced because of the increase use in cars and competition with food and shortage of land for fuel crops. It is possible that we will find some other energy source or carrier which makes car travel a lot more efficient. At this moment, I find that hydrogen fuel cell cars would be the best solution.
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Mon Nov 08, 2010 11:39 pm
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Master_Ghost_KnightContributorUser avatarPosts: 2749Joined: Sat Feb 21, 2009 11:57 pmLocation: Netherlands Gender: Male

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

Sollar panel is just peanuts for what a car would generaly need. Full electric is ideal for short city travel, with the current technology it is some what inpraticle to have it for anything else since battery runs out fast. With time they will pickup some pace and probably new solutions will come up (and there is definitively allot room for development), but for now it is just poor the kid who nobody wants to play with.

Ps. I find it somewhat ethicaly questionable the usage of food crops for fuel.
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Last edited by Master_Ghost_Knight on Mon Nov 08, 2010 11:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Mon Nov 08, 2010 11:40 pm
Duvelthehobbit666User avatarPosts: 1137Joined: Sun Aug 08, 2010 7:39 pmLocation: On a pale blue dot Gender: Male

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

Eidolon wrote:An electric motor can be 80% efficient and possibly even better whereas internal combustion of any kind only gets about 15% at the absolute best.

15% is very low. It is more like 25% and for diesel it can be close to 30%. Electric motors are closer to 90% I believe.
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Mon Nov 08, 2010 11:41 pm
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IBSpifyUser avatarPosts: 463Joined: Fri Feb 27, 2009 10:06 am Gender: Pinecone

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

The biggest problem with electric cars is range, currently I believe that under ideal conditions an electric car will get between 40 and 120 miles before it needs to be charged.

However, things like temperature effects the range, and unlike most cars the range goes down on freeway driving, which can seriously limit it, some tests have had the cars die after 12 miles, for a person like me who drives over 20 miles to work a graveyard shift, I can't risk my car running out of juice half way on my way to work.

Not only that, but there is the fact that batteries lose charge the more times you charge it up, originally the car might get 80 miles before needing to be charged, but after a year that number will probably have dropped and replacing the batteries is likely to be rather expensive.
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Tue Nov 09, 2010 12:09 am
Your Funny UncleUser avatarPosts: 556Joined: Sat May 22, 2010 11:38 amLocation: UK Gender: Male

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

I think the case for poor battery technology is overstated by those who like to push combustion engines and hydrogen whose main source is currently... the petrochemical industry. The Nissan Leaf for example is capable of being charged up to 80% in 30 minutes at special terminals (although this does have an effect on long term performance if used as the primary means of charging.) Teslas these days have 220+ mile range compared to 150 of the first prototypes. Also the batteries can be recycled, so it's not as if the toxic chemicals will all be heading straight for landfill. Of course the technology is not there yet for all users but I've a feeling that it will improve faster than many people expect given enough investment.
“I don't believe in an afterlife, so I don't have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.” - Isaac Asimov
Tue Nov 09, 2010 12:22 am
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Anachronous RexLeague LegendUser avatarPosts: 2008Joined: Mon Jun 07, 2010 4:07 pmLocation: Kansas City, MO Gender: Male

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

Why
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Of course.
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Tue Nov 09, 2010 1:11 am
EidolonUser avatarPosts: 257Joined: Wed Sep 09, 2009 4:03 am

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

Tesla Motors is what comes to mind when I think of the future of electric cars. Not only are they very efficient with excellent range, but also high performance and look bad as hell! Of course they are expensive but at this time they are still very much a new technology. If more of the industry invested and developed further into the technology that tesla is using, then I believe they could take the technology to a mass production level and lower the price enough so that anyone can afford it. The technology is there. It just needs further refinement. Range of the cars is a big issue, but as I said before, if the battery technology can be brought to the point were you can recharge the cell in about 10 minutes, then range will not be an issue as you could pull into any service station and plug in to their power ports and be fully charged up in the same time it takes to fill up a gas tank and grab a soda.

Another great idea would be to get rid of friction brakes and use induction type recapture brakes to save power. Since all the energy it takes to accelerate a car up to speed is ultimately lost when the brakes are applied, recapturing that energy would increase the efficiency of the car by untold amounts.
Worldquest wrote:I think I'm psychic....

Worldquest wrote:No. You read it.
Tue Nov 09, 2010 1:33 am
ShootMyMonkeyPosts: 145Joined: Sun Jun 13, 2010 8:38 pm Gender: Male

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

Your Funny Uncle wrote:I think the case for poor battery technology is overstated by those who like to push combustion engines and hydrogen whose main source is currently... the petrochemical industry. The Nissan Leaf for example is capable of being charged up to 80% in 30 minutes at special terminals (although this does have an effect on long term performance if used as the primary means of charging.) Teslas these days have 220+ mile range compared to 150 of the first prototypes. Also the batteries can be recycled, so it's not as if the toxic chemicals will all be heading straight for landfill. Of course the technology is not there yet for all users but I've a feeling that it will improve faster than many people expect given enough investment.

I wouldn't say it's overstated. Things like charging the Leaf to 80% in 30 minutes does require a special charging station that simply pours out the charge at a rate far greater than an entire home's circuitry could manage, but that is more of an infrastructure issue than a battery issue. Moreover, 30 minutes is nowhere near acceptable. 30% charge in 60 seconds is more the minimum bar before it's really useful to anyone, and that's simply not achievable on pure electric. You'd need to run such massive current through the lines that any stray discharge would carry enough power to obliterate a human being.

Part of it isn't just the amount of energy storage in the battery, but the ability to deliver large power loads effectively and just how compact the battery can be that can still store all that energy. Even for hybrids which have to store a relatively small fraction of the amount of energy that a full-blown electric car would have to, the size of the battery is not insignificant, and it cuts into the utility of the vehicle in the process since it ends up taking luggage space and so on. This is why if we go electric, fuel cells are the most likely candidate IMO, not batteries. In general, I see things going in the direction of ceramic substrate cells running on something other than plain old compressed hydrogen. You can make ceramic substrate cells even today that work just fine on methane/propane, though the end result won't be zero-emissions. Borohydride fuel seems a lot more reasonable to me in the long run, but only because it is a very convenient way to carry a hydrogen base at STP, but we need cheaper breakdown catalysts and need to do something about the waste.

I do think, though, that there's a lot you could do to improve the mechanical efficiency of current drivetrains. I mean, the 25% efficiency figure for the ICE isn't entirely false, but it leads people down paths which aren't entirely solving the right problems. Today's engines already achieve 100% complete combustion. The inefficiencies come when trying to convert that combustion energy into mechanical work. There's a lot of research out there in techniques that try to recoup the latent heat energy in the exhaust gases and convert it to useful work, but the difficulty here is making something that is compact and lightweight enough that you don't end up defeating all your efficiency gains. Loss happens not only at the engine itself, but also at every linkage in the drivetrain. That's why drive mechanisms like those of the Leaf and Volt are significantly less efficient than they could be. So far GM's Hy-Wire concept has an overall good design in terms of thermodynamic efficiency, but there are still barriers related to the power source itself.
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Tue Nov 09, 2010 3:29 am
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AndiferousUser avatarPosts: 2727Joined: Mon Jan 04, 2010 7:00 amLocation: Laputa Gender: Time Lord

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

A big problem with electric cars is that I think they may grant the buyer a false sense of absolution of environmental guilt, but if they don't rely on a clean source of electricity, I'm not sure there is a point to them. In many areas, including my own, a good proportion of electricity is still generated by burning coal. I'm not sure which is worse.

I have noticed that in North America roads are larger and vehicles disproportionate in comparison to our European cousins. It seems silly, but hopefully the SUV fad will eventually go away. I rather wonder if in some ways some people might take a moral highground in having them, as they are sold as good, wholesome, family vehicles. Counting the SUVs and half-tonne trucks on the road can be entertaining, but not likely sustainable.

I'm sure the vehicles here will downsize, because operation costs are going to become ridiculous. Unless we can solve the problem of cleanly generated electricity, I don't think electric vehicles will take root.

Really, I think ideally we'd upgrade trains and public transit, address urban sprawl, and we might shake our dependence on personal vehicles.

Interesting topic. Thanks. :)
"As there seemed no measure between what Watt could understand, and what he could not, so there seemed none between what he deemed certain, and what he deemed doubtful."
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Tue Nov 09, 2010 3:31 am
UnwardilUser avatarPosts: 814Joined: Sat Jan 16, 2010 10:32 am Gender: Male

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

I can see the electric car being a viable option only when they find a solution for rapid recharging. There's any number of solutions for this, be it a standard battery type that you could exchange for a fee at a charge station. Every car would be a sort of a hybrid with it's own internal battery, but with a bank of interchangeable batteries. So you'd drive into a charging station and swap out your dead batteries with some live ones and go on your merry way again.

Not only that, you'd be able to run the car on it's internal battery for a good 100 - 200 km without every using the secondary batteries, thus solving the biggest problem with an electric car which is that if it has enough battery power to have any range at all, the damn thing is too heavy to be efficient. With removable batteries, you would only have to stick in a battery when you were going a long distance and most of the inefficiency of having a heavy car is only felt in city driving anyway with all the starts and stops.

So that's one way you could have electric be viable. Otherwise, yeah, some kind of fuel would be necessary to actually replace gasoline to achieve the range required of a car.
Tue Nov 09, 2010 4:07 am
EidolonUser avatarPosts: 257Joined: Wed Sep 09, 2009 4:03 am

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

ShootMyMonkey wrote:Today's engines already achieve 100% complete combustion. The inefficiencies come when trying to convert that combustion energy into mechanical work.


Oh no where close. If that was the case we wouldn't have any smog problems due to vehicles. In fact, the combustion process in a car is so poor that we have to use emmisions equipment and catalytic converters just to get the unburnt hydrocarbons to an acceptable level. But the main issue of engine efficiency isn't incomplete combustion (although it does play a big part), its heat loss. The heat created by combustion as well as friction generated by the multitude of moving parts is the number 1 reason ICEs are so inefficient.

The reason electric motors are so much more efficient is because they can convert more of the energy consumed into kinetic energy and give off less heat. They have only 1 moving part in most cases, and have minimal friction and minimal heat loss. Hypothetically, if you could extract all the PE in a pint of gas and convert it to electrical energy with 100% efficiency and run a pint of gas through an ICE, you could get several hundred times more work out of the electric motor than you would the ICE.

Its all about energy conversion. Electric motors have the highest efficiency because of how simplistic they are. The only problem is that electrical energy is hard to store in an effective manner. Gasoline engines only need a tank. Electric cars require high tech batteries or fuel cells.
Worldquest wrote:I think I'm psychic....

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Tue Nov 09, 2010 5:30 am
UnwardilUser avatarPosts: 814Joined: Sat Jan 16, 2010 10:32 am Gender: Male

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

The biggest heat loss in an ICE is the simple fact that it's using expanding gasses as the means of energy transfer. Expanding gases means lots of heat and heat, in energy conversion terms = waste unless you can think up an ingenious way of turning the excess heat into another kind of power. Like a vegetable steamer on the outside, for example...
Tue Nov 09, 2010 5:39 am
Your Funny UncleUser avatarPosts: 556Joined: Sat May 22, 2010 11:38 amLocation: UK Gender: Male

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

Yes it could of course be that batteries aren't the answer and that there's no way to sufficiently improve the technology, although I like Unwardil's suggestion for swappable batteries. That's an interesting idea. There are many ideas that could be tried if the resources were put into their R&D.

Andiferous's suggestion about improving public transport is a wise one. There's no one solution to any issue, and actually if it were easier to move long distances between cities by public transport, the range issue with regard to electric cars would become less important.

One thing I buy even less than the battery technology argument though is the the power generation argument. It just doesn't add up. Even the worst fossil fuel-based generating systems are more efficient than a petrol engine, and not all power stations are of the least efficient variety or are fossil fuel burning. If you're talking about reducing emissions, where do you think it's easiest: at millions of exhaust pipes or at tens of generating stations? Sure electric cars don't eliminate emissions by any means but they are unquestionably a better solution environmentally.

Even ignoring emissions and global warming, we know that we have a finite amount of fossil fuels remaining to us. I'd have thought we need to be looking at as many ways of reducing our dependence on them as we can, if only to eke out as much life as possible from the resources we still have.
“I don't believe in an afterlife, so I don't have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.” - Isaac Asimov
Tue Nov 09, 2010 9:38 am
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NetheralianUser avatarPosts: 357Joined: Wed Feb 25, 2009 3:13 pmLocation: Underwater world Gender: Cake

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

Since I'm working on Hydrogen Hybrids at the moment I should be a little supportive of that technology. The efficiency of H2 to protons/electrons is 100% efficient (although there are electrical losses in the system) and you can typically get drive train efficiencies of around 70-80% due to motor and inverter losses, DCDC converter losses, battery charge and discharge efficiencies and mechanical losses if you also incorporate a gear box. And in combination with super-capacitors you can really reduce the size of your battery (cost/mass minimisation). The technology is pretty good, but it is unlikely to be seen in family vehicles for a while due to the overly large fuel cell requirement for motorway use - the technology has the best advantage for city travel and delivery vehicles. Hydrogen storage is a bit of a bitch as well. It has a maximum density of ~68kg/m3 whcih means the energy density is something like a quarter that of petrol/diesel per volume - and you have to store it at around 300 bar which could be interesting in a crash...

ICE Hybrids are a bit of a waste of time in the long run. My turbo diesel has a better efficiency than any hybrid on the market and their only advantage is regenerative braking. The batteries are typically massively oversized for the quantity of electrical energy they need to store due to the power requirements (although this could be partly solved with supercapacitors).

Has anyone seen this yet? Interesting use of hybrid tech...
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Tue Nov 09, 2010 9:42 am
Duvelthehobbit666User avatarPosts: 1137Joined: Sun Aug 08, 2010 7:39 pmLocation: On a pale blue dot Gender: Male

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

Eidolon wrote:
ShootMyMonkey wrote:Today's engines already achieve 100% complete combustion. The inefficiencies come when trying to convert that combustion energy into mechanical work.


Oh no where close. If that was the case we wouldn't have any smog problems due to vehicles. In fact, the combustion process in a car is so poor that we have to use emmisions equipment and catalytic converters just to get the unburnt hydrocarbons to an acceptable level.

Not exactly true. Although some smog is caused by the aldehydes in the exhaust of a car, and catalysts are used to try and convert them, NOx is a larger problem. There is not really a way to get around it because nitrogen is in the air. The only way we could solve the problem would be to use lower temperatures in the engine so that the nitrogen doesn't have enough energy to react. This would decrease the efficiency of a car though.
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Tue Nov 09, 2010 11:00 am
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YfelsungUser avatarPosts: 514Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2010 1:26 amLocation: Canada Gender: Male

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

We're on the doorway of so many different forms of renewable and abundant electricity I see no reason why almost every aspect of our life won't switch over to being electrically powered.

From what I understand, only using geothermal energy with our current technology could produce something like 2 to 4 thousand times the amount of electricity needed to power the entire planet. Combine that with tidal generators, wind, new advances in solar and new breakthroughs in fusion, we're going to have more electricity than we know what to do with soon enough.

My personal opinion though is that we should phase out the personal vehicle in favour of very comprehensive public transport systems.
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Tue Nov 09, 2010 3:57 pm
ShootMyMonkeyPosts: 145Joined: Sun Jun 13, 2010 8:38 pm Gender: Male

Post Re: Future of the automobile?

Andiferous wrote:A big problem with electric cars is that I think they may grant the buyer a false sense of absolution of environmental guilt, but if they don't rely on a clean source of electricity, I'm not sure there is a point to them. In many areas, including my own, a good proportion of electricity is still generated by burning coal. I'm not sure which is worse.

I think that's a smaller issue in practice because the difference in practical efficiency alone means that the net carbon footprint is still smaller even if you're depending on coal/oil burning electrical plants. Moreover, I think conversion from dirtier electrical generation to cleaner forms is something that isn't really the most difficult problem to solve. One thing that can't be overlooked, though, is the impact of the vehicle itself.

For instance, when the Toyota Prius was in its second generation, Toyota had to get the materials for the batteries through this point-to-point chain of multiple refinement and processing steps starting all the way from Canadian mines. Then of course, you have the nasty business of safe disposal of the batteries after they fail or the car itself is junked. There was some study a long time back that said that over its lifetime, it does more environmental damage than a mega-SUV.

That said, proper hyper-miling in a diesel can beat any current hybrid overall. The thing is that diesel has a bad rap, which is something you can't really overcome since people are infinitely stupid. Moreover, the US has idiotic mechanisms for its emissions standards that are based on composition of exhaust gases and not on composition per unit distance traveled. Because of this, the fuel mileage of the vehicle has no meaning on its emissions scores, and that's idiotic. People don't drive by the unit of exhaust volume, they drive distances.

Andiferous wrote:Really, I think ideally we'd upgrade trains and public transit, address urban sprawl, and we might shake our dependence on personal vehicles.

This is generally a good idea, but I don't see it catching on in the U.S. We're too attached to our cars. There's the general picture that people in the U.S. have is that being the owner of personal transportation is a symbol of freedom and having that freedom to come and go at your own volition, while mass transit has the image of rigorous schedules and needing to do things on someone else's time. There are a few regions within the U.S. that have well-connected mass transit, and as long as it becomes a major fixture in people's lives, it works. That's why it works in Europe and Japan and so on. They've pretty much worked it into their day-to-day lives. You look even at the sci-fi future utopias, and American sci-fi always contains futuristic personal transport, while European and Japanese sci-fi utopias always seem to contain super-efficient mass transit.

Here in the Bay Area where I live, we have pretty poorly connected mass transit that only really serves functional within localized pockets. But, for instance, if I needed to take the train into San Francisco, it costs 3x as much to take the train than to drive there, and that's in spite of the fact that gasoline is far more expensive here than in other parts of the country. That, coupled with the fact that the trips are so infrequent, and there's only one commuter line... it just makes the mass transit option less useful for people and less attractive overall, which in turn means prices are higher still. It's the sort of setup where people become even more likely to dislike mass transit. Comparatively, in Chicago, you have dozens and dozens of commuter lines covering the entire region for pretty massive distances, bus service just about everywhere, long distance lines as well all from the same station, and because so many people use it, the fares are low, and occasionally even drop from year to year.

Eidolon wrote:Oh no where close. If that was the case we wouldn't have any smog problems due to vehicles. In fact, the combustion process in a car is so poor that we have to use emmisions equipment and catalytic converters just to get the unburnt hydrocarbons to an acceptable level.

As already mentioned, unburnt hydrocarbons isn't the major cause of smog. Moreover, while it does happen, catalytic converters' biggest job these days are to deal with NOx and Carbon Monoxide emissions. In fact, the most serious pollution occurs before the converter itself has reached operating temperature. Unburnt hydrocarbons are actually not that significant an issue except when the engine is cold, or when there are changes in the availability of oxidizer. As long as there is enough oxygen to oxidize the fuel, you don't have that much of an issue with unburnt hydrocarbons (similarly, as long as there is enough oxidizer for a diesel, you should never see black smoke). The reason we've even started adding things like MAF and O2 sensors is so that the fuel system can dynamically adjust to the natural variances of atmospheric conditions. Also, things like direct injection and so on do a lot to ensure more precision in this control (and that's aside from the thermal advantages). This does lead to some lag time where there will be a few revolutions before the fuel system adjusts, but that ultimately means that unburnt hydrocarbons are transient issues more so than normal behaviors of operation. Also, on a related point, there is some argument that catalytic converters do more harm than good in this respect because they operate most effectively when the air-fuel mixture is slightly over-rich.

The rest of your post, I agree with as it is effectively an elaboration on what I was alluding to as well. Basically getting useful work out of combustion is the hard part, and it's something electric motors do a lot better -- though the motors aren't really the limiting factor in adoption of electric vehicles.
Yahweh can't possibly get tenure --
He has only one major publication. It has no credits and no references, and was not published in a peer-reviewed journal. He used human test subjects, many of which he killed, without ethics committee approval.
Tue Nov 09, 2010 6:51 pm
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