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The internal combustion engine – a part of the future

Many are currently pointing out electric cars as the only solution for us to be able to drive a car in the future. The cars are marketed as cars without emissions but it's not that simple. Lucien Koopmans is a professor at the Division of Combustion and Propulsion Systems and believes that the internal combustion engine is one part of the solution.

In November 2018, Austrian Company AVL organized the conference Product Development in Motion 2018 at Chalmers. It was a conference for the engineers of tomorrow where they could get insights into today's rapidly evolving engineering industry and the trends that they need to know to support the development of future mobility. 

Lucien Koopmans, Professor and Head of Division for Combustion and Propulsion Systems at the Department of Mechanics and Maritime Sciences, was one of the speakers and launched a series of workshops with his presentation The end of the combustion engine – or a new life? He is convinced that the internal combustion engine will be a part of the future solutions. The field of application is too wide and the potential of making it climate neutral is too big for the internal combustion engine to go away. The best thing would be to combine the benefits of the two technology solutions to achieve a climate-friendly and sustainable solution for the future, he believes. 

"I think that a system-based internal combustion engine can enable a sustainable transport system, but only through electrification, renewable fuels and online controls of the system," says Lucien Koopmans. 

One important aspect is that since the combustion engine will be an integral part of a connected electrified propulsion system, it should be developed with that in mind, but increased efficiency, renewable fuels, unconventional control strategies and near-zero emissions require research. 

But what is the most climate-friendly today, a car with an electric motor or a car with an internal combustion engine? 

The answer to the question is, of course, that it depends. A small electric car with a small battery recharged with renewable energy such as solar energy is very climate-friendly but as soon as you want to drive long distances that require a bigger battery and start charging the battery with electricity produced through combustion of fossil fuels, significant amounts of CO2 are produced over a lifecycle; from the manufacturing of the battery to the propulsion of the vehicle. 

"Compared with the latter, for example, a new diesel car fueled with 50% renewable fuel can be a lot more climate-friendly. The car, engine, driving style, driving conditions and electricity mix are part of a complex system and therefore the answers are never easy," says Lucien Koopmans. 

However, something that Lucien Koopmans easily states is that more research is needed on both electric cars and combustion engines. A hybrid that uses a large proportion of renewable fuel is the most attractive, cost-effective and climate-friendly transport solution for most vehicle users in a foreseeable future, both for passenger cars and freight transport on the road. 

"Regardless of future scenario, several generations of internal combustion engines will be manufactured and they have a great potential to reach a zero emission scenario with unexplored technologies," says Lucien Koopmans.

Text: Christian Boström

Photo: Anna-Lena Lundqvist