TED Conversations

Goodness Ugwumba Opara

This conversation is closed.

What is the future of the internal combustion engine?

Some people believe this engine will be phased out eventually. Others think it'll only get better and better as the years roll on. I think there's an an upper boundary to how much better it can become, and therefore there'll come a day when someone will build a museum for them. What do you think?

With electric vehicles on the horizon and battery technology improving each year, a bright future for these engines is becoming harder and harder to see.


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Aug 15 2013: Batteries for electric motors are crap honestly. The power to weight is atrocious; they're always over weight and underpowered compared to their internal combustion counterparts, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
    Also, unless you re-charge them on energy made in a nuclear, geothermal or hydro plant, you're not really earning all that much. Someone else will be burning the fossil fuels for you, is all (solar and wind are both garbage in terms of energy per cost).

    If capacitor technology improves drastically in the future, we may have something. Otherwise, the internal combustion engine is here to stay, seeing that hydrogen fuel cells are still a pipe dream.
    • thumb
      Aug 15 2013: be careful with predictions. suppose the energy/mass ratio of batteries increase 20% a year. it means the ratio doubles every 4 years. quadruples in 8 years. all bow to the power of the exponential function!
      • Aug 15 2013: Except it doesn't. At all.
        This isn't transistor's density, something similar to Moore's law doesn't apply.

        You're very much limited by the chemistry and physics of these things. Unless some fundamental shift in the way we construct our batteries occurs, the sort of increase you're talking about isn't even theoretically possible.

        That's one of the reasons that people are talking about developments in capacitors, rather than batteries. New developments put the capacitor's theoretical limit a lot higher. You'd have to ask an expert in the field (or least ask professor google) to get more specific details.
        • Aug 23 2013: Capacitor development seems still needs a few more jump before can be practically applied to replace batteries. concept of batteries (storing energy in a more innert forms for using it later) are on practical stage and making more sense to develop it further. and so called fundamental shift may well be sooner that we all think. try nano crystal lithium-ion that will double the capacity of standard lithium ion. or lithium-air which could power vehicles up to 1000 miles before recharging with it's precursor sodium-air already on the market. not to mention highly efficient (yet bulky) liquid metal battery. regardless which power source available, what we need is better electricity to kinetic converter, perhaps something better than standard dynamo :)
    • Aug 17 2013: A battery is simply an energy storage device. The standard chemical battery is seriously limited, but it is only one simple sort of energy storage. Solar energy only works if you can store it for later use. Some people use chemical batteries for this, and others are looking into other things. Energy can be stored in the form of compressed gas, such as air. It can be used to separate oxygen from hydrogen so the hydrogen can be used to power cars as a fuel, either for combustion or through a more efficient fuel cell. There are also other ways to build chemical batteries. There is at least one group that is creating a liquid battery where the fluid can be replaced, as quickly as a fuel tank is filled, with a freshly charged liquid. The fluid would be recycled through your engine to drive it and when the charge runs down you go to a station where it is swapped with fresh stuff, while they put your used stuff into a recharging tank. It is foolish to try to compare the performance of a new technology to one that has been around for over a century. Petroleum based internal combustions days are numbered. The question today is what are we going to replace it with.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.