The future of the car is not only electric

"on the road to zero-emission driving, we are pursuing a three-track drive strategy. We are focusing on high-tech internal combustion engines, hybridization and electric drives with batteries or fuel cells." this is said by none other than ola kallenius, the board member for group research at daimler. The technology mix should cover as many of the customer’s mobility needs as possible.

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The world’s largest automaker is taking a similar approach. Toyota, however, places a clear emphasis on hybrid and hydrogen drive systems. "We have already heralded the end of diesel," says dirk breuer, responsible for public relations at advanced technology. "but i can well imagine that we will still be selling hybrid models in 2045."

Other market experts foresee a similar development. For example, exxon mobil’s "energy forecast for germany 2016-2040" concludes that mineral oil and natural gas will still move a lot in 2040. together, fossil fuels would then account for two-thirds of the energy supply. This would be accompanied by an increase in the general transport and freight volume, which is expected to grow by one-third compared to today’s level. From 2030, the number of natural gas, liquid gas, hybrid and electric cars is expected to increase significantly. "in the long term, plug-in hybrids will become the norm in germany. They have the lowest CO2 emissions after purely electric vehicles, but have a greater range," states the study.

Fewer pollutants

According to the forecast, the number of passenger cars in germany will fall dramatically over the next two decades due to an assumed decline in population – from 63 million today to just 45 million today. But of those, two-thirds would still be powered by internal combustion engines in 2040. The remaining third is distributed among the various types of alternative drive systems.

daimler board member for research kallenius is also convinced "that things will go on for a long time with combustibles". daimler is confident that 75 percent of cars will still be powered by internal combustion engines in 2025. But this is becoming more and more electrified. Even the much-maligned diesel engine is being developed further at the swabian company, because the engine has low carbon dioxide emissions and is still needed in freight transport in particular.

Advantages are combined

mazda is also working on a new concept for the internal combustion engine. In view of the still high proportion of vehicles with internal combustion engines, the inventive Japanese aim to contribute to a significant reduction in CO2 emissions.

Starting in 2019, skyaktiv-X will be a gasoline engine that combines the positive characteristics of gasoline and diesel engines. This engine uses a compression ignition system that ignites the fuel-air mixture as soon as it is compressed in the combustion chamber, as in a diesel engine. Mazda calls this combustion method SPCCI (spark controlled compression ignition). The mix of gasoline and diesel engine technology is expected to offer about one-third better performance with the same displacement and lower fuel consumption.

Cultivated combustion engine: With the Skyactive-X, Mazda offers a technology combination of gasoline and diesel

Cultivated combustion engine: With the skyactive-X, mazda offers a technology combination of gasoline and diesel.

Even the scientific community still sees considerable potential in conventional drive concepts. A whole series of high-ranking researchers – from RWTH Aachen University to the Technical University of Darmstadt and the ETH Zurich – have joined forces in the Scientific Society for Automotive and Engine Technology (WKM). In their position paper "Evaluation of the diesel engine situation," the scientists still see the internal combustion engine as the "engine of mobility, freight transport and mobile machinery."

In the interest of a successful climate policy, it is also necessary to further develop drive systems in an "open technology" manner, says the paper, which looks optimistically into the future: "With intensive research, completely environmentally neutral internal combustion engine drive systems are feasible."the researchers are convinced: "in 2030, more internal combustion engines will be built worldwide than today."that is why, according to WKM, intensive research and further development is sensible and necessary.

Costly hydrogen technology

This is also confirmed by the experts of the steinbeis transfer center "new technologies in traffic engineering". In its forecast "goodbye internal combustion engine – or not after all?"design a geographically differentiated scenario. On the one hand, they believe that hydrogen technologies will play an increasingly important role because of the growing demand for renewable energy production in industrialized countries. On the other hand, however, they are certain that "developing countries – and that’s where the majority of the world’s population lives – cannot afford such expensive technologies". the steinbeis researchers predict that the combustion engine will continue to dominate the market for decades to come.

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toyota’s mirai shows just how costly hydrogen technology still is, at least in its current early stages. Hydrogen is converted into electricity in a fuel cell. The model has been commercially available for two years now. However, with a monthly leasing rate of just under 1.500 euros or a list price of just under 75.000 euros in an area where most corporate customers buy cars for the executive suite at most.

Thin network of fuel dispensers

The mirai’s performance is decent and comparable to that of conventional internal combustion vehicles. According to the manufacturer, the vehicle has a range of around 650 kilometers. With 0.75 kilograms of hydrogen, the vehicle travels about 100 kilometers. But there is not much to save compared to a gasoline engine: currently, a kilo of hydrogen costs around 7 euros. The refueling process takes three minutes – almost ridiculous compared to charging battery-powered electric cars.

A real disadvantage is the thin network of fuel dispensers. So far, just 41 gas stations in germany offer the chance to fill up with hydrogen, according to the clean energy partnership (CEP). As far as local emissions are concerned, the steinbeis researchers give hydrogen fuel cell technology a good report card: "hydrogen propulsion does not produce any harmful exhaust gases." however, where the hydrogen comes from is crucial to the eco-balance of this technology: the production of hydrogen by hydrolysis is energy-intensive. Only when the electricity used comes from renewable sources can we talk about "green" technology.

Synthetic fuels

The toughest competitor to pure electromobility is hybrid concepts, which have already been tried and tested many thousands of times over. In this case, the internal combustion engine can be dimensioned smaller, since in the acceleration phase both drives work simultaneously and add up their output. The hybrid drive can save fuel and reduce emissions by using the braking energy (so-called recuperation). In the cities themselves, the internal combustion engine can be switched off completely. Then the hybrid runs emission-free.

Researchers also see development potential in new types of synthetic fuels. The prognos study "status and prospects for liquid energy sources in the energy transition" sees great opportunities for new mixtures from the chemical toolbox. The study was commissioned by the petroleum industry associations. "by blending with today’s fossil liquid energy sources, CO2-neutral e-fuels can gradually contribute to CO2 reduction all the way to complete greenhouse gas neutrality," says jens hobohm, vice director at prognos. This means that existing internal combustion engines can continue to be used without major or costly retrofits.

The fuel future will be expensive

The production of e-fuels using three methods has also been tested – biofuel, hydrogen from electricity and power-to-liquid. But only one process has serious chances in the market, if prognos is to be believed. Increasing the biomass content in the form of vegetable oil in fuel is simply too expensive. Producing liquid energy from biomass would cost 1.90 to 2.50 euros per liter. In addition, there are the costs for processing and distribution, as well as taxes and duties. prognos researchers are also skeptical about the production of hydrogen using electricity from renewable energy sources. Although the hydrogen could be immediately integrated into the production process of the refineries, and greenhouse gas emissions could also be reduced. But social acceptance and the "feasible national electricity generation potential" from wind power, for example, are unclear. Because in order to produce masses of "green" hydrogen, rows of new wind turbines would be needed, which would presumably meet with energetic resistance from the residents of the surrounding communities.

According to prognos, power-to-liquid (ptl) technology offers the best opportunities. In this process, which converts electrical energy into a liquid, hydrogen from renewable energy sources is combined with carbon dioxide to produce a hydrocarbon that is neutral in terms of greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide could be extracted from the air. In addition, biomass could also be used, from which methanol can be produced.

However, it will take a long time before this process is ready for large-scale production. In addition, the future of fuel will be expensive. according to prognos estimates, the production of one liter of synthetic crude oil will cost between 90 cents and 1.40 euros in 2030.

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Christina Cherry
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