With all the talk about hybrid and electric cars, you would think that the reign of the gasoline engine is coming to a close. While it’s true that the hybrids and electric cars have exciting futures ahead of them, the vast majority of cars sold in the US are still gasoline-powered. And it is likely to stay that way for a long, long time. Why? Because not only are we are comfortable with the technology (it’s over 120 years old now!), there is a massive infrastructure that supports gasoline powered vehicles, and they fit nicely into American lifestyles.
That’s not to say that there aren’t downsides to gasoline engines. They pollute the atmosphere and are likely a significant component of global warming. Also, the demand for gasoline has tremendous geo-political consequences -just look at the conflicts in the Middle East. However, the negatives attached to gasoline engines are not severe enough to force a switch to another type of transportation fuel anytime soon. Especially, since they keep getting better and “less negative” every year. Let’s take a look at what’s coming from the world’s automobile makers in this regard.
In a gasoline engine, its valves open and close to control how the air/fuel mixture enters and exits the combustion chambers. In today’s engines, the timing of this opening and closing is fixed by the hardware involved (cam shafts and rocker arms). The problem is that if the timing of the valves opening and closing could be precisely controlled, the operation of the engine could be greatly improved. The US Department of Energy estimates that gains in efficiency in the 5-10% range are possible if the timing of an engine’s valves could controlled precisely. That’s a significant increase in efficiency. One of the first car makers to put variable valve timing into production, according to BMW of Oyster Bay, a local BMW dealer in Oyster Bay, is BMW. Their variable valve timing system is called VANOS.
A V-8 engine has eight cylinders. When the car is being driven, all eight of those cylinders are working away, burning up fuel and air. The problem is that the full power from all eight cylinders is rarely needed when you drive. Really you only need peak power when passing or towing a trailer. Too bad you couldn’t install an engine with fewer cylinders because it would be much better on gas.
That’s where cylinder deactivation comes in. Cylinder deactivation shuts down some of the engine’s cylinders when they’re not needed. That means that when a car or truck is cruising on the highway, little power is needed so the engine shuts down some of the cylinders. An eight cylinder engine effectively becomes a 6 or 4 cylinder engine –and that saves fuel. The U.S. Department of Energy estimated that cylinder deactivation technology can improve engine efficiency by 7.5 percent.
It may seem strange to talk about turbochargers as a way to make an engine more efficient. After all, they’re usually associated with high-performance cars -which aren’t exactly known for their fuel economy. Nonetheless, turbochargers have a solid role to play in the future of the gas engine. Here’s how:
Turbochargers are special fans powered by a car’s exhaust system. They pump more air into an engine’s cylinders which makes for more efficient combustion. This is being done now by Ford. In 2011, Ford added a turbocharged V-6 engine to its F-150 trucks. Called EcoBoost engines, they prove that you don’t need a V-8 in a pickup. The EcoBoost V-6 in the F-150 not only makes more power, it also gets better fuel economy than the V-8.