Still king of the road

Lecturing to the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, Mike Monaghan – technical director of Ricardo – said the internal combustion engine will dominate until there are major changes in transportation behaviour.

Monaghan claimed that even the most advanced battery-electric vehicles need to improve dramatically to match the diesel or gasoline system, saying `…the internal combustion engine has created a combination of cost, performance, power density, and range patterns against which any competitor must be judged…’. For example, in order to match the fuel weight and volume of 50l of gasoline, a sodium-sulphur battery would have to weigh over 1.5ton and occupy more than 1,500l.

Whilst Monoghan concedes that fossil fuel’s days are numbered, he claims that `non-polluting’ energy sources offer neither the performance or the incentive for manufacturers to turn their back on the internal combustion engine. In the meantime, in the UK total NOx levels are now almost half what they were 10 years ago, manufacturers continue to stay one step ahead of the ever-tightening emissions legislation.

So it may be a while before the strongest pretender to the throne, the hydrogen fuel cell, makes its mark. Theoretically free of pollution and Carnot cycle restrictions, manufacturers predict that a vehicle using hydrogen could be made available by 2004. But, as Monaghan points out, `unless an infrastructure is developed to provide liquid hydrogen as the fuel, the fuel cell vehicle will rely on a liquid hydrocarbon fuel…’.