Rethinking Infernal Combustion Engines

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Home Charging Fluence ZEI’m still driving my formerly Better Place electric Renault Fluence ZE almost every day and charging it up at home. It’s been four years and 60,000km of quiet, local pollution free driving. I’m stuck with a daily range of around 80 to 100km but for most of my driving that’s sufficient.

Whilst I’m in a pure electric car, it’s clear that when the Better Place infrastructure stopped working, the utility of my car dropped dramatically. I didn’t buy the car as a climate change zealot (I’m deeply suspicious of the kinds of computer models that have led the world to climate change hysteria) but I still want to see the world kick the oil habit. Nothing would defund Islamic terrorism faster than a move away from oil for personal transport.

So this Israeli development, whilst still needing to burn oil, is fantastically interesting because it shifts the efficient needle by a huge amount. This is not a few percent more efficient, it could be a three or four fold improvement in overall transport efficiency.

Putting the violently expensive Tesla Model S aside, the only reasonable cars that use electric power trains today are hybrids that combine electric motors and regular internal combustion car engines to generate electricity and sometimes (via hideously complicated gear boxes) drive the wheels directly too.

None of that matches the beautiful simplicity of a battery and an electric motor like the Tesla or my car, but they have the advantage that they can be refuelled everywhere with existing infrastructure.

However the combustion engines used in these hybrids like the Prius or the Chevy Volt are pretty much standard motor car engines because that’s what all the manufacturers have been building for a century! It’s simply a massive sunk investment in a technology that’s past its prime.

So what’s the future? Israeli startup Aquarius thinks it’s this:

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Aquarius prototype internal combustion engine – Photo: Aquarius

It’s got one moving part: a piston and all it does is generate electricity. It’s a fantastically efficient generator because it doesn’t try to make anything turn. It creates linear motion and turns linear motion into electricity.

Every modern car engine creates rotational motion and needs fantastically complicated moving parts to do that. We’ve discounted the complexity of modern car engines in our mind because they work so well and because we’ve engineered the heck out of them over more than 100 years!

So Aquarius’s engine is much simpler, much more efficient and therefore uses a whole lot less fuel to generate electrical energy. When that is coupled with an existing, highly efficient electric car platform with an electric motor and a battery, you have the holy grail of electric car driving with liquid fuelled range and refuelling options!

Because Aquarius uses so little fuel to power the engine and charge the battery, drivers would have to fill the 50-liter (13-gallon) tank only about every five or six weeks.

Whereas conventional automobiles can go 600 kilometers (372 miles) on 50 liters of gasoline, and an electric car can go 350 kilometers on a single charge, a car fitted with the Aquarius engine has a range of 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) per tank.

What’s more the company claims that vehicles made with 20-kilogram (44-pound) Aquarius engines – instead of conventional 160-kilo engines — will be less expensive to buy and to operate than are the regular, hybrid or electric cars of today.

I’m keeping my eye on these guys.

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