Within conversations comes inspiration for blog material. A good one occurred today. While discussing the advertisement video of Mazda’s Skyactive, there was familiarity in the technology: none of it being new. The familiarity seems to come from bits of predictions in the past developing truth in various degrees. If you read no more on this rant then this next line, so be it. Cars of the future will have no windows, and the days of the gasoline internal combustion engine are over sooner than you imagine.
Weight is the hot topic in the automotive world, a side effect of a consumers need for efficiency. Fuel economy is not a luxury, unlike an ipod dock, the cost of gasoline is not a variable choice in automotive transportation costs. One needs fuel to move. The luxuries plenty over the past decade, including that of the individualism of transport, the singularity of personal image and selfish focus on moving ones self around. Cell phones have made driving cars more dangerous and oddly enough, the bus more tolerable, but the fact remains: it’s expensive to fill up.
Why: There are many sources of oil, but to the extent of my knowledge, our consumption is either greater than the speed of creation, or the greed, and control of the crude supply of materials is greater, possibly a combination of both. Supply and demand changes the world. The demand for greater travel, and more cars per capita, results in a greater need for fuel. The supply is governed by other factors that cannot keep up with the demand. There are a few different options: People will stop driving, people will only buy vehicles of improving fuel economy, or people will stop using gasoline. All variations, and combinations are possible.
Rudolf’s nose was red, perhaps a sick reincarnation of Mr. Diesel as a reindeer with a glow plug for a nose, he’s a big part of the problem, or perhaps, the original solution. Fuel under compression combusts, gasoline uses a specific and well timed spark to achieve the job. Generally the greater the compression, and/or the more air, the bigger the explosion. Explosions transfer energy into a controllable force: motion. This is what provides the motion in our vehicles. Diesel, was the true original internal combustion big shot. Though electric cars were around quite frequently at the beginning of the automobile, diesel was there too. But the real business bread winner was the gasoline engine.
Offering greater performance, gasoline was easily sold to the masses as a specialty fluid used to provide motion to their vehicles. Like a modern star bucks, gas stations popped up every where. Not something that one could grow at home, yet trendy and desirable, like the bean, everyone had it for cheap. The desirability of the gasoline engine for manufacturers was the fuel was profitable, unlike diesels of the era, which could run off nearly any form of oil, no matter the level of fluid processing.
Today’s demands as a consumer has auto manufacturers, and perhaps, if they are telling the truth, oil barons, balls in a knot. The majority just can’t afford to pay for the fluid any longer. For the sake of profits business is adjusting. Manufacturers are always questionably tied to fuel providers. There’s always an obvious back room connection between the two, providing it on a socially and legally acceptable forum to the masses, has always been a tough biscuit. So why are things changing. No doubt, gasoline is not profitable anymore, either by volume available, or interest in the market. Changing in business always follows the money.
The problem is simple and so is the solution. Diesel is the quickest solution available, old school diesel. With modern diesel technology with a focus on the original goals of diesel, high revving, high torque, multi-fuel engines are available to us now. Hell, they’ve been around for a long long time. On a long term scale internal combustion will die, diesel is the answer for now. With that said? Why such a slow transition? Are consumers that unwelcoming to it? Slowly the gasoline engines, begin to use more and more direct injection, higher injection pressures, higher compression ratios, all climbing closer and closer to the diesel motors already provided.
It’s all old technology, been done before. However, these gas engines continue to evolve to what diesel has been already. With the increase in fuel economy demands, manufacturers are forced to put forward there best motorcycle engines in their cars. Wait, what did you say? Motorcycle engines are of no different principal than automotive engines. They fire up bits of gasoline and air to move the piston and create motion. Hell, they are nearly identical except for one thing: Efficiency.
Weight has always been crutial to bikes. This has always forced them to use the smallest engines with the most power. ITB’s, full tubular headers, aggressive, cooling, dry sump systems, high compression, light rotating assemblies, etc etc etc. All in the name of providing the most amount of power with the least weight. Weight, a ton of feathers weighs the same as a ton of bricks. The problem most engineers are facing is an efficiency of burn. Gas that is, is the limiting factor of the whole equation:
People want cheap transportation and will get it anyway they can, for what ever people will offer them. There has been two limiting factors in race engines for many years, the metals, and the heats those metals can take, versus the efficiency of burn of gasoline. To use the least amount of gas, an engine must produce the most amount of power it can, now obviously adding more fuel is more powerful, but that’s missing the point. Engineers are trying to get the most amount of power from a lean burn. Lean is a condition where there is too little fuel. The reason it’s considered too little fuel is that, the fuel itself, though combustible, is also a way of keeping the explosion cooler, a lower temperature. With a healthy amount of fuel, the compression can be raised to increase the explosion, but greater amounts of fuel help keep the burn colder. Metals can only take certain temperatures, so this cooling affect is needed to maintain function of the engine from failure.
Reducing fuel and improving power are counter productive goals. Improving the metals of the engine is something learned long long ago, but never financially justified: Gas was cheaper than engine fabrication. Todays prices, todays people begin the justify the need for better metals. Down trickles technology well sorted in the past and the engines can now function under a leaner burn and more compression. More, power, less fuel. Where was this seen before? That’s right, the Diesel motor. Diesels run a much greater compression ratio, producing more torque, or ‘force’ than gas engines, right from the beginning. These new engines are really achieving no different. The problem still lies in the fuel. Gas can only release so much energy: the explosion can only be so big, both from the limitations of even the newer metals, but also the fuel itself. A burn takes time, and the potential energy of the fuel limits the kinetic energy of it, a glass ceiling if you will
As a measurement of improvement, fuel efficiency of new cars isn’t coming mostly from the engine. The reduction of weight is the biggest factor of the whole game change. Even big luxury sedans from companies like Audi are being advertised as lighter. Like anything, including the gain of RPM in an engine, weight resists change of motion. An object at rest tends to stay at rest. Fuel is used most when the power of the engine is most required, during acceleration. To give fuel efficiency the greatest improvement, the resistance to acceleration is the most important thing to change. Reducing weight improves this dramatically. It’s much easier to kick a soccer ball than a rock of the same size.
Where will this all go? Windows have a significant role in this whole problem. They are too heavy and too brittle. The safety moms of america have been on the hunt for many years to improve the safety of a car WHEN, but not BEFORE, it is in a crash. Windows are a weak point in a chassis strengths design. They are easily breakable gaps in an otherwise strong structure. Each year they get smaller and smaller, to help drivers survive roll over crashes, partly due to the fact that cars sit taller and taller each year with the piles of SUV and other ‘UV’ variants. Roll overs are more common, and a greater concern to those who’s paycheques are cut on the quality of their safety work. Glass, besides fluids, is the densest and heaviest material on a car, located very high up on the body, this only worsens the problem. As the weight wars continue to mingle with the warriors of the safety crowd, windows will slowly shrink and eventually disappear. Drivers will remain leaned back in a relaxed position, staring at a manipulated LCD version of the world around, projected before them, powered by an alternative fuel source.