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Gasoline engines can more efficiently create electricity and thus power electric motors which can more efficiently propel vehicles.


Guidance on collaborative pilot

This is a pilot test of a new, collaborative approach for getting work done in the Climate CoLab. It will run during March and April of 2012.

Just like in the 2011 activities, anyone can create a proposal. But there is also a community proposal, where members are encouraged to work together in a collaborative way. Any member can contribute to the community proposal as long as they are logged in.

The community proposal is like a wiki, so the history of edits is tracked, and you can revert to prior versions of the proposal if desired.

Please also use the Comments to express your opinion on whether or not you would like to see this collaborative approach used in the Climate CoLab in 2012.

Feel free to organize the proposal as you see fit. One thought—it's good to have a brief summary of the overall proposal at the top, as an aid to readers.

Proposal Text


The direct and indirect efficiencies of today's electric-powered automobiles, which can travel 3 to 5 miles (or more) per kilowatt-hour (about 100 MPG-equivalent), have taught us that maybe using gasoline to maintain battery charges might be more cost effective and less polluting than propelling vehicles directly.  The railroads proved this decades ago with diesel engines running at constant rpm to power electric traction motors. 

The indirect efficiencies of such a gasoline-powered but electrically driven vehicle include:

  1. Deceleration and braking creates power instead of heat and saves on brake jobs. Engine shuts off instead of revving up..
  2. The gasoline engine would require no transmission, no catalytic converter, and fewer of the added components required for propelling a car. As explained below, it could be optimized for generating electricity vs. rotational energy, weigh less, need far fewer oil changes, tune-ups, etc.
  3. Better performance -- the Tesla S accelerates to 60mph in just over 4 seconds.
  4. Better traction and stability control, as demonstrated in this Mercedes SLS electric car demo on a wet race track.



Category of the action

Reducing emissions from transportation

What actions do you propose?

The reciprocating internal combustion engine (ICE) is an inefficient means of propelling a car directly through a transmission. Much smarter and more efficient -- if you're not ready to go pure electric -- is to have the gasoline engine optimized for generating electricity and have it maintain the charge on a minimally sized -- say, 5kWH -- battery pack.  This engine would turn off completely when additional charging is not needed, and instead of creating heat from braking, the electric motor could capture energy for the battery pack while slowing down or retarding on a hill.  And no idling, ever. The reciprocating 4-, 6- or 8- cylinder engine, including the one in my Chevy Volt, is not optimized for this purpose. A German company has developed a two-cylinder engine optimized for generating electricity. Here's an excerpt from a Green Cars Report item about it:  

"The engine is linear, in that the pistons aren't connected to a crankshaft, where their linear motion is converted into rotational motion.  The engine uses two pistons, facing each other in a single combustion chamber. The pistons are mounted on air springs, which generate electricity as they move back and forth. Combustion happens right at the center of the engine, using the traditional 'Otto cycle'--induction, compression, expansion and exhaust. Because of the unique design, the engine can also run on all sorts of fuels, including gasoline, diesel, natural gas and hydrogen. At the moment, the team's prototype is a large laboratory unit, but they say it could be reduced in size to a 125-pound unit putting out around 40 horsepower. Due to its size and shape, several could be mounted side-by-side for larger, more power-intensive applications."

The image attached to this submission is a screenshot of this engine from a video explaining its operation which you can view by clicking here.

There may well be other engine designs that are also optimized toward generating electricity rather than creating rotational motion, but this is a good example of thinking outside the ICE box we are currently stuck in.

Of course, it would be smarter to have a larger battery pack and generate all or most of the power from the grid, but for consumers who want an entirely gas-powered car, this is a huge leap forward in efficiency and therefore reduced GHG and CO emissions.  It also greatly reduces the production of raw heat into the environment. (I like to touch the cold hood of my Chevy Volt when I pull into my garage. A traditional car will add a tremendous heat load to a home's garage as the engine cools off.)


Who will take these actions?

The automobile industry, recognizing the inherent inefficiency of the ICE for propelling automobiles directly, will see the wisdom in switching to ICE's for generating power and using electric motors for the actual propulsion.  This is the proven technology, long used in diesel-electric locomotives.

Where will these actions be taken?

Multiple additional automobile manufacturers will be launching electric cars in the next year. The development of the optimized gas engine for range-extending electrical generation is happening now and should come to fruitition in 4 to 5 years.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

It should be possible to calculate the emissions from generating 10 kWH of electricity by coal, gas or other fuel, but it is likely to be a small fraction of the emissions from two gallons of gasoline to go the same distance (plus the emissions from creating and delivering that gasoline to the end user)  -- perhaps as high as 90% reduction in emissions. If the charging is done from solar panels on one's home, then the emissions are reduced to zero.

What are other key benefits?

Maintenance and repairs for the traditional ICE-powered vehicle are substantial.  On my Chevy Volt, I have 70% oil life remaining after 18,000 miles, because 90% of my travel is on battery power alone. The recommended maintenance every 7,000 miles on a Volt is to rotate the tires - nothing else. On a Tesla or Leaf, there is no gasoline engine to maintain.  Tires are the only consumable. Because deceleration and braking generate electricity, brake jobs are not foreseen until 100,000 to 250,000 miles. Muffler will last forever. No catalytic converter. No transmission or clutch to replace. Individual battery cells that fail (if they do) can be identified and replaced individually.

Emissions are reduced, but also raw heat generation. No more hot garages, except from the sun. (Stop that with insulation.)


What are the proposal’s costs?

It will cost less to create such a power train because of the fewer components and less weight, especially in production quantities.  The public subsidies can disappear, so it will solely be a manufacturing cost (and savings) to convert from the traditional ICE power train.

Time line

This is beginning to happen but could be accelerated as more people realize the efficiencies (and power) of electric propulsion and as the newly optimized engines are released.

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