Car manufacturers worldwide are all now focusing on improving fuel-efficiency, and over the next few years we will see a great number of combinations of technologies and fuels/power sources emerging into the marketplace.
The Current State of Play
The Michelin Challenge Bibendum is a unique international event on sustainable road mobility that showcases the very latest in drivetrain technology, fuels and their application and performance.
Technical round tables are conducted with independent experts to consider various critical aspects of the future directions in fuels and technologies, and some of their key findings from the 2007 Challenge Bibendum in Shanghai are published here in the Research Papers section.
The European Commission is mandating to reduce emission from the current average of 160 grams/km to 120 grams/km in 2012.
To meet these standards manufacturers are increasingly applying stop-start technology in petrol and diesel engines; turbo-charging in small petrol engines and cylinder de-activation.
Increasing use of bio-fuels is likely, though there are doubts as to whether these offer real solutions as current feedstock tends to compete with food for arable land, and the increased demand for palm-oil is known to lead to rainforest destruction. The production of certain feedstocks and their conversion into fuel can be very energy and greenhouse intensive leading to minimal if any greenhouse gain.
One of the barriers to the adoption of full diesel-hybrid drivetrains has been the cost of combining these technologies.
A step beyond this is the plug-in hybrid that can have the battery pack recharged from the mains. Currently this technology looks expensive for the limited gains that it provides, but with refinement we may see a vehicle that we can plug in at night and quick-charge when parked during the day
It is likely that in the future we will all be driving electric cars. Some of these will be battery-powered only, while others may have an auxiliary power unit such as a hydrogen powered fuel-cell, or a petrol or diesel generator on board.
These vehicles will be plugged in at home at night, and recharged using off-peak power from the grid (load that is often shed, so that the greenhouse impacts may be minimal). They will also be quickly re-chargeable at service and parking stations, or have the ability to change battery packs and should ultimately provide an adequate driving range on battery power alone.