MCE-5 VCRi: Pushing back the fuel consumption reduction limits

It’s a gasoline engine

At the heart of the automotive market for the next 20 to 30 years

The MCE‑5 VCRi engine meets the automotive industry’s need to focus on its core market: gasoline engines. It’s a question of energy resources: over 40% of global primary energy comes from oil and this situation will last for some time. We have not yet reached the much talked about ‘peak oil’, point at which there will be roughly the same volume of oil to extract as has already been extracted. The distillation of oil produces gasoline, which is almost exclusively consumed by cars. Abundant, inexpensive and with an extraordinary energy density, gasoline is the only energy source for roughly 80% of passenger cars produced worldwide, the remainder run on Diesel. With a fleet of 290 million cars out of the 750 million in circulation in the world, with an average engine capacity of 3.7L, the USA consumes almost 50% of the world’s gasoline. Having said that, the USA plans to reduce the fuel consumption levels of their vehicles, which should ease the strain on the gasoline market. Hence, gasoline should stay inexpensive for a long time, even if emerging countries (China, India) increase their consumption. According to the most probable scenario, gasoline will remain the primary energy source for cars for at least the next 20 to 30 years.

Gasoline will remain the preferred energy source
for cars for a long time into the future

The gasoline produced by oil refining
is essentially consumed by automobiles

The price excluding taxes reflects the real price
paid by citizens for both oil and electricity

66% of global electricity
is produced from gas, coal or oil

Electricity production must be "carbon free"
in order for electric vehicles to be “carbon free"

MCE‑5 VCRi democar

In Europe, Diesel cars represent a large share of new car sales (roughly 50%). Yet, their market share is destined to decrease because Diesel engines are more costly to produce due to the high pressures in their cylinders (up to 200 bar) and their complex injection system (2000 bar and more). What’s more, because of new pollution standards (particularly EURO VI applicable late 2014), the aftertreatment system for Diesel engine pollutants will become increasingly costly (OxyCat + particulate filter + DeNOx). Another factor will also weigh against Diesel: its price at the pump. This price has been maintained at artificially low levels via lower taxes in most European countries. In France, in April 2010, the megajoule of gasoline sold at 0.041€, or 41% more than the megajoule of Diesel which was artificially maintained at 0.029€. This situation will probably not last as there is a shortage of Diesel and a surplus of gasoline in Europe that cannot lastingly support the advantageous tax treatment applied to Diesel.

From 53.6% in 2007 (source: EAMA), Diesel’s market share in the European Union could decrease to 10-15% by 2020. This decline of Diesel has already started with 52.9% market share in 2008, then 47.2% in the first quarter of 2009 (source: EAMA). It will accelerate with the progress made by gasoline engines using Direct Gasoline Injection coupled with turbocharging, Variable Valve Actuation, and in future, the variable compression ratio. These improvements will gradually bridge the energy efficiency gap between gasoline and Diesel engines, in normal driving conditions.

There is a lot of talk about electric cars but what is the reality? This solution is unfortunately not ready to be mass-produced since energy storage in the batteries remains a problem. The batteries are expensive and store too little energy: approximately 60 times less per kg than gasoline for the best Lithium-ion batteries. This limits the range of electric vehicles and renders the price per kWh available at the wheel much too high. France is a country with very high gasoline taxes that produces among the cheapest electricity in the world. Even in this favorable context, the price per kWh delivered at the wheel for the end customer by an electric powertrain is 3 to 6 times higher than that delivered by an internal combustion engine despite the latter’s poor efficiency (20% on average). This ratio varies depending on whether we take 500 charge-discharge cycles or 1000 for Lithium-ion batteries (the number of cycles depends on many factors, such as charging speed and charging load). If we compare the cost price in France before taxes of the kWh for gasoline and electricity delivered at the wheel, there is an even higher difference with electricity being 8 to 16 times more costly than gasoline. This is the reasoning that must be used: the price excluding taxes reflects the real price paid by citizens, as the taxes collected are used to finance social services and collective infrastructures.

With respect to CO2 emission reductions, one must remember that 66% of global electricity is produced from natural gas, coal or oil. Moreover, between 1990 and 2004, 72% of the increase in electricity demand was covered by fossil fuel-based production (source IEA) and this trend is continuing. Note that China, which strongly promotes electric vehicles, produces 80% of its electricity with coal-fired plants. This explains why the share of coal in global electricity production is increasing the most rapidly, since it is an abundant and readily available resource for many high-growth emerging countries: every seven to ten days, a new coal-fired plant is commissioned somewhere in China (source: Courrier International). According to this trend, electric vehicles should really be called “coal vehicles”. In this case, the final carbon footprint of electric vehicles would not be much better than that of internal combustion engines. To benefit from an advantageous carbon footprint, the electricity should ideally be produced in nuclear power plants, as is the case in France, or at least be produced by natural gas plants or with renewable energies. Other than hydropower whose production is already assigned to different types of consumption, the problem with renewable energies (wind power, solar) will be a higher total cost per kWh at the wheel of an electric vehicle. To be worthwhile on an environmental level and not too unfavorable on an economic level, the development of this type of vehicle is therefore closely linked to the development of nuclear energy in countries that do not have these types of plants yet, as well as the addition of new reactors in countries such as France, which have already developed this type of generation. Unfortunately, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that by 2030, we will have installed almost 100 times more coal-based production than nuclear production. Before we can qualify electric vehicles as “carbon-free”, we need to know whether the electricity production is actually carbon-free or not.

If carbon-free electricity production does become effective, there still remains another factor that makes the deployment of electric vehicles difficult: the limitations imposed on drivers. These limitations could lead electric vehicles to economic failure. Firstly, electric vehicles do not have what has until now made cars a success: versatility. Electric vehicles are almost exclusively reserved for urban use and imply that another vehicle must be owned or rented for extra-urban travel. The time required and the logistics of battery charging also remain problematic. While automatic battery exchange stations are conceivable, they imply significant growth in battery stock, which could double or more according to the case. Even though this is only an investment and immobilization issue, remember that batteries represent the main additional cost associated with electric vehicles. Moreover, electric vehicles deliver low power if one wants to stay in an acceptable price range, and this power decreases with the battery’s charge level, like it does for an electric screwdriver or toothbrush. The vehicle’s performances are no longer a sales pitch but they also lead to serious questions regarding safety when overtaking or entering an expressway. There must also be another energy source to cool or heat the vehicle unless drivers are prepared to accept a significant decrease in driving range. Regardless, this range varies drastically according to vehicle speed, the flatness of the terrain (declivity) and on-board weight. These drawbacks will also make it difficult for customers to sell their vehicles on the second-hand market.

There remains a final, strategic question: why do we absolutely want to drive electric vehicles while we continue to heat our homes with fuel oil though it is so easy to use electric heat pumps whose total efficiency is 100% higher from well to radiator, and it is so easy to power vehicles with oil? A simple re-assigning of energy resources according to different uses would reduce energy problems for quite a long time.

The only chance that electric vehicles have of succeeding would be a rapid decline in oil production, which is not forecasted before 2030, through an effective production level that will progressively wane over the course of decades to stop towards the end of the 21st century. While oil and gas remain abundant, it’s almost impossible for electric vehicles to be competitive, and according to the most optimistic hypotheses, they should only represent 1 to 3 percent of global production in 2020.

As for hydrogen, it cannot be considered as a short or medium term solution and must also prove its strategic relevance in the current landscape of available energies.

We can now understand the interest of focusing all possible efforts on IC engines and particularly on those using gasoline: they will largely dominate the automotive market for the next 20 to 30 years at least.

Applied to gasoline engines, MCE‑5 VCRi technology is perfectly in line with this strategic objective.