The internal combustion engine (aka, the thing under the hood of most cars) started taking shape in the 1700s, so it’s been around for a while. But that doesn’t mean it’s been standing still the entire time.
Engines have gotten bigger – like the V-12 in your Ferrari or Lamborghini. Engines have gotten smaller – like the wee two-cylinder powering up a lawn mower. Engines have gotten cooler – like the V-8 in a Corvette or a Mustang. And engines have gotten weirder – like the Lancia Delta S4 (which really, looks like a droid more than an engine).
Engines have also gotten more efficient and cleaner over the years – and another round of those improvements is on the way. Which is good news, because that means the cars most of us drive today – and the cars most of us are going to be driving tomorrow – are going to use less gas, and produce fewer emissions.
First, Mazda announced a “new compression ignition engine…20 percent to 30 percent more fuel efficient than the…automaker’s current engines,” according to Reuters. Like a diesel engine, it uses compression to ignite the fuel, rather than spark plugs. Unlike diesel, the new engine runs cleaner and adds the spark plugs back in, for use when they are more effective, like driving in low temperatures.
Second, Rolls Royce announced a new turbocharger, with an electric boost. Electrically-assisted turbocharging makes for an engine that responds more quickly and uses fuel more efficiently – which is a pretty ideal combination for anything powered by an engine (and this engine can be used on land, in a boat, and in emergency generators).
And last, a team of researchers from around the country, led by the University of Houston, announced that it’s working to develop a new catalytic converter (aka, the thing under the car that turns engine exhaust into nitrogen and oxygen, water and carbon dioxide). That’s a good thing twice over: a better catalytic converter means cleaner air, but it turns out that some next-generation engine technologies may require a next-generation converter too.
Now, you can’t walk into a showroom and find any of this yet. But these are all based on real-world technologies – and long before you’ll be asking Scotty to beam you up, you’ll be out in your new ride.