The inevitability of change

Recently an ex-colleague of mine told me he felt the internal combustion engine was not going anywhere soon. His argument was based on cheap oil, improved ICE technology, and a mature infrastructure that could not be beat. The friend also argued that inefficiencies from the utility plant on down to the electric motor made anything involving electrons an inferior technology. A book I recently finished called “The End of Energy Obesity” by Peter Tertzakian took on this argument head on.

The chart below from the book describes the percent of energy converted to actual motion for the automobile- counting from the very first btu used at the utility plant or drilling rig. The utility component assumes a current, US generation mix- so yes coal plants are included.

Efficiency Comparison

As for oil prices, many can debate their long term bullish or bearish sentiments. I believe oil supply is increasing, but perhaps not at the same pace as is demand causing a longer term increase in pricing.

The above chart shows that should the internal combustion engine improve its energy conversion rate by 12%, it would then match a technology that only recently has been given significant resources and attention. Of course, matching the electric vehicle’s conversion rate of 29%, does not address environmental and geopolitical concerns.  No, the ICE will not disappear tomorrow, but significant change is inevitable as 2009 is already showing.