September 2, 2005 11:56 AM PDT
Powering a new generation of cars
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The microprocessor, however, has to adjust the environment in the cylinder constantly, and the sensors would have to cost only a few bucks.
"HCCI is probably one of the most complex control architectures you can have," said Christopher Cook, vice president of automotive, industrial and multimedia business group at Infineon North America.
From hybrids to biofuels
While Toyota doesn't see a strong future for diesel, it likes HCCI for gas engines and hybrids. Currently, Toyota's hybrids combine a gas engine with an electric one. Ultimately, hybrids could pave the way for fuel cell cars. In fuel cells, energy is produced from a chemical reaction when a molecule passes through a reactive membrane. Combustion engines create energy by igniting fuel via flame or heat.
All-electric cars that can be charged at home, however, are going to be tough to market. Batteries just don't provide enough power for the price that gas does. The guys turning their Toyota Prius gas-electric cars into all-electric vehicles are spending $9,000 on the batteries, Cook said.
Ethanol, a combination of gas and alcohol derived from plants, could also become feasible further out. "If you can make it renewable and manage the cost, it could become viable," said Cook.
Some scientists, along with some recent studies, have thrown cold water on the prospects for biofuels such as ethanol, claiming that it takes more energy to make a gallon of ethanol than the gallon of ethanol can provide. Toyota USA's Hermance, however, said those studies failed to take into account the energy and/or economic value of the byproducts.
"You've got to make use of every part of the process," Hermance said. "If you don't do that, it certainly looks bad."
Liquifaction of coal could also catch on someday, he speculated. Methanol, the stuff inside Indy racers, has been suggested as a fuel source. Unfortunately, it's corrosive.
Even if technically feasible, alternative-fuel cars will also have to win over the public to succeed. Though fuel economy became a big selling point during the first oil crisis in the 1970s, arguments for fuel efficiency have lost power in the era of the SUV.
Despite their disagreements, both Pinson and Hermance asserted that cars with internal compression engines running on hydrogen will face a lot of challenges.
Producing hydrogen remains expensive, and putting enough of it in a tank that can go on a car will likely prove impractical. It's more suited to stationary applications, such as home heating, said Hermance.
"If it goes that way, we will catch up" on hydrogen combustion engines, Hermance said. Toyota does have hydrogen fuel cell projects under way, although they face some of the same cost and design problems.
Both Ford and BMW have plans for cars with hydrogen internal combustion engines, noted American Driver's McElroy. BMW, however, has an upscale service to go along with it.
"They will have mobile refilling stations that bring the hydrogen to you," he said.
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