Not dead yet!

On the 12th August this year, the Economist magazine led with a cover story entitled titled “Roadkill: The death of the internal combustion engine”. Oxford Combustion and Engine’s Group Researcher Dr Felix Leach felt that this deliberately provocative article shouldn’t go unanswered and penned a reply.  Today, the Economist published an edited version of Dr Leach’s letter, which has been co-signed by 19 other leading UK academics in the field including the Group’s own Dr Martin Davy and Professor Richard Stone.  The Economist magazine boasts an average weekly circulation of 1.5 million and 10.5 million online readers per month. Accordingly, we believe that Dr Leach’s letter will have a high impact and that it is an important contribution to the debate on the future of the combustion engine. Noting that the magazine has edited Dr Leach’s original letter for publication, we present the full submitted text and the signatory list below.

Dear Editor,

You lead with the Death of the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE). We could not disagree more. Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) are part of the future, clearly, however credible studies (e.g. IEA World Energy Outlook) suggest that 90% of ground transportation energy will continue to be from hydrocarbon-based fuels (both renewable and traditional sources) in 2040.  In addition, current electrical generation capacities do not come close to meeting the needs of an all-electric fleet and battery production is not emission free.  Road freight, agriculture/construction vehicles, and long-distance vehicles (e.g. coaches) will continue to be powered by ICEs, there is little other choice. When you refer to a ban on “new cars completely reliant on ICEs”, many such vehicles will still contain an ICE as a hybrid. The ICE of today is a modern machine with a huge number of recent technological innovations both to increase its efficiency and decrease its emissions. Further advances in ICE technology will enable near pollutant-free mobility and future fuels offer sustainable decarbonisation strategies.

The demonisation of the ICE makes good politics, but poor engineering; in order to reduce both CO2 and local pollutant (e.g. NOx and soot) emissions, there should be significant attention focused not only on ICEs of the future, but on electrical power generation, domestic heating, rail electrification, and well-to-wheel emissions.  If we cease to invest in the ICE now, there is a significant danger of opportunity loss if BEV technology does not meet expectations on time.

The Internal Combustion Engine will continue to be part of the solution for the foreseeable future.

Dr Felix Leach
Research Fellow and Tutor
Keble College, University of Oxford

Co-signatories (alphabetical order)

  • Dr Sam Akehurst
    Reader in Automotive Engineering,
    University of Bath
  • Prof Chris Brace
    Professor of Automotive Propulsion,
    University of Bath
  • Dr-Ing Hartwig Busch
    Director Applied Low Carbon Technology Centre
    Coventry University
  • Prof Alasdair Cairns
    Professor of Automotive Propulsion,
    University of Nottingham
  • Dr Martin Davy
    Associate Professor of Engineering Science
    Exeter College, University of Oxford
  • Prof Manolis Gavaises
    Professor in Fluid Dynamics,
    City, University of London
  • Prof Morgan Heikal
    Ricardo Professor of Automotive Engineering
    University of Brighton
  • Prof Mark Linne
    Professor of Combustion Engines,
    University of Edinburgh
  • Prof Paul Shayler FREng
    Professor of Mechanical Engineering,
    University of Nottingham
  • Prof Richard Stone
    Professor of Engineering Science
    Somerville College, University of Oxford
  • Prof Alexander Taylor FREng
    Professor of Fluid Mechanics,
    Imperial College London
  • Prof James Turner
    Professor of Engines and Energy Systems,
    University of Bath
  • Prof Miroslaw Wyszynski
    Professor of Novel Vehicle Technology and Applied Thermodynamics
    University of Birmingham
  • Prof Hongming Xu
    Professor of Energy and Automotive Engineering,
    University of Birmingham
  • Prof Hua Zhao FREng
    Professor and Vice-Dean (Research),
    Brunel University

Additional Signatories (post-publication)

  • Dr Nwabueze Emekwuru
    Senior Lecturer in Mechanical and Automotive Engineering
    Coventry University
  • Dr Mansour Qubeissi
    Senior Lecturer in Thermo-fluids
    Coventry University
  • Dr Edward Richardson
    Associate Professor in Engineering and the Environment
    University of Southampton