The dirty, durable internal combustion engine

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If the internal combustion engine is such a dirty creation, poisoning the environment and warming the planet, why is this 200-year-old technology currently powering 2 billion vehicles (cars, trucks, trains, ships) worldwide, representing 99.8% of global transportation?

Answer: So far, there’s no alternative that matches all the benefits of the ICE (internal combustion engine).

The ICE is durable, long-lasting, and fueled by gasoline that packs more stored energy per pound than any other fuel.

The energy in gasoline was created millions of years ago. The gasoline is simply storing this energy. For an electric vehicle, energy must be both created and stored. It’s that electric battery storage that takes up so much space and weight.

A gallon of gasoline weighing 6 pounds will supply about 120,000 Btu of energy. To supply this amount of energy, the modern lithium-ion battery would be 100 times larger in volume and weight.

The average range of a modern electric vehicle is 230 miles; the average ICE car has a range nearly double that. If your ICE vehicle runs out of gas, you can walk to a gas station or call a roadside service, get a couple gallons, and be on your way. Your electric car out of power will have to be towed.

Also, the recharging infrastructure is primitive compared to gasoline availability. You can jump in your gas jalopy and drive across the U.S.A. with little thought of where or how to refuel. In an electric vehicle, you will have to plan carefully to make it from charging station to charging station, will have to avoid out-of-the-way places with no charging stations, and will have to wait from half an hour to 12 hours to get your car recharged.

Another concern with electric vehicles is the lithium, cobalt, and other precious metals needed for the batteries. Many of these metals are mined in ways that destroy the environment and exploit workers in remote areas.

And talk about sticker shock! The average price for a new gas-powered car hit an all-time high of $48,000 this year, but to buy an electric vehicle, you would have to pony up an additional $18,000.

Still, it’s a certainty that electric vehicles will replace ICE vehicles. Government mandates will force the issue.

California has already passed rules banning the sale of ICE vehicles by 2035. A dozen or more states are following suit, including Virginia, which passed a law last year linking Virginia’s emission standards (and electric car sales targets) to those enacted by California.

This means that in just 13 years, you will not be able to buy a gas-powered car in Virginia. The state’s governor, Glenn Youngkin, calls the ban on gas-powered cars “ridiculous” and pledges to change the law. On a national level, President Joe Biden has passed an executive order aiming for 50% of all new vehicles sold to be zero-emissions by 2030.

These goals are ambitious considering that electric vehicles make up only 1% of this country’s 250 million vehicles. Similar world-changing transformations have occurred when going from horses to cars or from an analog world to a digital one. But those changes occurred organically, following market-driven and technology-enabled evolutions. The phase out of ICE vehicles starting in 10 to 15 years will change the world by mandate.

While no one knows how this will turn out, one thing seems inevitable: Goodbye, vroom, vroom.

The writer is a copy editor for the Eastern Shore Post. He is the author of 12 novels, including “The Crying Heart Tattoo,” which was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He lives in Accomack County.

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