This year, the internal combustion engine turns 125 years old. Invented in 1886 by Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz in Germany, the engine was quickly lauded in industrializing countries. At the turn of the century, engineers across western Europe began to pick up this groundbreaking technology for use in their latest invention – the car.
Since then, the engine’s design and efficiency have been an important focus of research for scientists and engineers alike. One early concern was the dark clouds of smoke emitted from the tailpipes of cars. Decades of independent scientific research have proven this pollution to be detrimental to public health and the environment. In fact, cars and trucks create a third of the nitrogen oxide pollution in the country, a group of chemicals – known commonly as smog – that can lead to respiratory illnesses. Motor vehicles are also responsible for roughly a quarter of the country’s annual emissions of carbon dioxide, the primary pollutant fueling global warming.
At this 125th birthday of the internal combustion engine, we have an opportunity to reduce pollution from cars more than ever before.
In July, President Obama announced that his administration was ready to put forth new fuel efficiency and global warming pollution standards for cars and light trucks through 2025. The administration outlined a plan that would raise efficiency standards to an equivalent of 54.5 miles-per-gallon by 2025, which will be the largest step the U.S. has ever taken toward getting off oil and reducing the pollution that contributes to global warming.
By 2030, implementation of the standard would see annual gasoline use reduced by as much as 23 billion gallons – the amount of oil the United States currently imports from Saudi Arabia and Iraq alone – and according to a new analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the standard would save Rhode Islanders $148 million at the gas pump each year, or $330 for the average family. Annual global warming pollution in Rhode Island would be cut by 900,000 metric tons, and Rhode Island’s oil use would be cut by 76 million gallons.
With American ingenuity we have the technology to make cleaner cars and trucks that use less gas and create less pollution. Advances in the internal combustion engine will be a big part of the solution, and American auto companies are already selling cars with the next generation of engines; plug-in hybrids can go 100 miles on a gallon of gas, and some electric vehicles can go 200 miles on one charge. More and more electric vehicles are arriving on the mainstream market, and some don’t require any gas at all. Setting the highest possible fuel efficiency standard will elevate the American automaker’s standing as a global leader in new hybrid and electric vehicle technologies, revitalizing the industry and boosting the economy with the creation of roughly 600,000 jobs.
Strong fuel efficiency and pollution standards will help both the environment and the economy, as well as protect our national security. However, the largest oil companies and their allies will be lobbying the Obama administration to include loopholes in the standard that would undermine its environmental and economic benefits. In order to stop the worst effects of global warming and end an addiction to oil that currently sends one billion American dollars overseas each day, we must reject opposition from polluters and their allies and push ahead with the strongest possible standard.
To rid ourselves of our oil addiction and to cut pollution, we have to rethink our relationship with the internal combustion engine, capitalizing on this technology by making it as efficient and as clean as possible, and simultaneously rolling out new hybrid and electric vehicles as well. In light of tremendous potential environmental and economic savings, we must venture boldly into a new era in the manufacture of car and truck engines.
Rachel Beal is an intern with Environment Rhode Island. Environment Rhode Island is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy group.