My friend Jeff directed me to an article about new advances in combustion engine technology. Reading about new technology has always been pleasurable for me. It’s almost like I can sense the future rushing past. It’s very refreshing. Maybe I should be a journalist who writes about new technology. Would be pretty nice — I could travel, meet interesting people. Alas, I have chosen to be an economist. But then I am pursuing something brighter on the horizon in that field, too; a world in which unimpeded commerce and trade ties us all together in peace and allows us to have as much of the things we value as possible.
The technology sounds incredibly exciting. Some of the claims regarding what it is capable seem hard to believe, like eliminating or drastically reducing NOx from gasoline engines and particulates from diesels. This is done by controlling the intake and exhaust valves, which direct air into and exhaust out the cylinders, independently from the action of the pistons (these valves are usually driven by the pistons). The key breakthrough was the development of a mathematical model that makes this independent control feasible.
Though I enjoyed the article, I do have a few complaints. The headline really got my goat. I bridle at the implication that reducing oil consumption is some kind of worthy goal unto itself (I feel another post coming on). I don’t buy that the diminishing supply of oil is cause for alarm, and I don’t buy that it hurts our national security that much of our oil comes from unfriendly regimes (shouldn’t we be glad that they depend on our demand for their exports?). The negative externalities imposed by drivers, power plant operators, and others should be internalized into the market, it’s true — but it’s not clear how much of a reduction in oil consumption doing so would produce, so this line of reasoning does not necessarily jive with a policy of cutting back drastically.
I am starting to dislike the labeling of some fuels as “alternative,” as the article does. Such labels are being used to imply that these fuels are inherently “better” (as if it were immoral to use oil). Internalize the costs and let the market decide, dammit! And it’s hard to be excited about how this new technology will aid in the use of ethanol, since ethanol is so popular only because it works well as a green cover for the government’s massive handout to corn producers.