TRAVERSE CITY, MIThe internal-combustion engine will continue to play a significant role in powering vehicles until 2030, but it faces an increasingly perilous future that will be filled with major challenges and melting turbochargers if the industry is not careful.

FEV President Gary Rogers compares the IC engine with an aging Olympic athlete whose glory or failure increasingly is decided by tenths or hundredths of a second.

“Michael Phelps has a pretty easy job compared with what we are looking at in developing technology that will be reliable and affordable,” Rogers says.

Downsizing, as well as 2- and 3-stage boosting strategies, will allow combustion engines to become increasingly efficient and power-dense. But soaring specific outputs mean increasing engine and exhaust temperatures actually will threaten to melt turbochargers in the future, Rogers warns.

Engine cooling and thermal management throughout the powerplant will become much more important, possibly leading to new cooling methods.

Auto makers also will experiment with different valvetrain strategies, varying numbers of valves per cylinder and spark-plug placement to cut costs and will study concepts such as variable compression.

The medical community will play a role in the future of the IC engine as well, Rogers says. Health advocates already have raised alarms about diesel-exhaust particulates that now must be controlled by emissions systems.

Combustion in gasoline engines, especially direct-injection engines, also releases tiny amounts of particulates that may have to be controlled in the future, he says.

In a panel discussion following Rogers’ presentation, powertrain experts agree that IC engines have to be looked at more as “propulsion systems” rather than freestanding components. That way powertrain teams increasingly can solve problems by looking at the entire transmission and driveline, rather than only the engine.

The skills required to design and build future engines also will change dramatically. Traditionally the turf of mechanical engineers, Rogers says training related to thermal sciences, computer simulation and materials science will be key in the future.

Bob Lee, vice president and head of engine and electrified propulsion engineering at Chrysler, says those with degrees in physics and math rather than traditional engineering degrees will have brighter futures in powertrain.

Future engine engineers also will have to be good team players, capable of working with people outside the current sphere of powertrain, adds Oliver Schmidt, general manager-Engineering and Environmental Office, Volkswagen Group of America.

Nevertheless, Justin Ward, advanced powertrain program manager-advanced technology vehicles at the Toyota Technical Center, still encourages students to serve internships and get hands-on experience with current engine technology.

Chrysler’s Lee agrees: “We do find we have folks that don’t know righty tighty, lefty loosy.”

dwinter@wardsauto.com