Malcolm Flynn | Aug 6, 2012

The internal-combustion engine will remain the automotive industry’s main source of motive force until at least 2050, according to a new study by the US National Petroleum Council.

The study was commissioned by the US Department of Energy, and while the council's name might suggest a close allegiance to 'Big Oil', the council is comprised of oil and gas companies, distributors, consumer representatives and not-for-profit representatives.

According to the study, higher relative costs and development hurdles will be the main barriers to the wide-spread adoption of new technologies such as pure-electric and hydrogen fuel cell drivetrains.

The US government has, to date, advocated particular technologies as key to reducing greenhouse emissions, but the study suggests that policies should be technology-neutral and based on market dynamics.

The study's co-author Linda Capuano said that it is "too soon to choose" which technologies hold the most promise for the future.

Weight reduction and greater use of battery assistance has the potential to improve efficiency of internal-combustion engine by a further 90 percent, according to the study.

Supporting these findings is the recent US sales spike of GM's petrol-electric Volt, compared with falling sales of the pure-electric Nissan LEAF in the same market.

The study also found that compressed natural gas has the greatest potential to overtake petroleum as an energy source in the US, provided its current relative low cost is maintained.