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Indego / IndeGo Forum / Technology Breakthrough?

Technology Breakthrough?


Tuesday, 09 September 2008 19:01

A recent article by Jeremy Clarkson, columnist on the Sunday Times and one of the hosts of the BBC Top Gear TV programme, talked about how ridiculous it was that we are now over 100 years into the life of the automobile, yet we are still propelled by a series of controlled explosions contained within an internal combustion engine.  He asked why we had not seen some technological revolution that had moved us on, perhaps to an energy source that was not fossil fuel dependent.

It is a reasonable question to ask.  Within the same period, we have seen the discovery of penicillin and subsequent development of a huge range of live-saving drugs and other medical treatments.  We have learned how to fly, and to do so, not only with the aid of an internal combustion engine, but also the jet engine and the rocket.  We have moved on from the telegraph through copper-wire based phones to cellular phones and the internet.  The cash register (patented in 1883, just two years before Carl Benz went for his first drive) has been replaced by electronic calculators and now computers of rapidly increasing power, at ever decreasing cost.
Yet, here we are, faced with environmental and natural resources challenges which have been talked about and legislated on extensively for the last 40 years, and we are still holding onto the internal combustion engine, or perhaps electric motors, or a combination of the two as the way forward.  The first World Land Speed Record over 100kph was set in an electric car in 1899 - so this is not exactly a brave new world!

The auto industry has invested so much time and money into refining the internal combustion engine and building the very expensive facilities with high degrees of automation where they can be produced cost effectively, that an extremely high barrier to entry has been set.  The jet turbine is a much simpler machine than a gasoline or diesel engine - how much cheaper could it be if there was appropriate research into new materials and production volumes of millions rather than thousands?  If fuel cells were moved out of the research labs and had the same level of development resource allocated that goes into internal combustuon engines every day, would we have a viable commercial solution?  I think we might.

We need a breakthrough which is decades overdue, but due to vested interests, it is not going to come from the auto industry at a time when they are focussed on surviving the latest sales downturn.
Comments (2)
2 Tuesday, 16 September 2008 10:03

Urban myth I think! Although some have made reasonably serious efforts to research and invest in business and technology innovation that will yield energy savings and environmental benefits, I think their efforts in the non-oil ares such as solar and hydrogen are more about PR than they are about diversification.

1 Wednesday, 10 September 2008 10:25

I have often heard it said that its the oil companies themselves that hold a lot of the patents on alternative technologies and who sit on those patents. Is that true or just urban myth?

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