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Free Liberal: Coordinating towards higher values

Free Liberal

Coordinating towards higher values

I Want my Batmobile!

By Carl S. Milsted, Jr.

Environmentalists around the world are rejoicing as I write this; General Motors is showing off a new electric concept car, the Chevrolet Volt. Using still unaffordable batteries, this car can travel up to 40 miles on a single charge. After that, the car generates its own electricity using a tiny three-cylinder gasoline engine…

Gasoline engine?! Boooooring!

Come now. It’s already 2007, and we’re still using four-cycle gasoline powered internal combustion engines – in concept cars, no less. How about something more exotic? How about a turbine, at least? In other words…

Where’s my Batmobile! If Batman could have a turbine powered car back in 1966, why can’t I have one now in 2007?

I’m quite serious. If you’re going to build hybrid electric cars, it’s time to really rethink the engine. The internal combustion engine is noisy, vibration-prone, dirty, complicated, inefficient, and finicky when it comes to fuel choices. On the other hand, such engines start rapidly, and can quickly change power output settings – wonderful qualities for engines mechanically connected to the wheels, but irrelevant for providing electricity alongside batteries.

So how about revisiting gas turbines? They have an incredible power to weight ratio, few moving parts, and accept a wide range of fuels. Who cares if it takes a while for a turbine to rev up if you have batteries for the peak loads?

Or how about Stirling cycle engines? They’ll run off any heat source, including old newspapers.

Or maybe it’s time for a fresh look at steam power. Run on battery power while you wait for the boiler to heat up. When you turn off the fire, the remaining heat in the water can be used to charge the batteries even after you leave your car.

GM stated that the Volt is not ready for production because the proper battery technology is not here yet. Note to GM: use a more efficient engine and you can shrink the batteries.

Besides, do we really want to overload our already fragile electric grid in order to run our cars on environmentally-friendly coal?

Here’s a wild idea: instead of plugging your car into the electric grid, how about plugging your house into your car?

Far fetched?

Yes, but not as much as you might think. Second note to GM: develop that quiet, high-efficiency engine for your hybrid cars, and I’ll show you another market for it, one with world changing implications. Stay tuned.

Carl Milsted is a senior editor for The Free Liberal.

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