Just the other day, I was stood at a gas station, filling up my car, while blinking at the digits on the pump unit as they spiraled around like crazy spinning tops, the larger digits to the left progressively advancing and telling me that it would cost me my pension fund to fill up my car.
My feelings on the experience (which seemingly gets worse now almost every few months), is the ridiculous amount of tax that is added to it. Here in the UK, the government adds 60% to the cost of petrol and 58% to diesel with fuel duties and VAT. Yes, I am not kidding. In a recession (or depressed world economy if you are going to get nerdy about whether the recession still exists) where every business and household is hard-pressed to feed themselves, the UK government is arrogant and stupid enough to keep ‘pumping its citizens’ for every penny that it can get.
My anger at the government is compounded by the pollution, destruction of the environment, lax safety and welfare of workers by oil company conglomerates and also my awareness that fossil based fuels are running out. Oh, I forgot to mention, all the wars and deaths caused by countries fighting over the black gold, well, I’d love it to become worthless stuff in the end and that would make the world a better place. I’d love to see oil ‘disappear’ overnight. However, while I’m wishing on a magical star, this got me thinking on a useful alternative to oil. Steampunk is a book genre that is inspired by innovation. Think of the superb trains that grace our traditional railway lines, often kept alive by enthusiasts and holdiay companies. The industrial revolution was also powered by steam, from the mills to the trains and passenger liners used to transport goods around the world.
So if they used steam for trains and boats, what about cars? Water covers over two thirds of the world’s planet, therefore its supply is plentiful. No dirty black gold is required, just water, a heating source and a few clever design bits to recycle some of the residual heat back to charge a car battery (oh and a condenser on the exhaust so our streets aren’t clouded by steam). Why are car manufacturers today not working on a modern model? They would literally sell billions. Here are a few of the more modern attempts.
Due to the 1973 oil crisis, Saab began a project in 1974 that they called ULF which was led by Dr. Ove Platell to create a prototype steam-powered car. The project was cancelled but Dr. Platell believed so firmly in developing a hybrid that he started his own company. Unfortunately, being a small fish in a big pond, his company folded which was hardly a surprise. However, a steam-petrol hybrid was, in my view, a little short-sighted of him – it should have been a steam-electric hybrid.
In the same year, British design Peter Pellandine created the Pelland Steamer. I’m not an engineer, but the design worked and its model still exists in the National Motor Museum in South Australia. The Mark II of the car was built in the UK in 1977 and could apparently accelerate from 0 to 60 in under 8 seconds. Currently, Pellandine has a Mark IV of his model, so I must ask, why have no car manufacturers attempted to work with Pellandine after nearly four decades of his experience in this area in producing quick, efficient car models?
There’s more, in the mid 1990s a subsidiary of Volkswagen called Enginion developed a system called Zee (Zero emissions engine), of which their third model was designed to fit inside the Skoda Fabia, it had an oiless engine but they ‘found’ that the market ‘wasn’t ready’ for this type of engine. Why? I’d consider buying one – although I’d prefer a VW badge rather than a Skoda one (sorry but the image issue still bothers me).
Lets go right up to more recent times. In 2009 as part of the British Steam Car Challenge, a steam car produced a land speed record of nearly 140 mph at the Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert. On it’s second run, later that year, it went faster, at 148 mph.
So, speed, improvements in fuel and heat exchange efficiency, potential for hybrids with electric designs and by using water, the most bountiful thing on this planet and we get rid of the nasty black gold. If all else fails, Steampunk could inspire car manufactuers. There is already irrefutable proof that steam power works. All it needs is someone with a little imagination to put it into practice. Maybe they need a Steampunk fan to be one of their engineers.