Brief Prehistory of the Motor Car

According to the New Scientist Magazine the first self powered vehicle was made in Madagascar over 2000 years ago as part of an entertainment for a king.  It drove itself and could be programmed to drive a preordained route.

The power source was a tube filled with sand which had a heavy piston placed on top of the sand.  A plug was taken out of the bottom of the tube so the sand could leak out and the piston travel down the tube.  The piston was attached to a rope which unravelled from a pulley which wound rope onto other pulleys which unwound from pulleys on the rear axles.  This meant that by using castors for the front wheals and and pegs on the axle pulleys a very simple system could not only power but self-guide the vehicle.

A Jesuit priest witnessed the demonstration of a 2 foot long self powered truck in Beijing (formerly Peking) in 1679.  This was a toy for entertainment - but it was driven by a steam turbine.  

The next famous self powered vehicle is very often thought of as the first motor car.

Nicholas-Joseph Cognot built steam powered vehicles for towing guns  for Napoleon in 1770.  A suitable valve gear that was compact enough for use on a vehicle had not been invented then.  This meant that a lever had to be pulled back and fore so steam would go to the correct side of the piston, the only advantage of this was prompt engine braking.
Richard Trevithick  made the first automobile in Cornwall in the 1790’s; he used the second cylinder that Watt had added to the steam engine and high pressure steam together with a valve-gear he designed so the car could run automatically without a lever being pulled back and fore.  In 1804 he built the first automatic steam locomotive that actually worked.    

Contrary to popular belief the steam engine was not invented in England 250 years ago.  It was invented in Egypt 2000 years ago.  

The steam cars may not have been as famous as the steam railway locomotives of the nineteenth century, but they were used extensively.

In 1925 a Doble steam car did 133 miles per hour.  A re-purposed radiator (a condenser) turned the exhaust steam back into water so the car did not have to be constantly topped up with water.   It had a choice of oil or petrol as fuel. However a steam car could use coal, ammonia or hydrogen far more easily than any other type of engine. 

Using old technology a steam car could be over 90% efficient, have an annual oil change regardless of mileage, still outlast the internal combustion engine and use almost any fuel.   No wonder no one will manufacture them!

Obviously if a steam car was to be viable it would not use a re-purposed radiator as a condenser.  It would have to use the same sort of thing that nuclear fuelled steam driven submarines used from the 1950's to the 1990's.   
Such a condenser would use the heat and pressure in the exhaust steam to make high velocity water.  This would open the one way valve in the steam generator to re enter it.  It will thereby give you a very efficient on demand water feed.

The Navies of the world would have us believe that they use this today but I expect that solid state has replaced steam.    
A solid state generator uses the Seebeck effect.  If you connect a circuit in 2 places and heat one of them it produces a small voltage.  Using silicon chips that have hundreds of thousands of connections a viable amount of power can be produced by managing the heat from nuclear fuel.  The one side of the chip is heated and the other refrigerated to produce electricity.  Using chemistry and valves heat can power a refrigeration system. 

The first nuclear fuelled solid state electricity generators (thermoelectric generator or TEG) were used to produce electricity in space craft in the 1960's and 1970's when solar panels were very inefficient.  They were illegal because of the danger of radio active plutonium being spread over a large area when they come back to earth.  This happened to a Russian satallite when it crashed into a remote part of Canada.  This is a timebomb of nuclear waste waiting to happen if it's not cleared up soon.

To use either of these systems burning a fuel such as hydrogen is mechanically not that difficult but politically impossible because the profits made from damaging the environment control business and politics.  To do it with a nuclear fuelled submarine must be incredibly difficult and I salute the engineers who did this in the 1950's and 1980's.

The way to help the environment is to put hydrogen fuelled steam engines into the that vehicles we have.  Not to make a lot of new battery vehicles.  This includes locomotives and ships.  The materials used in a solid state generator are expensive and it cannot be put straight into the engine bay of a road vehicle.  A steam engine can be made from stainless steel and can be put straight into the engine bay and bolted on to the bellhousing.  This means it can replace carbon fuelled engines.

If wind turbines on the coast pumped seawater into chambers where it was turned into motor fuel there would be no justification for paying vast sums of money to the international cartels that control our lives. We could earn enough without the work life imbalance and workers would be liberated to do more useful work. Instead of destroying the oceans that provide us with food and most of the oxygen in the air that we breathe we could start repairing them.


Other Transport ideas:


In the length of time that the HS2 project would have taken to complete, battery powered vertical take off and landing buses with a range of more than 150 miles and a speed of more than 150 mph could be developed together with the improvements to air traffic control that would be required by them. Batteries could be changed with a fork lift truck in minutes to turn them around. They would reduce the resources needed for road and perm way maintenance and take a load of motor vehicles off the road. I have seen brilliant ideas for motors fitted to folding wings that would be just right for this.  The complexity of the osprey is not needed. A more simple and reliable mechanism could be used.

To do this would need a big change in the economy that if used properly would benefit the majority of people.  It is the sort of change that is unpopular and big industry will make it more so.

The first car to exceed 60 mph was a battery electric in 1899.

Petrol Cars

In 1886 Karl Benz patented a motor car with a petrol engine, and started the Mercedes Benz car company which makes cars to this day.

Although BMW does not aim their quality range of cars at a price most people can afford they are developing the next generation of cars.  They are removing the valve gear that was thought of by Thomas Newcomen over 300 years ago and replacing it with an electronically operated solenoid.  Also they are replacing the alternator with a TEG in the exhaust system.  These advances should make their cars more powerful and fuel efficient