A new car

I want a car that doesn’t have any pistons, or valves, doesn’t have a crankshaft or a camshaft, and doesn’t need a catalytic converter.  What kind of car would this be?  A turbine-electric hybrid, which burns diesel fuel at least 95 percent efficiently.  A turbine engine doesn’t burn the fuel in little bursts, but continuously, which means that it burns cleaner.  Practically all automobiles today use the most inefficient kind of engine known to Man, the reciprocating type, where the pistons keep changing direction, and the fuel is exhausted when it is only partially burned.

Added to that inherent inefficiency is the fact that most cars are automatics, which means that a considerable amount of energy is lost in the torque converter, the device that allows the driver to stop without taking the car out of gear.  Adding together all the inefficiencies in the modern automobile, and you might as well pour three quarters of the gas that you buy right onto the ground, for all the good that it does you.

Why haven’t turbine engines been used in cars before?  Because they create their power in a very different way than a reciprocating engine.  A turbine spins at high speed, which makes it difficult to couple that energy to a drive line.  Previous attempts at turbine cars often used bulky, wasteful transmissions, or something equivalent to a torque converter.  But today, with computer control, we can use the turbine to generate electricity, which is then used to drive the wheels.

Replacing fossil fuels with batteries or fuel cells invokes serious performance penalties, limiting range and speed, as well as load carrying capacity.  But the main reason that engineers are trying to get around using fossil fuels is that they are expensive and dirty.  A turbine would enjoy far greater fuel economy than any possible reciprocating engine could, and will burn much cleaner.  Several hundred miles per gallon is quite feasible with a turbine-electric hybrid, without limiting speed or load carrying capacity.

Of course, we still will have to reduce fossil fuel use as they get more and more expensive, but we are not likely to find a way to continue to rely solely on the automobile as our primary means of transportation.  Public transportation, such as buses and trains, will eventually have to shoulder the majority of the passenger miles traveled in this country, but that does not mean that we will have to give up cars entirely.  They will just have to be far more efficient than what we have now.

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