The story about the financial benefits of petrol-electric hybrid cars in today’s G2 generated a lively discussion in the canteen today.Â Maybe it was a mistake to involve engineers in such a debate…
We started by talking about how hybrid cars are inherently less efficient than pure electric cars – because a lot of the stored electricity is ultimately generated by burning petrol in the engine, while electricity generated by a power station involves a better use of fuel.
We touched on the idea of hydrogen cells, but soon somebody got onto the possibility of cars being run on compressed air.Â This developed into how it would not matter if compressing air was inefficient in converting electricity into stored potential energy if it was powered by renewable sources like wind farms, and then it turned a little surreal.
It was declared that in theory, you could find yourself never totally stranded in a compressed-air car because you couldÂ recharge the tank with a hand pump.Â It might take a lot of muscle-power and time and pumps with gearing mechanisms so good as to be unlikely, but theoretically you could run out of fuel and pump in enough to get you to the next filling station.Â Theory is a big thing to those with a scientific background.
From there it was only a small step to think that you could even pump air into your vehicle by hand while it was moving, by having the passengers pumping away like mad as you drive.Â That all sounds a bit wacky races doesn’t it?
The reductio ad absurdum got even more absurdum when we imagined a situation where a lot of people sat in rows pumping away to force air into the tanks for a large compressed-air vehicle – like a steampunk version of the old triremes – which developed into double-decker buses where you could pay to travel upstairs or travel for free if you joined the lower deck where everyone was pulling at rows of levers while a fat bloke with a drum kept the rhythm for them…Â so in half an hour we got a (almost) logical progression from dwindling oil supplies to a resurgence of a slave-based economy.
On the plus side, we have at least worked out how Boris is going to square the economic circle with his Routemaster 2 cunning plan.Â As a fat bloke with a liking for percussion I should be OK.