Imagine the following pub conversation:
‘What are you driving these days?’
‘Actually, I’ve just taken delivery of my Jaguar Jet-Car. Just doing my bit for the environment…’
The problem back then was that the jet engine (or gas turbine) was used to spin a shaft coupled directly to the car’s wheels, and jet engines aren’t too good at the rapid changes of speed demanded in a car.
Sixty years on, the idea’s back – but this time in a wholly new form. An automotive engineer I met at a transport industry event told me about research now being funded by the Technology Strategy Board on a jet-powered car.
The new approach, being led by Jaguar Land Rover, is to develop micro jet engines coupled to electrical generators, charging batteries that drive electric motors.
The concept is the same as hybrid cars such as the Toyota ‘Prius‘, but with a gas turbine rather than a conventional piston engine keeping the batteries charged. The trick, presumably, will be to balance a complex set of variables: power, weight, fuel consumption, size, cost and mechanical simplicity.
Let’s be honest. Jets are cool – they excite people – and if we’re to grapple successfully with environmental problems, we must remember people make technology choices for lots of reasons, not all of them rational. Something worth talking about down the pub, perhaps.