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Australian innovation could convert petrol engines to electric

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Converting combustion engines to electric is a process that the Government should consider (Screenshot via YouTube)

After the Morrison Government failed to tackle the climate crisis, Labor should consider a push to convert petrol engines to electric, writes Dermot Daley.

THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT of 2022 has much to consider, what with the mess left behind by its predecessors, the very real threat of the climate emergency and associated environmental destruction, and the social and economic impacts of international political flux. However, in our Aussie tradition, we need to remain optimistic.

I have watched the world ignore the writing on the wall for the past 50 years and bear witness to my homeland change from the “Lucky Country” of the 1960s where our wool was a pound (£) a pound (lb), to the “Greedy Country” of the 1980s where we wanted it all and we wanted it now, to the “Lazy Country” of the 1990s and 2000s where we sold the farm because we didn’t want to work it ourselves.

And now into the 2020s, we have become the “Stupid Country” because we try to give away everything that is left because we cannot see its real worth. I could plausibly be depressed but I remain optimistic.

I cringed at the policy of our erstwhile Government to beat the war drums at China after a clique of private school prefects and their toadies destroyed favourable trade agreements for our beef and wine by addressing that 4,000-year-old culture of social and technological innovation as simple peasants; however I believe that Australia is still capable of honour and integrity and so I remain optimistic.

My mission with this item of prose is to appeal to reason. The only thing that separates modern man from Greek, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian or Australian Aboriginal cultures of 5,000 years ago is not evolution — it is adaptation and technology. The attraction between young adults is the same now as it has been throughout all recorded history. The innate drives for food, shelter and reproduction have steered us through the ages.

Many times we have made mistakes and ignored lessons from the past. Many times we have allowed egos to obscure the path to progress. Many times we have allowed profit to prevail over the common good. Much of the time our blunders had minimal impact on our trusty little “Spaceship Earth” but right now we are driving out of control and facing what can only be described as an existential crisis.

A bit over 100 years ago, the world underwent a technological revolution with the advent of the motor car. Within a few decades, horse-drawn transport gave way to motor-powered transport. There was suddenly a proliferation of steam, electric and petrol-engined vehicles competing on the market. Notwithstanding the Antitrust Laws in the United States, Standard Oil won out and the internal combustion engine dominated. The rest is history. 

Some coach-builders, blacksmiths and wheelwrights were able to transfer their skills, but there was no longer a need for so many farriers, stable hands, feed merchants and others. People coped. Wagons, drays, coaches and buggies became redundant and were left to rot on vacant land. Public money was called upon to extend and upgrade roadways. Oil reserves were treated as infinite and the scale and scope of the automobile industry redefined the limits of excess. Extensive multi-lane freeways and elaborate interchanges made transcontinental travel affordable and comfortable for just about everybody.

Fast forward to the present day and a new revolution beckons. The oil crises of the 1970s saw the demise of the behemoths of Detroit and the emergence of smaller more economical vehicles, but the urgent need to control carbon emissions to curtail global warming has steadfastly dictated the end of the era of petrol and diesel engines throughout the world.

The erstwhile Government of Australia failed to acknowledge this global transformation and failed to implement policy to persuade the automobile industry to restructure itself. Global vehicle manufacturers saw this as an opportunity to dump superseded models on the Australian market and further thwart attempts at emissions control.

At the same time, we are being told that our next car will be an electric vehicle and we know this to be plausible because battery technology is moving ahead in leaps and bounds.

However, not everybody can dash out and purchase a brand-new electric vehicle and petrol prices are predicted to continue to rise steadily. This raises the question of whether the roads largely paid for by petrol excises will become the preserve of those swanning about in their electric cars.

Australians have a great reputation for invention and innovation and for acknowledging the benefits of reducing, reusing, recycling and repurposing. So can we “egalitarianise” the electric car?

Within a few decades, it is likely there will be more and more “obsolete” petrol engine vehicles accumulating and decaying on blocks of land across the countryside (yes, this already occurs, but the increase could be exponential).

The musician Neil Young proudly drives a 1959 Lincoln Continental (about the size of a small aircraft carrier) that he has converted as a hybrid electric vehicle.

It makes sense that without the combustion engine, radiator, exhaust system and fuel tank just about any vehicle could accommodate the electric motors and batteries for conversion to full electric propulsion. There are a number of small companies that can already do an electric conversion of any car (for a price and with considerable delay). The potential of a marriage of “supply and demand” with “economies of scale” in EV conversions would be truly revolutionary.

It is patent that the erstwhile Government was a dud, but would it be possible for the 2022 Australian Government to promote research and development with proven experts in the field to enable large-scale conversion of petrol and diesel engine vehicles to electric drive?

One can only hope that sometimes, every now and then, a bit of common sense will prevail.

Dermot Daley is a fourth-generation Australian living in Victoria, who is now retired from construction project management​​​​​.

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