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Flux-Capacitor Rex

FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
23/09/2022

My favoured dynamic duo continue to stalk the pages of Pitpass.

The Doc and Marty had the kind of duo magic most of us can only dream of. Lennon and McCartney, Chip and Dale, Nureyev and Dame Margot, French Fries and Mayonnaise, Michael Schumacher and Ferrari, Automotive progress and a flat-plane crank V8, 88 mph and a flux-capacitor.

Formula One and road relevance? Formula One and Green? Indeed (a personal incessant crossing of the Rubicon) Formula One and a Cost Cap?

Thrice thee make me laugh! Seriously FIA and Liberty, there are only so many ways in which to paint the lipstick upon the pig before blurring the photograph to try turning Elsie the sow into Elle the Super Model.

Circus Maximus did not sell tickets by convincing Romans to enjoy a day off from flogging servants and barbarians in equal measure. Circus Maximus did not tell them that what they really needed in their lives were sustainable chariots with four or six environmentally aware horses coupled, via a recyclable harness, to a vegan driver. All horses run on 100% green grass. Nope.

Circus Maximus had a simple line; come see lunatics race like mad men with a massive chance of injury, death, ignominy or heroic immortality in equal measure. Place a bet, drink too much cheap grappa, eat a few questionably sourced animal chunks, then go home and vomit in your own aquarium! That's how you enliven a first century AD soul! See the human spirit in full flight! Question the insanity of such racing! Then go home, and live your own life a touch brighter for the experience, possibly sparing the servants an evening beating in a case of sharing the love. Played right everyone is a winner!

More duos... Dave Navarro and Jane's Addiction, another fine coupling for those that like that sort of thing. While the band never quite made explicit what precisely Jane was addicted to, be it alternate rock, fast living or questionable substances, Dave had many personal demons to slay with his own addiction battles.

So, via curious duos we arrive at the motorist and their motor. A coupling that since the early 1900's has transformed personal transport, working life, the sprawl of suburbia, the rise of the mega-mall and the road trip. It is quite reasonable to suggest the motor car has been a highly transformative and impactful device. Loved, hated, revered and reviled in impassioned equal measure, the automotive beast can be the finest of its art-in-motion kind, or the most exhausted, yet still running, Trabant. Each has an impact and generates a range of emotions for driver, passenger, and passer-by.

What unites them all however, other than the early steam cars, is Petroleum Spirit, not teen spirit. Which measured, first by carburettor, then by mechanical injection, and now by computer controlled jets, injects life into the engine, or as F1 prefers to call it these days, the internal combustion unit, or ICU.

From Ford's first flat-head V8 for the masses released in the Model 18 of 1932, to V12 Ferrari units of the 1950's with pistons the size of thimbles, to the ICU locked within a matrix of technology deep within the carbon-fibre exoskeleton of a modern F1 car. Each is lifeless until the elixir of Petroleum Spirit is injected into their craving veins to address their personal Jane's addiction.

The modern motor, which I consider any road going car built post the lead-free fuel mandate. The mandate varies by country. Japan introduced lead free fuels in 1972, fully banning leaded fuel in 1986. Other western countries drifted into lead-free during the 1980's. Leaded fuel was only fully banned in Europe in 2000. It had been added to fuel all those years to aid the octane rating and reduce the chance of knocking in an engine. Knocking results from poor, premature, combustion within a cylinder, wasting fuel, reducing power and, over the longer term, damaging the engine. It was a problem in early cars with mechanically simple engines and poorly refined fuels.

Thomas Midgley of Standard Oil was responsible for pushing tetraethyl lead as an addictive substance for craven engines. He was our first main dealer, backed by General Motors, and Standard Oil, via their joint venture the Ethyl Corporation. Years before Big Tobacco would tell us all their research was proving cigarettes to be safe, Big Oil was keen to use lead as an additive, insisting it was harmless, despite it killing workers producing it on a regular basis.

It all came to head with a safety hearing held after Midgley had spent time recovering from acute lead poisoning in Florida. The first production line for tetraethyl lead had already been shut down in Ohio due to multiple worker deaths. Another plant in New Jersey, which had also seen workers die, had been named "The House of Butterflies" due to the insect hallucinations suffered by workers.

Yet Midgley cheerfully assured the US Surgeon General that; "...the average street will probably be so free from lead that it will be impossible to detect it or its absorption". Before under questioning stating that; "...no actual experimental data has been taken".

So it was that at this safety hearing we had Frank Howard, VP of the Ethyl Corporation note that; "...continued development of motor fuels is essential to our civilisation". While the counter argument for public health was presented by Dr Alice Hamilton (seriously dear reader, how ironic this family name appears in such focused places these days), who pointed out that in all instances of lead use or refinement, lead poisoning was sure to follow. She was simply following a line of reason commenced by Vitruvius some 2,000 years before, when he noted that: "Water conducted through earthen pipes is more wholesome than that through lead. This may be verified by observing workers in lead, who are of a pallid colour."

So dear reader. Big Oil. An alternate, Ethyl Alcohol, will perform more or less the same duty in petroleum as Tetraethyl Lead, but without back-stabbing your brain cells while doing it. Why did Big Oil not push this solution? Possibly because any old red neck farmer can distil it and patents and lovely rivers of money do not then flow. There is a body of research that links high lead content in the environment to violent crime rates, but that's an essay for another day.

Midgley? Why having fought the corner for leaded petroleum he went on to develop chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) for refrigeration and thus, having attacked all our minds, and lungs, commenced to destroy the ozone layer... Way to go Thomas!

For those that believe in karma, it's worth noting that in 1940, at the age of 51, Midgley contracted polio, which left him severely disabled. He subsequently devised an elaborate system of ropes and pulleys to lift himself out of bed. Sadly, in 1944, he became entangled in the device and died of strangulation.

So, Porsche want to see more synthetic fuels in F1, and one presumes elsewhere. Why?

Dear reader, look at the story above. Look at the story of Big Tobacco. The Philip Morris share price is close to a twenty year high! These big companies do not have our best interests at heart.

Big Oil wants each of us to continue our Jane's Addiction. There is no money in each of us possessing an electric car capable of 1,000 kilometres (call it 650 miles) on a single charge, with the charge coming from our own solar, wind, geothermal and hydro resources. As the dear Doctor Mike Lawrence would state... "Follow the Money!" There is no money in renewables and electric cars for the Big Oil cartel.

Consider for a moment LIV Golf, a new Golf series recently started by the Saudis. Cracked me up when I learned that "LIV" is supposed to be read as the Roman numeral for "54" (for those that do not know, current championship Golf is played over 72 holes, while LIV has reduced this to 54). For those who can count, our numbering system is based on "Arabic Numerals". You know. 1, 2, 3 the whole gang including zero, created by Arabic scholars. Yet now the Saudi wealth fund is using Roman numerals to massively move into the Golf universe. Why so?

...hold faith dear reader... IBM sold all its laptop and hard-disk patents and know-how to Lenovo some years back. People laughed at IBM for selling the farm... Then solid state memory, iPads, Tablets and smartphones all took off... and not a hard-disk in sight. IBM knew. They knew. They sold moments before "Peak Hard-disk" so they made a fortune and moved into a service provision model.

The House of Saudi knows we are within moments (plus or minus) of Peak Oil. Their Government investment funds and ARAMCO (the state oil company) are divesting faster than a crack-powered escort shedding clothes on a super yacht because they know what is about to unfold. Oil is history, and Big Oil, and some car manufacturers, are trying to milk the last joys of the feast from fatted cows set to explode. Companies chased profit over health for tobacco. Companies chased profit over health for leaded petrol.

That same mind-set, for they live on like vampires, is now working to delay a transition to electric vehicles as long as humanly possible. They want each of our personal Jane's Addition to continue as long as possible, regardless of the cost to us, at significant benefit to them.

Green Hydrogen? I laugh at you! Synthetic fuel, which (and I quote) does not release more than it took to produce (like what the heck does that even mean?), I throw Flux-capacitors in your liquid face.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Max Noble, 30/09/2022 9:09

"@Spindoctor - a series of insightful observations, I am glad the article stirred you to the keyboard! Completely agree that as dearly missed Dr. Mike Lawrence observed with his “Follow the money” advice it often reveals an answer. As you note, money, power, and energy supply all intertwine to place the West in thrall to countries with which we have very little in common. They sell the drug for our craven need, and we endlessly turn a blind eye… while having major Western corporates making $$$ faster than a Russian Oligarch could ever spend them…

Only today at breakfast I read an article saying that total government subsidies to fossil fuel companies around the World run to $59 trillion a year! The article basically said if all this government funding stripped renewable energy would already be so much cheaper than fossil fuels it would be a no-brainer to stop using them…!

Great to see Vettel putting his money where his mouth is, and walking away with a contract on th eatable because he can no longer do this. His statements on “Where is the referee?” For proving a business is actually green are a clear dig at the F1 drive to be “net Carbon zero” by 2030. All posters, Memes, and hashtags as far as I (and Vettel) can tell…

As a side note, dang! Should have included Laurel and Hardy in the duo list! Did you watch the recent film about them, “Stan and Ollie”? We loved it…"

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2. Posted by Spindoctor, 30/09/2022 7:44

"@Max Noble - That's another fine mess they got us into.....

Your strictures regarding Lead in petrol & its similarity to the Tabacco\cancer scandal are spot on. The really big heffalump in the hydrocarbon room is that in this case, Nations & Governments are involved directly in the Business. There is hardly an oil-producer which is not "owned" by a "Nation" or which mustn't kow-tow to one in order to extract the stuff. That means that the "profits" from Big Oil are no longer merely financial.

The West's full-blooded military & political support for Saudi hardly reflects an oft-bleated commitment to Human Rights & Democracy for all. Our compulsion to equip them with our latest & greatest military technology isn't because we support their War. For assorted geo-political reasons (of humungous complexity, but Google US Foreign Policy) we have arrived at a place where the Saudi Tail is wagging the Western Democracies' assorted tails. OPEC is Saudi's poodle, and it can bite!
And then there's Russia. When Thatcher & Regan "won" the Cold War we were assured (by them & acolytes) that a dose of Capitalist medicine would fix the Soviet Bear. Russia would become a house-trained supplier of resources and a market for McDonalds, Mercedes et al.

As with "our" wooing of China that hasn't quite worked-out. Using Orwellian techniques of mass-advertising & manipulation, we were sold a Brave New World Order. Unfortunately we, the People (of the World) haven't migrated to those promised sunlit uplands of Freedom & Prosperity

Future Historians, if such there are, will undoubtedly join-up the dots linking the rise of Big Oil & the power of the petrodollar to the current situation where we (in Europe at least) are in thrall to Nations whose values we despise.

"

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3. Posted by ancient70!, 28/09/2022 13:41

"@Max, Ah, yes these vicious attack chipmunks can be quite a pain in the finger! I think they will be deadly in a slotcar!"

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4. Posted by Max Noble, 28/09/2022 9:11

"@ancient70! - Ballet Dancers, quite well known in some circles :-) Not forgetting that Chip and Dale (not unlike Alvin, and the Chipmunks) can also sing, and dance.

Closest I’ve gotten to chipmunks was managing to get bitten by a Squirrel in St. James’ Park London while on a business trip (me, not the squirrel), before 36 hours later getting bitten by a Chipmunk in Washington DC. My work travel companion was in tears. The US Chipmunk would simply not let go of my finger, so I was dancing in circles flailing my arms around with the little killer cheerfully drawing blood from my index finger at an alarming rate, while wailing somewhat loudly, with a possible selection of choice “Old Saxon” words… Ah! Those were the days! Said Chipmunk finally let go of my finger, and do not run off. Rather sat there swearing at me in his (or her) own language. I beat a respectful retreat…

I wonder if we could fit a Chipmunk in a slot car…?

"

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5. Posted by ancient70!, 27/09/2022 16:32

"Nice one Max, but some of the names leave me with a blank look, although I know of Chip and Dale, they are chipmunks, right? Seeing that I reside in the darkest of Africa, where electricity is not cheap or available in abundance, I will keep my pet dinosaur transport until the day I depart this overgrazed farm we call planet earth. For me getting a electric vehicle, means I am just transporting my CO2 emissions to another part of the country, where all the coal fired power stations are. Although I must say I raced slot cars at one stage, so I must have contributed to global CO2 reduction then?"

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6. Posted by Max Noble, 27/09/2022 9:05

"@MossMan - I’m thinking more RS-232, or USB, global standards, not “two manufacturers who thunk of this” level of interoperability. Go google Rio Tinto, BHP, and Vale who are all working together on a global standard for electric haul-packs etc. in the mining universe.

Here in WA (not sure where you are typing from…) From Perth to Albany is around 420Km. Perth Esperance is 690Km, and Perth Broome (still in the same state…) is 2,058Km. All places I, and many friends, have driven. Most EV’s cannot do 690Km with no recharge, and you do not need a 20 minute top-up, you need a major recharge. We had friends driving to Albany that had to wait in Williams WA (Google map it) two hours to start their recharge due to the EVs in front of them. Had to cancel their dinner reservation, and get the hotel to hold their room as they got to Albany so late…

Change the battery pack…! Seriously AAA, AA, C, D cells etc… the “regular” battery universe is 100% inter-changeable across the planet!

Not spending four hours on the toilet, having a coffee, and taking pictures of road kill while waiting to recharge…



"

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7. Posted by MossMan, 26/09/2022 20:00

"@Max Noble - "quite why the EV makers have not already agreed a standard interchangeable battery pack is 100% beyond me…"

Ha ha ha! Again... guess what's been available to thousands of customers of two manufacturers in China for the last couple of years (there's also some demonstrator stations in Norway)...?!

"It is the obvious solution to the long recharge time…" The "long recharge time" thing is vastly overblown though - how often do you need to recharge your phone battery in a jiffy when you are on the go? Right... almost never, because you charge it overnight or when you're not using it. Exact same thing with EVs - the vast majority of charging is done while people are at home / at work / at the shops, etc. Current generation EVs have already surpassed the threshold where you can drive for two or three hours then leave it charging for twenty-thirty minutes while you take a pee break and a coffee.

The battery swap idea, like hydrogen for cars, is a complex and costly solution looking for a problem."

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8. Posted by Max Noble, 26/09/2022 12:29

"@ClarkwasGod. - yup chase group squabbling often spells failure!

@CrazyCanuck - Sort of quite… I pay carbon off sets for my Qantas Flights, and off set our cars each year with a reasonable offset company. Doing what I can until genuine (read high efficiency solar, hydro, or geothermal) energy can recharge my electric car in the most green manner possible. All this “Strip mining hell” stuff is bananas, as coal and general gas, and oil all mine the living poops out of planet earth already… Go google the Kalgoorlie super pit for one gang big hole in the ground…

@MossMan - quite why the EV makers have not already agreed a standard interchangeable battery pack is 100% beyond me… It is the obvious solution to the long recharge time…

“ShipStones” anyone…? :-)
"

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9. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 26/09/2022 11:57

"@ Max - yes - Bling did the business for you. I bet the chase group are kicking themselves after squabbling over who would lead out....."

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10. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 26/09/2022 11:55

"@ Max - me neither - but he was on another level on the final climb of Mount (un)Pleasant. Are we witnessing the rise of Cannibal 2.0?"

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11. Posted by MossMan, 26/09/2022 8:48 (moderated by an Adminstrator, 26/09/2022 11:22)

"@ Bill Hopgood: "The day we get cars that can be recharged in say 6 minutes, travel 500 - 800km between charges and not have to have their energy store replaced every 7 to 10 years"

Funny enough, just last week I saw a video demonstrating a Chinese EV and charger combination now going into production which hits those numbers! And this is a company which is already producing EVs on a massive scale - and is one of many in China. The Chinese market is both axpanding at an enourmous rate amd is ahead of the rest of the world, who don't seem to realise."

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12. Posted by habentsen, 26/09/2022 8:28 (moderated by an Adminstrator, 26/09/2022 11:22)

"This comment was removed by an administrator as it was judged to have broken the site's posting rules and etiquette."

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13. Posted by CrazyCanuck, 25/09/2022 15:15 (moderated by an Adminstrator, 26/09/2022 11:22)

"@ Max
It appears that wherever women are allowed and encouraged to emancipate and exercise control over their reproductive system, birth rates magically and significantly fall down.

The continent of Africa, home to 1.4 billion people, puts out about 1.3 billion tons of CO2 a year. China, with the same population, emits 9.8 billion tons or 7 times more. The USA? 5.3 billion tons, 4 times more, with only a quarter of Africa's population. It's a lifestyle thing isn't it?

I own/want/can afford one or more car for the lady and the kids; a muscle car for myself; a big pick-up truck to pull my power boat and travel trailer; a number of other fossil fueled fun toys and tools; heated swimming pool and garage; "climate control" everywhere; real estate and facilities to store and power all this, and more Air Miles. And I'm not in the 1%, not even close!

That's a lot of tree planting in Africa to offset all this... A bit like trying to refill a pierced bucket with a teacup isn't it?



"

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14. Posted by Max Noble, 25/09/2022 8:52

"@everyone - great to see reasoned discourse on this one. It is a very complex topic. “Best for Planet”, “Best for humans”, and “Best for corporate fat cats” rarely (if ever…?) overlap. Personally, I offset all my flights with Qantas (it’s an option when you book), and I’ve off set my cars via my company leasing scheme when available. Do they do “the right thing” by me, and make the off-set count? No idea, but at least I’m trying…
Currently our entire family still drive petrol powered cars. We all intend to go electric “when the time is right”. As @Bill Hopgood points out below, it is effectively the “end to end” cost of a journey that needs to be reviewed, understood, and then minimised.

A natural falling global birth rate (rather than any 1984/Logan’s Run style of control) would benefit the planet as a naturally lowering number of humans has a reducing impact - which is all for the good.

@ClarkwasGod - Didn’t see that result coming! But a bronze for Australia is welcome :-)"

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15. Posted by CrazyCanuck, 24/09/2022 22:15

"@Chester

Fewer people? We stay the course... "

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