In the “What Took You So Frikkin’ Long?” department:

Suppose the Stirling steam engine design had been a close second to the steam-driven engines that became industry standards at the beginning of the 1900s?  Suppose NASA had experimented with the Stirling engine in the 1980s, and had even developed a hybrid car with it, capable of running at 54MPG just when new cars were averaging 28MPG at best?

Now suppose someone had obtained the NASA Stirling-Electric hybrid design, updated it with modern parts and equipment, and had doubled its range to 100MPG?

Josh “Mac” MacDowell of San Antonio Texas had a brilliant idea. He took a Stirling engine, a type of engine developed 200 years ago, and added some 21st-century technology to it. The result is a hybrid electric car so efficient that you never have to stop to recharge, reports Houston’s KHOU11.

Are you imagining a car that can drive cross-country on 40 gallons of gasoline?  MacDowell says he’ll do exactly that, as a demonstration of the patented technology, in about 6 months.  And in fact, that gas could potentially be substituted for any fuel that will burn in a chamber, because the stirling engine is only in the car to generate electricity to keep the batteries charged.  While the car runs 100% on the batteries, the stirling engine runs at maximum efficiency all the time to create its incredibly low fuel figures.

Turbine-electric car on Popular Science cover, 1975This is a variation on a number of hybrid concepts going back to the 1970s, mostly designed around a car driven exclusively by electric motors, with a smaller fuel-burning engine aboard to recharge the batteries.  But most of those 70s design concepts vanished as the auto industry fought to kill any potential game-changing technology that would kill their profits (and those of the oil industry).  Today a few hybrids use this configuration, though others drive primarily on gas engines and use electric motors to augment range.  But no existing car (in a standard configuration) is capable of a cross-country run on 40 gallons of gas.

MacDowell believes this will be the hybrid configuration of the future, and I tend to agree; the alternative of charging stations for electric cars is too slow, in charging and in being installed nationwide, to make electric cars that typically go only 100-200 miles on a charge attractive to drivers anytime soon.  Once proven, MacDowell’s design could not only be fit into existing new car designs, but retrofitted into cars already on the road, improving everyone’s range and mileage and cleaning our air.

IF—I say—if he can overcome the resistance of an existing auto industry that has managed to quell every game-changing drive technology since 1970.  Maybe Elon Musk will return his calls…