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The question of how to power a vehicle is a core issue for designers and developers of personal transportation. Ever since Dutch physicist Christian Huygens began to experiment with the internal combustion engine in the 17th century, the problem of a suitable fuel has vexed designers, inventors and engineers.
Huygens tried gunpowder; Switzerland's Francois Isaac de Rivaz combined hydrogen and oxygen in 1807; France's Nicholas Cugnot employed steam in 1769; Siegfried Marcus of Austria designed an early gasoline engine in 1864, an idea that culminated in for a gas-fueled car in 1886.
Electricity was also a viable power source for early automobiles. In the 1830's, Sibrandus Stratingh of the Netherlands began the development of electric vehicles. Though their development came later than that of combustion-powered cars, electric carriages caught on quickly and even outsold gasoline-powered cars in 1899.
All of these pioneers employed the well-established concepts of gears, wheels and drive shafts but struggled to find a fuel that was combustible but not explosive, portable yet powerful, and, perhaps most importantly, widely available and affordable.
Today's automobile designers face the same obstacle. The cars of the future, for the most part, will require a transfer of power from a motor to wheels that roll on the ground. The question of fuel, however, looms larger than ever, as environmental degradation and oil scarcity push innovation like never before.Photo by John Nyboer
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