Invention and innovation: An introduction
Invention and innovation: An introduction

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Invention and innovation: An introduction

10.10 Government policy, legislation and regulations

To a certain extent it's possible for governments to stimulate invention by providing incentives for manufacturers to develop new products and for consumers to buy and use them. One example of this process is in the field of vehicles powered by alternative fuels.

In the USA the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct) was passed to reduce US dependence on imported petroleum. The EPAct required federal and governmental departments with fleets over a certain size to acquire a percentage of alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) capable of operating on non-petroleum fuels. Eligible alternative fuel vehicles included electric, hybrid-electric, liquefied natural gas, compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), hydrogen, fuel cell, and methanol. Biodiesel vehicles were added to this list in 2003.

Subsequent acts introduced and then extended tax credits on the purchase price of such vehicles, on the tax paid on the cost of installing alternative fuelling stations and on the cost of each gallon-equivalent sold. Furthermore acts like the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Acceleration Act of 2001 established a grant programme to fund demonstrations of AFVs and their commercial applications. Like the EPAct, the funds were directed at federal and governmental departments with the intention that they work in collaboration with manufacturers to encourage further development of this technology.

There are a number of visible outcomes of such schemes. Some conventional vehicles have been adapted by manufacturers to run on alternative fuels – in the US there are now many school buses powered by alternative fuels (Figure 40).

Figure 40
Figure 40 Ford E-450 Cutaway school bus, powered by LPG (Source: Ford Motor Company Limited)

Automobile manufacturers are increasingly researching and prototyping alternative fuel vehicles in anticipation of the introduction of tighter antipollution regulations. One of a range of such projects is the race to offer fuel-cell technology, used for decades in spacecraft. Like batteries, fuel cells make electricity from chemical reactions. If hydrogen is the fuel, the waste products are simply water and heat. In 2003 DaimlerChrysler started supplying fuel-cell-powered buses to a number of European cities (Figure 41). Its website announced:

With the current generation of Mercedes-Benz Citaro city buses, fuel-cell technology is now leaving the research stage and taking a crucial step ahead in the direction of economic efficiency and serviceability.

(DaimlerChrysler, 2003)

In my terms, the company had moved from invention to innovation.

Activity 8

Other than the examples given, can you think of inventions that resulted from a desire to help others?

Answer

Many inventions that help people with disabilities fall into this category.

Activity 9

Other than the examples given, can you think of inventions that took the opportunity offered by a new material, technology or manufacturing process?

Answer

New types of soft plastic composites enabled the development of the disposable contact lens.

Figure 41
Source: EvoBus (UK) Ltd
Figure 41 Mercedes-Benz Citaro city bus starting trials in London in 2004 to test how well fuel-cell technology performs in an urban setting. The buses have no local emissions and their fuel, hydrogen, will be produced largely from renewable energy sources in the longer term.

Activity 10

Other than the examples given, can you think of inventions that came about because of government policy, legislation or regulations?

Answer

New building regulations introduced in 2002 required that all replacement windows had to have a minimum specified energy efficiency (U-value). This stimulated invention in glazing design.

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