From tin cans to combustion engines

A blog post by Nina Walsh.

Michael J. Fox’s middle name is Andrew.

Random, I know, but nevertheless a prime example of how things are not always what they claim to be.

Take tins cans, for example. Before the invention of the tin can, there were no fridges, no freezers, you just had to hope that if it smelt right, it wouldn’t kill you. Well, that and cremate it, before you ate it.

Which is bad enough when you’re living your life and working every day to make sure there’s food on the table, but when you’re trying to feed an entire army, it’s a logistical nightmare. Which is probably what spurred Napoleon in 1795 into putting up no less than twelve thousand francs as a prize for the first person who could solve his hungry soldier problem.

It wasn’t until 1809 that French chef Nicolas Appert finally managed successfully to preserve foods in sealed, heated glass bottles. Eerily similar to how wine’s preserved, isn’t it? So it has to be a good idea.

The following year, Monsieur Appert was likely set up for life when he collected his monumental prize from his minuscule leader. That said, glass tends to be a little fragile, especially when it’s on the march, so in the same year when the British inventor Peter Durand managed successfully to preserve food in tin cans, you’d have thought the world would have breathed a sigh of relief?

Well, yes and no.

For a start, he was only able to produce them in small quantities and the can opener wasn’t going to be invented for another 50 years (1858), so getting into the things had to be done with a hammer and chisel. You had to mind your fingers!

In 1845 when Sir John Franklin and his crew set off on his Arctic expedition, commercial canning factories were up and running in Britain and the US, so canned foods were an obvious way to extend the food supply. You can only imagine the weight of the thousands of cans they took with them, and quite how fiddly (understatement) they must have been to actually get into.

But here’s the kicker (and what wasn’t written – unsurprisingly – on the can): the tins themselves were manufactured partly from lead. For free, and everything – no extra charge.

After the expedition went missing, it took until 1981 to finally solve the mystery of the missing crew. Forensic testing showed extremely high lead content in the crewmen’s bones. The trip failed partly because the crew had been sent mad by lead poisoning. Well, that and the weather would probably put a bit of a downer on things.

So this fabulous invention, without our realising it, was giving us a level of independence and freedom of movement hitherto unknown to man, whilst simultaneously, quietly and discretely depositing a poisonous substance into the human body.

Which for me, drew obvious parallels with the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE): unprecedented mobility and under certain conditions, genuinely life-saving, but ultimately, somewhat harmful.

And now for the pitch…

The folks at the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) have something called the Technology Developer Accelerator Programme (TDAP), which is concentrating on accelerating the development of smart ideas with small and emerging companies.

It’s pretty cool, because it’s almost for free, and you can’t say that for tin cans!

If you’re a micro business, SME, or you just walked out of your garden shed – eyes blinking in the sunlight – yelling, ‘Eureka!’ then this could be for you.

We love a good idea, particularly automotive based ideas which reduce CO2, secure or increase UK jobs and generally help the UK to prosper.

This could be anything from the next propulsion method to electrification or even light-weighting. It doesn’t even have to be tailored towards a passenger car, it can be anything with a drive, on or off-road. If you’ve got an idea that fits then we want to hear from you.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could help you become the next BIG thing?  You give us your time and commitment and we support you with expert resources and funds up to circa £100k.

Inclusive in the programme funding, we bring independent automotive industry experts to help develop you and your company as a business. If you can take care of the tech, we can help you build your skill set and support you in learning how to sell it to the rightpeople. Together we make a perfect match.

It’s a structured and competitive process but the forms are easy and if you’re successful, you’ll get some cash, and learn to speak ‘automotive’ with confidence.

So to get on the Technology Accelerator Programme and help us save the world.

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