Monthly Archives: July 2015

Fuel Cell Vehicles

Auto manufacturers, both here and abroad are scrambling to produce electric vehicles. The most successful out of the gun has been the high end Tesla model S. Others include the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3. Chevrolet will be introducing the Bolt in the near future. All these cars are whisper quite and perform well. They all however suffer the drawback of limited range on a charge and a rather long recharge time at least compared to the time to fill a tank of gasoline.

Notably missing from the cars listed above is the world’s largest car manufacturer – Toyota. They set the standard for hybrid cars with the introduction of the Prius in 2001. It is powered by a internal combustion engine (ICE) which is supported by a electric motor and battery that results in quite high mileage compared to other ICE powered cars.

Although Toyota has yet to produce an all-electric car, they seem to be hedging their bet on the development of an alternative to electric cars with batteries. In development is an electric car that runs off of a fuel cell that is powered by Hydrogen. The chemistry of the fuel cell is just the opposite of the high school CHEM class experiment called electrolysis. If you pass an electric current through water it cause the production of Hydrogen and Oxygen from the water. This process consumes electrical energy.

In a fuel cell powered vehicle, hydrogen gas is stored at high pressure in a tank. When electrical energy is needed, the gas is passed into the fuel cell where it combines with oxygen from the air to produce electrical energy. The principle is simple but in practice fuel cells are complex devices that require unique and often expensive catalysts to make the chemical reaction proceed at a sufficient rate to power a vehicle. The real advantage to this technology is the range of the vehicle between refills. It should be possible to store enough Hydrogen in a vehicle to get a lot more range than can be achieved with charging batteries.

A problem with the use of Hydrogen is one of thermodynamics. It takes more energy to produce Hydrogen than you can get back when used. Basically any time you do work, energy will be wasted. Thermodynamically work is the use of energy to drive a process, be it chemical , electrical or mechanical. In the case of Hydrogen energy losses occur when it is created from water by electrolysis, when it is compressed for transportation, when it is decompressed for use, and when it is used in a fuel cell. Each of these processes constitute an inefficiency where energy is lost.

Another problem is that Hydrogen is a gas and somewhat difficult to handle. Hydrogen stored in metal containers, or piped in metal pipes causes embrittlement. The metals become more fragile and likely to fail under pressure on exposure to Hydrogen. It is also problematic in that it has a low energy density by volume. It takes a lot of space to store a given weight of Hydrogen.

Toyota is betting that these difficulties with the production, storage and utilization of Hydrogen can be overcome.

Global Warming and Politics

Anthropogenic Global warming (AGW)and the resultant climate change is acknowledged by essentially every scientific body around the world. President Obama recognizes this and has instituted several policy initiatives.

These include but aren’t limited to a mandate to increase transportation efficiency to reduce the use of oil and oil derived fuels. The new Corporate Average Fleet Economy (CAFE) standard will rise to over 54 miles per gallon by 2025.

The EPA is completing rule making which will result in a 30 per cent reduction in carbon emissions from power plants. Obama also supports research and development of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal to replace the use of fossil fuels.

But Obama will leave office in 2017 and a new president will be in charge. What will be his or her policies towards global warming?

Democratic candidates are generally are more concerned about AGW and are more likely to enact policies that address the issue. Republican candidates, not so much.

Hillary Clinton, the hands down leader for the democratic party’s nomination, put AGW near the top of her priorities. She described it as “ “the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world.” She also joined with Obama by saying that she would defend the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

Bernie Sanders, her challenger from the left for the democratic nomination is equally in favor of strong actions on AGW. At a speech in Burlington, the senator from Vermont said “Climate change is real. It is caused by human activity, and it is already causing devastating problems in our country and around the world. And let’s be clear — if we do not get our act together and have the united states lead the world in combating climate change, there will be more drought, more famine, more rising sea level, more floods, more ocean acidification, more extreme weather disturbances.”

The current leader in the crowded republican field, Jeb Bush, has expressed concern for climate change but thinks private industries innovations such as fracking to produce natural gas will solve the problem. Natural gas, essentially methane, does burn cleaner than oil and coal; however methane itself is a powerful greenhouse gas.

Right now billionaire Donald Trump is runner up to Bush in the republican sweepstakes but like the remainder of the crowd is only in the single digits for support. He is a AGW denier. His comments tend to the claim that occasional cold weather or snow storms prove that it is a hoax. He has said little on energy policy but we could expect little action on climate change in his administration.

Just the announced Republican candidates are too numerous to include comments from all but here are a couple more.

Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, claims that climate change is irrelevant – “there’s always going to be either cooling or warming going on.” Mike Huckabee – “The volcano that erupted over in Northern Europe [in 2010] actually poured more CO2 into the air in that single act of nature than all of humans have in something like the past 100 years.” This patent falsehood shows where he stands.

Not More Guns, More Gun Safety

Once again we’re anguished over a seemingly senseless mass murder. Well, this time it’s not senseless but obviously racist. And just like every other time, gun control comes up followed immediately by calls that “now is not the time to talk about gun control.” We shouldn’t have the discussion because we are too emotional at this time. We need time to heal before making tough decisions. We shouldn’t politicize the grief of the bereaved.

The same refrain followed Columbine, the Sikh temple, Aurora, Newtown, and now the Charleston AME Church.

The gun manufacturers lobby, essentially the NRA, has sufficient clout that the Democratic party has about given up on the discussion. And yet a conservative website screams “Charleston shooting may trigger Obama gun grab.” I suspect just like the past sales of guns and ammunition will increase in the near term as the terminally paranoid feel the need for more weaponry. So be it.

It is time for the talk. It is way past time to talk about some modicum of tightening the access to guns of those who don’t deserve to have them. Neither those with a violent criminal past nor the mentally ill should have access to guns, but loop holes in the law allow that access. It is estimated that 40% of all gun transfers occur through private hands where no background check is required. Our most recent killer Dylann Roof, got his gun as a birthday present from his father. It is illegal for a private entity to transfer a gun to a felon or one under indictment for a felony unless the seller is unaware. No problem – don’t ask, don’t tell.

That is a loop hole worthy of Paul Bunyan’s belt. But it is one that could be easily fixed legislatively. Simply outlaw private gun sales. If you want to sell a gun, you sell it to a licensed gun dealer. If you want to buy a gun, you buy it from a licensed gun dealer after a background check. If you want to give a gun as a gift, give them a gift card to a licensed gun dealer. See that wasn’t so hard, was it? Is it an inconvenience, yes, but so is maintaining the brakes on your car or attaching your toilet to a sanitary sewage system.

Consider the analogy of handling of potent, potentially dangerous prescription drugs. We have through our laws agreed that the distribution of them must be tightly regulated. Just because I have a script for an opiate and therefore can legally possess the same, it doesn’t mean I can sell them to my neighbor.

There are so many guns out in circulation now that it will take some time to have an impact on the use of guns in violent crimes but it will help. And of course we can’t expect perfection. We can’t expect that all violent crime with guns will stop, but we can expect a reduction.

Nothing herein would violate that oh-so-poorly-worded 2nd amendment. In fact it would serve to improve on the “well regulated” part that is so often ignored. Once again we’re anguished over a seemingly senseless mass murder. Well, this time it’s not senseless but obviously racist. And just like every other time, gun control comes up followed immediately by calls that “now is not the time to talk about gun control.” We shouldn’t have the discussion because we are too emotional at this time. We need time to heal before making tough decisions. We shouldn’t politicize the grief of the bereaved.

The same refrain followed Columbine, the Sikh temple, Aurora, Newtown, and now the Charleston AME Church.

The gun manufacturers lobby, essentially the NRA, has sufficient clout that the Democratic party has about given up on the discussion. And yet a conservative website screams “Charleston shooting may trigger Obama gun grab.” I suspect just like the past sales of guns and ammunition will increase in the near term as the terminally paranoid feel the need for more weaponry. So be it.

It is time for the talk. It is way past time to talk about some modicum of tightening the access to guns of those who don’t deserve to have them. Neither those with a violent criminal past nor the mentally ill should have access to guns, but loop holes in the law allow that access. It is estimated that 40% of all gun transfers occur through private hands where no background check is required. Our most recent killer Dylann Roof, got his gun as a birthday present from his father. It is illegal for a private entity to transfer a gun to a felon or one under indictment for a felony unless the seller is unaware. No problem – don’t ask, don’t tell.

That is a loop hole worthy of Paul Bunyan’s belt. But it is one that could be easily fixed legislatively. Simply outlaw private gun sales. If you want to sell a gun, you sell it to a licensed gun dealer. If you want to buy a gun, you buy it from a licensed gun dealer after a background check. If you want to give a gun as a gift, give them a gift card to a licensed gun dealer. See that wasn’t so hard, was it? Is it an inconvenience, yes, but so is maintaining the brakes on your car or attaching your toilet to a sanitary sewage system.

Consider the analogy of handling of potent, potentially dangerous prescription drugs. We have through our laws agreed that the distribution of them must be tightly regulated. Just because I have a script for an opiate and therefore can legally possess the same, it doesn’t mean I can sell them to my neighbor.

There are so many guns out in circulation now that it will take some time to have an impact on the use of guns in violent crimes but it will help. And of course we can’t expect perfection. We can’t expect that all violent crime with guns will stop, but we can expect a reduction.

Nothing herein would violate that oh-so-poorly-worded 2nd amendment. In fact it would serve to improve on the “well regulated” part that is so often ignored.