As anyone who’s ever written a blog knows, sometimes you get email. Sometimes it’s of the “Good job, here’s your tummy rub” variety and other times it’s more akin to “U MUST DI! U R LIZZERD PERSUN!” I prefer the tummy rubs but can deal with the lizzerd stuff. What amazes me, however, is the growing number of people for whom facts are negotiable. If I write that water is made up of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, a/k/a our old pal H2O, I will get emails informing me that hydrogen kills people and that I’m an idiot. That actually happened. While true, in the sense that if you were trapped in a room filled with nothing but hydrogen you would die, it’s also completely oblivious of reality and the facts of the initial statement. For the record, if you were trapped in a room filled with H2O it would be just as fatal. That still doesn’t change its composition. It’s almost as if about 25% of our country is made up of mentally challenged people with ADHD.
But for the remaining 75% of you playing along I’d like to continue moving forward with our hydrogen theme. Justine Alford is reporting that China has developed the first, commercially viable, hydrogen powered tram.
As the world’s biggest polluter, China may have earned its reputation as the big bad wolf of greenhouse gas emissions. That being said, officials left many with their mouths open recently after their rare admission that they are aware of the negative impacts emissions have on global climate, which could threaten the country’s infrastructure projects, crop yields and environment.
Although still reluctant to set a target for slashing emissions, China is investing a substantial amount into green energy and was even a world leader in renewable energy production back in 2013. They generate more wind power than any other country in the world and their contributions accounted for almost 30% of all global investment in clean energy. Now, continuing with their push for clean energy developments, China has just announced the production of the world’s first hydrogen-powered tram.
The vehicle was developed by Sifang, a subsidiary of China South Rail Corporation, and was rolled off the assembly line in Qiangdao, Shandong Province, last week. Although hydrogen fuel cells have been around for a while and are currently being used and tested in various vehicles, including buses, nobody had managed to master the technology for trams before.
“It took two years for Sifang to solve key technological problems, with the help of research institutions,” said chief engineer Liang Jianying, according to Xinhua news agency. But Liang did not give any indication as to when the tram would be in operation.
As pointed out by RT, hydrogen-powered trams are an attractive mode of transport for numerous reasons. Hydrogen is extremely abundant and can be extracted from a variety of sources, both renewable and non-renewable. Furthermore, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are zero emission, producing only water. The newly designed vehicle will also help slash energy running costs as one tank will last for around 100 kilometers (62 miles), and it only takes three minutes to refuel.
“The average distance of tramcar lines in China is about fifteen kilometers [nine miles], which means one refill for our tram is enough for three round trips,” said Liang.
If they’ve solved the problem of it requiring more than three parts raw stock to produce one part hydrogen, then they could be on to something. Even if they haven’t, China has vast resources and this is a renewable form of power.
Continuing in a hydrogen vein, Audi announced that they made diesel fuel out of water. And, no, this is not one of those internet hoaxes or an article in the Onion. Jameson Parker has the whole story.
For those of us in coal dust-choked America, it may seem bizarre, but Germany, along with other countries around the world, have become increasingly consumed with finding renewable energy solutions to climate change and oil addiction. It has led them to look to wind and solar at scales that environmentalists in America can only dream of. And guess what? It hasn’t killed jobs. The results have been just the opposite.
Audi, for example, has been toying with cheap, renewable energy to power its vehicles for years. Recently, they announced that they believe they finally cracked the code.
It operates according to the power‑to‑liquid (PtL) principle and uses green power to produce a liquid fuel. The only raw materials needed are water and carbon dioxide. The CO2 used is currently supplied by a biogas facility. In addition, initially a portion of the CO2 needed is extracted from the ambient air by means of direct air capturing, a technology of Audi’s Zurich‑based partner Climeworks.
Engineers also believe the efficiency of the fuel is at around 70 percent – compared to regular diesel’s mid-30’s.
Many critics of “e-diesel” point to the fact that it takes dirty energy to make this “cleaner” energy. Doesn’t this mean that the diesel isn’t really clean? Only if your country depends on coal and oil to power its electrical grid. Germany has the unique position of being at the very forefront of the solar energy revolution. Despite its cloudy skies, the European country out-solars every other nation by a wide margin. In this way, Audi can realistically say that its e-diesel is created using no fossil fuels at all.
To prove that their product wasn’t just wishful thinking, Audi asked Germany’s Federal Minister of Education and Research, Johanna Wanka, to fill up her personal Audi A8 and drive it around. She seemed sold:
“If we can make widespread use of CO2 as a raw material, we will make a crucial contribution to climate protection and the efficient use of resources, and put the fundamentals of the ‘green economy’ in place.”
It’s hard not to draw an unflattering comparison to lawmakers in the United States, who seem bent on clinging to fossil fuels until the last drop is pulled from the earth. President Obama and his administration have tried to make inroads into renewable energy, but have been met with stiff opposition. Recently, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Coal Country) fired off an angry letter to the governors of all 50 states instructing them to simply ignore any efforts to address climate change by the Obama administration.
There’s a lot of snark in Jameson’s article but also a lot of truth. Japan and China both have train systems that can safely top 200 mph on a regular basis and both are hell bent on developing safe energy sources. The same holds true in most of Europe. By comparison, AMTRACK, here in the US, has recently announced that it can now safely get trains up to speeds of 110 mph over select sections of track. This is the same as the top speed a coal powered train could achieve in 1930 on any section of track.
That’s not really progress.
There’s a reason this is important. Trains can hold several thousand people at one time. Almost four times as much as an air plane. If all regional travel can be transferred to trains without inconveniencing the travelers then the amount of released pollutants decreases dramatically. If, as in China, the amount of pollutants can be reduced to near zero, including the process for making the fuel, then the amount of pollution related diseases can also be reduced by the same margin.
Think of it this way. It is just under 283 miles from Chicago to Detroit. Figure it can take up to four and a half hours to drive that far. The average direct flight from Chicago to Detroit takes about an hour and a quarter but you have to be at the airport an hour early for security reasons and deplaning and collecting luggage adds another half an hour. So that adds up to around two hours and forty five minutes all total. Still better than driving, I must admit. A train traveling two hundred miles per hour would also take about an hour and a quarter to make the trip. But trains load by the car so the onboarding time is much shorter and you can carry more luggage than you can on a plane. Even if you check your baggage the return time when you get to your destination is usually less than ten minutes. Add in boarding and leaving and you add a half an hour to the trip or a total time of an hour and forty five minutes.
So let’s see how that impacts the world around us. A car or van can take a maximum of eight people in four and a half hours and use an average of fifteen gallons of fuel.
A plane can get five hundred people out of the Detroit airport in around two and half hours after using around a thousand gallons of jet fuel.
A train can get two thousand people to Detroit in under two hours after using around eight hundred gallons of fuel.
Yes, I am aware they are different types of fuel, but we’re looking at impact and economy here.
So, the train is the fastest route and uses 2.5 gallons of fuel per person. Planes are next and, to get the same number of people to Detroit as a train, they would need four flights which comes out to five gallons of fuel per person. To make that work for a car … let’s not even bother. You’d need two hundred and fifty cars just to get the ball rolling.
Now, what about those longer trips? Say, for example, you want to go to …. oh, let’s just say, Mars. Last year NASA was saying that colonization was a one way trip. Not so fast says Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz. Or, more correctly, not so slow. Or fatal.
Ed Mazza reports that NASA’s well on its way to getting and there and back in record time.
A new type of rocket that could send humans to Mars in less than six weeks instead of six months or longer may be one step closer to reality.
NASA has selected Texas-based Ad Astra Rocket Company for a round of funding to help develop the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, or VASIMR. The new rocket uses plasma and magnets, not to lift spacecraft into orbit but to propel them further and faster once they’ve escaped the planet’s atmosphere.
“It is a rocket like no other rocket that you might have seen in the past. It is a plasma rocket,” Dr. Franklin Chang-Díaz, a former shuttle astronaut and CEO of Ad Astra said in a video describing the rocket. “The VASIMR engine is not used for launching things into space or landing them back but rather it is used for things already there. We call this ‘in-space propulsion.'”
While missions near Earth would be able to use solar energy to power the rocket, a mission to Mars would require something far more powerful — most likely nuclear power, which the company has called “an ideal power source in space.”
In ideal conditions, the rocket could propel a spacecraft to Mars in just 39 days.
So, in five and a half weeks, not to be confused with Nine and a Half Weeks, you can be standing on an alien world. Plus, the nice thing about using nuclear power in space is that it’s controllable and predictable. Two very important things when the slightest mistake could kill everyone on board.
Okay, now we’re getting in the realm of commercially viable inter-solar travel. But what if that isn’t fast enough for you? Not to worry. Mary-Ann Russon says that NASA may have, accidentally, invented a warp drive.
Yes, just like the one in Star Trek (more on that in a moment).
Nasa has been testing a highly controversial electromagnetic space propulsion technology called EmDrive and has found evidence that it may indeed work, and along the way, might even have made a sci-fi concept possible.
The EmDrive is a technology that could make it much cheaper to launch satellites into space and could be key to solving the energy crisis, if solar power could be harnessed off the satellites and sent back to Earth.
It was thought up and developed by a British scientist called Roger Shawyer, who spent years having his technology ridiculed by the international space community even though Boeing licensed it and the UK government was satisfied it worked.
Nasa has been testing the technology for a while and it confirmed on 29 April that researchers at the Johnson Space Center have successfully tested an electromagnetic propulsion drive in a vacuum, and although it did not seem possible, the technology actually works.
“Thrust measurements of the EmDrive defy classical physics’ expectations that such a closed [microwave] cavity should be unusable for space propulsion because of the law of conservation of momentum,” Nasa’s José Rodal, Jeremiah Mullikin and Noel Munson wrote in a Nasa Spaceflight blog.
What is EmDrive?
EmDrive is based on the theory of special relativity that it is possible to convert electrical energy into thrust without the need to expel any form of repellent.
Shawyer’s critics say according to the law of conservation of momentum, his theory cannot work as in order for a thruster to be propelled forwards, something must be pushed out of the back of it in the opposite direction.
However, EmDrive does preserve the conservation of momentum and energy – to put it simply, electricity converts into microwaves within the cavity that push against the inside of the device, causing the thruster to accelerate in the opposite direction.
Shawyer proved that if you had a 100kg spacecraft, the thrust would be in a clockwise direction and the spacecraft would then accelerate in an anti-clockwise direction.
Nasa says it works when tested in a vacuum
The researchers explain that the reason why Shawyer’s EmDrive models and EmDrive experiments carried out by Chinese researchers had been criticised in the past was because none of the tests had been carried out in a vacuum.
Physics says particles in the quantum vacuum cannot be ionised, so therefore you cannot push against it, but Nasa says Shawyer’s theory does indeed work.
“Nasa has successfully tested their EmDrive in a hard vacuum – the first time any organisation has reported such a successful test. To this end, Nasa Eagleworks has now nullified the prevailing hypothesis that thrust measurements were due to thermal convection,” the researchers wrote.
Nasa says its researchers joined forces with a large community of enthusiasts, engineers, and scientists on several continents to discuss EmDrive theories on the NasaSpaceflight.com EmDrive forum, and “despite considerable effort within the NasaSpaceflight.com forum to dismiss the reported thrust as an artefact, the EmDrive results have yet to be falsified”.
At least now Shawyer’s work is being validated and he continues to work on a souped-up second generation version of the EmDrive that uses super conductors and an asymmetrical cavity to increase the thrust by up to five orders of magnitude.
In an interview with IBTimes UK in August 2014, Shawyer said: “There was an element of not wanting to disrupt the industry, but also a total ignorance in the laws of physics. They did make life difficult for me for a while.
“The space industry doesn’t want to know about it as it’s very disruptive. If the customer will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on launching a satellite, why would you want to make something that could do it cheaper?
“This technology is a quantum leap – it would enable vertical take-off and landing for airplanes, it’s quiet and it uses liquid hydrogen as a fuel, so it’s green too.”
Star Trek warp drive might also now be possible
Apart from the excitement over EmDrive possibly being a real thing, internet users also noticed Nasa could possibly have accidentally invented the warp drive – a faster-than-light propulsion system that enables spacecraft to travel at speeds that are greatly faster than light in sci-fi movies such as Star Trek.
Nasa researchers posted on the Nasa Spaceflight forum that when lasers were fired into the EmDrive’s resonance chamber, some of the laser beams had travelled faster than the speed of light, which would mean the EmDrive could have produced a warp bubble.
A post by another user analysing the EmDrive experiment said “the math behind the warp bubble apparently matches the interference pattern found in the EmDrive”.
The EmDrive could change everything. Not only is it more powerful than anything ever developed it could cut travel times into days instead of months. And that WARP drive thing? I had to make sure it wasn’t a satirical article.
Try this; the NASA engine is an EM Pulse. Star Trek called their slower than light engine Impulse. The new discovery is a space time contraction bubble, or warp. We all already know what Star Trek called their super cool faster than light drive. So the EmDrive is the perfect combination of both Star Trek visions with the added bonus of being something real.
That’s too many coincidences for me. I’m going to start scanning the skies for a Vulcan trading ship tonight.
The point of all this is simple. Take a look at each of the articles again. Faster, more efficient, and safer forms of travel are available. They can take us from the shortest distance to the farthest reaches of your imagination. And not one of them pollutes a damn thing.
Bonus, three out of four involve our good friend hydrogen.