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Xepher

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« Reply #15 on: September 05, 2005, 08:45:33 pm »
Fuel cell technology (such as GM's) isn't that new, but the problem is that it's not very efficent yet. The "running on water" bit is only true if you don't count the electricty you have to put in it to split the water. The basic idea is that you plug in the car overnight, and it electrolyzes water into hydrogen and oxygen, then you can run the car the next day by reversing the process. Although most solutions just dump the o2 and later pull in new o2 from the air. In this sense, it's effectively just a rechargable battery. That's where our problems come into play, if you store h2 just under pressure (like bottles) the volume you need to make any great distance with a fuel cell is huge. On top of that, you've basically got a shuttle fuel tank sitting in your trunk. Not the safest thing to carry.

What they're working on is hydrogen storage in solid substrates. Basically solid or semi-solid matrixes to which h2 can be easily bonded and unbonded. This would mean that the gas isn't under pressure, and also that it can be stored much more densely, giving you a much farther run than with bottles. Such technology isn't production ready yet, so the only viable short-term option is to have hydrogen filling stations, where you can fill up on h2, rather than electrolizing your own. Then we come to the chicken and egg problem. Which comes first, h2 cars, or h2 stations? How do you convince people to buy/build one before the other is in use?

I still hold that nuclear is the only real solution to the energy problems we're going to be facing. We have new reactor and power plant designs that are incredibly advanced beyond anything in operation. Pebble bed reactors that simply can NOT have a melt down. New ceramic materials that resist corrosion in pumping systems and can last for a century or more. All sorts of nifty stuff.

What we do is build dozens of these plants. We build more than we need. Once they're built, operating costs are relatively low, and the price of electricity starts coming down. If we've built enough, the price becomes extremely cheap... to the point where electricity is practically free to the average joe. Once you've done that, then it becomes reasonable to power cars with hydrogen, as the electricity to make it is cheap. Filling stations would just make their own, rather than have it shipped. Sure, splitting water is by no means the most efficent way to make hydrogen, but it's the cleanest, and the only real cost is in electricity. If that's cheap enough, then everything becomes cheap (and clean!)

At this point we've made electricity cheap enough for just about every energy need we have. It even becomes commercially viable to use it for things like foundries and smelting. (Some places do it with electricity already.) You move anything that was a petrol engine over to fuel cells, and now the only sources of pollution we have left are a few chemical manufacturing plants. No cars, no power plants, nothing is burning fossile fuel.

"But what about the nuclear waste?" First off, that's not a huge issue. The new designs are highly efficent, and the fuel in them will last 50+ years, and unlike old reactors, they can easily be refueled without dismantaling the entire facility. We can then take the used fuel, and do one of two things. We can seal it up and bury it, taking the time to do it right of course. Or we can throw it away. And by throw I mean "launch" and by "away" I mean "into the sun."

No, I'm serious. Take the waste from a single powerplant refueling. It's gonna weigh well less than the payload capacity of a single Atlas rocket. You could literally just launch it out of orbit on a path that it'll send it towards the sun. Gravity does the rest. You could probably send 3-4 plants worth of waste on a single heavy lift rocket. But hey, as long as we're revamping the national infrastructure to nuclear, why not make better rockets too?

Nuclear rockets. "Ooh, but what about radiation?" someone always asks. The rocket design I'm talking about (nuclear-thermal gas-core "lightbulb") has perfectly clean exhaust. All the radioactive material is compltely contained inside the engine, and stays there for 50 years or so. The only exhaust is pure hydrogen, heated a bit hotter than the surface of the sun. There's an excellent article detailing all the designs for it here but the basic stats are thus:

It's 115m tall (about the size of a Saturn V they used to go to the moon), completely reusable, single stage (nothing gets tossed away) and it has enough fuel to take off with a 2 million pound playload (six times that of the shuttle) put it in oribit, pick up a new payload, and then land on it's own exhaust. Just like the old science fiction rockets, it doesn't glide or anything fancy, just comes down and burns engines to slow and then settles right on it's own tail. The rocket itself weighs 3x what the Saturn did, and all that extra weight goes into safety. It's got 7 engines, but can take off with only 5. It's made of honest-to-god metal, not all that lightweight aluminium foil and such. It'd be on the bullet proof side of things. No piece of foam is gonna take this thing down. Let me reiterate... it can carry 6 times the shuttle, both to AND from orbit, absolutely nothing gets thrown away and (for at least 50 years) the only thing it needs for fuel is hydrogen... which we'll have plenty of by that time. The "reusable" part of it is honestly true too. They say the shuttle is reusable, but by that they mean it only has to spend a year or so being completely rebuilt before it's good to go again. With one of these you could, quite literally, land in the middle of L.A., run some hoses from the nearest 10 filling stations, and be ready to go again as soon as the tank filled up. No special launch gantries are required, no elevators and assembly buildings, just fuel and a nice clear spot of ground.


Now, I'm not the only one clammoring for us to do something like this. The problem is that it takes a massive initial investment of the sort that only the goverment could instigate. That, and people are still afraid of the word "nuclear." But if you look at the amount of money we spend as a nation trying to keep a petroleum infrastructure running... The problem is that politicians don't think more than 4 years to the next election. God forbid they should do some long-term planning.

Ashley_Rose

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« Reply #16 on: September 05, 2005, 09:12:10 pm »
*looks around, bewildered* Wait, what?

Long term planning?

What is this highly efficient, opposite of narrow minded policy you are promoting?

*hides under a rock*
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thefemnazi

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« Reply #17 on: September 05, 2005, 09:16:21 pm »
I would like to put my green and liberal two cents in.  And I'll be the first to admit that I may not be well liked for it.

But one of the reasons we as Americans enjoy relatively low gas prices in the first place (As opposed to Europe, for example) is because our crude oil is federally subsidized, right?  Where does the money to subsidize come from?  Income tax, if I'm not mistaken.  European nations don't subsidize, and people are not willing to continually pay that much for their main mode of transportation.  So what happens?  Public Transport- trains, busses, etc.  I've been told by several enviornmentalists that if we stopped subsidizing crude oil for 5 years and used those tax dollars for renewables and public transport, we would be caught up with and possibly beyond Europe at the end of that five year deadline.  An option to take the US from being the #1 Consumer and #1 Importer.  But feel free to hate me.  :)

But five years is longer than a presidential term, so....we lose.
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Xepher

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« Reply #18 on: September 06, 2005, 12:09:13 am »
It's not JUST that the goverment subsidizes oil. While it certainly doesn't help to have artifically low gas prices, a much more difficult problem arises in America. Our country is fracking HUGE! Also, it's relatively new. In europe, and especially in european cities, places were built and designed in eras where horses were high tech, and most people walked most places. It's actually feasible to not have a car there. In America, there are very few places one can really live without a car. Most of those places have mass transit already. The other 2/3 of the country though... we have no option but to drive. I grew up rural Colorado, and we had to drive 30 miles to get to wal-mart even. As for food, there was a local grocery store, but it was tiny, and if you didn't want to pay $5 for a jar of mayo, you'd just wait and drive 30 miles for a real grocery store as well.

Now, granted, my prediciment was pretty extreme, but even in major cities like Dallas, a good percentage of the population lives miles and miles from various stores and things they need, and even if you want to take the bus, it's still 3-5 miles to the nearest bus stop. And then, even if you can psych yourself up for a 5 miles of walking to get to the store, it's not even an option unless you're suicidal. The layout of such places doesn't include pedestrian access in anything but the most limited way. You can't just walk or ride your bike on the interstate (unless your want to die or get arrested.)

Yeah, you could subsidize mass transit, and I think it's a good thing to try, especially for regional services like the proposed houston-dallas high speed rail, but for day to day life, cars are simply the only viable option for most people. Our country's entire infrastructure is designed with cars in mind, and no matter how much you try, you really can't replace that with mass transit without redesigning entire cities. Believe me, I drove the bus here last year. This town is only 9000 people, and the difficulity in designing routes that work is just horridly impossible. For a large city, imagine designing a system for the thousands of origins and destinations people could be going to, and then finding a way to get them there efficently, and in a reasonable time. Either you have a few routes that go and wind through lots of stuff... meaning a long ride if you're looking for a later stop... or you have a bunch of mini-routes that all intersect... in which case people have to switch busses a dozen times and know exactly what bus is going where and when.

No, without redesigning most of our cities and towns, the only viable mass transit solutions are the really far-fetched ideas like computerized smart-subways or road-trains where each car can switch tracks and link with others, meaning people get a fairly direct route to wherever. When I say "smart" I mean the person gets on, punches (or says) a destination, and the train (or maybe their transit pass) tells them when and where to switch cars, and eventually gets them within a couple blocks of their destination. Of course even that only covers large cities. Those of us that don't like living like rats and sardines are still stuck with personal vehicles.

I know for my part, I would love to ride my bike to work. Problem is, for my job as an on-site consultant, I have to travel to various clients throughout the day, often bringing tons of computer equipment and tools with me. I've had several calls in the past few weeks there were 20+ miles out in the country. There's never gonna be mass transit to places like that, and you're never going to convince me carry 100lbs. of computers on my bike for that distance.

Count yourself lucky you live in Seattle. It's one of the few cities in all of America with a truly workable mass transit system, and most of that is only because the city is pretty old, and even after the fire, they rebuilt in pretty much the same way. Still though, just try living in bellvue and getting to a job downtown, and see how much time it takes out of your day. Now try some equally far place that's not as popular as downtown, say some neighborhood up north of town. Make 20 miles from residential to residential, then see how much faster and easier it is by car. Then imagine that you've got a family, and kids that have to get to soccer practice and ballet. You simply can't get from school to home to soccer to ballet on time via the bus. It's not just hard, it's impossible. Until you fix that, you can't fix our reliance on cars.

thefemnazi

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« Reply #19 on: September 06, 2005, 03:58:15 am »
Sorry, but I have to disagree.  I'm 22 years old, I grew up in a town with less than five thousand people (in the boonies), went to college in the smallest college town in WI, and now live in a city with 25,000 people (still in the boonies) and a bus system that runs only weekdays, 9-5.  I've only owned a car for about 5 months of that entire 22 years.  I understand that most Americans believe they need cars, and in our current culture, I agree.  But I also think that 5 years could get us to the point where it isn't a cultural requirement for each family to have 3-4 SUVs, and that if you force Americans to pay full, unsubsidized price for their gasoline, we will rediscover the technology that allows a car to get 70 miles to the galleon, and hybrid cars will become the norm, rather than the hippie choice.  We had almost created that technology in the last energy crisis, but then the crisis "ended" and we, being the capitalist and somewhat selfish society we are, reverted to old habits.  And we have to look at the fact that we're within 20 years of reaching the critical halfway point for our fossil fuels.  I'm sorry if my message was all "MASS TRANSIT GOOD, CARS EVIL."  But I do think that we could quite easily become a more eviornmental country if only we didn't allow the federal government to make polluting such a cost-effective option.  And I don't live in Seattle, although I am moving there within 6 months.  And yes, one of the things that drew me to Seattle was the wonderful public transit.  :)
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Xepher

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« Reply #20 on: September 06, 2005, 05:31:20 am »
Sorry, thought Ashley mentioned you lived in seattle already. My bad. And I definitely agree about the "making cars suck less" bit. I was just saying that I don't think mass transit is an option for MOST people. It's doable for some, but not the majority. Making cars that don't pollute (a la fuel cells and clean electricity) is the way to go. I don't think most people need 3-4 cars by any means, but on the other hand, I don't like seeing people point out american society and faulting us for our luxuries. I think we should strive to be the most comfortable nation on earth, that's what the future is all about! I'm a big fan of technology and comfort, so I'd much rather take the approach of making cars better, rather than convincing ourselves we don't need cars. Of course we don't need them, but I WANT to have one, and so do a lot of other people. In fact, I want a flying car, and I see nothing wrong with that. Our problem is we've been doing it in a way that hurts other people and the planet itself. Too many environmentalists (not saying you specifically) take the approach of "making do with less" rather than "making what we have do better." Give me a million clean, flying cars over a small amount of dirty, cramped busses any day.

And yes, when I have cake, I tend to eat it too. (Seems stupid not to.) :-)

Gwyn

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« Reply #21 on: September 06, 2005, 12:56:13 pm »
it's like 1.47 per litre here, it's probably going to go up again today sooo there are 3.7843 litres in the gallon..so I guess we pay *checks*  HOLY CRAP! $5.56 per gallon.

*bikes away*
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Databits

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« Reply #22 on: September 06, 2005, 03:50:55 pm »
I'd need to agree with Xepher. While I was in Alaska, far be it only 3 days, I had to take a bus everywhere I went. Now in Juneau, AK the public transit system is pretty well organized, and since the place isn't huge the bus route pamplet isn't but 2 pages including times. But still....

It was a major pain in the ass. After the very first day, only going to 3-4 places that I could have hit in 30 mins by myself in my own vehicle, I spent the entire day travelling to the places I needed to go. The problem is, just because bus transit was (most the time) on schedule, doesn't mean that the various companies, shcools, organizations, etc... follow the schedule. And god forbid if you try to leave a store, and get caught up in a line, then end up missing your bus by like 3 mins just because some person can't decide if they want something. Public transit is not nearly as efficiant as personnal transit for time. Not even close.

So yes, I'd agree with Xepher 100%. Give me millions of cars that run clean any day over public transit. But I think it would be cool to have teleportation technology even more. :)
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Xepher

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« Reply #23 on: September 06, 2005, 04:31:22 pm »
Quote from: Databits
But I think it would be cool to have teleportation technology even more. :)
Ah, I see you too subscribe to the and-a-pony school of negotiation.

*crickets*

See, he's wishing for something impossible, so when you're asking for someting you're never going to get, you might as well ask for a pony too, just in case.... observe.


"What I want is a car that gets 1000 miles to the gallon, a computer that never crashes, and movies that don't suck... and a pony."

See? It's funny!

Databits

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« Reply #24 on: September 06, 2005, 04:45:15 pm »
Joking... joking... yeesh. I know it's far beyond out technological capabilities to even fathom actually creating something like that at this time.
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Xepher

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« Reply #25 on: September 06, 2005, 06:02:18 pm »
Yes, I know you were joking... That was why I was pointing out the funny bit of it, as I do the same thing, and reading penny arcade one day I saw it described as "and-a-pony." Figured I'd share "teh haha." :-)

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« Reply #26 on: September 06, 2005, 07:26:34 pm »
considering you had to explain...

would it be sad if I got that? O_o
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Ashley_Rose

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« Reply #27 on: September 06, 2005, 08:19:10 pm »
I just, you know, want a pony.

I personally think it would be great if horses were a normal transportation option. But that is just me.

Oh! and I totally have seen the place where a tiny family owns about 6-9 cars. It's kooky.
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thefemnazi

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« Reply #28 on: September 06, 2005, 11:42:42 pm »
I will concede to Xepher on the whole America should be allowed it's luxeries idea.  We live in the most powerful and affluent country in the world, we should enjoy it.  I also agree that it shouldn't be at the cost of others and the enviornment.  So as soon as the rest of the US agrees with us, I'll stop being an over-opiniated evil witch.  Ha!  And horses would totally rock as a means of transportation.  I would totally prefer a pony over a car.  For one, people don't look at you nearly as oddly when you talk to and pet a pony.
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Lei

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« Reply #29 on: September 06, 2005, 11:58:29 pm »
Give me a bike, destination, directions (if possible) and about twenty minutes and I'm happy.

 As long as we aren't kind of... dumped with snow. in that case, I'll take the pony.
"Don't follow into my footsteps; I walk into walls."