An average oneton car might cover about 20 miles on a gallon of fuel, while one ton can be moved miles by rail on one gallon.
All automakers are faced with a public that wants them to be innovative, that wants safety features beyond government standards, yet is prone to sue over the smallest error. Hydrogen fuel-cells represent a comprehensive alternative because a hydrogen-electric system of the same format would be equally viable for vehicles, even buildings. GM has already developed a home power system using a natural gas fuel-cell; a hydrogen version is feasible.
Electricity drives the motors. Water is cooled in a condenser and returned to the water tank.
Any vehicle body can be placed upon the platform: a pick-up, convertible, sedan or station wagon while its controls need only be plugged in. Meanwhile the us Army, with sandia labs, is building a fuel-cell locomotive. Hydrogen fuel-cell systems have problems: cost and service life. As of the vital membrane where hydrogen and oxygen mix rapidly wears out and is expensive to replace. Hydrogen is a thin gas. Paradoxically, a high-pressure hydrogen tank may be a safer hydrogen tank. A high-capacity tank is also possible using the bizarre quality of some metal alloys to soak up hydrogen like a sponge — becoming metal hydrides.
Another option is glass microspheres. When warmed they absorb hydrogen passing between glass molecules, but when the glass returns to ambient temperature the gas is trapped. Renewable energy, with hydrogen as the prime storage medium, is more practical for all purposes, and thus represents one family of technologies to meet most needs.
Notably, photovoltaics are already widely used to power external appliances, such as remote telephone relay stations, billboards and streetlights, which thus need no connection to a power grid. When decelerating or descending a hill regenerative braking utilizes the capability of an electric motor to function as a generator and act as a drag on the car while generating electricity to an onboard electrolyzer, a technological cousin of the fuel-cell that uses electricity to crack water into hydrogen and oxygen.
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Water would become hydrogen again, returned to the storage tank. Many car owners might have hydrogen capacity at home, others would go to gas stations as now. Gas pump nozzles would have a very tight seal. Hydrogen can be used as an alternative fuel, and this adds to its allure. Burned in gasoline engines it generates water vapor laced with tiny quantities of burned motor oil. However, unless the water vapor exhaust is condensed back to water and recycled the car would not only add to the warm water vapor already being exhausted by engines, and prone to form clouds, it would also demand a source of water for continued hydrogen production.
Historically more than one military purchase order has started a new industry. Cruising by Light ships and planes are going electric. Azipod technology can also save 15 percent on fuel. Photovoltaic fabrics will one day be viable for commercial sailing ships and yachts. The energy-water system applied to a sailboat. The boat would never need to stop for fuel or water.
Electricity generated by photovoltaics on cabin roof and sails would supply power on sunny days. Water would be recycled, with some portion used for drinking and washing, and losses replenished from sea or lake. When sailing, the electric motor would be driven by the propeller, thus generating electricity. As of a company called Have Blue in Ventura California markets this concept, sans electric sails. Photovoltaics will likely be integrated with fabric in the near future, thus allowing electric sails.
Pvs are already common on boats for lights and communications systems. When under power the electric motor drives the propeller, but when sailing the propeller drives the electric motor to regenerate electricity. Moreover large commercial planes consume very large quantities of fuel so rapidly it would seem impossible to power a plane with renewable energy. Jets could burn hydrogen in jet engines. Another innovator is working on a glider with electricity for its small motor powered by photovoltaics on its wings. Model plane hobbyists are increasingly using silent electric motors, not whining gasoline engines.
However, electric controls could set the stage for all-electric power. A Boeing airliner can carry people 8, miles on 57, gallons of kerosene, or nearly tons of fuel. Batteries tend to be dense and heavy, and many battery technologies are too volatile to risk in such a use. Hydrogen may be light, but not if compressed in a strong tank. Moreover, if we seek to reduce water vapor in the atmosphere we would need to contain the water produced by the on-board fuel-cells as they generate electricity. Perhaps hydrogen could be encapsulated in a water-based gel, a liquid hydride the consistency of syrup.
As the hydrogen is discharged to the fuel-cell the water produced would take the place of the shrinking gel. Planes would still leave a trail, a wisp of warm air, but less overall heat due to electric propulsion. Return of the Retail Railway for a century you could step aboard a train in any city on the north American continent and access 23, stations just in the us.
Worldwide highways move the most, by number of people or volume of freight. Airways are second in moving passengers, but next to last in moving freight. Waterways are last in freight and passenger volumes, being inherently limited to rivers, oceans and canals, and relatively slow speeds.
In fact, railways cost significantly less to build and operate, take up much less land, use a fraction of the energy and offer speed and comfort unattainable by cars or buses. In cities the issue is how many people or tons can be moved in how little space. Proven potential on existing passenger train and trolley routes with dense service can range from 5 to more than 30 percent of total travel volume. Here one railcar is compared to a comparable number of automobiles, and expanded to the national potential. Passenger-mile means one person moved one mile numbers are based on US Department of Transportation statistics.
What if there were a modern railway network that carried all kinds of people and freight 24 hours a day between every town and city on existing track from nova scotia to el salvador, from Miami to vancouver? Most routes are within a right-of-way purchased to accommodate more tracks. A few tens of thousands of former railroad rights-of-way remain intact, ignored or used as trails. What would it cost to expand thousands of miles of existing routes and build several thousand miles of new routes just in the us?
Energy consumed in transport is primarily for passenger transportation and specifically for cars. There are essentially two ways to reduce energy consumed, and the cost and pollution it represents. One, we can expand the use of alternatives, especially railways and local transit.
Two, we can utilize the latest technologies to achieve 25 to 50 percent reductions in energy used. Even if the US shifted to nonpolluting energy sources it remains imperative the nation reduce resource consumption to improve its competitive stature. A railway program would save more than it costs.
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Thus the railway, either all new or a revitalized existing line, is the avenue to introduce new energy, communications and water technologies. It is the one big transport program that provides an opportunity to build all state-ofthe-art. Given these implications, one trillion dollars in funding, with say a quarter from public sources, is an incredibly good deal. We are already spending it — on driving. Building on this precedent the new retail railway could be designed around state-of-the-art technologies.
A network of regional retail railways, with trains powered by light, would not be vulnerable to power outages, oil prices or natural disasters. A whole new railway involves track, trains, energy, communications, water and waste systems, plus stations, bridges and tunnels. Also needed are virtually all the professions, from engineers to bankers to lawyers to accountants to architects to scientists, plus of course politicians. A new railway system represents a watershed event. As a strategy, industrial ecology can be applied to the design of a community or the development of an industrial complex.
A century ago railroads commonly removed worn ties and rails from mainlines and reinstalled them on secondary routes. An ancient railroad tie that once carried the 20th century limited is junk to the railroad, a stairway to a gardener. Around the facility there would be metal foundries, gas and cement companies, all sharing electricity and hot water from the plant. An eco-industrial park would use everything — one way or another.
Technology is generally viewed as a series of discrete products, rather than a system as complex as any ecological system. A major product manufactured for one purpose may be sold, used and recycled, being remade using the old materials. This activity may trigger additional businesses, such as schools to teach people how to make the product. In industry, as in ecology, one cannot do just one thing — everything is linked. Hydrogen reliance will transform the energy infrastructure. Industry today is defined by innumerable one-story concrete buildings with flat roofs.