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Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Yesterday I reported that 56.5% of people in Hawaii indicated to a Star-Advertiser poll that it was something between very doubtful to no way that the state could achieve 100% renewable energy self sufficiency by 2045.  50% of this group today felt that BOTH the Men and Women Basketball teams would, respectively, beat the University of California and UCLA at the NCAA Big Dance this weekend.  Unrealistic.  Clearly, thus, that 56.5% figure was much too optimistic.

As I've been predicting for some time, renewably powered electricity is a given when global warming taxes are invoked or the cost of fossil fuels skyrockets, and the second will be related to the first.  I've of course already told you what will happen in my Huffington Post article of five years ago on:

In short, I said don't call it a tax and simply find a way to absorb 5 cents/pound carbon dioxide into the economy.  This would increase gasoline from $2/gallon to $3/gallon and electricity from 15 cents/kWh to 25 cents/kWh.  Clearly the general populace won't today embrace this increase, and Republicans would not let it happen anyway.

Ground transport might well become more battery powered, but lithium will be the final battery and fuel cells show a lot more potential anyway.  Comparing a lithium ion powered vehicle with a fuel cell car, the latter makes a lot more sense.  To quote from my HuffPo:

Per unit volume, a fuel cell should be able to provide five times more energy than the lithium battery

The problem is that hydrogen will always be too expense, so I suggested a biomethanol and direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) system.  It has already been surmised that the DMFC will someday replace batteries for portable applications:

Small portable devices are well suited, in terms of storage, safety, and energy density, to use of methanol as a fuel for fuel cells.

Very recently, there has been an uptick in DMFC patents, so something appears to be happening.

So what am I saying?  Development of renewable electricity and ground transport appear to be progressing well.  Not so for clean aviation fuel.  Yesterday I reported on how much the Department of Defense seems committed.  United Airlines appears to be equally progressive.  They are all justifiably concerned about security, availability and emissions.  

However, where do you draw the line?  Renewable jet fuel would have been more than double the price of conventional jet fuel when oil cost $100+barrel.  Today, that factor is four and higher.  Terrific for attitude and total life cycle cost analysis, but the reality is that the commercial airlines will only use limited amounts of biofuels primarily for PR, as the profits cannot be materially affected.  If oil skyrockets to $200/barrel, then we have a game.  But the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has petroleum at $51/barrel in December of 2024.  Don't expect any great green aviation advances for at least a decade, and the fickleness of oil prices is a good reason why substantive decisions will be avoided into the foreseeable future.

So what about the necessary shift to hydrogen-powered flight?  I tried.  Went to work for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee more than a third of a century ago, drafted the hydrogen bill that became the Matsunaga Hydrogen Act, which triggered interest from NASA and the Department of Defense in advancing the hydrogen-powered National Aerospace Plane, for which $2 billion was expended.  But this effort today is secret and relatively minor.

More than twenty years ago I chaired the U.S. Secretary of Energy's Hydrogen Technical Advisory Panel, and we produced The Green Hydrogen Report.  The scary thing is that we arbitrarily inflated what we thought would not be seriously considered and proposed a ten year budget plant that became largely utilized by the U.S. Congress to establish funding levels for hydrogen over the protests of the U.S. Department of Energy.  At one point a decade after this publication, the USDOE Hydrogen Budget actually exceeded the Solar Technology Budget.  But next generation aviation got zero support.

As I earlier reported, NASA just gave Lockheed Martin $20 million to test out a half-sized supersonic plane by 2020.  The use of biofuels is one aspect of this X-plane adventure, but we return to the high cost of biomass converted liquid fuel.  Hydrogen is not mentioned.

So is anything happening to hydrogen-powered aircraft?
3. Aviation? This has not even been considered, but should. When I drafted the first hydrogen bill for Senator Spark Matsunaga nearly three decades ago, I added a clause for the National Aerospace Plane, thanks to input from Lockheed. To shorten a long tale of delay, we are at least 25, if not 50 years, away from a next-generation hydrogen powered jetliner or cost-effective jet fuel from marine algae. Are we then in deep trouble? Hawaii especially, but I've learned of a new concept, for now, let's call it the Hawaiian Hydrogen Clipper (or H2 Clipper), which the advocates say, can be developed in a decade. While the prudent might be skeptical, I support the idea because there is nothing else on the horizon, and this idyllic spot in the Pacific would, indeed, be the ideal location to pioneer this development, for we have the political clout -- P-E Barack Obama was born and grew up in this State and Senators Daniel Inouye (chairman of the full Appropriations Committee) and Senator Daniel Akaka (on Energy and Natural Resources Committee) represent Hawaii -- natural resources, and definite need, for without a next generation sustainable air travel alternative, when jet fuel prices again skyrocket, tourism will truly collapse, and economic depression will follow.

  • So, well, any progress on that Hydrogen Clipper?  Haven't talked to him in more than a year, but Rinaldo Brutoco will hopefully continue to pursue this option, and make progress, soon.
With oil at less than $40/barrel,  however, there is meager interest in finding a clean option for air transport.  At $100/barrel, nothing much more will happen.  $200/barrel?  Sure, but too late, for it will take longer than a quarter century for anything like a new hydrogen jetliner from conception to commercialization to occur.  On with the Hawaiian Hydrogen Clipper.

There has been no ocean storm activity for weeks, so I thought I would at least mention that Tropical Cyclone Emeraude has popped up in the India Ocean, and, while currently at 65 MPH, will attain Category 3 strength, but go south to nowhere:


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