December 25, 2003 (Ira Pilgrim)
It would be great if all polluting things, such as automobiles,
could be powered by a non-polluting fuel.
Anyone who has lived or traveled in a big city knows that, when there isn't a stiff breeze, the air can be almost unbreathable. In most cites, that pollution is produced by gasoline and diesel driven vehicles. One partial solution is electric trains and trolley cars. That "solution" helps, but it doesn't solve the problem. The automobile is here to stay. Too many people depend on it for transportation and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. One proposed answer is to use a non-polluting fuel.
The ideal fuel is hydrogen which, when it burns or is used in a fuel cell, yields just water vapor. There are, as there are with almost everything, some problems. Hydrogen, when mixed with air, is highly explosive and, since it is a gas, it has to be stored in high-pressure containers.
Hydrogen can be produced by passing an electric current through salt water. It produces two parts of hydrogen and one of oxygen. The oxygen has many uses and if too much is produced, it can simply be released into the atmosphere.
The major problem is; where do you get the electricity that is needed in order to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen? Recently someone has proposed using nuclear power to do it. The idea of using the most dangerous system ever created to produce a non-polluting fuel is the height of insanity.
It would be possible to set up several hundred square miles of solar panels in the desert to provide the electricity needed to manufacture and compress hydrogen. Where do you get water in a desert? Solar energy works well and is non-polluting. I have been using it for some of my energy needs for over 20 years. If this were done, hydrogen as a source of energy should work well. Other electricity-generating systems merely pollute one area to make a fuel that is non-polluting for another area.
As a source of electricity, hydroelectric power works remarkably well, even though it too has its problems (http://www.mcn.org/c/irapilgrim/sci09.html). Small hydroelectric plants work very well and are economical, but damming rivers and streams has gone out of style. Dams causes big problems for migrating fish.
Wind power has some big problems when used to generate electricity. The force of the wind varies greatly from one instant to another. The stresses on a high-speed wind generator are immense. Breakdown of these generators is very common. I have yet to see a home wind generator that was relatively quiet and didn't fail frequently. The large field of large wind generators that I have seen at Altamont Pass had a number of them that appeared to be broken down. Off highway 101 in California, a man has built a home-made wind generator out of 50 gallon drums cut in half. It turns slowly, but with very high torque, which is geared up to turn an automobile-type alternator or generator. I have no idea whether this principle can be applied on a large scale, although large slow turning windmills have been used for centuries to grind grain.
There are solutions to the air pollution problem, but don't hold your breath. On second thought, maybe holding your breath is the only solution to the problem.
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