Hybrid Airship Being Readied for Flight

March 8, 2016 by  
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The “world’s largest aircraft,” the Airlander 10, is being readied for flights to begin later this year . The Airlander 10 is a massive hybrid aircraft that combines helium lift, aerodynamic lift, and direct thrust for flight. As we’ve noted before, we are big fans of airships (and even if there are tradeoffs in time and energy costs , we think that there is definitely a place for them in certain niches of air transport), so this is exciting news. Company information from Hybrid Air Vehicles cites a number of reasons for finding this airship so appealing to EcoGeeks: “The revolutionary Airlander 10 combines lighter-than-air technology with the best of aeroplanes and helicopters to bring brand new capabilities to aircraft. We produce less noise, less pollution, have a lower carbon footprint, longer endurance (remains airborne for up to three weeks) and better cargo-carrying capacity than virtually any other flying vehicle, with the ability to land and take-off from any surface, including ice, desert and even water.” At over 300 feet (92 m) long, the Airlander 10 [pdf] is roughly the length of an American football field, and its total envelope is 1.34 million cubic feet (38,000 cubic meters). But the aircraft itself weighs only about 20 tons (20,000 kg). It is the latest in a series of hybrid airship concepts that have been in development over the past several years, and the Airlander itself is the continuation of the now-cancelled US Army LEMV airship . We are certainly glad to see that the civilian uses of this technology continue to be pursued. It’s also good to see the apparent improvements in the technical performance of the craft. When we covered this in 2012, it had a cargo capacity of 7 tons, while the current payload is up to 10 tons. The Airlander 10 has an endurance of 5 days for manned flights and a cruise speed of 80 knots (148 km/hr). via: @hottopicnz

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Hybrid Airship Being Readied for Flight

Using Metals as Carbon Free Fuel Alternatives

January 22, 2016 by  
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Researchers are exploring the novel idea of using metals as fuels. This is not some new, exotic science-fiction material, but rather plentiful, ordinary metals such as iron that could be used in a novel way for storing and transporting renewable energy. According to a McGill University article, the research being led by Professor Jeffrey Bergthorson is proposing “a novel concept for using tiny metal particles – similar in size to fine flour or icing sugar – to power external-combustion engines.” Instead of using the chemical bonds with carbon, which are currently the basis of most fuels we presently use, metal powders could be used in a similar fashion and make use of energetic reactions to release energy when and where it is needed. The article describes the process: “Unlike the internal-combustion engines used in gasoline-powered cars, external-combustion engines use heat from an outside source to drive an engine. External-combustion engines, modern versions of the coal-fired steam locomotives that drove the industrial era, are widely used to generate power from nuclear, coal or biomass fuels in power stations.” We already speak of the “embodied energy” in a material as par of its overall sustainability profile. Materials that are energy intensive to produce, such as concrete and steel, are less preferable from a lifecycle perspective compared to a material like wood, which needs much less energy to gather and prepare. So the idea of using iron powder (or some other metal) as a fuel is not as impractical as it might seem at first. While we think of metal as non-combustible, fine metal can be burned (as anyone who has ever lit a piece of steel wool on fire can tell you). But transporting a load of iron dust is much less hazardous than loads of oil or liquified natural gas. Using metals as a fuel would require capturing the spent fuel in order to re-process it. Having clouds of rust floating in the air sounds like a dystopian future. But, in theory, processing the oxidized metal back into its pure state could be carried out repeatedly, re-using the same metal over and over. While the researchers are looking at all levels of energy use with this technology, from automotive uses on up, the idea of storing grid-scale energy or even transporting it from one location to another (refining metal near locations producing lots of energy, much the way aluminum processing presently takes place close to cheap electricity sources), and then transporting the metal to power plants for it to be burned to produce electricity. One potential drawback that probably requires further investigation is that metal is a much heavier substrate than carbon-based fuels are. If metal dust is to be used for transportation, how heavy is the fuel that needs to be carried for ordinary travel? But if existing combustion power plants could be adapted to use metal powder instead of coal or other fossil fuels, then much of the existing power generating infrastructure could be used, and power generation could continue to be in the same places it is now, using the same grid as is currently supplying electricity. Large scale power plants are also likely much easier to set up with the equipment necessary to do the capture of exhaust. via: Quirks and Quarks

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Using Metals as Carbon Free Fuel Alternatives

Still Plugging Electric Cars at NAIAS 2016

January 13, 2016 by  
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Nobody is trying to save the planet with green cars anymore. The days of green cars being featured at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) seem to be over.  Gone are the days of rainforest themes and bamboo floors and ostentatiously placed recycling bins.  But we’ve been reporting that for the past few years . We’ve continued to note the decrease in emphasis on the importance of fuel economy, resource conservation, emissions reduction, and similar features that make a car “green.”  Green is now passe.  Or green has become mainstream.  It’s probably a bit of both. This is not to say that everything has gone back to the way it was.  Regulations for fuel economy have pushed things to where a small, chunky SUV had the kind of unheralded fuel efficiency that would’ve been one of the selling points for a small sedan a few years earlier.  So, in that sense, the entire industry has gotten greener.  But it’s gotten rolled into the ordinary business of selling cars. The one thing which is a green car element that was repeated across many manufacturers’ displays this year was the electric vehicle charging station.  Rather than being surrounded by a special display drawing attention to the “green” car, in most instances, the rechargeable vehicles were identified primarily by having that company’s power unit standing beside it (often with the unit plugged in to show the connection).  Audi, BMW, Nissan, and Porsche are among those with this kind of display.  Having a matching branded charging station in one’s own garage is one thing, but the interoperability of different chargers needs to be assured for the uptake of electric vehicles to continue to grow. Instead of everyone trying to establish their green credibility, this year the feature that most manufacturers seem to want you to covet is having the ability to connect your phone and your car.  Rather than embedding complicated systems into the vehicle itself, they are instead taking advantage of the nimbler technology of the smartphone, and making it easier to pair that with your new vehicle. The other thing that was striking to a long-time auto show attendee was the number of shifts in space between different manufacturers.  While some companies’ presence was in the same part of Cobo Hall where they have been in previous years, there were moves among several companies major companies with their displays in very different places from where they had been for the last few years.  Does being in a different place mean anything significant?  Maybe not.  But at the same time, it seems emblematic of a shift in the landscape. Tesla, which had been the brash upstart at the show a few years ago and maintained a presence for several years, was not a part of this year’s show at all.  More surprisingly, Toyota’s presence was reduced to a small counter with just two people standing behind it, although sub-brands Scion and Lexus had a presence, and they evidently had a bit more to reveal during the continuation of the show on Tuesday. Luxury brands seemed to be a bigger presence than in the past.  Both Cadillac and Lincoln displays were disconnected from the rest of their respective parent companies, and were across from one another in about the space around where Tesla had been in past years.  A “luxury lifestyle” magazine (with a handful of high-end cars in their display) had a space easily as large as some of the less mainstream exhibits from previous years, such as VIA, or BYD, or last year’s car printing 3D printer.  There seemed to be a new emphasis on exclusivity, while also an overall reduction in the size of the footprint than in previous shows.  While last year there were many technological displays on the lower level, this year it was just the US Army (also present on the lower level last year) and the automotive design program of Lawrence Technological University. But the number of companies with more than one electric or hybrid vehicle seems like this year’s notable trend.  BMW, for one example, has three different vehicles (i8, i3, and 330e), all for different market segments, with plug-in capability.  That, as much as anything, seems to be the green trend to watch for the next couple of years.

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Still Plugging Electric Cars at NAIAS 2016

Who Cares About the 2015 Green Car of the Year?

January 12, 2015 by  
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One thing we’ve looked for in our annual coverage of the North American International Auto Show  (NAIAS) is the attention paid to green cars. Over the past few years, we’ve noted that environmental concerns have diminished year to year. Part of this is due to those concerns going mainstream and being incorporated into manufacturers’ whole lines, to a greater or lesser extent. But the days of having a “green flagship” are pretty much over. This year’s five finalists for Green Car of the Year were: Audi A3 TDI, BMW i3, Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel, Honda Fit, and VW Golf. The field is still wide open, as these include a range of fueling options, including diesel, electric, bi-fuel (gasoline/ethanol), conventional high-efficiency gasoline, and an all-of the above smorgasbord from VW with almost all of those options included in the available options for the Golf. In fact, the VW Golf was awarded North American  Car of the Year honors at this year’s show, and the new, aluminum F-150 Ford pickup won for Truck of the Year. But none of the manufacturers has a display touting the Green Car of the Year. Senior representatives for a couple of the contenders knew that it wasn’t one of theirs, but didn’t know beyond that. The Green Car of the Year seems to have fallen off general awareness at this year’s show. The most striking new technology on display, which will be of interest to green car enthusiasts, are hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs). These are going to be the next big thing to watch for, and a number of manufacturers are displaying their FCV concepts and demonstrators. Companies with FCVs in their displays this year include Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota. Fabrication and 3d printing are also concepts getting prominent display at this year’s show. An operational 3D printing station is on the main floor as part of the Local Motors display, printing out a car body during the show. The lower level of the show, which often has some of the more interesting displays, has a complete 3D printed car, as well as probably the least fuel efficient vehicle at this year’s show, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle (not for retail sale). Informative static graphic displays are also in much less abundance than previous years. The engine-on-a-stick motif and the cutaway display are much less a part of this year’s show. Many of the manufacturers seem to be focusing more on the sculpture and the simple presence of their cars. Displays about fuel efficiency or milage are in very short supply at this year’s show. And no one is trying to show off a particular vehicle as an esepcially green leader. If you’ve read this far, then you, too, must have some interest in green cars. Since the announcement was made a few weeks ago, maybe it’s not considered news. But it seems emblematic of just how far things have gone – whether you see that as a good thing or a bad thing – that it’s not even a part of BMW’s display for the vehicle to announce that the BMW i3 is this year’s Green Car of the Year .

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Who Cares About the 2015 Green Car of the Year?

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