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Putting Creativity to Good Use
The transportation sector is dependent upon a portable source of energy. Historically and globally sources of energy have ranged from wood, animal dung, coal/charcoal, various liquids (petroleum, alcohol) and gases (propane, LPG). In the 20th century fossil fuels in its various forms are derived from ancient plant materials and have been the most used and are among the most portable sources of energy. However, there is an environmental cost when such fuels are used. The breakdown products may be toxic, irritating or may impact the atmosphere in such a way as to alter our climate. Climate change is the result of interaction between the ultimate energy source, the sun, and our upper atmosphere (including the ozone layer), shielding us from harmful radiations (ultraviolet and more energetic electromagnetic radiation) from the sun. At the same time that our upper atmosphere shields us, it also serves as a blanket to slow cooling of the earth that has been warmed by the sun (the greenhouse effect). Hence the concern about levels of carbon dioxide (the primary gas involved in our thermal blanket).
Incidentally, the sun is powered by hydrogen fusion, suggesting that to the extent that we can harness that source of energy (like harnessing the hydrogen bomb), we would have a much cleaner source. Current research on use of hydrogen as fuel is not however based upon fusion but rather as a reactant in fuel cells. Hydrogen gas could be used directly but that is not without risks. Famously, the Hindenburg blimp was filled with Hydrogen gas (lighter than air) and it suffered a tragic end in 1937 when it caught fire as it was landing in New Jersey. Whether that relates to safety of hydrogen or not, it left a stigma that will not be easy to overcome.
In transportation a key emphasis for fuel selection is portability. An often over-looked fact is that the "fuel" for internal combustion engines (ICE) is both the gasoline in the tank and the oxygen in the air. When it comes to fuel efficiency, portability and economic advantage, it is hard to beat a system in which a substantial portion of the fuel is readily available anywhere and it is free. The proponents of an all electric vehicle apparently overlook this significant advantage of ICE over EV. Furthermore, the weight of oxygen can be discounted compared to the weight of a battery.
The more weight of the energy source, the more power is consumed in just carrying around that added weight. Driving an EV car has been likened to driving with four extra passengers the size of halfbacks from a professional football team all the time. The airline industry is acutely aware of the importance of minimizing weight of the fuel compared to payload. One reason for jettisoning excess fuel before coming into land is because of the high energy required to stop a fast moving aircraft. Less mass, less energy required and less emissions from tires and brake linings. The same fundament laws of physics regarding mass, momentum and energy apply to motor vehicles as well. The more weight, the more energy it takes to start it moving, keep it moving and stop it from moving.
Besides portability and safety (more on that below) the energy content and availability of fuels is important. Energy content refers to how much energy (measured in units such as BTU's, kilowatts or joules) per pound (or kilogram) or liter (volume) of fuel. There are large differences between the energy content of different fuels.
The efficiency of conversion from stored fuel to power or torque at the wheels is another factor in assessing options. Anytime there is a conversion from chemical energy to thermal energy, electrical energy, or mechanical energy, there are losses. The fewer conversion steps the more efficient the over-all process is likely to be. A direct conversion from chemical energy to mechanical energy as in an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) or turbine is likely to be more efficient than going from solar (DC) to AC (power lines) to electrochemical (batteries) to DC to mechanical (electric motor). There often are also large cost and availability differences as well as environmental impact differences. In the near future it may be possible to recover energy from plastics and other products that otherwise end up in landfills or our rivers and oceans. It would be straightforward to use energy derived from wastes to power a gas turbine engine. Such engines are not as particular about the composition of their fuel.
From a long term planning perspective, keeping one's options open as to sources of energy, type of fuel, and type of conversion devices (ICE, electric motors, pneumatic/turbines) would seem prudent. Energy storage means is another consideration. Energy can be stored in solid form (such as wood and coal), liquid form (as gasoline, diesel fuel, alcohol, LPG), gas form (propane, compressed air, steam) or a hybrid electrochemical form (hydrogen fuel cells, lithium, lead acid batteries).
View the Chrysler turbine story on a youtube video available from Jay Leno's Garage. In that video it is stated that in promoting that car in different venues wine was used as fuel in Paris and other fuels in other countries. The ability to use alternate fuels also provides protection against market price fluctuations. Support of engines based upon gas turbines that can use a variety of fuel sources provide a more sustainable and secure source to power our different transportation vehicles. The U.S. Defense Dept. has historically embraced technologies that provide alternate fuel and engine options for strategic purposes. Engines based upon gas turbines for example have been used in military tanks.
The means to produce the "cleanness" of electricity is an issue in all regions where electricity is generated using fossil fuels. But other generators also have an environmental impact. Waste disposal of blades from wind turbines is problematic. Solar capture with photovoltaic devices is still expensive, and the devices use mined materials that are obtained from non-US sources. Nuclear fission for power plants is effective, but carries risks from leakage as components age. Extra heat dissipation from reactors requires cooling ponds that alter local eco-systems.
Hydroelectric-derived power is vulnerable to climate change/global warming and glacier melting and may be disruptive of important eco-systems. For example the Columbia river that divides Washington from Oregon is a major migratory path for coastal salmon. Man-made fish ladders may become a greater obstacle to effective migration. Furthermore, maintaining adequate water flow over the several dams across it and its feeding river (John Day) may be in jeopardy if glaciers undergo excessive melting. Glaciers act as a means of storing water (as snow and ice) in the winter and providing fresh water in the summer dry months. If this balance is upset, one not only would have inadequate water levels to spin the turbines; but, one could have droughts in the summer months when irrigation and rain is needed to maintain plant life and the agricultural economy of the area.
Similarly gas lines from the source to refineries may compromise sensitive Native American lands and eco-systems. While the process of fracking in the United States used for extracting underground gases has been an economic boom for some, it may incur social as well as environmental costs (references available).
Economics often drives the adoption of new technologies and the government may play a role in supporting the development of the technology through government funded research, and may encourage adoption through various tax incentives, rebates and regulatory directives. Policy makers need to take a holistic view when promoting a given approach. Arguments for energy efficiency, environmental impact and social/economic costs need to made with multiple factors considered and using metrics selected that are appropriate and verifiable. Sustainability and efficiency for example may depend upon how they are measured. Automobiles are often judged according to miles per gallon of fuel, or emissions of carbon, particulates (2.5 micron diameter), nitrogen and sulfur oxides, etc. per mile. But in congested urban environments, it might be better to measure such over a period of time of operation and at low speeds since typically engines are less efficient in heavy traffic at slow speeds, especially when there is a lot accelerating and slowing down.
In Northern climates during winter months, a better metric might be energy efficiency as a function of temperature. Electric vehicles do poorly the colder it gets. In fact at cold temperatures there is a significant risk of EV losing power quickly. If caught in a holiday or storm congestion on a major highway between charging stations, should one have to choose between shutting off the heater and freezing or conserving "charge" to make it to the next charging station? This scenario could occur on e-trains, e-buses and other means of conveyance as well. If only all electric vehicles are allowed as has been proposed in many countries and states, this could amount to a huge human tragedy.
Safety concerns have been mentioned with respect to a number of transportation options being considered. There are some safety concerns regarding choice and packaging of energy sources whether it be fuel production, processing, storage and conversion. Lithium batteries inflammability/explosions are but one concern (see video clip of Battery Testing at DOE Sandia National Laboratory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9n6uljkLJK ). Safety in mining, manufacturing and disposal at end of life of various materials is also a concern.
In addition there is driver safety. Drivers need to have the ability to accelerate quickly (as when entering a flow of traffic) and to brake quickly when a road hazard or threat is perceived. Placing an overly restrictive demand on performance with respect to environmental impact could lead to a compromise in safety. One of the "failings" of the Chrysler turbine project in the 1950's was a performance issue (slow to accelerate). With the Kimat technology now available, the performance issue has been solved.
The complexity of modern vehicles and dependence upon internal sensors and microprocessors to achieve emission controls also presents a potential failure point. If the computer goes bad for any reason, one's vehicle becomes a source of pollution. If a simpler design with fewer components were available this potential problem would be mitigated. An added benefit could be ease of repair and at less expense which would make vehicle ownership more affordable. All of the components of the technology proposed in the patents of Dr. Kim have been field tested in other applications and their safety and performance is well documented. There should be no new issues or hurdles to overcome.
Economics and Global Market
If manufacturers in the United States adopt the design and associated technology patented by Dr. D.S. Kim there could be substantial economic benefits to the U.S. as well as to the manufacturer. See Dr. Kim's design concepts as presented in Inventor's Highlight. A more affordable, more eco-friendly vehicle is envisioned that will enjoy wide acceptance in foreign markets. This will be more competitive than other foreign country-based vehicle manufacturers leading to a more favorable balance of trade.
The development of this website incorporated some of the insights of Dr. Kim obtained through conversations over the past several years. Assistance from volunteers Ritika Sowda (author of Carbon Credits pages), Takshil Chittuluru and others is also gratefully acknowledged. Responsibility for any errors or omissions and opinions is assumed by Editor Dr. Donald Job, Chief Scientist for IPRS.
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Revised: April 27, 2022