Category Archives: fuel cells

Dieseldammerüng

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image taken from despair.com’s latest t-shirt

Before we get to this message’s main event, I’ll throw another brief shoutout to Pope Francis. Sure, he leads one of the world’s socially most regressive organizations, but he seems to be pulling in the right direction, and ultimately, he’s not in fact that powerful — his level of authority is more Barack Obama than Stephen Harper, let alone Kim Jong-Il.

While there’s general awareness of the doctrine of Papal infallibility, it was only formalized in the 19th century, and has only ever been invoked twice. So it’s one of many late-arriving concepts we secular moderns commonly think has always been part the world’s most populous religion. A couple others include:
– having a personal relationship with Jesus (famously invented by German Pietists in the 17th century, and infamously rejected in the 19th century by their very own Anakin Skywalker-turned-Darth Vader: Friedrich “God is Dead” Nietzsche), and
– original sin (5th century, and a Western Christian exclusive; Eastern Orthodox Christians scratch their heads at it…)
It was pretty cool that Francis gave a shoutout to Martin Luther King Jr. in one of his speeches, too; Catholics and Protestants don’t always get along, and it’s a sign of openness when one can refer to the brilliance of one’s competitors in the marketplace of ideas. My favourite-ever inter-religious example comes from the Christian “Acts” (“of the Apostles”), in chapter 26. We’re told how Saul [also the name of a Jewish king] was travelling on the road to Damascus after having persecuted the followers of Christ, where he’s confronted by the voice of God. In this dramatic, climactic moment, Jesus … quotes a line from a 500-year old Greek theatre play. Boom!! Mic drop!

Jesus says, “why do you kick at the goads?”, which is from a contextually-identical scene in Euripides’ The Bacchae, where a king [Pentheus] who is persecuting the followers of a God [Dionysus] is confronted by that God. It’s awesome stuff. (Adherents can take comfort that since this is already the third time (!) the author has told this story in his chronicle, he can probably be forgiven for adding a dramatic flourish, if only to avoid boring his audience.)

But enough sideshow, on to the main event!

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December: a podcast premiere

The nice folks at http://www.thisweekinenergy.tv/ (TWiE) invited me to guest on their podcast on their late November episode, Good News, Bad News, Ugly News. While most of their guests are leading experts in their fields, and I’m just a talkative and reasonably-knowledgeable former fuel cell engineer, I heeded Gore Vidal’s wisdom and agreed. :)

It being the first time my comments were being recorded for posterity (well… outside NSA headquarters, that is) I spent a few hours doing homework, researching the backgrounds of the energy stories we were scheduled to discuss, and refining / rehearsing a few talking points.

And in retrospect, maybe I should’ve gotten some vocal coaching instead. Listening to the podcast after the fact, I was struck by how high my voice sounded. I sounded a bit like Preston Manning, the high-talker who led Canada’s Reform Party (or, as he said it, the Re-foooorm Party) out of the political wilderness and into… well, I guess he led them around in the wilderness for awhile. :)

Fun fact: Preston is the son of long-time Alberta Premier Ernest Manning, who – in a twist that would have given Christopher Hitchens an aneurism – led the province six days a week, then spent Sundays leading the most popular radio show in Alberta: “Back to the Bible Hour”.

Manning may have set the precedent that former professional wrestler and Minnesota Governor (yes, Minnesota Governor) Jesse “the Body” Ventura followed back in 1999 when he guest-refereed a WWF match at their Summerslam pay-per-view while Governor. Ventura dismissed the backlash, arguing to the effect of “I work six days a week; what I do on Sundays is my own business”.

Another thing I discovered while listening the podcast was that the care I took to carefully compose my sentences meant that I wound up speaking those sentences. Clause by clause. Just like Captain Kirk used to do. On the old TV series. Never shall I mock. William Shatner. Again!

GCR

I had a couple pieces go up in GreenCarReports in December – the first being the usual monthly assessment of the Canadian EV market. While these pieces are generally about as exciting to read (and write) as financial statements, I was able to weave in a reference to the fact that – hitting a very rough patch after a string of gold and platinum records in the 1970’s – one of the members of Chicago suggested sarcastically that a recent album had gone “aluminum, maybe plywood”.

Henceforth, I’ll be trying to award an aluminum/plywood medal to the lowest-selling electric vehicle in Canada each month. Maybe one day they can add it as an 8th-place medal to the Olympics. That way, the athletes not in the running for the regular medals can have something to shoot for. :)

Speaking of last place finishes, the gold-o-phile Klippenstein investment account sank like lead this past year. Ah, if only I could shrink our life’s other problems half as effectively… ;)

It was classic: just like last time (late 2008/early 2009) I ran out of investible cash before the market ran out of “down”. There’s probably a lesson to be had somewhere in there, but I haven’t the patience to learn it. :)

My other GreenCarReports article featured some data that Waterloo-based MyCarma had passed along, about the effect of winter temperature on electric vehicle range. (It’s also the most popular thing I’ve written for them — at almost 8,000 page views, it’s as if the entire population of the French island of St. Pierre et Miquelon had read it. Canadians may know it as “that tiny island France owns just off Newfoundland”.)

This was awesomely cool to write, as it gave me the chance to shape the messaging around fairly new data about how EV range suffers in cold weather. Keeping with the Seinfeld references, I termed the phenomenon “range shrinkage”. :)

CT

Lastly, I wrote a piece for CleanTechnica on Ontario KO’ing coal, which earned a re-tweet from Canadian Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. (And a few other folks who don’t merit their own Wikipedia entries. ;) )

On the topic of KO’s, in 2013 Canada’s Liberal Party somehow recovered from Michael Ignatieff’s self-inflicted knockout punch, and ended the year leading in the polls, surpassing both the Conservatives and New Democrats. (The average of recent polls is currently running at 34-27-23.)

And considering how many “please-donate” mailings the Liberals are sending me (a former donor) I’ve got to think they’re for real. Only a few years ago, I practically had to pull a Fry to find out where to address a cheque.

While Stephen Harper’s character-assassins did a fine job on the prior two Liberal leaders, Trudeau is proving a harder target. As Spike Lee might say, “it’s gotta be the hair”. Worse yet for the Prime Minister, the Liberal leader has a well-known charity boxing record: if challenged on his plans to reform the Senate, the son of Trudeau could always turn around and quip:

“Look, I beat Patrick Brazeau into a bloody pulp [in the boxing match]. You think anyone else in the Senate is going to pull any shit after that?”

Heck, given how loose-lipped he is… he just might! ;)

November EV (and FCV) musings

It’s been a busy month — busy enough that though one in seven Canadians crossed the border for Black Friday, I wasn’t one of them. (Like a further one in three Canadians, I did my shopping online. Bought me some books — and by books, I mean books so nerdy Aya will despair for Leo’s future social skills.  ;)  )

Seriously, more Canadians expected to participate in Black Friday, than voted in the last federal election. This is how dark ages begin!!  ;)

On the EV side, I wrote a few pieces for GreenCarReports, though I wasn’t able to write something on BMW’s i3, which made me rethink fuel cell vehicles.

Basically, the i3 is an electric car with a 30-horsepower (25 kW) motorcycle engine strapped to it, to provide a bit more range.

If someone were to design a fuel cell car with a big enough battery to soak up all the relevant incentives, and strap on a 25 kW fuel cell stack for extra range, I wonder if that would be a way to drive FCV adoption?

You’d save money because the stack would be a lot smaller, and you could use one hydrogen fuel tank instead of two. (Since the super-high-pressure fuel tank is about the only component that isn’t used in other fuel cell applications, I’m guessing it’s a cost barrier.) Better still, the stack wouldn’t have to last nearly as long (maybe 2000 hours instead of 5000 hours) because it’d only be in use part of the time, which allows it to become cheaper still. (Adding durability costs money.)

The fact that you’d run 50%+ of the time on electricity would also circumvent the hydrogen infrastructure issue. If there are only a handful of hydrogen stations in town, and you know you’d have to refuel every couple weeks, you might be reluctant to buy a fuel cell car because of the inconvenience.

But if you mainly run off electricity, you might only need to refuel your hydrogen tank every couple months — and taking an occasional detour to refuel six times a year, probably isn’t that big of a deal for most people. That’s once per season, and maybe the dealership tops you up when you go in for your twice-yearly checkup.

So, in a word, I think a fuel-cell based i3 type vehicle (mainly electric, but using the fuel cell as a range extender) would accelerate adoption. As it turns out, the French postal service is investigating just such a fuel cell “range extender” solution.

Ah, it’s nice to be able to muse about these things, now that I’m not in danger of spilling any confidential info. Heck, I can even poke around patent records in exactly the way I was discouraged from doing!  ;)

As for my GreenCarReports contributions:

– I had a chance to practise my French a bit (and practise using Google Translate a lot more) when summarizing how the Quebec government really raised the bar in support of electric vehicles. Nice what you can achieve with minority governments who’re rather desperate to stay in power. ;)

– I did a boilerplate Canadian sales stats piece, and a more interesting one on WWF Canada’s take on the country’s electric vehicle progress.

– I also had a chance to write up some nifty apps — one from a cool Waterloo company — which can help people save money on gas, and/or choose more fuel efficient cars. Next time any of you buy a new car, ask if the dealership has the MyCarma dongle!

Note: they didn’t pay me to say that, but on the subject of getting paid, the Paypal transaction for my articles ran into the… double digits. Yep, there’re a lot more zeroes in engineering paycheques…  :)

Lastly, I saw my first reference to Fox News’ annual post-Thanksgiving “War on Christmas” coverage the other day, so put together a little post explaining how the first people to write Christmas as Xmas were, well, medieval Christians. And they did so because in Greek, Christ is spelled with an “X” (it provides the “Ch” sound). If anything, the use of Xmas points that faith’s faithful back to those first Greek-speaking communities who heard the Christian gospel preached — and I would imagine that would be a positive, not a negative thing. *

It all reminds me of a time in the mists of fuel cell years past, when I asked a colleague to give me a refresher on a particular piece of equipment. He was strangely reluctant, so I popped back to my desk and printed up the work instructions — only to find that I’d actually written them, years before.  :)

– – – – – –

* amusingly enough, abbreviations are actually a key tool for establishing that, while it took about 350 years for Christians to agree on what books went into the New Testament, the eventual winners of the battle-royal between Christian sects pretty much used the same edition after about 150 AD. (The ecumentically curious can go here for further reading.)

The person who composed this edition used a very particular set of abbreviations for key words — God, Jesus, etc. — which were faithfully copied in pretty much every orthodox text thereafter. These abbreviations don’t appear in the scraps of heretical texts we’ve found, so we know those texts belonged to different groups of worshippers.

Sadly, we only have scraps of those texts, because soon after the canon was officially settled, disapproved writings were put to use as kindling, as they so often are. And while that represents a literary / philosophical / theological loss, as an engineer who really loves curating and standardizing documentation sets, a very, very small part of me kind of knows where those book-burners were coming from…  ;)

A patent app mishap

FC patent apps

I hope that if/when this patent application gets granted, they update the title…  otherwise, someone at Samsung will have some ‘splaining to do!