# Engine Block Heaters and Battery Heaters

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 19th, 2014

# Technology 101

## As Matter loses Heat it shrinks from a Gas to a Liquid to a Solid

There is no such thing as cold.  Cold is simply the absence of heat.  Which is a real thing.  Heat.  It’s a form of energy.  Warm things have a lot of energy.  Cold things have less energy.  The Kelvin scale is a measurement of temperature.  Like degrees used when measuring temperature in Celsius or Fahrenheit.  Where 32 degrees Fahrenheit equals 0 degrees Celsius.  And 0 degrees Celsius equals 273.15 kelvin.  Not ‘degrees’ kelvin.  Just kelvin.

When something cools it loses heat energy.  The molecular activity slows down.  Steam has a lot of molecular activity.  At 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius or 373.15 kelvin) the molecular activity decreases enough (i.e., loses energy) that steam changes to water.  At 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius or 273.15 kelvin) the molecular activity decreases enough (i.e., loses energy) that water turns into ice.

The more heat matter loses the less molecules move around.  At absolute zero (0 kelvin) there is no heat at all.  And no molecular movement.  Making 0 kelvin the ‘coldest’ anything can be.  For 0 kelvin represents the absence of all heat.  As matter loses heat it shrinks.  Gases become liquid.  And liquids becomes solid.  (Water, however, is an exception to that rule.  When water turns into ice it expands.  And cracks our roadways.)  They become less fluid.  Or more viscous.  Cold butter is harder to spread on a roll than warm butter.  Because warm butter has more heat energy than cold butter.  So warm butter is less viscous than cold butter.

## Vehicles in Sub-Freezing Temperatures can Start Easily if Equipped with an Engine Block Heater

In a car’s internal combustion engine an air-fuel mixture enters the cylinder.  As the piston comes up it compresses this mixture.  And raises its temperature.  When the piston reaches the top the air-fuel mixture is at its maximum pressure and temperature.  The spark plug then provides an ignition source to cause combustion.  (A diesel engine operates at such a high compression that the temperature rise is so great the air-fuel mixture will combust without an ignition source).  Driving the piston down and creating rotational energy via the crank shaft.

For this to happen a lot of things have to work together.  You need energy to spin the engine before the combustion process.  You need lubrication to allow the engine components to move without causing wear and tear.  And you need the air-fuel mixture to reach a temperature to burn cleanly and to extract as much energy from combustion as possible.  None of which works well in very cold temperatures.

Vehicles operating in sub-freezing temperatures need a little help.  Manufacturers equip many vehicles sold for these regions with engine block heaters.  These are heating elements in the engine core.  You’ll know a vehicle has one when you see an electrical cord coming out of the engine compartment.  When these engines aren’t running they ‘plug in’ to an electrical outlet.  A timer will cycle these heaters on and off.  Keeping the engine block warmer than the subfreezing temperatures.

## The Internal Combustion Engine is Ideal for use in Cold Temperatures

At subfreezing temperatures engine oil because more viscous.  And more like tar.  This does not flow well through the engine.  So until it warms up the engine operates basically without any lubrication.  In ‘normal’ temperatures the oil heats up quickly and flows through the engine before there’s any damage.  At subfreezing temperatures oil needs a little help when starting.  So the oil sump is heated.  Like an engine block heater.  So when someone tries to start the engine the oil is more like oil and less like tar.

Of course, for any of this to help start an engine you have to be able to turn the engine over first.  And to do that you need a charged battery.  But even a charged battery needs help in sub-freezing temperatures.  For in these temperatures there is little molecular action in the battery.  And without molecular activity there will be little current available to power the engine’s starter.  So there are heaters for batteries, too.  Electric blankets or pads that sit under or wrap around a battery.  To warm the battery to let the chemicals inside move around more freely.  So they can produce the electric power it needs to turn an engine over on a cold day.

Once an engine block, the engine oil and battery are sufficiently warmed by external electric power the engine can start.  Once it warms up it can operate like it can at less frigid temperatures.  The engine alternator powers the electrical systems on the vehicle.  And recharges the battery.  The engine coolant heats up and provides heat for the passenger compartment.  And defrosts the windows.  Once the engine is warm it can shut down and start again an hour or so later with ease.  Making it ideal for use in cold temperatures.  Unlike an electric car.  For the colder it gets the less energy its batteries will have.  Making it a risky endeavor to drive to the store in the Midwest or the Northeast during a winter such as this.  Something people should think about before buying an all-electric car.

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# Snow Blowers

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 29th, 2014

# Technology 101

## If you try to Push or Lift too much Snow you can Wrench your Back, Give yourself a Hernia or Have a Heart Attack

It’s funny, isn’t it?  How much we love to see a white Christmas.  Nothing brings a bigger smile on our face than to see a white blanket out of our windows during the Christmas holiday.  It’s so pretty.  Pristine.  And pure.  Just like the true meaning of Christmas.  But once Christmas comes and goes and that white stuff is still out there our feelings change.  It’s no longer pretty, pristine and pure.  It’s just more of that white [deleted expletive] that we have to shovel.

If you have a detached garage you’re probably no fan of the snow.  Because with every snow fall you have hours of work ahead of you.  To shovel the front sidewalk so the city doesn’t fine you.  The sidewalk up to your mailbox for the mail carrier.  So he or she doesn’t slip and die on your property.  And then that long driveway.  From the approach in the street (so you don’t get stuck in the loose snow there) all of the way into your backyard and to that detached garage.  Over an hour by hand if the snow isn’t too deep.  Or you can let the snow stay there.  Melt a little during the day.  Freeze a little at night.  So you can slip on it and fall.  Breaking your hip.

Of course that snow shoveling would be quicker if you had a shovel as wide as the driveway.  But if we did we would never be able to lift the snow in it.  Because snow is heavy.  And if you try to push or lift too much of it you can wrench your back, give yourself a hernia or have a heart attack.  Which is why we use snow shovels much smaller than the width of the driveway.  It’ll take a lot more time to shovel the snow off it.  But our odds are greatly reduced for getting a wrenched back, hernia or heart attack.

## The Two-Stage Snow Blower is not very Maneuverable but it can move through Deep Snow and throw it a Long Way

Snow is heavy.  And the wetter it is the heavier it is.  And the greater risks there are shoveling it.  Which is why God gave us the snow blower.  Or, rather, gave us Robert Carr Harris who gave us the snow blower in 1870.  Which has evolved into two basic machines today.  The single-stage snow blower.  And the 2-stage snow blower.  One of which is ideal for around the house.  The single-stage snow blower.  While the other is ideal for bigger jobs.  Where we have to move a lot more snow than what just falls around our house.  Though there are homeowners who use a 2-stage snow blower.  Even though a single-stage would be more appropriate.

A 2-stage snow blower can be a beast.  Taking up the footprint of a riding lawnmower.  It’s big.  And heavy.  Too heavy for most people to push through the snow.  Which is why these are typically self-propelled.  Requiring a bigger engine.  And a complicated gear box.  To divide the power between the ‘throwing’ function and the ‘propelling’ function.  The throwing function has two stages.  An auger in the front that turns slowly (requiring more gearing) to eat into the snow and pull it towards the center.  At the center is an impeller that turns much faster than the auger .  As the snow is slowly pushed into the fast-spinning impeller it throws the snow into and out of a directional discharge chute at a fast speed.  Throwing it a great distance.

It takes a fairly large engine to spin the auger, the impeller and the drive wheels.  And it takes a pretty complicated (and large and heavy) gear box to provide various rotational speeds for the various components.  As well as a large frame to hold these components, the drive wheels, controls, safety interlocks, oil and fuel.  Making the two-stage snow blower not that nimble or maneuverable.  Which isn’t a problem if you’re walking back and forth over a long driveway.  But it can be a big problem on a sidewalk with a turn or a curve in it.  For turning these beasts can take some muscle.  Muscle that we apply with our feet on a slippery surface.  Even after we’ve already cleared the deep snow off with the snow blower.  For the auger does not come into contract with the pavement.  Meaning it doesn’t clear away the snow down to the pavement.  But it can move through deep snow and throw it a long way.  Making it ideal for big jobs.

## The Advantage of a 2-Cycle Engine is a High Power-to-Weight Ratio making it Ideal for a Single-Stage Snow Thrower

The single-stage snow blower is much lighter.  For it has only a fast-spinning auger.  It eats into the snow, pulls it towards the center and throws it out the discharge chute.   Without an impeller.  Throwing it a pretty fair distance.  And the auger actually comes into contract with the ground.  Which helps pull it forward.  And cleans down to the pavement.  With the only one spinning component there are no heavy gear boxes providing multiple speeds to different components.  Making the single-stage snow blower much lighter.  And easier to maneuver.  And it typically has a 2-cycle (or 2-stroke) engine.  Making it lighter still.

The typical engine on a 2-stage snow blower is a 4-cycle (or 4-stroke) engine.  Where the piston moves up or down 4 times to create power.  It moves down and draws in an air-fuel mixture through an intake valve.  It moves up and compresses the air-fuel mixture.  A spark plug ignites this and the hot expanding gases push the piston down on its power stroke.  And then the piston comes up and pushes the exhaust gases out of the cylinder through an exhaust valve.  Then repeats.  A 2-cycle engine has fewer moving parts.  And half the strokes.  As the air-fuel-oil mixture ignites the hot gases push the piston down.  As the top of the piston moves past exhaust ports the exhaust gases can exit the cylinder.  At the same time an air-fuel-oil mixture enters the cylinder through intake ports on the other side of the cylinder.  The piston moves up and compresses this, ignites and pushes the piston down.  Then repeats.

The advantage of a 2-cycle engine is a high power-to-weight ratio.  Allowing a smaller 2-cycle engine to do the work of a comparable 4-cycle engine.  Making them ideal for a single-stage snow blower.  The disadvantage of a 2-cycle engine is that the crank case is used to draw in the air-fuel mixture on the up-stroke of the piston.  And then the piston pushed the air-fuel mixture out of the crankcase and into the cylinder on the down-stroke of the piston.  Because the crankcase is used as part of the pathway for the air-fuel mixture it cannot hold oil.  Which is why we mix oil in the fuel.  Giving us an air-fuel-oil mixture that combusts in the cylinder.  The moving components get lubricated as this mixture travels through the engine.  Which is perhaps the biggest drawback of the single-stage snow blower.  Having to mix oil with gas.  It’s not difficult.  You just have to make sure you add the right amount of oil.  And not to use this gas-oil mixture in your 4-cycle lawnmower.  And even though we were never big fans of cutting the grass even that begins to look pretty sweet as the snow blows back in our face as we walk behind our snow blowers.  Thinking of but one thing.  Spring.  And thanks to these wonderful machines we may actually make it to spring healthy.  Without having suffered a wrenched back, hernia or a heart attack.

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# The Horse, Waterwheel, Steam Engine, Electricity, DC and AC Power, Power Transmission and Electric Motors

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 26th, 2012

# Technology 101

(Original published December 21st, 2011)

## A Waterwheel, Shaft, Pulleys and Belts made Power Transmission Complex

The history of man is the story of man controlling and shaping our environment.  Prehistoric man did little to change his environment.  But he started the process.  By making tools for the first time.  Over time we made better tools.  Taking us into the Bronze Age.  Where we did greater things.  The Sumerians and the Egyptians led their civilization in mass farming.  Created some of the first food surpluses in history.  In time came the Iron Age.  Better tools.  And better plows.  Fewer people could do more.  Especially when we attached an iron plow to one horsepower.  Or better yet, when horses were teamed together to produce 2 horsepower.  3 horsepower.  Even 4 horsepower.  The more power man harnessed the more work he was able to do.

This was the key to controlling and shaping our environment.  Converting energy into power.  A horse’s physiology can produce energy.  By feeding, watering and resting a horse we can convert that energy into power.  And with that power we can do greater work than we can do with our own physiology.  Working with horse-power has been the standard for millennia.  Especially for motive power.  Moving things.  Like dragging a plow.  But man has harnessed other energy.  Such as moving water.  Using a waterwheel.  Go into an old working cider mill in the fall and you’ll see how man made power from water by turning a wheel and a series of belts and pulleys.  The waterwheel turned a main shaft that ran the length of the work area.  On the shaft were pulleys.  Around these pulleys were belts that could be engaged to transfer power to a work station.  Where it would turn another pulley attached to a shaft.  Depending on the nature of the work task the rotational motion of the main shaft could be increased or decreased with gears.  We could change it from rotational to reciprocating motion.  We could even change the axis of rotation with another type of gearing.

This was a great step forward in advancing civilization.  But the waterwheel, shaft, pulleys and belts made power transmission complex.  And somewhat limited by the energy available in the moving water.  A great step forward was the steam engine.  A large external combustion engine.  Where an external firebox heated water to steam.  And then that steam pushed a piston in a cylinder.  The energy in expanding steam was far greater than in moving water.  It produced far more power.  And could do far more work.  We could do so much work with the steam engine that it kicked off the Industrial Revolution.

## Nikola Tesla created an Electrical Revolution using AC Power

The steam engine also gave us more freedom.  We could now build a factory anywhere we wanted to.  And did.  We could do something else with it, too.  We could put it on tracks.  And use it to pull heavy loads across the country.  The steam locomotive interconnected the factories to the raw materials they consumed.  And to the cities that bought their finished goods.  At a rate no amount of teamed horses could equal.  Yes, the iron horse ended man’s special relationship with the horse.  Even on the farm.  Where steam engines powered our first tractors.  Giving man the ability to do more work than ever.  And grow more food than ever.  Creating greater food surpluses than the Sumerians and Egyptians could ever grow.  No matter how much of their fertile river banks they cultivated.  Or how much land they irrigated.

Steam engines were incredibly powerful.  But they were big.  And very complex.  They were ideal for the farm and the factory.  The steam locomotive and the steamship.  But one thing they were not good at was transmitting power over distances.  A limitation the waterwheel shared.  To transmit power from a steam engine required a complicated series of belts and pulleys.  Or multiple steam engines.  A great advance in technology changed all that.  Something Benjamin Franklin experimented with.  Something Thomas Edison did, too.  Even gave us one of the greatest inventions of all time that used this new technology.  The light bulb.  Powered by, of course, electricity.

Electricity.  That thing we can’t see, touch or smell.  And it moves mysteriously through wires and does work.  Edison did much to advance this technology.  Created electrical generators.  And lit our cities with his electric light bulb.  Electrical power lines crisscrossed our early cities.  And there were a lot of them.  Far more than we see today.  Why?  Because Edison’s power was direct current.  DC.  Which had some serious drawbacks when it came to power transmission.  For one it didn’t travel very far before losing much of its power. So electrical loads couldn’t be far from a generator.  And you needed a generator for each voltage you used.  That adds up to a lot of generators.  Great if you’re in the business of selling electrical generators.  Which Edison was.  But it made DC power costly.  And complex.  Which explained that maze of power lines crisscrossing our cities.  A set of wires for each voltage.  Something you didn’t need with alternating current.  AC.  And a young engineer working for George Westinghouse was about to give Thomas Edison a run for his money.  By creating an electrical revolution using that AC power.  And that’s just what Nikola Tesla did.

## Transformers Stepped-up Voltages for Power Transmission and Stepped-down Voltages for Electrical Motors

An alternating current went back and forth through a wire.  It did not have to return to the electrical generator after leaving it.  Unlike a direct current ultimately had to.  Think of a reciprocating engine.  Like on a steam locomotive.  This back and forth motion doesn’t do anything but go back and forth.  Not very useful on a train.  But when we convert it to rotational motion, why, that’s a whole other story.  Because rotational motion on a train is very useful.  Just as AC current in transmission lines turned out to be very useful.

There are two electrical formulas that explain a lot of these developments.  First, electrical power (P) is equal to the voltage (V) multiplied by the current (I).  Expressed mathematically, P = V x I.  Second, current (I) is equal to the voltage (V) divided by the electrical resistance (R).  Mathematically, I = V/R.  That’s the math.  Here it is in words.  The greater the voltage and current the greater the power.  And the more work you can do.  However, we transmit current on copper wires.  And copper is expensive.  So to increase current we need to lower the resistance of that expensive copper wire.  But there’s only one way to do that.  By using very thick and expensive wires.  See where we’re going here?  Increasing current is a costly way to increase power.  Because of all that copper.  It’s just not economical.  So what about increasing voltage instead?  Turns out that’s very economical.  Because you can transmit great power with small currents if you step up the voltage.  And Nikola Tesla’s AC power allowed just that.  By using transformers.  Which, unfortunately for Edison, don’t work with DC power.

This is why Nikola Tesla’s AC power put Thomas Edison’s DC power out of business.  By stepping up voltages a power plant could send power long distances.  And then that high voltage could be stepped down to a variety of voltages and connected to factories (and homes).  Electric power could do one more very important thing.  It could power new electric motors.  And convert this AC power into rotational motion.  These electric motors came in all different sizes and voltages to suit the task at hand.  So instead of a waterwheel or a steam engine driving a main shaft through a factory we simply connected factories to the electric grid.  Then they used step-down transformers within the factory where needed for the various work tasks.  Connecting to electric motors on a variety of machines.  Where a worker could turn them on or off with the flick of a switch.  Without endangering him or herself by engaging or disengaging belts from a main drive shaft.  Instead the worker could spend all of his or her time on the task at hand.  Increasing productivity like never before.

## Free Market Capitalism gave us Electric Power, the Electric Motor and the Roaring Twenties

What electric power and the electric motor did was reduce the size and complexity of energy conversion to useable power.  Steam engines were massive, complex and dangerous.  Exploding boilers killed many a worker.  And innocent bystander.  Electric power was simpler and safer to use.  And it was more efficient.  Horses were stronger than man.  But increasing horsepower required a lot of big horses that we also had to feed and care for.  Electric motors are smaller and don’t need to be fed.  Or be cleaned up after, for that matter.

Today a 40 pound electric motor can do the work of one 1,500 pound draft horse.  Electric power and the electric motor allow us to do work no amount of teamed horses can do.  And it’s safer and simpler than using a steam engine.  Which is why the Roaring Twenties roared.  It was in the 1920s that this technology began to power American industry.  Giving us the power to control and shape our environment like never before.  Vaulting America to the number one economic power of the world.  Thanks to free market capitalism.  And a few great minds along the way.

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# GE Engine Failures on Boeing’s Newest Aircraft cause Rapid Response and Fix from GE

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 6th, 2012

# Week in Review

Airbus built the A380 to compete against the Boeing 747.  In fact, there is a great competition between Airbus and Boeing.  Each even claiming that the other’s government is unfairly subsidizing the other company.  Which is a big deal because Boeing is a large part of total US exports.  Airbus has taken a lot of their business, though.  So they are very protective of their remaining market share.  And will take aggressive action whenever a problem arises that can affect their market share or their profits (see NTSB Urges Action After Engine Failures in New Boeing 787, 747 Airliners by Jason Paur posted 9/17/2012 on Wired).

The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending inspections for all new Boeing 787 and 747-8 aircraft with General Electric engines. The NTSB made the recommendation to the Federal Aviation Administration after two of GE’s newest engines experienced failures in the past few months. Three separate incidents all point to a similar cause for the failures in the engines.

“The parties to our investigation – the FAA, GE and Boeing – have taken many important steps and additional efforts are in progress to ensure that the fleet is inspected properly,” NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a statement on Friday. “We are issuing this recommendation today because of the potential for multiple engine failures on a single aircraft and the urgent need for the FAA to act immediately…”

According to the NTSB, GE has developed an ultrasonic inspection method for the fan midshaft that can be used while the engine is still on the airplane. All of the GEnx-1B engines used on 787 Dreamliners as well as spare engines have been inspected. All of the GEnx-2B engines on passenger versions of the 747-8 have also been inspected. There are more than 40 General Electric engines on freighter versions of the new jumbo jet that still await engine inspections and are expected to be completed this week.

The engine maker believes it has found the cause of the cracks and has changed the way the shafts are coated during the manufacturing and assembly process…

Did GE respond like this just because of the NTSB?  No.  They have a vested interest in their engines not failing.  For if they have a reputation of providing bad engines their customers will go someplace else.  Or the flying public will refuse to get on any plane with GE engines.  That’s why GE scrambled to fix this problem.  Because hiding it would have been a bigger hit on profitability.  This is the free market in action.  The market demanded fuel efficient and reliable engines.  Which GE delivered.  And when there was a problem GE responded quickly.  To protect the bottom line.  And their biggest customer.  Who could take their business elsewhere if GE costs them any market share.  For they are not the only engine supplier out there.

Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner can be ordered with either the General Electric or Rolls-Royce engines. Both of the new engines are responsible for a significant portion of the fuel efficiency improvements of the new airplane. And the Rolls-Royce engines haven’t been trouble free. Earlier in the summer the launch customer fo[r] the 787, All Nippon Airways, temporarily grounded its fleet of Dreamliners after premature corrosion was found in the gearboxes of the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines.

If this was a government manufacturer you would not have seen such quick action.  Why?  Because if there was a government monopoly for those engines where else could the aircraft manufacturers go?  The NTSB would have grounded all planes.  But there would not have been any urgency in resolving this problem.  As there was no potential for lost profits.  Which there was for GE.  Especially with a competitor in the wings just waiting to take their customers.

Government regulations don’t make aircraft safe.  The fear of losing profits on unsafe planes does.  Which is why people would much rather fly in a Boeing airplane rather than a plane produced under the command economy of the Soviet Union.  For back in the Seventies and Eighties the chances of a plane falling out of the sky were greater with a Soviet-built plane than with a private sector-built Boeing.  It’s the profits earned on safe airplanes that do the most to keep them from falling out of the sky.  Not bloated government bureaucracy.

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# Generator, Current, Voltage, Diesel Electric Locomotive, Traction Motors, Head-End Power, Jet, Refined Petroleum and Plug-in Hybrid

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 6th, 2012

# Technology 101

## When the Engineer advances the Throttle to ‘Run 1’ there is a Surge of Current into the Traction Motors

Once when my father suffered a power outage at his home I helped him hook up his backup generator.  This was the first time he used it.  He had sized it to be large enough to run the air conditioner as Mom had health issues and didn’t breathe well in hot and humid weather.  This outage was in the middle of a hot, sweltering summer.  So they were eager to get the air conditioner running again.  Only one problem.  Although the generator was large enough to run the air conditioner, it was not large enough to start it.  The starting in-rush of current was too much for the generator.  The current surged and the voltage dropped as the generator was pushed beyond its operating limit.  Suffice it to say Mom suffered during that power outage.

Getting a diesel-electric locomotive moving is very similar.  The massive diesel engine turns a generator.  When the engineer advances the throttle to ‘Run 1’ (the first notch) there is a surge of current into the traction motors.  And a drop in voltage.  As the current moves through the rotor windings in the traction motors it creates an electrical field that fights with the stator electrical field.  Creating a tremendous amount of torque.  Which slowly begins to turn the wheels.  As the wheels begin to rotate less torque is required and the current decreases and voltage increases.  Then the engineer advances the throttle to ‘Run 2’ and the current to the traction motors increases again.  And the voltage falls again.  Until the train picks up more speed.  Then the current falls and the voltage rises.  And so on until the engineer advances the throttle all the way to ‘Run 8’ and the train is running at speed.

The actual speed is controlled by the RPMs of the diesel engine and fuel flow to the cylinders. Which is what the engineer is doing by advancing the throttle.  In a passenger train there are additional power needs for the passenger cars.  Heating, cooling, lights, etc.  The locomotive typically provides this Head-End Power (HEP).  The General Electric Genesis Series I locomotive (the aerodynamic locomotive engines on the majority of Amtrak’s trains), for example, has a maximum of 800 kilowatts of HEP available.  But there is a tradeoff in traction power that moves the train towards its destination.  With a full HEP load a 4,250 horsepower rated engine can only produce 2,525 horsepower of traction power.  Or a decrease of about 41% in traction horsepower due to the heating, cooling, lighting, etc., requirements of the passenger cars.  But because passenger cars are so light they can still pull many of them with one engine.  Unlike their freight counterparts.  Where it can take a lashup of three engines or more to move a heavy freight train to its destination.  Without any HEP sapping traction horsepower.

## There is so much Energy available in Refined Petroleum that we can carry Small Amounts that take us Great Distances

The largest cost of flying a passenger jet is jet fuel.  That’s why they make planes out of aluminum.  To make them light.  Airbus and Boeing are using ever more composite materials in their latest planes to reduce the weight further still.  New engine designs improve fuel economy.  Advances in engine design allow bigger and more powerful engines.  So 2 engines can do the work it took 4 engines to do a decade or more ago.  Fewer engines mean less weight.  And less fuel.  Making the plane lighter and more fuel efficient.  They measure all cargo and count people to determine the total weight of plane, cargo, passengers and fuel.  So the pilot can calculate the minimum amount of fuel to carry.  For the less fuel they carry the lighter the plane and the more fuel efficient it is.   During times of high fuel costs airlines charge extra for every extra pound you bring aboard.  To either dissuade you from bringing a lot of extra dead weight aboard.  Or to help pay the fuel cost for the extra weight when they can’t dissuade you.

It’s similar with cars.  To meet strict CAFE standards manufacturers have been aggressively trying to reduce the weight of their vehicles.  Using front-wheel drive on cars saved the excess weight of a drive shaft.  Unibody construction removed the heavy frame.  Aerodynamic designs reduced wind resistance.  Use of composite materials instead of metal reduced weight.  Shrinking the size of cars made them lighter.  Controlling the engine by a computer increased engine efficiencies and improved fuel economy.  Everywhere manufacturers can they have reduced the weight of cars and improved the efficiencies of the engine.  While still providing the creature comforts we enjoy in a car.  In particular heating and air conditioning.  All the while driving great distances on a weekend getaway to an amusement park.  Or a drive across the country on a summer vacation.  Or on a winter ski trip.

This is something trains, planes and automobiles share.  The ability to take you great distances in comfort.  And what makes this all possible?  One thing.  Refined petroleum.  There is so much energy available in refined petroleum that we can carry small amounts of it in our trains, planes and automobiles that will take us great distances.  Planes can fly halfway across the planet on one fill-up.  Trains can travel across numerous states on one fill-up.  A car can drive up to 6 hours or more doing 70 MPH on the interstate on one fill-up.  And keep you warm while doing it in the winter.  And cool in the summer.  For the engine cooling system transfers the wasted heat of the internal combustion engine to a heating core inside the passenger compartment to heat the car.  And another belt slung around an engine pulley drives an air conditioner compressor under the hood to cool the passenger compartment.  Thanks to that abundant energy in refined petroleum creating all the power under the hood we need.

## The Opportunity Cost of the Plug-in Hybrid is giving up what the Car Originally gave us – Freedom

And then there’s the plug-in hybrid car.  That shares some things in common with the train, plane and (gasoline-powered) automobile.  Only it doesn’t do anything as well.  Primarily because of the limited range of the battery.  Electric traction motors draw a lot of current.  But a battery’s storage capacity is limited.  Some batteries offer only about 20-30 miles of driving distance on a charge.  Which is great if you use a car for very, very short commutes.  But as few do manufacturers add a backup gasoline engine so the car can go almost as far as a gasoline-powered car.  It probably could go as far if it wasn’t for that heavy battery and generator it was dragging around with it.

This is but one of many tradeoffs required in a plug-in hybrid car.  Most of these cars are tiny to make them as light as possible.  For the lighter the car is the less current it takes to get it moving.  But adding a backup gasoline engine and generator only makes the car heavier.  Thus reducing its electric range.  Making it more like a conventional car for a trip longer than 20-30 miles.  Only one that gets a poorer fuel economy.  Because of the extra weight of the battery and generator.  Manufacturers have even addressed this problem by reducing the range of the car.  If people don’t drive more than 10 miles on a typical trip they don’t need such a large battery.  Which is ideal if you use your car to go no further than you normally walk.  A smaller battery means less weight due to the lesser storage capacity required to travel that lesser range.  Another tradeoff is the heating and cooling of the car.  Without a gasoline engine on all of the time these cars have to use electric heat.  And an electric motor to drive the air conditioner compressor.  (Some heating and cooling systems will operate when the car is plugged in to conserve battery charge for the initial climate adjustment).  So in the heat of summer and the cold of winter you can scratch off another 20% of your electric range (bringing that 20 miles down to 16 miles).  Not as bad as on a passenger locomotive.  But with its large tanks of diesel fuel that train can still take you across the country.

The opportunity cost of the plug-in hybrid is giving up what the car originally gave us.  Freedom.  To get out on the open road just to see where it would take us.  For if you drive a long commute or like to take long trips your hybrid is just going to be using the backup gasoline engine for most of that driving.  While dragging around a lot of excess weight.  To make up for some lost fuel economy some manufacturers use a gasoline engine with high compression.  Unfortunately, high compression engines require the more expensive premium (higher octane) gasoline.  Which costs more at the pump.  There eventually comes the point we should ask ourselves why bother?  Wouldn’t life and driving be so much simpler with a gasoline-powered car?  Get fuel economy with a range of over 300 miles?  Guess it all depends on what’s more important.  Being sensible.  Or showing others that you’re saving the planet.

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# Flint Tools, Levers, Wheels, Animal Power, Water Power, Wind Power, Steam Power, Electrical Power, Nuclear Power and Solar Power

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 22nd, 2012

# Technology 101

## Man harnessed the Energy in Moving Water with a Water Wheel

When prehistoric man first chipped a piece of flint to make a sharp edge he learned something.  It made work easier.  And his life better.  This tool concentrated his energy into that sharp edge.  Increasing the amount of energy he could put to work.  Allowing him to skin an animal quickly and efficiently like never before.  Making better hides to protect him from the elements.  Yes, he said, this tool is good.  But in a somewhat less sophisticated manner of speech.

From that moment forward it has been man’s singular desire to improve on this first tool.  To find ways to concentrate energy and put it to work.  Levers allowed him to move heavier things.  Wheels allowed him to move heavier loads.  The block and tackle allowed him to lift or pull heavier weights.  Harnessing animals allowed him to do all of these things even better.  And we would use animal power for millennia.  Even today they still provide the primary source of power for some less developed countries.

But animals have their limitations.  They’re big, they eat, drink, pee and poop.  Which doesn’t make them an ideal source of power to turn a mill wheel.  A big wheel that grinds grain into flour.  It’s heavy.  But it doesn’t have to spin fast.  Just for long periods of time.  Then man had another moment like he did when he chipped a piece of flint.  He noticed in his environment that things moved.  The wind.  And the water in a river.  The wind could blow fast or slow.  Or not at all.  But the water flow was steady.  And reliable.  So man harnessed the energy in the moving water with a water wheel.  And connected it to his mill wheel via some belts and pulleys.  And where there was no water available he harnessed the less reliable wind.

## The Steam Engine eliminated the Major Drawbacks of Water Power and Wind Power

The water flowed day and night.  You didn’t have to feed it or clean up after it.  And a strong current had a lot of concentrated energy.  Which could do a lot of work.  Far more than a sharpened piece of flint.  Which was ideal for our first factories.  The water wheel shaft became a main drive shaft that drove other machines via belts and pulleys.  The main drive shaft ran the length of the factory.  Workers could operate machinery underneath it by engaging it to the main drive shaft through a belt and pulley.  Take a trip to the past and visit a working apple mill powered by a water wheel.  It’s fascinating.  And you’ll be able to enjoy some fresh donuts and hot cider.  During the harvest, of course.

While we built factories along rivers we used that other less reliable source of energy to cross oceans.  Wind power.  It wasn’t very reliable.  And it wasn’t very concentrated.  But it was the only way you could cross an ocean.  Which made it the best way to cross an ocean.  Sailors used everything on a sailing ship from the deck up to catch the wind and put it to work.  Masts, rigging and sails.  Which were costly.  Required a large crew.  And took up a lot of space and added a lot of weight.  Space and weight that displaced revenue-earning cargo.

The steam engine eliminated the major drawbacks of water power and wind power.  By replacing the water wheel with a steam engine we could build factories anywhere.  Not just on rivers.  And the steam engine let ships cross the oceans whenever they wanted to.  Even when the wind didn’t blow.  And more space was available for revenue-earning cargo.  When these ships reached land we transferred their cargoes to trains.  Pulled by steam locomotives.  That could carry this revenue-earning cargo across continents.   This was a huge step forward.  Boiling water by burning coal to make steam.  A highly concentrated energy source.  A little of it went a long way.  And did more work for us than ever.  Far more than a water wheel.  It increased the amount of work we could do so much that it kicked off the Industrial Revolution.

## With Nuclear Power our Quest to find more Concentrated Forms of Energy came to an End

We replaced coal with oil in our ships and locomotives.  Because it was easier to transport.  Store.  And didn’t need people to shovel it into a boiler.  Oil burners were more efficient.  We even used it to generate a new source of power.  Electrical power.  We used it to boil water at electrical generating plants to spin turbines that turned electrical generators.  We could run pipelines to feed these plants.  Making the electricity they generated even more efficient.  And reliable.  Soon diesel engines replaced the oil burners in ships and trains.  Allowed trucks and buses to run where the trains didn’t.  And gasoline allowed people to go anywhere the trains and buses didn’t go.

The modern economy ran on petroleum.  And electricity.  We even returned to the water wheel to generate electricity.  By building dams to build huge reservoirs of water at elevations.  Creating huge headwater forces.  Concentrating more energy in water.  Which we funneled down to the lower elevation.  Making it flow through high-speed water turbines connected to electrical generators.  That spun far faster than their water wheel ancestors.  Producing huge amounts of reliable electrical power.  We even came up with a more reliable means to create electrical power.  With an even more concentrated fuel.  Fissile material gave us nuclear power.  During the oil shocks of the Seventies the Japanese made a policy change to expand their use of nuclear power.  To insulate them from future oil supply shocks.  Which it did.  While in America the movie The China Syndrome came out around the time of the incident at Three Mile Island.  And killed nuclear power in America.  (But as a consolation prize we disproved the idea of Keynesian stimulus.  When the government created massive inflation with Keynesian policy.  Printing money.  Which raised prices without providing any new economic activity.  Causing instead high inflation and high unemployment.  What we call stagflation.  The Japanese got a big Keynesian lesson about a decade later.  When their massive asset bubble began to deflate giving them their Lost Decade.)

And with nuclear power that quest to find more ways to make better and more efficient use of concentrated energy from that first day we used a flint tool came to an end.  Global warming alarmists are killing sensible sources of energy that have given us the modern world.  Even animal rights activists are fighting against one of the cleanest sources of power we’ve ever used.  Water power.  Because damming rivers harms ecosystems in the rivers we dam.  Instead political pressures have turned the hands of time backwards by using less concentrated and less efficient sources of energy.  Wind power.  And solar power.  Requiring far greater infrastructure installations to capture far less amounts of energy from these sources.  Power plants using wind power and solar power will require acres of land for windmills and solar panels.  And it will take many of these power plants to produce what a single power plant using coal, oil, natural gas or fissile material can generate.  Making power more costly than it ever has been.  Despite wind and sunshine being free.  And when the great civilizations become bankrupt chasing bankrupt energy policies we will return to a simpler world.  A world where we don’t make and use power.  Or machinery.  Much like our flint-tool using ancestors.  Albeit with a more sophisticated way of expressing ourselves.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

# FT99: “We don’t need government to protect consumers because dead consumers can’t buy anything.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 6th, 2012

# Fundamental Truth

## Corporations Care for our Personal Well-Being because they Care about Profits

A lot of people feel that if it weren’t for government big corporations would kill consumers with faulty, defective and dangerous goods.   That the only thing that prevents these evil corporations from killing us wholesale to maximize their profits is a caring government.  Because the only things corporations care about are profits.  Which is true.  But because they do they also care for our personal well-being.  For to make profits you have to sell.  And if you kill the people that buy from you you’re not going to sell much.

Case in point, the big 1982 Tylenol scare in Chicago.  Seven people died from five tampered bottles of Tylenol.  They found three additional bottles still on store shelves.  Johnson & Johnson, the maker of Tylenol, moved swiftly.  Not to hide anything.  But to protect their customers.  They initiated a nationwide recall, pulling some 31 million bottles of Tylenol out of the market.  They placed national advertisements warning people not to consume any acetaminophen (the chemical compound that is Tylenol).  Fully cooperated with local and federal authorities.  And introduced tamper-resistant packaging.  The 1982 Tylenol scare cost Johnson and Johnson 77% of their market share.  But because of their prompt actions to protect their customers as well as the general public, they regained their market share.  And the people’s trust.

During the Seventies the DC-10 had a series of high-profile accidents.  A cargo door design caused a near crash over Windsor, Ontario.  And a crash in France.  Ground crews thought they closed the door properly.  They didn’t.  The doors blew out and damaged the hydraulic control systems when the sudden decompression collapsed the floor into those control lines.  A DC-10 taking off from Chicago O’Hare lost a wing-mounted engine, damaging the leading edge slats and hydraulic controls.  Mechanics had changed that engine without following proper maintenance procedures.  As a result they overstressed the pylon mounting flange which failed during their take-off roll.  The DC-10 got a reputation for being unsafe.  When McDonnell Douglas resolved these issues a lot of people were still wary about getting on a DC-10.  Which didn’t help orders from airlines.  They ceased production with the last delivery in 1989 after delivering only some 446 aircrafts.  Some of which are still flying today.

## If Businesses Endanger their Customers their Customers will Take Notice and Stop being Customers

McDonnell Douglas designed the DC-10 to compete against the Boeing 747, the first wide-body jet.  It couldn’t carry as many people but it could take off from shorter runways.  And with one less engine it burned less fuel.  It was a successful economic model.  And competed well against the 747.  But the 747 had/has a better safety record.  And reputation.  They’re still building them today.  With over 1400 having been delivered through 2011.  A number the DC-10 may have approached if it wasn’t for that reputation earned in the Seventies.

If businesses endanger their customers their customers will take notice.  And stop being customers.  That’s why Johnson and Johnson acted quickly.  And recovered.  McDonnell Douglas did not.  With declining sales Boeing eventually bought them out.  And retired the MD-11 (the latest version the DC-10).

## Paying Consumers provide Great Incentive for Business to try and Predict Every Possible Failure

Johnson and Johnson led the way during the Tylenol scare.  The FDA caught up to them.  The FAA forced design modifications to improve the safety of the DC-10.  After approving the original design that they subsequently deemed unsafe.  Aircraft are complex machines.  No one can predict every possible failure.  In business.  Or government.  But the paying consumers provide great incentive for business to try.  Because dead consumers can’t buy anything.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

# The Horse, Waterwheel, Steam Engine, Electricity, DC and AC Power, Power Transmission and Electric Motors

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 21st, 2011

# Technology 101

## A Waterwheel, Shaft, Pulleys and Belts made Power Transmission Complex

The history of man is the story of man controlling and shaping our environment.  Prehistoric man did little to change his environment.  But he started the process.  By making tools for the first time.  Over time we made better tools.  Taking us into the Bronze Age.  Where we did greater things.  The Sumerians and the Egyptians led their civilization in mass farming.  Created some of the first food surpluses in history.  In time came the Iron Age.  Better tools.  And better plows.  Fewer people could do more.  Especially when we attached an iron plow to one horsepower.  Or better yet, when horses were teamed together to produce 2 horsepower.  3 horsepower.  Even 4 horsepower.  The more power man harnessed the more work he was able to do.

This was the key to controlling and shaping our environment.  Converting energy into power.  A horse’s physiology can produce energy.  By feeding, watering and resting a horse we can convert that energy into power.  And with that power we can do greater work than we can do with our own physiology.  Working with horse-power has been the standard for millennia.  Especially for motive power.  Moving things.  Like dragging a plow.  But man has harnessed other energy.  Such as moving water.  Using a waterwheel.  Go into an old working cider mill in the fall and you’ll see how man made power from water by turning a wheel and a series of belts and pulleys.  The waterwheel turned a main shaft that ran the length of the work area.  On the shaft were pulleys.  Around these pulleys were belts that could be engaged to transfer power to a work station.  Where it would turn another pulley attached to a shaft.  Depending on the nature of the work task the rotational motion of the main shaft could be increased or decreased with gears.  We could change it from rotational to reciprocating motion.  We could even change the axis of rotation with another type of gearing.

This was a great step forward in advancing civilization.  But the waterwheel, shaft, pulleys and belts made power transmission complex.  And somewhat limited by the energy available in the moving water.  A great step forward was the steam engine.  A large external combustion engine.  Where an external firebox heated water to steam.  And then that steam pushed a piston in a cylinder.  The energy in expanding steam was far greater than in moving water.  It produced far more power.  And could do far more work.  We could do so much work with the steam engine that it kicked off the Industrial Revolution.

## Nikola Tesla created an Electrical Revolution using AC Power

The steam engine also gave us more freedom.  We could now build a factory anywhere we wanted to.  And did.  We could do something else with it, too.  We could put it on tracks.  And use it to pull heavy loads across the country.  The steam locomotive interconnected the factories to the raw materials they consumed.  And to the cities that bought their finished goods.  At a rate no amount of teamed horses could equal.  Yes, the iron horse ended man’s special relationship with the horse.  Even on the farm.  Where steam engines powered our first tractors.  Giving man the ability to do more work than ever.  And grow more food than ever.  Creating greater food surpluses than the Sumerians and Egyptians could ever grow.  No matter how much of their fertile river banks they cultivated.  Or how much land they irrigated.

Steam engines were incredibly powerful.  But they were big.  And very complex.  They were ideal for the farm and the factory.  The steam locomotive and the steamship.  But one thing they were not good at was transmitting power over distances.  A limitation the waterwheel shared.  To transmit power from a steam engine required a complicated series of belts and pulleys.  Or multiple steam engines.  A great advance in technology changed all that.  Something Benjamin Franklin experimented with.  Something Thomas Edison did, too.  Even gave us one of the greatest inventions of all time that used this new technology.  The light bulb.  Powered by, of course, electricity.

Electricity.  That thing we can’t see, touch or smell.  And it moves mysteriously through wires and does work.  Edison did much to advance this technology.  Created electrical generators.  And lit our cities with his electric light bulb.  Electrical power lines crisscrossed our early cities.  And there were a lot of them.  Far more than we see today.  Why?  Because Edison’s power was direct current.  DC.  Which had some serious drawbacks when it came to power transmission.  For one it didn’t travel very far before losing much of its power. So electrical loads couldn’t be far from a generator.  And you needed a generator for each voltage you used.  That adds up to a lot of generators.  Great if you’re in the business of selling electrical generators.  Which Edison was.  But it made DC power costly.  And complex.  Which explained that maze of power lines crisscrossing our cities.  A set of wires for each voltage.  Something you didn’t need with alternating current.  AC.  And a young engineer working for George Westinghouse was about to give Thomas Edison a run for his money.  By creating an electrical revolution using that AC power.  And that’s just what Nikola Tesla did.

## Transformers Stepped-up Voltages for Power Transmission and Stepped-down Voltages for Electrical Motors

An alternating current went back and forth through a wire.  It did not have to return to the electrical generator after leaving it.  Unlike a direct current ultimately had to.  Think of a reciprocating engine.  Like on a steam locomotive.  This back and forth motion doesn’t do anything but go back and forth.  Not very useful on a train.  But when we convert it to rotational motion, why, that’s a whole other story.  Because rotational motion on a train is very useful.  Just as AC current in transmission lines turned out to be very useful.

There are two electrical formulas that explain a lot of these developments.  First, electrical power (P) is equal to the voltage (V) multiplied by the current (I).  Expressed mathematically, P = V x I.  Second, current (I) is equal to the voltage (V) divided by the electrical resistance (R).  Mathematically, I = V/R.  That’s the math.  Here it is in words.  The greater the voltage and current the greater the power.  And the more work you can do.  However, we transmit current on copper wires.  And copper is expensive.  So to increase current we need to lower the resistance of that expensive copper wire.  But there’s only one way to do that.  By using very thick and expensive wires.  See where we’re going here?  Increasing current is a costly way to increase power.  Because of all that copper.  It’s just not economical.  So what about increasing voltage instead?  Turns out that’s very economical.  Because you can transmit great power with small currents if you step up the voltage.  And Nikola Tesla’s AC power allowed just that.  By using transformers.  Which, unfortunately for Edison, don’t work with DC power.

This is why Nikola Tesla’s AC power put Thomas Edison’s DC power out of business.  By stepping up voltages a power plant could send power long distances.  And then that high voltage could be stepped down to a variety of voltages and connected to factories (and homes).  Electric power could do one more very important thing.  It could power new electric motors.  And convert this AC power into rotational motion.  These electric motors came in all different sizes and voltages to suit the task at hand.  So instead of a waterwheel or a steam engine driving a main shaft through a factory we simply connected factories to the electric grid.  Then they used step-down transformers within the factory where needed for the various work tasks.  Connecting to electric motors on a variety of machines.  Where a worker could turn them on or off with the flick of a switch.  Without endangering him or herself by engaging or disengaging belts from a main drive shaft.  Instead the worker could spend all of his or her time on the task at hand.  Increasing productivity like never before.

## Free Market Capitalism gave us Electric Power, the Electric Motor and the Roaring Twenties

What electric power and the electric motor did was reduce the size and complexity of energy conversion to useable power.  Steam engines were massive, complex and dangerous.  Exploding boilers killed many a worker.  And innocent bystander.  Electric power was simpler and safer to use.  And it was more efficient.  Horses were stronger than man.  But increasing horsepower required a lot of big horses that we also had to feed and care for.  Electric motors are smaller and don’t need to be fed.  Or be cleaned up after, for that matter.

Today a 40 pound electric motor can do the work of one 1,500 pound draft horse.  Electric power and the electric motor allow us to do work no amount of teamed horses can do.  And it’s safer and simpler than using a steam engine.  Which is why the Roaring Twenties roared.  It was in the 1920s that this technology began to power American industry.  Giving us the power to control and shape our environment like never before.  Vaulting America to the number one economic power of the world.  Thanks to free market capitalism.  And a few great minds along the way.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

# Wind Farms don’t Deliver but a new Gasoline Engine May

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 6th, 2011

### During Peak Demand Wind Power Generated less than 5% of Capacity

Before President Obama banned U.S. deep water oil drilling he was for it.  But that support was only half-hearted.  More for political purposes.  Because he just doesn’t like oil.  And high gasoline prices don’t bother him either.  In fact, he likes them.  They’re more of an incentive for people to pay more for electric cars that don’t drive as far as those hated gasoline counterparts.  Which will please his liberal environmentalist base.  And please his crony capitalist Big Business friends who make green energy generation equipment.  To provide this huge new electrical demand to power all those electric cars.  Like General Electric.  Who builds a lot of green products.  Including windmills.

Renewable energy is all the rage in the Obama administration.  It’s the ‘in’ energy this season.  Clean.  High-tech.  Currently nonexistent so it will add a whole bunch of taxpayer subsidized jobs to the economy.  It’s win-win for the administration.  And best of all, for them, it doesn’t work (see Wind farm efficiency queried by John Muir Trust study posted 4/6/2011 on the BBC News Scotland).

The research, carried out by Stuart Young Consulting, analysed electricity generated from UK wind farms between November 2008 to December 2010

Statements made by the wind industry and government agencies commonly assert that wind turbines will generate on average 30% of their rated capacity over a year, it said.

But the research found wind generation was below 20% of capacity more than half the time and below 10% of capacity over one third of the time…

During each of the four highest peak demands of 2010, wind output reached just 4.72%, 5.51%, 2.59% and 2.51% of capacity, according to the analysis.

You know, there is a reason why ocean transports aren’t sail-powered anymore.  Wind was unreliable.  It sometimes didn’t blow.  And it wasn’t a concentrated source of energy.  It took a lot of rigging to hold up a lot of sail to push ships slowly across the ocean.  When the wind blew.  And it didn’t always blow.

Coal and the steam engine changed all of that.  Shippers replaced their sail-powered ships with steam-powered ships.  And they’ve never looked back.  Eventually replacing their coal-fired engines with oil-fired engines.  Some of the world’s navies even took it a step further.  They replaced their oil-fired engines with nuclear reactors.  Some of these warships can stay on station for 6 months and longer without ever refueling.

See the trend?  Energy sources became more concentrated.  Engines became smaller.  Which allowed people to ship more stuff for less.  This is progress.  It’s why they can sell a lot of those electronic toys we so enjoy so cheaply.  Because they can ship so many of them that the shipping cost per unit is like the cost of a postage stamp.  Using wind farms, on the other hand, is the opposite of progress.  It’s going backwards.  This less concentrated energy source will take acres of windmills at a high infrastructure cost to produce a trickle of electricity.  All it will do is enrich the equipment manufacturers.  Who will show their gratitude with generous political contributions.

Crony capitalism at its worse.  And because this technology won’t solve our energy problem, our energy problem will always be here.  Government couldn’t ask for anything more.  Please the environmentalists.  Throw subsidies at their cronies in Big Business.  Sustain political donations from same.  And never fix the problem.  Which means this cycle just keeps repeating.   Politics.  It’s a beautiful thing.  For some.

### The Internal Combustion Engine is Reinvented

Wind power is not really a viable energy source.  When fleets of electric cars ‘plug in’ it won’t be windmills providing the power.  It will be either a coal-fired plant.  A natural gas-fired plant.  Or a nuclear plant.  To provide reliable power during peak demands will require an energy source less fickle than the wind.  So if we want those electric cars, the environmentalists will have to embrace that which they hate.  Fossil fuels.  Or their archenemy.  Nuclear power.

Is there another way?  Perhaps.  But it’s a fossil fuel alternative.  But one that the environmentalist may even warm up to (see New Car Engine Sends Shockwaves Through Auto Industry by Nic Halverson posted 4/6/2011 on Discovery News).

[R]esearchers at Michigan State University have built a prototype gasoline engine that requires no transmission, crankshaft, pistons, valves, fuel compression, cooling systems nor fluids. Their so-called Wave Disk Generator could greatly improve the efficiency of gas-electric hybrid automobiles and potentially decrease auto emissions up to 90 percent when compared to conventional combustion engines.

The engine has a rotor that’s equipped with wave-like channels that trap and mix oxygen and fuel as the rotor spins. These central inlets are blocked off, building pressure within the chamber, causing a shock wave that ignites the compressed air and fuel to transmit energy.

Sounds like a lot of science fiction.  But did you get that one number?  Reduce emissions by 90 percent?  An internal combustion engine that is almost emission-free?  What’s not to love about that?  Sure, it still uses gasoline, but it uses it so much more efficiently.

The Wave Disk generator uses 60 percent of its fuel for propulsion; standard car engines use just 15 percent. As a result, the generator is 3.5 times more fuel efficient than typical combustion engines.

Researchers estimate the new model could shave almost 1,000 pounds off a car’s weight currently taken up by conventional engine systems.

More efficient, lighter and near-emission-free?  It’ll exceed every CAFE and emission standard the environmentalist demands from the automotive industry.  This engine has everything.  It pleases the environmentalist.  Reduces our consumption of foreign oil.  And with such a small, efficient power plant, the auto companies can make the big cars people want to buy again.  What’s not to love about this engine?

Last week, the prototype was presented to the energy division of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is backing the Michigan State University Engine Research Laboratory with \$2.5 million in funding.

Oh.  They used federal funding to develop this engine.  It would seem to the layperson that an engine as wonderful as this would have a market.  A big market.  And could attract private investors.  I mean, they’re building expensive cars that no one will buy without a massive federal subsidy (to both the buyer and the seller) just to please the government.  An engine like this would make life so much simpler for the auto companies.  And so much more profitable.  Which suggests this may be too good to be true.  For the best things in life don’t need federal subsidies.  If there is a market people will take risks.  If there is a profit to be made people will bring good things to market.

### More Power with Less Fuel is Progress

The Wave Disk Generator may be for real.  For it is a step in the right way.  It uses the same concentrated fuel we use today in our cars.  But it uses it more efficiently.  Reducing the size of the engine.  While providing more power.  With less fuel.  This is progress.  This is good.  The only thing of concern is the government’s involvement.  For this is the same government that is investing in wind-generated electricity.

Yes, it’s possible that the government backed a winner here.  Anything is possible.  I mean, even a broken clock is right twice a day.  Time will tell.  Perhaps one day we’ll see the Wave Disk Generator under the hood.  But if the government is involved, don’t hold your breath.  It could be awhile.

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