There will be Carbon Emission whether we Power our Cars from Poo or Gasoline

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 2nd, 2014

Week in Review

Hydrogen is very flammable.  It’s why we use helium in our blimps.  Because using hydrogen is just too dangerous.  As the Hindenburg disaster has shown us.

So hydrogen is a pretty dangerous thing to be messing with.  Unlike gasoline.  Which is pretty safe and stable in the liquid form.  You could even put out a cigarette in a puddle of gasoline.  It’s dangerous doing so.  And you shouldn’t try it.  But the most dangerous thing about gasoline is its vapor.  Ignite that and there will be an explosion.  Which is what happens inside our internal combustion engines.  Where our cars first aerosolizes the gasoline, mixes it with air, compresses it and then ignites it.  Of course that explosion is deep within our engines.  Where it can’t harm us.  Still, it isn’t advised to smoke while refueling.  Because there are gas vapors typically where there is gas.  And you don’t want you car exploding like the Hindenburg.

Fuel cells use hydrogen to make electric power.  All you have to do is stop at your hydrogen fueling station and fill up your hydrogen tanks.  Just don’t smoke while doing this.  Because hydrogen in its natural state is an explosive gas.  This danger aside the hydrogen fuel cell is about to give the all-electric car a run for its money.  And last’s night meal may be providing the hydrogen (see POO-power comes to California: Orange County residents to trial SUVs fuelled by human waste by Mark Prigg posted 2/25/2014 on the Daily Mail).

The fuel-cell powered Tucson can drive for 50 miles per kilogram of hydrogen, and its two tanks hold about 5.64 kilograms (12.4 pounds).

Costs of compressed gas in California range from about $5 to $10 per kilogram, depending on the facility, and it takes around three minutes to fill the tank.

Hyundai says it hopes the technology will become popular – and will take on the electric car as the eco-vehicle of choice.

‘Hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles represent the next generation of zero-emission vehicle technology, so we’re thrilled to be a leader in offering the mass-produced, federally certified Tucson Fuel Cell to retail customers,’ said John Krafcik of Hyundai Motor America.

‘The superior range and fast-fill refueling speed of our Tucson Fuel Cell vehicle contrast with the lower range and slow-charge characteristics of competing battery electric vehicles.

‘We think fuel cell technology will increase the adoption rate of zero-emission vehicles, and we’ll all share the environmental benefits.’

If you crunch the numbers and compare it to a gasoline-powered Ford Taurus the numbers aren’t so good.  A Ford Taurus gets 29 miles per gallon on the highway.  And has an 18 gallon gas tank.  Which means one tank of gas will take you 522 miles on the highway.  At $3 per gallon for gas that one tank of gas will cost you $54.  By comparison the fuel cell gives you only 282 miles on a full tank.  And costs between $28.20 and $56.40 for a full tank.  Dividing cost per mile that comes to somewhere between $0.10 and $0.20 per mile.  While the gasoline-powered Ford Taurus costs about $0.10 per mile.

So at best the fuel cell will have a fuel cost equal to the gasoline-powered engine.  But it only has about 54% the range on a full tank.  Meaning you’ll have to stop about twice as often to fuel up with the fuel cell.  And good luck not blowing yourself up playing with hydrogen at the fuel pump.  That is if you can even find hydrogen fueling stations along your drive.  The only real good thing you can say about a fuel cell when comparing it to a gasoline-powered car is at least it’s not as bad as an all-electric car.  And those zero-emissions?  Sorry, that’s not exactly true.  The hydrogen may be zero-emissions but making the hydrogen isn’t.

First, sewage is separated into water and biosolids.

The waste water is cleaned, filtered and treated for reuse, while solid waste is piped into airless tanks filled with microbes.

A byproduct of their digestion is a gas that’s 60 percent methane and about 40 percent carbon dioxide, which is burned at the plant for power generation.

However, some is filtered and piped into a unique, stationary ‘tri-generation’ fuel-cell device, designed by the Irvine team, that produces electricity, heat and hydrogen.

The hydrogen gas is then piped several hundred feet to the public pump where fuel-cell autos are refueled daily.

Almost half of the source gas is carbon dioxide.  And carbon dioxide has carbon in it.  This is the same gas they want to shut down coal-fired power plants for producing.  Oh, and methane?  That’s a greenhouse gas.  This is the gas coming out of the butts of cows and pigs that some are saying are warming the planet.  And when you burn methane guess what you get?  Water and carbon dioxide.  More manmade carbon emissions.  That’s a lot of global warming they’re creating in the effort to prevent global warming.

This is one thing fuel cells share with all-electric cars.  They may be emission free.  But the chemistry to make them emission-free isn’t.  We’re still putting carbon into the atmosphere.  We’re just doing it in different places.  And if we are wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier just to keep using gasoline?

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Real Prices fall where Consumers Spend their own Money which is why Health Care Prices have Soared

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 23rd, 2012

Week in Review

A lot of us no doubt hear our elders talk about how cheap things used to be.  “When I was a kid you could buy a bottle of pop for a nickel.”  “When I started driving you could fill up the gas tank for a couple of dollars.”  “I remember when 99 cents would buy you two eggs, 4 sausage, a slice of ham, 4 rashers of bacon, hash browns, toast and a cup of coffee.”  And, yes, everything they said was true.  Things cost a lot less back then.  But our paychecks were a lot smaller back then, too.

When President Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold we started printing money.  And when we did we devalued the dollar.  Causing a sustained and permanent inflation.  This inflation caused prices to go up.  And our paychecks grew, too, to allow us to afford those higher prices.  So prices are relative.  They become more expensive when they rise greater than our paychecks.  They become less costly when our paychecks rise greater than prices.  There is a better way to look at how prices change over time.  Something that factors in the affect of inflation.  By looking at the number of hours worked required for a purchase (see The Cost of Health Care: 1958 vs. 2012 by Chris Conover posted 12/22/2012 on Forbes).

Mark Perry has posted some interesting comparison of how prices have plummeted between 1958 and 2012 when measured in terms of the hours of work required to purchase items. He concludes that today’s consumer working at the average wage of $19.19 would only have to work 26.6 hours (a little more than three days) to earn enough income ($511) to purchase a toaster, TV and iPod.  The equivalent products (in terms of their basic function, not their quality) would have required 4.64 weeks of work in 1958. In short, the “time cost” of these items has massively declined by 86% in less than 5 decades.

Similarly, Perry calculates that measured in the amount of time working at the average hourly wage to earn enough income to purchase a washer-dryer combination, the “time cost” of those two appliances together has fallen by 83%, from 181.8 hours in 1959 to only 31 hours today.

What if we applied this kind of analysis to health care? The results are quite interesting. In 1958, per capita health expenditures were $134. This may seem astonishingly small, but it actually includes everything, inclusive of care paid for by government or private health insurers. A worker earning the average wage in 1958 ($1.98) would have had to work 118 hours—nearly 15 days–to cover this expense. By 2012, per capita health spending had climbed to $8,953. At the average wage, a typical worker would have to work 467 hours—about 58 days.

In short, while time prices for other goods and services had shrunk to less than one quarter of their 1958 levels, time prices for health care had more than quadrupled…!

This simple comparison reminds us of three basic truths. In general, private markets tend to produce steadily lower prices in real terms (e.g., in worker time costs) and steadily rising quality. This is exactly what we observe for goods such as toasters, TVs, iPods, washers and dryers. In contrast, while the quality of health care unequivocably has risen since 1958, real spending on health care has climbed dramatically. This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison insofar as the bundle of goods and services that constitute health care is also much larger today than in 1958. In contrast, even though the quality may be better, a washing machine in 2012 is still a washing machine.[2] If we were willing to rely more on markets in medicine, we might be able to harness the superior ability of Americans to find good value for the money to produce results more similar to other goods.

So why are health care prices soaring in real prices when everything else is falling?  In a word, waste.  Where consumers spend their own money real prices have fallen.  Where consumers receive benefits other people pay for real prices have soared.  Where there are market forces (i.e., competition) prices fall and quality goes up.  Because manufacturers have to get consumers who are looking for the best value for the money to buy from them.  Where there are no market forces because someone else is paying for your benefits (single payer, third-party, insurance, government, etc.) people don’t look for the best value for the money.  They just look to get the most someone else will pay for.  So there is no incentive to reduce costs or find cheaper ways to deliver higher quality.  Like in the private sector.

Obamacare won’t improve this.  In fact, adding vast layers of bureaucracy will only add waste.  And increase prices further.  With all that money feeding into the new Obamacare bureaucracy there will be less available for health care services.  Resulting in longer wait times, service rationing and service denials.  Health care may be free one day to patients.  But the cost of that free health care will soar even higher for the taxpayers who will have to pay for all of that bureaucratic waste.

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China Spending less on Unprofitable High-Speed Trains, wants Private Investors to Lose Money Instead

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 26th, 2012

Week in Review

Governments everywhere want to build high-speed trains.  They like them because they’re very high profile and can stand as memorials to the politicians that gave them to us.  They like them because they are so costly, both to run and to operate.  Requiring higher taxes and lots of government borrowing.  They like them because they are so labor intensive.  Both to build and to operate.  This creates a lot of jobs.  Yes, they are all of these things.  But one thing they are not is profitable (see Railways try to get investors on track by Wei Tian and Xin Dingding posted 5/21/2012 on China Daily).

Experts predict lukewarm response as sector seeks private capital…

Zhou, who is chairman of the Wenzhou Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Development Association, represents a group of wealthy industrialists in East China’s Zhejiang province.

The railway authority in Wenzhou, he said, has been negotiating with entrepreneurs but so far the government is offering just 8 percent of the profits.

“Eight percent is not attractive,” he said. Railway programs require huge investment, the sector has suffered losses and entrepreneurs are cautious, he said.

According to data released by the ministry, its debt reached 2.43 trillion yuan ($384 billion) by the end of March, with a debt ratio of 60.6 percent.

The ministry also reported a loss of 6.98 billion yuan in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, fixed investment in railways was 89.6 billion yuan, 48.3 percent less than the same period last year…

…private capital is already involved in railway construction, he said, explaining that a 624-kilometer coal transport line, partially funded by the privately owned Xinjiang Guanghui Industry Investment Group, had begun construction in late March.

However, he warned that it will not be easy to attract private investors into industries that are no longer profitable.

Building these railways gave the government a huge debt.  That debt ratio (total liabilities divided by total assets) means lenders are not all that happy.  With over half the total assets of the railway programs paid for by debt and an annualized loss of 27.9 billion Yuan (4 X 6.98 billion Yuan) investors see these railway programs for what they are.  Investment losers.  They rack up debt and can’t operate at a profit.  Even the government doesn’t want to pay for them anymore and is trying to find private investors to throw away their money.

Railroads are so costly because there is infrastructure everywhere a train travels.  And the revenue from the train has to pay for this infrastructure.  From the first survey to the first grading to the first ballast to the first track to the first switch to the first signal there are nothing but high capital costs.  Followed by high operating costs to make everything work.  From maintenance crews to engineers to conductors to train crews to dispatch centers to ticket sellers.  High-speed passenger rail is the most expensive rail of all.  Because they’re typically electric which requires even more infrastructure wherever that train travels.  And no grade crossings.  So that’s more tunnels and bridges.

Only two high-speed lines earn enough revenue to pay both their capital and operating costs.  One in Japan.  And one in France.  Governments subsidize all other passenger rail.  Only the freight railroads are profitable.  Which is why companies in the private sector still own the freight railroads.   Why freight?  Because there is no more cost effective way to move containers or bulk freight.  Like coal.  Which is where private capital is currently going to in China.  Because coal is never an investment loser.  And there is no better way to move coal overland than by train.

The bidding process has come in for harsh criticism by the public after a crash involving two high-speed trains in Zhejiang province killed at least 40 people and injured more than 200 others in July.

According to the findings of an investigation announced last December, malpractice and illegal contracts were found in the bidding process administered by the Ministry of Railways and its subordinate bureaus, which resulted in the failure of a train control system that had never undergone field tests before launch, Xinhua reported.

The national auditor said in March that it had uncovered evidence of fraud, waste, mismanagement and irregular accounting and procurement totaling billions of yuan at the ministry’s flagship high-speed Beijing-Shanghai railway.

And here’s the other reason why politicians love high-speed rail.  It is so much easier to conceal fraud, waste and irregular accounting and procurement practices when the money amounts are so large.  It’s a sad thing that government is not very good at building and running trains but is very good at the fraud.  We should remember this the next time government wants to spend a fortune on high-speed rail.

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Outhouse, City Water, Sanitary Sewer System, Flush Toilet, Water Trap, Soil Stack, Sanitary Lift Stations, Weir Dam and Overflow Spillways

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 11th, 2012

Technology 101

Before Indoor Plumbing People had to Walk some 50 Feet in Rain, Snow or Shine to go to the Bathroom

On the American sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies, Jed Clampett wasn’t sure if he should move his family to Beverly Hills after they found oil on his land.  He asks his cousin Pearl for advice.  She says, “Jed, how can you even ask? Look around you. You live eight miles from your nearest neighbor. You’re overrun with skunks, possums, coyotes, and bobcats. You use kerosene lamps for light.  You cook on a wood stove, summer and winter. You’re drinkin’ homemade moonshine, and washin’ with homemade lye soap. And your bathroom is fifty feet from the house. And you ask should you move!?”  Jed thinks about all of this and replies, “Yeah, I reckon you’re right. Man’d be a dang fool to leave all this.”  (This exchange begins at 11:40 on The Beverly Hillbillies (Season 1 – Ep. 1) The Clampetts Str).

On the American sitcom I Love Lucy, Tennessee Ernie Ford comes to visits the Ricardos in New York City.  On the day of his arrival, as he prepares to go to bed, he walks out of the apartment through the kitchen door with his suitcase.  Lucy and Ricky look at each other perplexed.  After a few minutes he comes back in and walks out of the apartment through the living room door.  After a few minutes he returns and approaches Ricky.  And whispers in his ear.  Exasperated, Ricky points and says, “Through the bedroom.”  In stunned disbelief Ernie says, “You mean it’s in the house?”  Ricky nods.  Ernie walks towards the bathroom and says, “Wait till I tell Mama about this.”  (See I Love Lucy Tennessee Ernie Visits).

Once upon a time, before indoor plumbing, people headed out of their house some 50 feet to go to the bathroom.  In rain, snow or shine.  To an outhouse.  Away from the main house.  Because of the stink.  And to keep their waste from seeping into the water table.  So their waste didn’t contaminate their drinking water.  So when they ever felt the call of nature they took that long walk.  Pushed open the door and squatted.  (Interesting fact: all outhouse doors open in for safety.  For if you were inside when a strong wind tipped the outhouse over you could open the door and then stand up, lifting the outhouse upright).  Or if it was a deluxe outhouse you may have sat down on some wooden planks.  Living like this was all well and fine when your nearest neighbor was 8 miles away.  Or in a suburban community with deep backyards.  For you could put your outhouse at the back fence.  Like your neighbor across the fence.  You can.  And some have.  But it’ll put a stink in the air.  And provide little privacy to do those most personal of things.  For when your neighbor sees the lady of the house walking back there it’s no secret what she’s going to do.

Flush Toilets are Possible thanks to City Water, Sanitary Sewer Systems, Water Traps and Stack Vents

Moving the bathroom into the house gave us true privacy.  So a lady could have a bowel movement without her neighbors knowing about it.  Two things made this possible.  City water.  And a sanitary sewer system.  These two things gave us the flush toilet.  A true marvel of engineering.  A porcelain bowl that holds a small amount of water.  Sitting on top of a pipe that ties into the sanitary sewer system.  A thing that makes the stink of an outhouse seem like a bouquet of roses.  Yet that stink doesn’t enter our homes.  Why?  Because of a simple thing called a water trap.  They come in a couple of shapes but typically have a u-shape somewhere in them.  Water enters and leaves at higher elevations.  Leaving the lower part always filled with water.  Providing a water seal between us and the stink of the sewer.  Thus preventing gases from entering our homes.  We build this trap right into our toilets.  On some models you can actually see the curly path the bowl drains into on the side of the toilet.

On top of the toilet base is a water tank.  With a valve and a float.  City water (under a slight pressure from the water plant) enters the tank through this valve.  When the tank is empty the valve is open and the water flows into the tank.  When the tank fills the float rises and closes the valve, shutting off the water flow.  At the bottom of the tank is a flapper valve.  When the tank is full of water the weight of the water presses down on this valve, sealing it shut.  When we flush the toilet we lift this flapper valve via a chain connected to a lever we operate with the flush handle on the toilet.  When we lift the valve the water in the tank can flow into the toilet bowl, washing the contents of the bowl into the pipe the toilet sits on.  As the water empties from the tank the flapper valve falls and seals the tank.  And with no water in the tank the float falls, opening the valve so water can refill the tank.

While the toilet tank fills because of the slight pressure they keep our city water under, the sanitary sewer system works under gravity alone.  All sewer lines in a building slope downward.  When they join other pipes they join in a ‘Y’ connection to make sure the new water entering another pipe enters flowing in the same direction of the water already in the pipe.  So as not to create any agitations or backpressure to the gravitational pull on the water.  To keep this water flowing in the downward direction.  If you have a basement in your house you can see a lot of this.  Downward sloping.  Y-fittings.  And you’ll also see one or two vertical pipes.  Soil stacks.  That other horizontal pipes run into.  Your sanitary waste (from floor drains, showers, sinks and toilets) flows to these soil stacks and down to a pipe under the floor that runs out to the sanitary line under the street.  If you follow these soil stacks up you’ll notice that they run all the way through the basement ceiling.  They in fact run all the way up and out through your roof.  Those little pipes you see protruding from your roof are stack vents.  These stack vents are critical in helping gravity work in your sanitary plumbing system.  By keeping a neutral pressure inside the pipes.  Making air pressure inside the pipes equal to the air pressure inside the house.  By equaling the air pressure on either side of the water traps the water stays in these traps.  If the system wasn’t vented the water wouldn’t stay in these traps.  As the column of falling water would compress the air below it creating a high pressure.  While creating a low pressure or vacuum above it.  Which would suck the water from the traps into the system above the falling water column.  And blow out the traps below the column.  Which would be rather nasty in the bathroom.  For it would blow raw sewage out of your toilet.  And onto you should you be in the bathroom at the time.

Sanitary Lift Stations have Backup Power and Failsafe Designs like Weir Dams and Overflow Spillways

At the beginning of all sanitary sew systems the pipes are their smallest.  Like inside a house where they connect to a floor drain, shower, sink or toilet.  As they join other pipes the pipe size increases.  To accommodate the increase in water volume.  The biggest pipe in a house is the one running to the sanitary line under the street in front of the house.  Which is a much bigger pipe as a sanitary line from each house connects to this line.  So it has to be big enough to handle all of the flow if everyone flushed their toilets at the same time.  Like at halftime during the Super Bowl.  And the pipes these ‘street mains’ connect to have to be even bigger.  For multiple ‘street mains’ connect to them.  And as more pipes join together they connect to even larger pipes.  And every one of these pipes is sloped downward to maintain the flow of water.  Pulled along by gravitational forces alone.  Which causes a problem.  Because continuously sloping bigger and bigger pipes downward will drive these pipes deeper and deeper underground.  Which can’t go on indefinitely.  As the ultimate destination is a wastewater treatment plant.  Which we typically don’t build underground.

So along the way we have to raise this wastewater so it can start its downward course again at a level closer to the surface.  We call these points sanitary lift stations.   Where a big pipe enters a wet well inside the station at a low elevation.  And exits the station at a higher elevation.  As water enters the wet well the water level slowly rises.  When the level reaches a certain elevation an automatic control system turns on pumps.  But not just any kind of pumps.  Some pumps with teeth.  That can grind up any solid waste that enters the sanitary sewer system.  From human waste.  To used condoms.  To feminine hygiene products.  And the myriad of other things that we shouldn’t flush down our toilets but do.  These pumps can pretty much grind up anything and spit it out into the discharge pipe of the station at a higher elevation.  So this wastewater can continue its journey to the wastewater treatment plant.

Some cities have a combined storm water and sanitary sewer system.  Which can tax the system during heavy rains.  For the water flowing into these wet wells will keep that level rising to a point the pumps may run continuously.  And should there be some damaging winds that take down the electrical grid these lift stations will throw-over to an emergency backup generator.  To keep those pumps running when we need them most.  To keep the water from rising too high in the wet well.  And the pipes feeding it.  For if those pipes fill up completely there will be no place for new water entering the sewer system to go.  Water will rise in manholes.  And out onto our streets.  Even out of our floor drains and into our houses.  As this would be a grave public health concern they often build failsafe protection in the sewer system.  The feed to the lift station will be a Y-connection.  Just past this will be a weir dam in the pipe.  A dam that blocks only the lower portion of the sewer pipe.  The pipe past this will run to some spillway into a river, lake or ocean.  If the flow in the pipe is too great for the lift station’s capacity it will spill over the weir dam and flow untreated directly into a larger body of water.  While this is bad it doesn’t happen often.  As it typically takes a ‘once in a hundred years’ rain to overtax a system.  And when it does there is so much storm water in the system that it greatly dilutes the harmful pathogens in the wastewater.

Our Sanitary Sewage Systems allow us to Draw Clean Drinking Water in the Same Room we Poop In 

Sanitary systems are gravity systems upstream.  As they get further downstream they get an assist from pumps.  As well as other powered valve and gates to redirect the water flow as necessary.  The bigger our cities get and the denser our city populations grow these active components become ever more critical to the gravity systems upstream.  So we provide backup power systems and failsafe designs.  We do everything possible to keep that wastewater flowing downstream and out of our homes.

Some of the greatest public health crises happen when these active systems break down.  For the power of gravity may influence our world a lot.  But the power of water is something to fear.  Especially when we lose control of it.  From tsunamis that overwhelm sewage systems in our coastal areas.  To 100-year rains that overwhelm our sewage systems in our interior areas.  To lift stations that fail and reverses the flow of wastewater in our sewage systems.  Worse yet is the discharge of raw sewage into our freshwater supplies.  That contaminate our fresh drinking water.  It doesn’t happen often but when it does it’s a health crisis of the first order.

But most times these systems work so well that we never think about them.  And can’t even imagine what life was like when you had to bundle up in the middle of winter and wade through thigh-deep snow to get to your bathroom.  Sitting on wooden planks in an unheated structure with the wind blowing through the slats.  Today we’re spoiled.  Not only do we not have to bundle up our bathrooms are heated.  And only a few steps away from us.  Because they are in the house.  Thanks to our sanitary sewage systems.  That can keep up with the waste production in our largest cities.  And allow us to draw clean drinking water in the same room we poop in.  If you really think about that it’s hard not to be as amazed as cousin Ernie was in I Love Lucy.

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