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Green Thinking PDF Print E-mail
{mosgoogle right}Green ThinkingThis is the first in a series of features focusing on the environment and the methods now available with which to improve it.  In future issues we will analyse the prospects, the existing infrastructure, the major sources of pollution and what, if anything, can be done to alleviate them.  Hong Kong Motorist does not pretend to know all the answers, but we will certainly look at all the possibilities.

Late in the last millennium motorists began to become aware of the damage their vehicles were doing to the environment: carbon dioxide emissions, oxides of nitrogen, particulates; all were harmful in one way or another.  Furthermore, car owners are becoming more and more aware of our dwindling resources; the depletion of non-renewable energy sources.

Industry experts agree that social conscience has to be balanced with the personal needs of the consumer, but most believe that indubitably something must change and that, in truth, the end-user – i.e. the car owner – does care about protecting the planet.

Carbon dioxide (CO²) is the principle cause of the so-called ‘greenhouse effect’, or global warming.  Currently, the world as a whole produces, from motor vehicles, in excess of six billion tonnes of CO² annually. But there are only two of the 92 chemical elements that are considered as controllable energy sources: carbon and hydrogen. Carbon is the main energy source in crude oil, but releasing this energy also releases CO² into the atmosphere.  Furthermore, as oil prices rise steeply, combined with the fact that ultimately supplies will run out, it is essential that alternative energy sources are utilised.

Green Thinking Hydrogen is considered a valuable source of clean energy as it is fairly easily produced, either by electrolysis of water or by gasification of hydrogen-rich raw material.  In the 2003 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush reminded the nation of the desirability of hydrogen as an alternative fuel.

However, there are currently significant drawbacks to adopting hydrogen as the fuel of choice, the first being the lack of effective infrastructure in the majority of developed countries – Germany being one notable exception, where a 1,800 kilometre ring road of hydrogen filling stations has been established in the centre of the country, while industrial giant Linde AG has proposed the rapid construction of some 40 hydrogen fuel stations along existing autobahns.  In response to this initiative BMW has produced a dual-fuel 7-series saloon that is capable of running on either petrol or hydrogen. 
Green Thinking There are currently two forms of hydrogen available in Germany: compressed gaseous hydrogen – CGH² - or liquefied hydrogen – LH².  The BMW group favours the latter as it offers a greater energy density and is easier to store.
The second problem to be faced with adopting hydrogen as the fuel of choice, is the difficulty of storing hydrogen as a gas within existing vehicles’ structures. It means that cars will have to be substantially altered if they are to run on hydrogen as their sole power source.

A number of U.S. manufacturers are turning to ethanol, a bio-mass product that is easily obtained and is a renewable energy source.  Again, Mr Bush has begun extolling the virtues of ethanol, since the recent steep rise in gas prices in the United States.

Last year, General Motors presented a Chevrolet Avalanche capable of running on the readily available E85 fuel (85 per cent ethanol, 15 per cent petrol) to Roger Sy, the president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, for use in the state to promote the use of ethanol.  Illinois, with six ethanol plants, is the second largest producer of the fuel after Iowa. Ethanol is principally produced from corn – at least in the United States – but can originate from other sources.

Said Mr Sy, “We are proud that Illinois leads the nation in the use of ethanol-blended gasoline and we are excited to work with General Motors to further promote its use.”

This year the U.S. will consume more than five billion (U.S.) gallons of ethanol and recently the Washington governor, Christine Gregoire signed a Senate Bill, a renewable fuel standard, requiring two per cent of the state’s gasoline and diesel consumption to be ethanol and bio-diesel respectively, by December 1, 2008.  Other states that have passed ethanol-blend statutes include Minnesota, Montana and Hawaii.

However, for ethanol to go beyond its current output of five billion gallons annually, the industry must diversify from just feedstock (corn). Cellulosic bio-mass, often dubbed the most abundant material on earth, holds a great deal of promise for ethanol production due to its widespread availability.  Sources include corn, cereal straw, sugarcane (widely used in Brazil which has the cane in abundance), sawdust, paper pulp and other dedicated energy crops.

Bio-diesel, a product of rapeseed or other bio-mass, or even waste cooking oil, is frequently added to commercial diesel in quantities generally up to five per cent, but can be higher.  Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has made efforts to promote the adoption of a percentage of bio-diesel, but has been vigorously opposed by the Motor Traders’ Association (MTA).  Despite the pressure from the EPD, the MTA, consisting of all franchised motor distributors in Hong Kong, asserts that the addition of bio-diesel, or fuel derived from bio-mass, can prove harmful to rubber seals in fuel systems, generally found only in older vehicles.  Currently, this stand-off is unresolved, although bio-diesel would not affect newer models which use synthetic materials in the fuel chain.

Currently a great deal of research, not to mention money, is being channelled into fuel-cell technology by a number of the major manufacturers.  Ford Motor Co., and DaimlerChrysler have a joint venture with Ballard Systems of Vancouver, the most prolific exponents of fuel-cell technology.  Fuel cells are a method of storing hydrogen within a metal matrix – on board the vehicle – and using the fuel to produce electricity to power the vehicle.  The product is entirely clean with no carbon or other noxious emissions.
Green Thinking At the California Fuel Cell Partnership in Sacramento, which comprises members ranging from oil giant BP to Volkswagen, and from diverse multinational United Technologies (Sikorsky helicopters, Pratt & Whitney aero engines, Chubb security devices, Carrier air-conditioners and Otis elevators) to the U.S. Department of Energy, research is being conducted on a number of test vehicles.  By 2007, the partnership aims to have some 300 test vehicles on the roads of California; currently there are less than 100.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has also announced it intends to invest millions of dollars to help the development of fuel-cell vehicles and to raise public awareness of the technology.  In agreements with General Motors and DaimlerChrysler, the DOE has awarded five-year contracts worth US$88 million and US$70 million respectively, to foster technology development and raise public awareness about the vehicles and the hydrogen technology that drives them.

Said Deborah Morrissset, vice-president for regulatory affairs at Chrysler: “DaimlerChrysler has worked with the Department of Energy from the beginning.  We have a fleet of fuel-cell vehicles ready to go into service in a demonstration programme.”

She adds, “This is an example of the type of partnership that is necessary to accelerate the evolution of the fuel cell and to reduce the United States dependency on oil.”
All these alternative energy sources will be covered in depth by Hong Kong Motorist in the coming months.  Oil, fuel and the environment are everybody’s responsibility and we wish to raise Hong Kong’s awareness on the subject as much as possible.  The time to act is now, not when global warming reaches unacceptable levels, or when oil becomes a rare, almost unobtainable, commodity.

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© 2018 Jeff Heselwood. All rights reserved.
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