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From Gridlock to Robojelly

Panic buying of vehicle fuel in the United Kingdom before a possible Easter weekend tanker driver strike has commenced.

The Coalition Government appears to be fanning the flames of anxiety, perhaps glad to deflect media attention from sliding-overturned-tanker type Hollywood crash scenes from their special version of crony capitalism.

“You mean to say that business people can pay money to have dinner with the leaders of the Conservative Party ?Well, strike a light !”
“…Asked whether motorists would be well-advised to rush to the petrol stations and fill up their tanks in the wake of last night’s vote for industrial action, a Number 10 spokeswoman said: “I think people should draw their own conclusions.”…She added: “Businesses and those who rely on vehicles for their work should ensure contingency plans are in place. It is always prudent.” …”

For me, the fuel strike of 2000 was spectator sport, as I was Working In Mainland Europe at the time. I was told it was Apocalyptic, in the nicest, visionary sense of the word – a reminder of how quiet roadways used to be and could be again, but also, how scary it was for the house-bound who rely on social services.

Supermarkets, naturally, became emptied. We were three meals from anarchy.

I would have thought it would be in everybody’s best interest to calm things down, sort out a deal with the people threatening strike action, but no, the Government appear to be bowling blindly on, perhaps incompetently provoking a massive traffic crisis by giving advice about stockpiling petrol and diesel.

It’s all turning into a bad dream, or perhaps a Ben Elton novel. Although he appears to have sold out, and turned to making a handsome living from raking in barrelloads of casheroo writing London musicals, Ben Elton did write what I consider to be a couple of decent works of fiction raising environmental problems, including a rather prophetic, prescient book, “Gridlock”, full of memes of the 1991 moment, but still resonant today – massive city car jams included.

I was reminded of the novel recently, because of one of its core themes – the suppression of “alternative” fuels, namely hydrogen, used in a new kind of engine. Until recently I was mildly scornful of proposals for a Hydrogen Economy, but now I am beginning to see the sense of finding low-cost, low-temperature, low-input processes to produce renewable hydrogen gas.

I still don’t believe that a fully hydrogen-based personal transportation infrastructure is a real possibility – not least because hydrogen fuel cell cars seem to be still a bit stuck in development and require lots of metal in their construction. However, producing renewable hydrogen and using this in a general network with other gas resources is an entirely different matter.

Hydrogen can provide a valuable addition to gas energy resources, and there are a number of developments in research indicating progress towards high-volume low-cost renewable hydrogen production.

One of the methods of producing hydrogen – the electrolysis of water – splitting it into hydrogen and oxygen gas – is given a boost through the use of specially designed catalysts. Progress is being made on these – the key aim is to replace the use of rare, costly metals. Two methods that appear to be making headway are the use of “substrates” – micro-scale platforms on which the catalysts are spread out, and the use of organic compounds to host the catalytic metal atoms in a kind of patchwork quilt.

There are a number of news releases for this group of technologies, not all of them readily identifiable as connected to major energy research. One such story recently was the launch of the “Robojelly

Issues of the effects of nanotechnology products on the environment still have to be considered, but the use of extremely small particles in a closed gas processing system, such as a Renewable Gas power station, would be more easily licenced.

Imagine a world with ample renewable electricity, such as wind and solar farms and some marine power projects. Then see the Renewable Gas power plants, used to balance out the intermittency of wind and sunshine, and the variability of marine power. The gas mix will come from a variety of sources, including carbon-rich gases from biomass routes, and renewable hydrogen from a variety of production methods.

We do not need to imagine too far or believe too much to be justifiably hopeful that a 100% renewable energy society is within reach.

One reply on “From Gridlock to Robojelly”

I’ve commented on the panic buying in the link below.

While we have to pin a good deal of the blame on the tories for trying to engineer a crisis (to distract from dinner 4 donors and let them have a show down with the unions), certainly this panic underlines how dependant we are on oil supplies.

In essence I see incidents such as this as a firedrill for the post-peak oil world, but I don’t think people are getting the message.

But how will replace oil? I’m preparing a long blog post about this where I’ll discuss these matters. so watch this space.

As far as the short term I suspect a mix of electric vehicles for shorter journeys, bio-fuelled (and diesel) for longer ones, later on hydrogen figuring.

Ultimately I suspect we’ll have to just get by with less, i.e. smaller, slower, more fuel efficient cars with less car dependence (by compacting cities and putting in better public transport links). In this link below I even question whether we may need to do away with the entire concept of the privately owned motor vehicle.

Nano technology or this “robojelly” you’ve discussed I put into the categort of “blue-sky” ideas. Promising yes, but we may not be able to rely on it for some time.

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