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Kite Powered Ships: Harnessing Abundant Energy
Craig Neilson, WorldChanging
There's no quicker way to show somebody that energy is abundant than taking them out to fly a really big kite. My favourite is a five metre, two-lined parafoil, and with lines only 20 metres high, ten knots of wind will throw you all around the park. Yet from a distance, the kite is merely a tiny speck on the horizon.
So imagine my delight when I learnt that the Beluga Shipping Company will use a massive SkySail to tow a 132 metre MV container ship across the Atlantic Ocean in January.
You might remember the beginning of this story from 2004, when we first reported on Skysails' project. The ship won't be entirely wind propelled, the kite will assist a standard diesel engine, but given the right wind conditions, the technique could save up to 50% of the ship's diesel requirements.
Ships are a great example of the difficulty in putting abundant energy to use.
(24 December 2007)
Related: Go fly a kite - from a cargo ship (Cox News) and Giant sail technology could make shipping greener (Guardian).
Slow down, you drive too fast - got to make the oil last
Allen Best, Salt Lake Tribune
Just for grins, let's talk about lowering the speed limit on our interstate highways - say, to 65 mph on roads where it's now 75 mph, and where most people drive 80 mph.
Go ahead, roll your eyes.
We've done this before, and I'll admit it that it wasn't much fun. That was in 1974, in response to the embargo of oil from the Middle East. We adopted the double-nickel limit of 55 mph. I got a rash of speeding tickets, two of them going 67 mph, and lost my driver's license. I'm sure that my hair, which was back then down to my shoulders, did nothing to help my cause.
As oil prices dropped, we got back to 65 mph, and, in the mid-1990s, when discretion was given to the states, to 75 mph on rural interstates in most parts of the West. Oil was cheap, and time was valuable, or so went the logic of the time.
Now, we're fast advancing toward our fifth year in a war that arguably is mostly about ensuring the orderly flow of oil from the Middle East, and we're still roaring down the highway as if nothing has happened.
I'm rolling my eyes.
Engineers say the most efficient speed for a motor is somewhere between 30 and 55 mph. Beyond 60 mph, the fuel economy begins dropping off substantially.
(29 December 2007)
Air Force to fly on synthetic fuel?
Gordon Lubold, The Christian Science Monitor
The government's biggest energy user is considering a cheaper, cleaner fuel to fire its jet engines.
The US Air Force is experimenting with a synthetic fuel that could become a cheaper fuel-alternative for the entire US military and even commercial aviation, officials say.
As the cost of a barrel of oil approaches $100 and US reliance on foreign oil sources grows, the Air Force, the single biggest user of energy in the US government, wants to find a cheaper alternative. Air Force officials think they may have found it in a fuel that blends the normal JP-8 fuel, currently used for the military's jet engines, with a synthetic fuel made from natural gas and liquid coal.
The 50-50 blend is less expensive - between $40 to $75 per barrel - and it burns cleaner than normal fuel. The synthetic fuel is purchased from US-based suppliers and then blended with the military's JP-8 fuel.
(28 December 2007)
Riding high? Amtrak sees ridership rise
Jim Suhr, Associated Press
... the cheery man from New South Wales was breathless about seeing a couple of things he'd not seen in his three previous Amtrak treks across this nation's rails over the past two decades - Americans seeming to outnumber tourists, and far fewer empty seats.
"It's good to see the Americans starting to use their trains, because if they don't use them they'll lose them," Hardacre, 53, said recently as Amtrak click-clacked its way from St. Louis to Chicago, just one leg of his monthlong sightseeing trip with his wife, Janice.
To Amtrak, it's proof that despite vexing challenges, it's on the right track.
The money-losing service, which relies heavily on government funding, says it is riding higher, illustrated by the hundreds of thousands of additional riders flocking to expanded routes in Illinois and California. Amtrak is chugging toward its fifth-straight record year for ridership nationwide, helped by high gasoline prices and congested highways and airports that seem to have encouraged people to keep their vehicles parked.
But Amtrak's headaches remain, and the biggest is funding. The service has never been out of the red since its launch in 1971, meaning it must rely on government handouts year after year.
(22 December 2007)
More frequent trains could help break car dependence
Carl Etnier, Times Argus (Vermont)
My challenge was to travel on the ground from Montpelier to Yellow Springs, Ohio, while leaving my car at home. I was going to a conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions (www.communitysolution.org), and I wanted to test the feasibility of using the transportation system from an oil-rich era to arrive at a conference about adapting to an energy-scarce future.
I had scheduled a 9:40 a.m. departure from Montpelier Junction on the Vermonter train to Springfield, Mass. Connecting trains would take me to Cleveland, and I'd continue by bus to Springfield, Ohio, with a cab or hitchhiking covering last 10 miles into Yellow Springs. The trip would take 24 hours or more, but with a laptop, a cell phone and a bag of reading material, I could use much of the time productively.
...Earlier this month, the Agency of Transportation balked at a deal which would have allowed two southbound trains to depart Montpelier each day on the Vermonter route, which runs from St. Albans to Brattleboro and on to New York and Washington. I don't know whether the timing of the additional departure would have let me skip the drive to Albany for this particular trip, but the increased flexibility would be valuable for many travelers.
The almost-negotiated deal was to buy state-of-the art train sets - lighter cars with smaller engines. They would have had greatly reduced operating costs, in part because they use by 40 percent less fuel than the train now in service. The manufacturer, Colorado Railcar Manufacturing, was so confident in the value of their product that they offered to buy the trains back after three years at 90 percent of the original purchase price if Vermont was not satisfied. And Amtrak was so eager to see these new trains tried somewhere, according to Neil Schickner at the state's Joint Fiscal Office, that it was prepared to contribute money toward their purchase and postpone future increased charges to Vermont for running the train.
...If the attorney general and the treasurer are not prepared to certify Colorado Railcar's buy-back guarantee, I take their word that the purchase is not risk-free.
On the other hand, delaying or canceling the new trains is not risk-free, either: Vermont is locked into a car-dependent transportation system that costs us more and more each year. Without the new trains, we are at greater risk of transportation stoppages when fuel becomes scarcer. The Agency of Transportation and the Legislature can move Vermont toward more appropriate 21st century transportation by working together to purchase the Vermonter train sets in 2008.
Carl Etnier, director of Peak Oil Awareness, blogs at vtcommons.org/blog and hosts the weekly radio show Relocalizing Vermont on WGDR, 91.1 FM Plainfield.
(23 December 2007)
Author Etnier is an Energy Bulletin contributor.