Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Some Energy Champs who Work With What They Have

While the whole business of new products that save energy is good and it is a direction to take in the future, there are people who make it their hobby to maximize the output of whatever they are using so that they use the minimum energy. If you ask me, these people are real heroes. Give them a 300 mpg car like the Aptera and they would probably squeeze out another 25 to 50 mpg out of it. There is a very interesting article about "hypermilers" who maximize the fuel consumption of their cars in today's USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/2008-06-23-hypermilers-saving-gas_N.htm?loc=interstitialskip

To these guys getting 100 miles per gallon is just day to day stuff. I really admire them and hope that they get more to join their fold. My current car, I am ashamed to say, does not fall into the category that could make this kind of ridiculous mileage. The next one which I shall buy very soon, will be one; and then, I'll try to join the hypermilers' ranks.

On the other hand, USA Today also reports a sad phenomenon of birds getting killed by flying into power lines and wind turbines in the USA and about measures to do something about it: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/environment/2008-06-23-birds_N.htm?loc=interstitialskip Fortunately, this is the USA and serious money and efforts are being put into preserving the wildlife. In India, for example, some morons would think about locating Nari Kuravas around these lines and ask them to eat whatever falls off the lines for dinner.

In other news, a Swedish university and private enterprise in that country are building an office building which wuld be heated by the body heat of its occupants. Considering how much energy gets wasted during the winter months because heating is required (yes, you know, I live in Sh!tcago, Ill-annoy) this is an idea that could revolutionize the building industry. The swedes plan to complete the building in Stockholm in 2010 and I hope that their design is replicated elsewhere in the world. If we show Fossil Fuel one Fist, we also need to show our electric utilities the other one. The Swedish building has been featured at Gizmag at: http://www.gizmag.com/human-body-heat-building-stockholm/8792/

Gizmag also has another interesting idea which is very similar to something that good friend Niro told me about some time ago. They plan, Gizmag reports, to build a "heel-strike generator system" so that pedestrians on sidewalks, in stadiums, railway stations etc would generate power by walking on specially designed floors under which generators would utilize the energy of their feet on the ground. Niro's plan is for treadmills which harness energy to run a fruit juicer or something of the sort and it is another idea that needs to be worked on. Who knows? Maybe I'll write to Scott Wilson who are designing these heel strike systems and talk to them about it. Thanks, Niro! The link to this project is at: http://www.gizmag.com/heel-strike-generators-to-harness-pedestrian-power/9518/

In the midst of all this, I keep hearing the same groups from friends in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh about power shortages right through these countries, of crowded roads and air thick with so much smoke that you could pick a shovel and start loading the carbon into a sack if you were so inclined. Come on, people! These are countries with a lot of sunshine. All of these countries have deserts and long coastlines. And they also have, despite their overcrowding, vast areas of waste land where they could set up some of these renewable energy projects. Solar thermal energy conversion systems could be a big thing in places like Rajasthan and on some of the barren southern coasts of India. India has done a reasonably good job of using wind energy but there are other countries in South Asia who have not. They need to buck up.

I must sign off for now - I did promise to make at least one post a day and did not do that yesterday, just three days into this blog. Well, I intend to make up with twice the usual amount of information tomorrow. Do write in and let me know what you guys think.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Green Transportation Right Now

All of my friends who know me know how much I love cars and motorcycles. I have been riding and driving since I was 15 and even today, nothing works better for me as an anti depressant than driving or riding a bike on a calm and peaceful rural road. It was when India's roads began to become more crowded and filthier by the day from the early 1980s onwards that I began to wonder if there was a possible solution to this whole mess of transportation and to making it cleaner. Let's face it - there are more people today than there have ever been and the world is a crowded place. While population experts suggest that populations could taper off in the future, any reduction in crowding is at least half a century away. And people have to work, public transportation is not reliable unless you live in Moscow, Paris or London, and this makes clean transportation a crying need.

For a long time, car companies were lazy, doing little to harness technologies that could save fuel and even now, some of the hybrid technology and advanced diesels that are being used are a first step, and not the full potential of the technology that is available to us even today. Fortunately, small firms are showing the way ahead. Some of the products are expensive, but they do work and large scale demand for them could make them significantly cheaper. In any case, it is summer here and my heart is not in my car. Who wants to bake inside it after it has stood in the sun for two hours? This is a time for the open road and for short hops to the grocery or to meet friends. For those romantically inclined, sitting with your significant other on a bike is also much more fun than sitting side by side even in a Ferrari.

So, here goes with a few links:

1. For the power freaks, there is a bike that uses fossil fuel, but with a twist - the diesel Neander cruiser is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful bikes ever made in my opinion. Their website is: http://www.neander-motorcycles.com/motorbike/en/ The bike's engine used a very innovative crankshaft that would have some special applications in the diesel and even gasoline engines of the future. Instead of buying a convertible of ANY kind, this is the bike to go for

2. For a full electric bike, there is a design that is garnering a lot of attention in this part of the world: http://www.enertiabike.com/ Bloody expensive if you ask me, but very beautifully styled, and, if you take the manufacturers' background into consideration, it should be superb. They make the Ariel Atom sportscar in North America

3. And then there is something really special: http://www.erockit.net/
This is actually a bicycle with a patented electric boost system which allows it to be pedalled at upto 50 Km/hr. I think it looks simply superb and it would be more than adequate for most cties in the world, especially in South Asia

4. In cars, there is the old Th!nk car, once a Ford subsidiary now revived by the Norwegian government with Venture Capital funding from the USA who have two designs: The Think City and the Think Ox (not as in ox-cart but as in Oxygen) which you can check out at: http://www.think.no/ I just might buy the Ox when it goes on sale in Chicago

5. And then there is the Aptera, a design that has wowed much of the US media including diehard skeptics like Popular Mechanics magazine. This is a design that requires a lot of hand fitting. It would be ideal for someone to assemble in South Asia under license. Do check the website out: http://www.aptera.com/ and also have a look at the many videos and reviews on Google, Youtube etc. The company plan to drive their car from Los Angeles to New York this summer on one tankful of gasoline in an attempt at getting the Automotive X Prize. The prize is for the first production car that gets the equivalent of 100 mpg. The Aptera will do at least twice that

6. There is something that we overlook until we have one of these discharge soot into our faces through our car windows - delivery vans. A British company called Modec has started manufacturing electric vans and has sold a large number to the British postal service. They also have orders in the Netherlands. Their website is: http://www.modeczev.com/ Capable of taking 2 ton loads, these could be ideal delivery vans for South Asia. To boot, they come in Right Hand drive, something that the other cars do not come in

7. There is a new concept here of the "Neighborhood Car." This refers to cars that are driven inside city streets and which do not go on highways. In the USA, thjese are given special exemptions if their top speed is restricted to 25 mph / 40 kmph though this particular design is capable of easily exceeding that if the restrictors are removed: http://www.zenncars.com/ The car would be superb for South Asian streets as a low speed people hauler that costs much less than any car in the world in use and which is much safer than the badly designed Indian Reva

There are several planned solutions from Mitsubishi, GM's Chevrolet Division, Nissan, Renault etc for the future as well as limited production cars like the Tesla http://www.teslamotors.com/ and the Fisker Karma http://www.fiskerautomotive.com/ I seriously doubt if any of the big names would come to South Asia. Even in advanced markets theya re being pre-empted by the small guys. Showing fossil fuels the fist also means showing a fist to those who have been making us use oil without bothering to innovate.


Post Script: A friend in Sri Lanka had an intriguing question. Is there any way that treadmills could be hooked up to do small jobs from utilising the energy that exercisers use on them? Run a small fruit juicer, perhaps? So you have an instant smoothie after you finish exercising? Ideas please...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Indians Will Never Get Agriculture Right

I didn't know that I would be posting twice on the same day. The New York Times has an article on a subject that I have been talking about for a long time - the pressing need for modern grain storage systems in India. There just isn't enough money in this for the Indian politicians and bureaucrats, and this hasn't happened, crying need be damned even though pests eat as much as three times the grain that people do in India.

Anyway, let's get to the New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/22/business/22indiafood.html?ex=1371787200&en=209fcc9853ffcf69&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

The Times isn't sure what needs to be done over there. They obviously don't know the situation on the ground. Most of India's grain is stored by thet Public Sector dinosaur, the Food Corporation of India, under tarpaulins in the open. While farmers' co-operatives which own storage systems like modern steel silos would help the farmers make money during lean years because of the rent paid to them for maintaining the systems and for guarding grain, the old bandicoot of a Minister for Agriculture, India's sugar baron Sharad Pawar, who has only managed to bungle repeated attempts at importing Australian wheat, has sat on his haunches doing nothing.

India's farmers are dying and the country has little time to save the grain that they labor hard to produce. The country has fancy liberals in its cities who talk about the finer points of interior decoration, while food that is worth a lot to what is still a desperately poor country gets wasted wholesale. Would the morons realise that there are such things as grain silos? Would they also understand that "high tech" does not mean the insipid software that their code-coolies turn out day after miserable day?

This blog's raison d'etre

Anyone who has been stuck in a traffic jam anywhere, whether it is on one of Chicago's pathetic apologies for roads or in the streets of South Asia, knows that it does not make sense, even in these days of $ 4.25 a gallon gas, to roll the windows of their car down and turn the airconditioning off. If you're on your way to a business meeting, at the very least, you would end up with a face and clothes stinking of exhaust fumes and covered in fine soot. At worst, you could end up horribly sick and unable to even speak at your meeting when you do finally get there after driving for three hours to cover a 20 mile distance.

I am not a scientist - I don't want to get into the global warming argument or debate the morality of drilling in the ANWR or in Darfur. The ethanol debate is similarly not one that I would like to go into - again, that is for experts and for those who are good at getting Federal Government subsidies to argue about - Vinod Khosla, please ignore me. I am too small a guy to step in where you make your billions. The purpose of this blog is to show how I, Joe Average aka Mehul Kamdar, shall be working on trying to start a new business selling renewable energy products in the USA as well as in South Asia. An additional purpose would be to focus on areas in renewable energy which are not very well known in the hope that someone who reads about them and has the intelligence and determination to do something about them, would devote time and money into going out and actually doing something that would help the world.

Yes, I want to shake my fist at fossil fuels. I lived in Chennai (formerly Madras) in South India for 35 years. If there is a filthier place which stinks of rotting sewage and the smell of untreated exhausts more than Chennai, I would not like to know about it. Chicago, where I now live, is only slightly less filthy. It is equally hideous, though, and probably a more miserable place to be in, because the beach is not worth visiting for at least 4 months every year.

On a more positive note, today's Telegraph, one of my favorite newspapers, carried this excellent article about a project that could have profound implications both for the country that I was born in and the one that I live in now. The link is: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2008/06/21/sm_hydrogen21.xml

India has a number of successful wind energy farms and this could be a direction for India to take to pay less to the "oilgarchs" of the world. The USA is a wealthier nation but it is hurting too. There is an increasing thrust over here on using more eind energy and I hope that the tremendous technical prowess of the USA in every field of engineering would help develop this Scottish idea and improve it to perfection. Now, let's see where I could go in my daydreams this weekend. I hope to blog every day if I can. There is simply so much to write about on this topic. And there is so much that so many people could do.

Let the sun shine on your road!