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From Our Readers

TOO MUCH HYPE ABOUT HYDROGEN?

The article by Thomas K. Grose on hydrogen-powered cars (“Clean Machines,” September) is significantly better than most on the subject. He is to be commended for a good presentation on the issues of the collection of hydrogen in an environmentally responsible fashion and the infrastructure and storage problems.

His article does, however, suffer from problems of content and hype. It also neglects to discuss the limitations of thermodynamics and other energy-conversion efficiencies that haunt the hydrogen cycle.

Grose writes that the cost of generating a kilowatt of power, including the cost of the machine producing said power, is $4,500 for fuel cells and $350 for diesel generators. This part of the comparison is fine. He then compares these figures to $50 worth of gasoline, the cost of the fuel only. He does not include the cost of the machinery burning that fuel to generate the kilowatt of power.

The scenario for using fuel cells to power buildings where hydrogen is generated on site by electrolysis is pure hype. If you have electricity for electrolysis, you don't need hydrogen. Burning hydrogen (from electrolysis) to generate electricity for powering buildings makes little sense. You lose energy in generating the hydrogen and again when you pass it through a fuel cell. An explanation of the tyranny of the second law of thermodynamics is needed to understand conversions of chemical (thermal) energy and electrical (mechanical) energy.

Minimizing the amount of energy spent and pollution produced in personal transport is an interesting problem. It is not one that has simple solutions, like conversion to a hydrogen economy. It has many fascinating technical issues that require a variety of engineering proposals, each of which comes with different trade-offs. There are also marketing and lifestyle issues as the large number of single-occupant SUVs and trucks on the highway today in place of smaller and lighter vehicles that are much more efficient attests.

At this stage, a hydrogen economy is a research topic. It is far from a ready-to-be-declared winning solution for the future.

Rick Dill
Distinguished Engineer
Hitachi Global Storage Technologies


TWIN TOWERS CLEANUP

“The Phoenix Man” is a fine article, and we should all be proud of the engineers who “unbuilt” the monstrous pile of debris at the site of the World Trade Center. Much credit is due to Peter Rinaldi of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. However, it isn't really accurate to say that he “oversaw” the recovery and cleanup. The project was managed by the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC), and the lead role was played by Michael Burton, executive deputy commissioner, who chaired all the key meetings attended by representatives of many different agencies. For his work, Mr. Burton—who is also an engineer and alumnus of Manhattan College, an institution that happened to be the alma mater of many of the key people—was given the Award of Excellence by Engineering News Record. The story is very well told in a fascinating book, “American Ground: The Unbuilding of the World Trade Center,” written by William Langewiesche of the Atlantic magazine, who spent several months at the site and was granted unique access to all aspects of the work. Mr. Rinaldi receives well-deserved recognition in this book as well as elsewhere, and I do not wish to minimize his talents and achievements. But I believe that no account of the amazing project is complete without appropriate credit being given to Mr. Burton and other representatives of the DDC.

Incidentally, engineering students might well study the politics of the enterprise as well as the difficult and dangerous technical problems overcome. Several major corporations and government agencies were interested in taking on the lead role, but the take-charge actions of the DDC, a relatively small organization, convinced the Federal Emergency Management Agency to leave them in charge.

Samuel C. Florman
Co-Chairman, Kreisler Borg Florman Construction Co.
Scarsdale, New York


BENEFITS OF MEMBERSHIP

I am very impressed with Prism. I just became a member of ASEE last month and opened my welcome envelope this afternoon. Just paging through the magazine, it looked very clean and well laid out. I receive magazines from other professional organizations and have found them very cluttered.
Thank you for your work and I hope to find all the future Prism issues to be just as enjoyable.

Michael Foster
Research Assistant
Dept. of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics
Drexel University

 


Correction: In “An Underwater Finish Line” (On Campus, September, print edition), the photo caption incorrectly identified members of the Millerville University and Florida International University teams. The upper photograph is of Florida Institute of Technology students with their sub “MissFit” and the lower of Millerville University students with their sub “Redemption.”

 
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