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
sense. You lose energy in generating the hydrogen and again when
you pass it through a fuel cell. An explanation of the tyranny of
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
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
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. Burtonwho is also an engineer and alumnus of Manhattan College,
an institution that happened to be the alma mater of many of the key
peoplewas 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
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.
Dept. of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics
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
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.