News and views on motorsports

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bio-Fuels, Environment And Racing

Far more serious than the Hamil-shit abuse headlines is the serious threat of global warming that is facing our planet. And first off, let me start by saying that unlike some bloggers, I actually believe that global warming is a huge threat. Some people may say that scientists have been crying wolf about a whole range of environmental issues in the past (remember that one about the next ice age), well in this case even if you can understand the statistical data about this issue, surely you can feel the effects daily.

I remember flying over Greenland once during a flight from London to Los Angeles. It was July and I remember looking at the all-white landscape. Apparently, there is no more ice in Greenland in summer these days. Glaciers in the Himalayas are melting and causing floods. Increased Hurricane and Typhoon activities. Not to mention the Monsoons in South East Asia growing in ferocity and frequency. If you still can't see it then you're as delusional as that idiot sitting in the White House.

So, global warming and the environment being the zeitgeist, Mad Max and by extension, the FIA are getting in on the act. Bio-fuels are set to make its debut sometime after 2011 in Formula 1 to prop up its image as some kind of happy chirpy green friendly activity. I'm a racing fan and I'm concerned about the environment but there is no fucking way that I think Formula 1 should be a green activity. Some sense of fun should remain and these are not necessarily green.

Witness also Audi and Peugeot entering diesel powered cars and winning in Le Mans. Turbo diesels are also slowly entering the touring car championships. Slowly, these oil burners will include greater bio-mass (is that the right term) content.

To me, the argument for bio-fuels have always been spurious. Given the amount of carbon already in the atmosphere, shouldn't we be working to reduce it? The argument for bio-fuels is that since it is derives from plants this ensures that carbon released from the burning of these fuels are offset by the carbon they absorb whilst still alive. As far as I can make it, this just keeps carbon levels constant. Does it really reduce (as we should be doing) the amount of carbon in the air?

And now some scientists are saying that bio-fuels are making things even worse. They argue that the process of producing these bio-fuels causes its own emissions. In addition, croplands scrubs off far less carbon from the atmosphere than the rain forests (and scrublands) that they replace. All in all, this results in a worsening situation. Well duh, isn't that obvious in the first place?

Here in Malaysia, I am driven to tears every single time I see large swathes of rain forest being cut down to be exported for timber then replaced by palm oil plantations raised to meet the expected demand for yet more bio-fuels. Worse still are rain forests cut down for the sake for property development by "developers." Sure, developers great at developing cronies bank balances. And folks at the FIA are hoping to drive forward these destructive activities by making Formula 1 a showcase.

And yet, there is an alternative. It lies with the first element in the periodic table, the first that came into existence merely milliseconds after the Big Bang that created our universe. Yes, folks, it lies with that simplest of atoms, hydrogen. High school chemistry teaches us that the combustion of this element produces a by product. Namely, H20 or plain water to you and me. Why isn't this being touted as the future of our energy needs?

Oi, wake up. Hydrogen being the simplest of atoms is also the most common in the universe. We are made of bloody hydrogen. The stars run on these. The universe is filled with it. There are clouds of it (some of which are light years in size) in and around our galaxy and throughout the universe. Sea water is made of it. Here's the greatest of all things: WE CAN NEVER RUN OUT OF HYDROGEN! Never, never, ever! It is literally impossible to run out of it. Why are we still fighting wars over fossil fuels when all the world's energy needs can be met by these?

Somehow, the car manufacturers and others have been creating this popular perception that hydrogen means running cars on expensive fuels cells and vacuum cleaner like electric motors. Bullshit. BMW have already proven that ordinary petrol engines like the kind you and I use today can easily (and cost effectively) be converted to burn hydrogen. Yes, even the very engine you use to make the school and office run can be converted. Today.

Imagine that. Your 20 year old car converted to run on the most common element in the universe. Would you ever need to worry about fuel consumption? And since it exhausts water, would you ever need to worry about the environment? The answer to both is hell no. You would rev your high performance VTEC engine to the redline every single time. In fact, there wouldn't be any need for "economy" vehicles. Every single car on the road can be a high performance car. How great would that be right? Second hand car prices would rise enormously as people discover that these can still be used perhaps for ages to come.

Yes, I know the current problems. The hydrogen storage is a problem since it needs to be in liquid form. The production of hydrogen right now is still relatively inefficient and in many cases still rely on fossil fuels. But a start needs to be made. And eventually, we will all need to be running on hydrogen for the good of the planet and future generations.

So why doesn't Formula 1 take the lead right now? Why the need for stupid turbo diesel engines? Fuel storage? Come on what a lame excuse. Once upon a time (throughout the 80s and early 90s), teams had to deal with some seriously hazardous "rocket fuel" that powered Formula 1 engines. I am certain processes and technologies have advanced leaps and bounds since then to make the handling of liquid hydrogen safer.

If Mad Max Mosley really wants to project a green image (and a more practical one at that) then he should really consider hydrogen fuels. Kinetic energy recovery systems, bio-fuels are strictly temporary measures that will not solve the atmospheric problems of the planet. For a true and permanent solution, a quantum leap is required. And there already exists one that can make use of current vehicle and engine technologies.


MArc said...

"And now some scientists are saying that bio-fuels are making things even worse."

He's not the only one sounding the alarm.

The EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas has cited reports claiming "that some biofuels barely cut emissions at all - and others can lead to rainforest destruction, drive up food prices, or prompt rich firms to drive poor people off their land to convert it to fuel crops."

You asl why "they" aren't pushing Hydrogen, some are, but not enough.

In the U.S. its been over shadowed by ethanol as a fuel source by politicians in corn raising states to pander for votes.

Quklis said...

You've got point in your journal, 20 years ago there was snow in Finland from December at least to March, this winter there hasn't been any permanenet snow yet!

The problem with hydrogen is that it will explode very badly, and I'm afraid that someone will die because of it...