Electricity Propulsion Mobility

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In a movie called Who Killed the Electric Car? the US auto industry, and specifically General Motors, is depicted as opposed to electric cars. This charge is made in response to their "EV-i" electric car, a small battery-electric which was leased to several hundred customers between 1998 and 2003. The car was a brilliant piece of design and lucky customers expressed delight at the car's silence, acceleration and sheer ease of use.

In the minds of many auto industry people the EV-i's battery pack was expensive, its body dangerously light and its range on one charge too short. These and other problems convinced GM the car was not broadly marketable. Its solution, as if bent on simultaneously insulting customers and its employees, was to take the little cars back and crush them like bugs. Customers were justifiably enraged.

Automakers are not opposed to electric cars on principle, but there is an internal industry conflict, with internal combustion and electric factions. There are also legitimate and serious problems, some of which were raised by the EV-i. All automakers are faced with a public that wants them to be innovative, that wants safety features beyond government standards, yet is prone to sue over the smallest error. Companies have become paranoid about product liability, and the EV-i was very small and very light.

From GM's standpoint, and that of the industry, the unavoidable technical problem was and remains the batteries. They work fine in small cars for limited uses but are not yet viable for a wide range of purposes. The industry wants a means of storing electricity that works for all vehicles, including small cars, big cars, trucks and locomotives.

Dozens of new companies have attempted to build small battery-electric cars, but none have even made a dent in the business. The Tesla, a new car announced in the spring of 2006, represents the most sophisticated attempt. The car and company are named for Nicola Tesla, the inventive genius responsible for alternating current (Ac) and innumerable innovations, many shared with Thomas Edison. The car is a two-seat sports car powered by one electric motor using batteries recharged from one's home outlet. It is capable of 0-60 miles per hour in under four seconds — headrests are essential. In any case the first production run was sold in weeks. There are people with the green to buy green.

Within and outside the industry it's widely assumed the debate between internal combustion and electric cars is just an argument over the means of propulsion. It's not. It's about how cars are propelled, produced, designed and even what constitutes a "fuel."

When diesel locomotives were introduced 65 years ago the steam locomotive people thought the competition was about the engine, so they built the biggest and most powerful engines ever. Problem was, the issue wasn't just about the engine, but the entire system of building and maintaining the engine. Diesel locomotives used interchangeable parts, were modular and simple to maintain. They cost more to buy but much less to run. They won. Steam was history in 15 years.

Among electric car aficionados the major debate is over batteries versus hydrogen fuel-cells. New battery technologies, notably lithium-ion and metal hydride batteries, offer shorter recharge times and greater storage capacity, but still take time to charge. Moreover, lithium-ion batteries are known to degrade, thus requiring a costly new battery pack, and they are very flammable. Hydrogen fuel-cells represent a comprehensive alternative because a hydrogen-electric system of the same format would be equally viable for vehicles, even buildings. GM has already developed a home power system using a natural gas fuel-cell; a hydrogen version is feasible.

There are many reasons to develop electric cars. Electric propulsion is more efficient than internal combustion engines. It offers exceptional performance, in acceleration and precise power control, with no pollution and little noise. It simplifies manufacturing, reduces capital costs in machinery and eliminates whole categories of components. Fuel-cells are much simpler to produce than internal combustion engines and have no moving parts. Electric technology also frees designers from the constraints of mechanical components. Driveshafts don't go around corners, but wires do.

GM's Hywire and Sequel concept cars illustrate the potential. The entire propulsion system, including fuel-cell, electric motor, hydrogen tank, com-

A hydrogen-electric car is comprised of electric motors powered by electricity from a fuel-cell, which receives hydrogen from the tank and generates electricity and water Electricity drives the motors. Water is cooled in a condenser and returned to the water tank. This format allows the car's motor(s) to be reversed in braking, generating electricity to power an electrolyzer, which cracks water to generate more hydrogen, extending the car's range on one tank. Rooftop photovoltaics would provide modest power to keep the car's computer running and provide an electrical boost on hot days.

puter and related heating and cooling systems, fits within an eleven-inch-high platform. The platform looks like a skateboard with wheels at each corner. Any vehicle body can be placed upon the platform: a pick-up, convertible, sedan or station wagon while its controls need only be plugged in.

Several companies have built hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles with a total of over 140 cars, vans and transit buses in operation in 2006. These vehicles are primarily in California and overseen by the California Fuel Cell Partnership, an alliance of manufacturers including Daimler-Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen. There are 40 hydrogen fueling stations in California, most operated by fleet owners. Meanwhile the US Army, with Sandia Labs, is building a fuel-cell locomotive. Similar programs are underway in Europe and Japan.

Hydrogen fuel-cell systems have problems: cost and service life. As of 2006 the vital membrane where hydrogen and oxygen mix rapidly wears out and is expensive to replace. Plus, the process of producing hydrogen from natural gas, or better yet water, is expensive due in large part to the low efficiencies of certain components. These issues are receiving considerable attention by a small army of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs.

Hydrogen is a thin gas. Its atoms are far apart. If stored at atmospheric pressure a tank big enough to power a car a few hundred miles would be equivalent to a Mini Cooper towing an Airstream trailer. But if the hydrogen is compressed to 5,000 pounds per square inch the tank's size becomes reasonable. Paradoxically, a high-pressure hydrogen tank may be a safer hydrogen tank. Since it must withstand high internal pressure it's also strong enough to withstand high external impacts.

A high-capacity tank is also possible using the bizarre quality of some metal alloys to soak up hydrogen like a sponge — becoming metal hydrides. This form of tank can hold more hydrogen than pressurized tanks and presents no hazard. Developed by Ovonics Hydrogen Solutions LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Conversion Devices Inc., this storage medium has already been tested in several vehicles.

Another option is glass microspheres. These tiny spheres are used today as a filler in various plastic products. When warmed they absorb hydrogen passing between glass molecules, but when the glass returns to ambient temperature the gas is trapped. Releasing the gas requires heating some portion of the spheres as needed. The microspheres are about the consistency of granulated sugar. There is no risk of fire or explosion.

Curiously, the auto industry regards water exhaust as just a nice feature. Yet at today's prices, spewingpure water is like exhausting money. Moreover, there is little recognition of the potential of water vapor to contribute to climate change; a potential long suspected and apparently confirmed by research on jet contrails.

Hydrogen-electric cars could recycle water on-board via "regenerative"

Existing energy systems are reliant on fuels from the earth, with several oil products used for vehicles, while natural gas, coal, nuclear and hydroelectric power plants are used to generate electricity Renewable energy, with hydrogen as the prime storage medium, is more practical for all purposes, and thus represents one family of technologies to meet most needs. Notably, photovoltaics are already widely used to power external appliances, such as remote telephone relay stations, billboards and streetlights, which thus need no connection to a power grid.

braking. Water vapor produced by the car's fuel-cell when the car is operating at a steady speed or accelerating would be condensed and returned to an on-board storage tank. There would be no exhaust pipe nor water vapor wafting into the atmosphere. When decelerating or descending a hill regenerative braking utilizes the capability of an electric motor to function as a generator and act as a drag on the car while generating electricity to an onboard electrolyzer, a technological cousin of the fuel-cell that uses electricity to crack water into hydrogen and oxygen. Water would become hydrogen again, returned to the storage tank. A car with regenerative braking would have a longer range on one tankful of hydrogen because it would recapture braking energy, otherwise lost as heat off the discs.

No matter how efficient the vehicle's propulsion system it would still deplete the hydrogen. Their roofs could be covered in photovoltaics, extending their range, but vehicles would still need to refill their tanks from time to time. Many car owners might have hydrogen capacity at home, others would go to gas stations as now. Gas pump nozzles would have a very tight seal. The water tank would be emptied and the hydrogen tank filled in seconds.

A few automakers are now introducing cars that burn hydrogen in conventional engines, with microprocessors controlling an ingenious "multi-fuel" delivery system. Hydrogen can be used as an alternative fuel, and this adds to its allure. Burned in gasoline engines it generates water vapor laced with tiny quantities of burned motor oil. However, unless the water vapor exhaust is condensed back to water and recycled the car would not only add to the warm water vapor already being exhausted by engines, and prone to form clouds, it would also demand a source of water for continued hydrogen production. Water would then be viewed as a source of fuel, rather than a fluid storage medium endlessly recycled.

Reliance on hydrogen-electrics means the water is not a fuel, but a means of storing solar-energy, and as such it's recycled, with modest additions due to leakage. Compared to internal combustion engines the inherent efficiencies of fuel-cells and electric motors mean the quantity of hydrogen consumed and waste heat generated would be significantly less. Vehicle power systems that rely on renewable energy to produce hydrogen from water and recycle the water represent a system relying on the one fuel that drives us all — light. Sunlight, wind and falling water would be the source of energy, hydrogen merely the means of storing it.

Historically more than one military purchase order has started a new industry. Today's military uses photovoltaic cells and fuel-cells. Those who envision tomorrow's military are thinking electric. They might see an eight-wheeled armored vehicle with hydrogen fuel-cell power, variable traction motors, full torque at all speeds, jackrabbit acceleration, on-board pure water and silence. Silence. They envision electric Navy ships, with ray guns that dispense with the artillery shell and replace explosive charges with charged beams. Before you can say, "What the f...," you're toast. These all-too-imaginable horrors will probably be paralleled by a raft of civilian and comparatively benign spinoffs, ranging from self-contained electric recreation vehicles that unfold at the campsite, generating electricity and pure water, to electric construction machines that silently do the job like giant insects.

There will be solar-powered ray guns. There will be solar-powered Formula One cars that break all track records. There will be the guys at the corner gas station who know how to make a stock fuel-cell car perform, and achieve 0-60 in less than three seconds.

Cruising by Light

Ships and planes are going electric. New ship drive systems, and new control systems in airplanes, are electric. New ships and planes are still powered by a diesel or a jet engine, but subsystems are increasingly all electric.

New "Azipod" drive systems, for example, replace a ship's propeller shaft and rudder with a pod containing a large electric motor driving the propeller. The whole pod protrudes down from the ship's stern and can be rotated 360 degrees. New ships use diesel engines driving generators, in turn powering azipod motors. Ships like the Queen Mary 2 can turn inside their own length. Azipod technology can also save 15 percent on fuel.

Ships and boats with hulls and deck structures covered in a skin that generates electricity are a real possibility. In the sun, electricity would power an electrolyzer, cracking recycled water and recharging the ship's hydrogen tanks. Hydrogen would be drawn off as needed to power fuel-cells, in turn powering the ship's electric motors. Most ships could generate a portion of their power at sea. Upon arrival they'd top off with hydrogen generated by stationary hydrogen plants, possibly using electricity generated by harbor tides.

Photovoltaic fabrics will one day be viable for commercial sailing ships and yachts. Existing sailing cruise ships would be propelled when there was wind, while simultaneously generating electricity from sails and the propeller, thus storing hydrogen for windless days. Fresh water too, plus silent motoring.

The energy-water system applied to a sailboat. The boat would never need to stop for fuel or water Electricity generated by photovoltaics on cabin roof and sails would supply power on sunny days. Water would be recycled, with some portion used for drinking and washing, and losses replenished from sea or lake. When sailing, the electric motor would be driven by the propeller, thus generating electricity As of 2007 a company called Have Blue in Ventura California markets this concept, sans electric sails. Photovoltaics will likely be integrated with fabric in the near future, thus allowing electric sails.

In 2005 a California-based firm called HaveBlue began marketing a solar-hydrogen power system for yachts. PVs are already common on boats for lights and communications systems. HaveBlue's system uses a photovoltaic array on a boat's cabin roof to generate electricity. The electricity powers an electrolyzer that obtains hydrogen from the water, and the Pv output is augmented by the boat's propeller. When under power the electric motor drives the propeller, but when sailing the propeller drives the electric motor to regenerate electricity. The boat can carry 300 miles worth of hydrogen in hydride tanks in the keel. The system is expensive, but the price would decline in mass production. No doubt there are some who'd want a boat capable of going anywhere on Earth with no need to stop for fuel or water, ever.

Planes obviously cannot afford any excess weight, and fuel is already heavy. Moreover large commercial planes consume very large quantities of fuel so rapidly it would seem impossible to power a plane with renewable energy. Yet, paradoxically, planes are deceptively efficient, despite the seeming inefficiency of driving a multi-ton aluminum tube at 500 miles per hour. New executive jets using state-of-the-art engines achieve miles-per-gallon rates that approach automobile efficiencies of around 15 miles per gallon.

Jets could burn hydrogen in jet engines. This would eliminate kerosene jet fuel and its trail of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, but not water vapor.

An electric airplane might at first seem laughable — in the realm of model planes. One group of aviation professionals has already built a battery-electric two-seat private plane. Another innovator is working on a glider with electricity for its small motor powered by photovoltaics on its wings. Model plane hobbyists are increasingly using silent electric motors, not whining gasoline engines.

Boeing and Airbus, the world's two biggest airplane builders, are investigating all-electric planes. The industry is already beginning to replace airplane hydraulic systems for flaps, rudders and other components with electric motors. These planes would still use conventional jet engines. However, electric controls could set the stage for all-electric power.

An electric jetliner would likely use "ducted fans," a propeller in a tube in aeronautical terms. The electric motors would be more compact than a jet engine, but like a jet they'd require significant quantities of energy. A Boeing 747-400 airliner can carry 400 people 8,400 miles on 57,285 gallons of kerosene, or nearly 200 tons of fuel. Using hydrogen to power fuel-cells, which would power the ducted fans, is feasible on board a plane. The question is merely one of batteries versus hydrogen as the means of storing energy.

Batteries tend to be dense and heavy, and many battery technologies are too volatile to risk in such a use. Nevertheless there is considerable research going on in battery technology. It is conceivable a light, efficient and safe battery could be developed for airplanes of all sizes and types.

Hydrogen may be light, but not if compressed in a strong tank. Compared to existing kerosene fuel tanks, high pressure tanks or metal hydrides would almost certainly involve more weight, thus compromising the range of the plane. Moreover, if we seek to reduce water vapor in the atmosphere we would need to contain the water produced by the on-board fuel-cells as they generate electricity.

Perhaps hydrogen could be encapsulated in a water-based gel, a liquid hydride the consistency of syrup. Fuel tanks would be filled much as they are now. As the hydrogen is discharged to the fuel-cell the water produced would take the place of the shrinking gel.

All-electric planes could translate to no risk of explosion or fire, much less noise, and zero pollutants or water vapor. Planes would still leave a trail, a wisp of warm air, but less overall heat due to electric propulsion. Airports wouldn't smell of kerosene anymore, except on special days when antique planes dropped in for a visit.

Return of the Retail Railway

For a century you could step aboard a train in any city on the North American continent and access 23,000 stations just in the US. Enroute you might enjoy excellent food, a conversation with a newly made friend, or the stunning view from the lounge car. The same system also carried every imaginable form of freight, from mail to package express to livestock to gravel to pianos to cars to Sears catalogs and all the products within. Everyone knew they could go anywhere or ship anything via their local station — a retail railway.

There are four transportation infrastructures on the planet that move the vast majority of people and freight — highways, airways, railways and waterways. Worldwide highways move the most, by number of people or volume of freight. Airways are second in moving passengers, but next to last in moving freight. Railways are second in moving freight and third in passengers. Waterways are last in freight and passenger volumes, being inherently limited to rivers, oceans and canals, and relatively slow speeds. However, if these four systems are viewed in relation to one another they now form a global distribution system that's increasingly defined as one seamless supply chain extending around the planet. This whole system represents an

Railways and highways are often compared with no understanding of the fundamental realities of transportation, nor how those realities have been obscured by subsidies granted highways. In fact, railways cost significantly less to build and operate, take up much less land, use a fraction of the energy and offer speed and comfort unattainable by cars or buses. In cities the issue is how many people or tons can be moved in how little space.

investment in the trillions of dollars, but one now constrained by highway capacity and the physical limits of expanding them. Only one of the four systems can be consistently and economically expanded, and only one offers such dramatic reductions in cost and impacts that its redevelopment would save more than it would cost: the railway.

Railways use less of everything. Compared to cars and trucks they consume a tenth to a quarter the energy, require a quarter the land and utilize equipment that lasts decades. Railways are more efficient by every measure, thus their cost is significantly lower, in many cases 50 percent or more. No one, in over 150 years of trying, has even come close to inventing any mode of transportation as efficient and generally useful.

More than any other innovation the double-stack freight car, invented by a railcar engineer in the early 1980s, typifies the efficiency of the railway. This breathtakingly simple idea involved lowering the floor of a flatcar between the wheels so two containers could be stacked one atop another. This meant the same railyards could handle a train of 200 containers with two employees instead of 100 trailers or containers on flatcars — doubling capacity with no change in track. Double-stack went from idea to reality on hundreds of trains all over North America in ten years. One double-stack train operated by two people replaces 200 trucks with 200 drivers, and the train will keep going in weather that stops trucks cold.

Despite innovations and a measure of growth in traffic since deregulation in 1980, US and Canadian freight railroads still move less than eight percent of total freight revenue. They move 40 percent by tonnage, mostly coal and grains, so they have little impact on lighter freight moved short distances.

Trolley companies and railroads were once corporations aggressively developing passenger and freight business. Now the industry is divided. Freight railroads are run as corporations that pay all their costs, and compete with trucking firms that do not pay the full cost of roads. Intercity passenger service is provided by federal agencies, Amtrak or VIA, and local transit service by city agencies, and they are all strangled in a bureaucratic prison, unable to grow or otherwise function as a business. Transit and intercity passenger railway development remains in slow mode in North America. It's growing everywhere else.

Nevertheless there is a market that wants rail transportation. Proven potential on existing passenger train and trolley routes with dense service can range from 5 to more than 30 percent of total travel volume. Even in car-culture cities rail systems are generally crowded. In California the 100 mile route between San Jose and Sacramento is now at 25 trains a day, and the potential might be several times greater judging from Amtrak's performance on the few routes in the US where it has frequent and fast trains.

Passenger trains and trolleys offer a quality of travel not possible with cars or buses. They can offer certain arrival times, instead of uncertain ex-

Self-propelled railcars are widely used worldwide and are analogous to automobiles because they have a diesel or gas engine under the floor — no locomotive. Here one railcar is compared to a comparable number of automobiles, and expanded to the national potential. Numbers highlighted are generally ignored today, including parking spaces, the value of a driver's time and/or the time spent in transportation. Auto or train driver's time was valued at $50 per hour Passenger-mile means one person moved one mile (numbers are based on US Department of Transportation statistics).

RAILWAY REALITIES

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cuses; they can often be faster than driving or flying; and they can be safer. One can do things on a train that are difficult to do in a car or bus or plane — such as reading, writing, watching TV and working — or simply impossible, such as going for a walk, visiting a restaurant or bar and even dancing.

Railway revitalization could be as politically popular as a new train around the Xmas tree. Railways represent a means to address traffic congestion, the high cost of transport, the rising price of oil, the need to reduce greenhouse gases and the horrific cost of deaths and injuries each year in car accidents. Railway expansion would also respond to the pathetic reality that no North American city could be evacuated in crisis time, as sadly demonstrated in New Orleans and Houston during the 2005 hurricane season.

Remarkably even those who really do love their cars might support railway revitalization. The car lovers would have more space because "they," all the people who don't want to drive, would be on the train.

What if there were a modern railway network that carried all kinds of people and freight 24 hours a day between every town and city on existing track from Nova Scotia to El Salvador, from Miami to Vancouver? Such a system is defined by the existing continental route structure of standard-gauge track, which parallels all major highways and links all major cities in North America. Today this system does not have sufficient capacity to carry much more freight, never mind passengers, but there is space for new track.

Existing railway routes in North America, including Canada, Mexico and the US, comprise nearly 200,000 miles of route. Several mainlines have been double-tracked in the past decade but most remain single with passing tracks. Most routes are within a right-of-way purchased to accommodate more tracks. A few tens of thousands of former railroad rights-of-way remain intact, ignored or used as trails. In addition there are countless boulevards and highways with wide lanes and median strips that can accommodate two tracks, as new trolley lines demonstrate. A train in a high-occupancy or "HOV" lane would be the highest occupancy vehicle and the fastest, at 100 miles per hour.

What would it cost to expand thousands of miles of existing routes and build several thousand miles of new routes just in the US ? If the goal is to attract a quarter of all travelers and increase freight business by say 400 percent and achieve this objective in under 20 years, this would require roughly quadrupling the capacity of the existing 140,000 mile network and adding say 350,000 more miles of new track and routes. At an average cost of $1.5 million dollars per mile it would cost about $525 billion for track, plus another $600 billion for 250,000 railcars, mostly coaches, for a total of $1.1 trillion. This sum, equal to an investment of $75 billion annually for 15 years, could be primarily private capital. The resulting system would generate more than $400 billion in passenger revenue and another $150 billion in freight revenue.

Energy consumed in transport is primarily for passenger transportation and specifically for cars. There are essentially two ways to reduce energy consumed, and the cost and pollution it represents. One, we can expand the use of alternatives, especially railways and local transit. Two, we can utilize the latest technologies to achieve 25 to 50 percent reductions in energy used. Even if the US shifted to nonpolluting energy sources it remains imperative the nation reduce resource consumption to improve its competitive stature.

A comparable expansion of highways would cost roughly $6 trillion to build and $900 billion to operate. It would require more than 150 times the land, for some 97 million automobiles — 400 for every railcar. Moreover such an investment would merely sustain traffic congestion, not reduce it, while saddling the economy with continued high transport costs.

A railway program would save more than it costs. It would require one sixth the capital and half the operating costs. It could alleviate traffic congestion in many urban areas, save countless hours of time, reduce urban heat

The construction of transportation systems invariably involves other infrastructure, but railways uniquely require a sophisticated communications system to manage train operations, they often require their own energy system, and if passenger trains are involved there must be water and sewage systems as well. Thus the railway, either all new or a revitalized existing line, is the avenue to introduce new energy, communications and water technologies. It is the one big transport program that provides an opportunity to build all state-of-the-art.

and dust, reduce deaths and injuries and, presuming all solar power, it could cut transportation-produced greenhouse gases by a quarter. Given these implications, one trillion dollars in funding, with say a quarter from public sources, is an incredibly good deal. The money is available. We are already spending it — on driving.

This new system could be a new version of the original — the retail railway. It would be a public transport system that could get anyone or anything anywhere on the continent. It would be a series of regional companies providing all manner of freight and passenger service. The result would be far more freight on railway and far less on highway; far more people getting where they want to go at 90 miles per hour instead of 30; far less money wasted on operation ofcars and ownership ofsecond or third cars; and far more fun.

Trains are not just a box to travel in but a civilization in motion. They are of the commons. In this rolling commons, instead of focusing on the highway people are talking, reading, watching the view or a movie, doing e-mail, working, sleeping, writing or having dinner. Trains to countless places would offer a view of a river or canyon or coastline or mountains unseen from the highway. Trains can be a place to be on the way to a place.

Civilization and Transportation Transformation

A century ago there were several railroads built in North America and worldwide, that were essentially built to develop uninhabited regions, after indigenous peoples either died from disease or by design, were starved out or moved out. Invariably the new communities that emerged needed infrastructure. To provide service railroads had no choice but to build water facilities, as well as coal or oil facilities for steam engines, and a telephone system. It was easy to extend these systems into the new community. One US railroad, Southern Pacific, all but developed countless small town economies in the West by building it all and later selling the water and phone systems to cities and utilities. Their remaining company-wide phone system was called Sprint, and was sold in the 1980s.

Building on this precedent the new retail railway could be designed around state-of-the-art technologies. It could be 100 percent solar-powered, incorporating PV cells on railroad ties and roofs, plus solar-thermal facili ties over railyards. A network of regional retail railways, with trains powered by light, would not be vulnerable to power outages, oil prices or natural disasters.

Developing new railways inherently involves a virtual encyclopedia of technology. A whole new railway involves track, trains, energy, communications, water and waste systems, plus stations, bridges and tunnels. Also needed are virtually all the professions, from engineers to bankers to lawyers to accountants to architects to scientists, plus of course politicians. Unlike any other large infrastructure the railway involves virtually everything and everybody, a microcosm ofthe larger society.

A new railway system represents a watershed event. It would not only create innumerable jobs, it would also offer a means for thousands ofcom-panies to develop emerging technologies. It would spawn millions of new business opportunities, including at least a trillion dollars invested in real estate projects around stations, with less reliance on cars and less parking. But perhaps most importantly it would act as a seed, with each station being a demonstration of a new energy-water system, as well as new landscaping, lighting and architectural strategies, and battery-electric bikes, and in many cases even new cars, specifically hydrogen fuel-cell electric rental cars. Railways, once the seminal infrastructure that initiated industrialization, may be key to growing the new infrastructure.

Making Things by Light

Ecology of Technology

Industrial ECOLOGY might seem a contradiction in terms, yet the two words describe a new body of work focused on ecological principles in the design of industries. As a strategy, industrial ecology can be applied to the design of a community or the development of an industrial complex. The concept characterizes the web of exchanges that define how industries and individuals use resources much as one would describe an ecosystem.

One industry's waste is another industry's resource. A century ago railroads commonly removed worn ties and rails from mainlines and reinstalled them on secondary routes. They call it "cascading." This process generated small companies that completed the process, selling worn-out rail to steel mills and worn-out ties to landscapers for garden steps, or to companies that burn them to generate electricity.

Taken as a whole this process is eco-logical not just because it maximizes the use of resources, but because each step in the process maximizes the value of the resource. An ancient railroad tie that once carried the 20th Century Limited is junk to the railroad, a stairway to a gardener.

Fire is the great leveler. There are companies defining a new mode of waste disposal that characterizes industrial ecology. Envision a vertical furnace chamber containing a controlled high temperature mass of waste material starved of oxygen. The furnace takes in all forms of waste — tires, batteries, plastics, glass, cars and toxic materials — and transforms it into molten or gaseous material. Gases are drawn off the top and separated into products, while limestone, steel, aluminum and other products are drawn off the bottom. Around the facility there would be metal foundries, gas and cement companies, all sharing electricity and hot water from the plant. An eco-industrial park would use everything — one way or another.

Technology is generally viewed as a series of discrete products, rather than a system as complex as any ecological system. A major product manufactured for one purpose may be sold, used and recycled, being remade using the old materials. Waste generated in the process may become a "product" sold to another company, becoming its primary resource to produce yet another product. This activity may trigger additional businesses, such as schools to teach people how to make the product. In industry, as in ecology, one cannot do just one thing — everything is linked.

Eco-industrial thinking can also be applied to a whole community of industries. Hydrogen reliance will transform the energy infrastructure. Plastics companies will shift to non-oil sources. This could result in soy-plastic car bodies, as Ford recently demonstrated with the all-soy concept car. The company making the raw plastic might be the centerpiece of a complex of factories, from body-component makers to a junkyard complex where parts are reconditioned or ground up to be recycled.

Industry today is defined by innumerable one-story concrete buildings with flat roofs. These buildings can be converted, or built new, to achieve 100 percent reliance on renewable energy Some might use a sawtooth roof, as shown here. Some may require more energy using photovoltaics plus solar-generated steam or a wind turbine. Electricity would be used to generate hydrogen cracked from rainwater, stored in a cistern and/or well with a reversible pump. Pure water, steam and hot water may be used in industrial processes or for heating. This strategy can also include indirect skylighting, and fiber-optic solar task lights, thus reducing lighting costs and improving the working environment.

Industrial ecology is also happening on the micro-level. More and more consumer products are being designed to consider the total environmental impact. The LEED standards (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) are a voluntary set of "green" building standards increasingly accepted in the US. These standards place value not just on how little energy a product may use in operation, but on how little it uses from development to the end of its life — its life cycle.

The very idea of industrial ecology naturally leads to modes of sustain-ability where resources are stewarded as carefully as a gardener would tend his garden. several retail businesses have sought to achieve a high level of sustainability by minimizing impact, notably the Orchid Hotel in Mumbai, India, where even the toilet paper cores are recycled.

Industry on a Desktop

You can make anything. In the world of modern machine shops it's possible to use Computer Aided Design (CAD), possibly with some Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) to design a framus. Then you can plan the manufacturing process using a Critical Path Method (CPM) program. Then you

Semiconductors and the photo-voltaicswere invented in the 1950s but neither became major industries until the 1980s. Personal computers were the first major use of semiconductor technology, and the now ubiquitous PC transformed our world. Computers have since changed virtually all industry. With the emergence of the Web in the 1990s the computer became a gateway to the world's knowledge. Several other trends also emerged, in part as a result of the computer, often growing from the intellectual ferment around high technology

can send your electronic files of framus parts to several companies set up for Computer Aided Machining (CAM) and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) systems. Then they will set up their machines, load the metal or plastic or wood raw material and press "Start." Minutes, hours or a day or so later you've got a framus. A "framus" is anything you want it to be in just about any shape imaginable, and you can have just one or dozens or thousands.

Computers have revolutionized the making of mechanical parts. This infrastructure revolution largely happened between 1975 and 1990, and virtually all machine shops, vehicle factories and shipyards worldwide now utilize the technology. Paralleling this shift, computer-aided design programs swept the architectural and engineering fields, as did similar programs in desktop publishing, music and movie production. All these changes have greatly accelerated production, and often improved the quality, of just about everything.

Computers allow us to design an entire "anything" and experience what it would look like before the real thing is built. In the making of the 787 Dreamliner, Boeing Corporation brought designers together with airline

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The trends that set the stage for the interstate highway and later semiconductor revolutions were evident in preceding decades, just as the trends that could alter our future are visible today Notably, and contrary to popular belief, ecological restoration can happen very quickly, especially for wetlands and grasslands. Entire fleets of vehicles, such as all the cars in the US, could be replaced with electric versions within 15 to 20 years at current rates of replacement. These trends in energy transport and land use could result in a decline in the rate of global temperature rise within 20 years — could.

owners, employees and regular customers and they all worked on a 3-D design in color. Such collaborative design is facilitated by computers and the Web, and this virtual infrastructure makes creating the real thing possible in half the time compared to pre-computer methods.

These new technologies make it possible to build cars locally. Manufacturers would design the car and suppliers would ship parts to dealers. Customers would walk in, drive sample cars and then design their cars with a salesperson. It would be assembled the next day. Parts would be modular, with an infinite number of possible design and color combinations. This would trigger major growth in the custom car business.

It is possible to buy a 22-foot shipping container, add some windows, skylights and a porch, plus some photovoltaics and a satellite dish, a battery pack for power storage, a few computers, printer, cell phone and minor components. One could put it anywhere. A business in a box.

Utopian Infrastructure Revolutions

Business is a collection of agreements as subtle in language as they are complex in content. In between all the trivial talk and trillions of numbers buzzing over the Web there are a billion ideas growing. One e-mail leads to four, which leads to an outline, which leads to a proposal, which leads to investment, which leads to market, which leads to a problem being addressed in a fresh new way, which leads to thousands then millions of employees and customers. Just a bunch of agreements. They can be made with lightning speed.

There is an unprecedented coalescence of information happening on the Web. The majority of the world's major libraries, plus millions of corporations and government agencies, are increasingly represented on the World Wide Web and linked to one another and/or countless citizens via the Web. The Web, as a repository of knowledge, is equivalent to a global library of incomprehensible scale.

Given this resource, as well as global networks of service groups, industry groups, business associations, corporations and universities, there is no doubt all societies together possess sufficient knowledge and capability to address the common global problems we face. Given the extent of information on the Web, and the prospect of collaborative design and computer-

aided manufacturing, it becomes quite conceivable that new infrastructure could be built very rapidly over a large area with uncommon quality.

Business is a bunch of agreements. The Web means billions of people can and will coalesce into ever larger and more powerful groups and they will continue to build what is now just a loose collection of initiatives scattered widely over the planet. They will do so because this infrastructure revolution represents a response to the first threats truly common to all humanity — peak oil and climate change. This infrastructure revolution is already growing from a billion points at once and guided by a popular vision of sus-tainability via technologies that weigh lightly on the land and our lives. This new infrastructure demands our businesses reach for utopia.

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