Coal? …Fold

For all the issues with gas via fracking, at least it’s not coal.  Whine all you want about some “war on coal,” it’s just a lesser fuel, from both a chemical and financial standpoint.  Natural gas has been displacing coal since the Eighties- oooh, that tree-hugging Reagan!- due to Wall Street hassles, not so much today’s environmental movement.  I’ll get to Wall Street, though.

People who do physics, and in particular thermodynamics, become familiar with condensed matter issues, separate from the rest of the field.  Solid-state physics (and to a lesser extent true liquids) have issues versus gases and plasmas.  Namely, their enthalpies of fusion, and of vaporization.  In street terms, it takes energy to melt a solid into a liquid, and still more energy to vaporize that liquid.  Lots of energy.

This matters because only gases burn.  Yup, hard for people on the street to understand, but coal itself does not burn; neither does wood or any other solid.  Liquids, neither (technically).  Condensed matter must be heated to produce volatiles; only then do those volatiles mix with oxygen and burn.  That volatilization energy isn’t free, of course- it had to come from the previously-burnt volatiles.  This is partly why campfires are hard to light.  Coal, wood, and other solids are like land animals, trying to tread water before they can even start paddling forward.  Gaseous fuels, though, are like fish, swimming because… they’re fish, and they swim rings around land animals without a thought. Continue reading

The Coming Natural Gas “Crash”

This year I’m thankful… I’m not exposed to gas fracking!  Not literally- by exposure to hydraulic fracturing fluids- and not financially either, vested in petro-speculation.  I had always cast an eye toward fracking, for one simple reason if nothing else: I, along with others, remember the last boom and bust in natural gas.  And while few are alive from the really big boom and bust, the lessons are written for anyone willing to read them.  You know, “due dilligence.”

Good signs of a bubble: sudden growth, with multiple investment opportunities, going down past professional financiers to prosumers and onto “Main Street” (however you define that).  Not so good sign: opacity, as in opaque deals, pricing, and even basic processes and technologies.  That is bad since, without informed deals, prosumers and Main Street (and even some pros) jump in for fear of missing out on a boom, with little time (or possibly even ability) to do their due dilligence.  That is also… present in spades in the situation at hand.

Of course, some people will make out like bandits; there are always some in every bubble.  The better question is who, because everyone thinks it’s going to be them.  It’s obvious they can’t all be, can they?  Of course everyone can’t be- in a turnabout, the success of a few is predicated on them beating out the rest.  Continue reading

Rimac’s Real (well, mostly)

Rimac Automobili, the Croatian company that I mentioned, is one step closer to selling its supercar design.  Rimac has obtained ten million Euros (~12 million USD) towards selling its “C1” or “Concept_One” super-coupe.  Investors have contributed this much for a Series A financing round; the company claims it is expanding and developing.

rimaclogoOn the one hand, this looks pretty compelling.  The vehicle itself, with over 1,000 horsepower as currently designed, can embarrass many Ferraris; founder Mate Rimac claims its interior will have every appointment.  Mate Rimac got his start as an e-racer of his own conversions and homebuilts, so he’s not coming in cold.  He’s also selling components to other automakers, and the Greyp electric bike/moped, again gaining practical experience in real-word products and manufacturing.  This is in Eastern Europe mind you, with low wages and rents but surprising scientific and engineering talent.  Meanwhile, since the C1 car will go for a million apiece, at a low delivery rate, to those who can pay cash on the counter, financing the company behind it will be easier than in a more consumer-oriented, competitive, high-production rate market segment.

On the other hand though, ~$12 million is NOTHING in auto world.  It’s why I led off with “one step closer,” and not “already there.”  Rimac’s capitalization is around 70-80 million dollars; Tesla by comparison required oh… around half a billion to get going.  And that’s starting with the Tesla Roadster, which was built around the Lotus Elise, which was already converted to electric by other houses.  It took three more years to go from Roadster to the Model S, the company burning up money all the way.  While this one financing round makes Rimac more credible than it was before, that’s still not saying all that much.  Continue reading

OP-Ex? (or Indonesia, BOOM)

First Norway, then Iran, now Indonesia.  Even oil-rich nations can’t ignore the future.

The Iranian government had previously turned to natural-gas vehicles.  Tehran is highly polluted, and this “oil-rich” nation is actually fuel-poor.  It doesn’t have enough refineries to turn crude oil into finished fuels, nor enough hard currency for refinery construction.  What oil they have, then, should be saved for export (and gaining hard currencies), meaning Iranian motorists should consume something else.  Natural gas uses much less refining, and is hard to export due to handling and packaging issues.  Iran then encourages its drivers to fill up on domestic natural gas, saving their oil.

Now add electricity.  The government is promoting hybrid cars and electric bikes, even founding a lithium battery factory.  The electricity can be generated by natural gas (a more efficient usage anyway) or with the low-grade residues from oil refining- “bunker fuel,” the dregs of the process.  Or, by solar, which is not a problem in A DESERT.

Indonesia, too, is seeking modern vehicle tech.  Despite being an oil exporter, Indonesia sought natural gas and EV technologies from the US delegation after the recent Beijing summit.  Indonesian cities are also choked with scooter and diesel exhausts; the nation also wants to export what oil it has, and not just light it up.  In Indonesia’s case, they’ve been developing biodiesel from tropical plants as an oil substitute.  It’s clear, though, that biodiesel only goes so far.  There’s only so much land that can be sown with palms, and it’s nowhere near enough.  Indonesia is approaching a third of a billion people, yet wants to stay an oil exporter.

The future isn’t approaching, it’s here.  We can export it.  And yet, I’m still hearing haters.  Why?  Because “you can’t put a gun rack in a Volt,” and other “probably”s… including from people who complain about the dollar.

See also: Bhutan, BOOM, From The Land of The Ice and Snow:, Nor-way To Go!, The Shells Fell From His Eyes

Table Flux is GO!

a2mnewlogoSometimes, the ducks just line up.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first “space” product.  (If you count middle space, that is, not the mythic outer space.)  Acme Advanced Materials has produced high-grade wafers of silicon carbide, aboard flying laboratories.  Why do we care?

Simply put, silicon carbide makes lots of ducks line up: SiC power switches will make components in EVs, efficient lights, wind turbines/solar arrays, and the grid in general a lot smaller and tougher, which means more efficient and inexpensive.  All the way down to the wall adapters for our laptops, and possibly on into those computing devices as well.  To put things in perspective: Toyota and Honda didn’t build the first hybrids until compact, efficient power switching circuits became available.  Even better switches will continue our drive towards the future.0203

Most electronics are grown on silicon wafers; wafers are then cut into the chips that handle more and more of our lives.  Chips only got practical as silicon got purified enough to take current, without heating or noise.  But there’s a problem: even pure silicon only takes so much juice, without making heat and noise anyway.  Enter SiC. Continue reading