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Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

06/25/2008 2:50 PM

Are we heading the right direction in dealing with worldwide energy demand ?. In attempting to engineer our way out of our energy problems, have we overlook the obvious, and instead embarked on a course of building the ultimate Rube Goldberg machine.

Using my own vehicle (2006 Dodge ram pickup) as an automotive example. The vehicles actual operating fuel economy varies from 10 miles to the gallon to 21 miles a gallon depending on driving conditions, with the average around town fuel economy being about 11 1/2 miles per gallon. In an ad hoc experiment timing the traffic lights on an early Sunday morning I can easily exceed 15 mpg. (Using the onboard milage display, not necessarily perfectly accurate but consistent for purposes of comparison).

I could install some sort of energy recovery device whether that be flywheels, electric motors hydraulic actuators and convert it to a highbred, however the same thing could be accomplished without all the complexity if cities would simply synchronize their traffic lights whenever possible, simple conservation of momentum. In this way all vehicles would realize sizable increase in fuel economy, without being a highbred.

Keep it simple stupid.

Many energy conserving strategies require no more engineering than the stroke of a pen. Four day work weeks, work from home are at the top of the list but there are others.
Something as simple as a change of insurance laws, and possibly flexible vehicle registration fees.

Here in California where I live every vehicle must carry liability insurance, the operative word here is vehicle.
With one somewhat embarrassing exception my avatar generally does not go anyplace without a driver (since then I've repaired the parking brake latch), however I must carry separate liability insurance on every vehicle I have.
Insurance and registration fees are a large capital outlay for something that you don't use daily. I personally have a motorcycle as my fuel efficient toy, however there are others that aren't as fortunate that require a large truck for their employment and cannot afford the cost of ownership of a second more fuel-efficient vehicle to use when the truck isn't required.

As far as liability insurance ensuring the driver instead of the vehicle would seem to remove at least one barrier to owning a economical part-time driver, and certainly legislative incentives and reduced registration fees could encourage those who either want or need a large vehicle into buying a puddle jumper for used whenever possible. In other words increasing fuel costs and decreased ownership cost could make it economically attractive to own a spare greener vehicle.

Hopefully without preaching too much to the choir most reading this form know that engineering anything is a compromise. If aircraft were engineered with too many redundant systems and packed with every safety device you could think of ,you would end up with something too expensive to build, or a very expensive bus as it would too heavy to get off the ground. Would it be better to apply engineering compromises to energy policies?

Offshore oil drilling, synthetic fuel production, modifying or easing of emission standards could all reduce dependence on a very volatile oil market.

Many countries have large coal and oil shale deposits that could be used in creating synthetic fuel. Synthetic fuel could not only supply gasoline, but also methanol, or hydrogen, which in turn would make hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen powered vehicles much more practical than attempting to obtain hydrogen strictly through electrolysis.

(Hate to mention hydrogen it brings out the guys with the tinfoil hats, and the run your car on water ads)

Here are some links that may be of interest in this discussion.

http://mit.edu/canes/publications/abstracts/nes/mit-nes-006.html

http://www.princeton.edu/~energy/publications/pdf/2003/indirect.pdf

http://youtube.com/watch?v=e-LOtKIIKcg

PS. Through in the one about the lightbulb just to show how to turn disposing of a lightbulb into a Rube Goldberg scenario.

PS PS I'll ask your forgiveness in advance for any editing or spelling errors that I've missed. Already noticed I forgot to put commas in the Pathfinder tags.

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#1

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

06/25/2008 8:03 PM

You make a lot of sense... (BTW Houston has spent a lot of effort timing lights, reduces congestion and pollution).

BTW the US has large coal and oil shale deposits.....

How bout diesel engines? Why the diesel engine is not used in the USA is beyond me. In every other part of the world diesels make up at least 50% of the car population. My Volkswagen Jetta diesel weighs almost 4000 pounds, is safe and solid, is very fun to drive, and consistantly gets 40 mpg.

Smaller cars?

Mass transit?

Car pooling?

Ride a bike?

Walk?

Ride a motor cycle or Vespa?

Live near work?

These are all solutions that have been used all over the world where fuel has historically been more expensive than in the US.

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#5
In reply to #1

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

06/26/2008 11:17 AM

Hello Steve

Thanks for being the first to reply to my almost dead thread. Glad to know that Houston has taken the initiative, some cities in California have done the same. Of course synchronizing traffic signals won't solve the entire problem but it would help. Synchronization of course isn't perfect, Murphy is however. Generally Murphy has me catching every light on the way to the shop, even if I managed to miss half of them my 2 1/2 ton monster would certainly see an appreciable increase in fuel economy.

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#2

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

06/26/2008 12:46 AM

The Canadians have been mining and refining the tar sands in Fort Mc Murray for over 20 years, I would say mine and refine our oil shale and sands (if our government could grease the skids). Sorry for the oil joke. We have enormous mining ability. If we are refining in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, we might be able to keep the finish products in the USA. Also, a new closed loop solvent refining process is being developed in Utah and Canada using very little water with high recovery rates.

The Canadians are doing all this in extremely tough weather conditions. I hear the Canadians are developing between 25 and 35 new properties as quickly as possible. They want to ramp up to approx 3 million barrels a day.

Strange thing, In the Northwest where I live, there is almost a news blackout on the success of the Canadian tar sands. Also, the Canadian government is making so much money, they are keeping the path clear of lawsuits etc...

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#6
In reply to #2

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

06/26/2008 11:35 AM

HelloSenatorferrell:

You certainly supplied some good information, where our domestic energy policy is concerned don't be sorry, it is a joke. Interestingly enough while I was doing some research on synthetic fuel it came to my attention that our coal exports had expanded considerably, and coal prices had risen by almost a factor of three.

When I started this thread I was hoping to to elicit comments from someone involved in synthetic fuel or least knowledgeable in the area. At least on the surface it seems to make little sense not to develop these resources, after all the processes is relatively low-tech ,since it's been around since World War II Germany.

Considering the volatility of the middle east oil supply, it would seem to make sense to proceed with development even if the government needed to subsidize it with tax breaks or incentives. Considering the developments in the Middle East this week with Israel threatening to take out Iran's nuclear facility,oil supplies could be interrupted at a moments notice.

PS. I wonder if You get better fuel economy with radioactive gasoline.

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#10
In reply to #6

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

06/26/2008 12:15 PM

Hello

One last note on the Canadian Tar Sands: The first I heard of this process I was working for a manufacturer of Mining Equipment. The Canadians were losing money on processing the tar sands. Their cost was somewhere in the US 34.00 to 39.00 a barrel range.

I now hear that Syncrude, Suncor and the rest have lowered their cost to approx $17.00 a barrel (mined and refined).

The U.S. company I worked for purchased their own store and stocking warehouse in Fort Mc Murray to get ahead of the supply curve.

The cost keep falling with constant innovation in mining and processing. Labor is in short supply. Manufacturing for Fort Mc Murray is spreading to other Canadian provinces and to the US and other countries. All this in really cold country like Alaska. Our energy base was a significant factor in building wealth in the US. It is also very significant for future growth.

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#3

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

06/26/2008 8:32 AM

So many points to address, I will confine my reply to these:

Syncronizing traffic lights is a fine idea, but in the real world, when it goes green for me, it goes red for someone else. Helps some, but it won't answer all of the problem.

I think most states require insurance on the vehicle vs the driver. That ensures the vehicle is covered no matter who drives it. Plus, do you really think the insurance companies will go for having their revenues reduced to that extent? At the very least your premium cost will elevate to the level of having an average number of vehicles ≥2 (probably more like 4).

Oil shale was refinable back in the '60's and '70's, but the cost was too high to make it a contender. The current price of oil might support it, but how long will that last? I'm assured the price is artificially high due to hedge fund scalpers, so must eventually fall back.

Yes, it's definitely a Goldbergian situation, and given my druthers, I'd live in walking distance of work, shopping, etc. That hasn't been a reality for me since the '50's when I grew up in a small town in farming country. And even then, folks on the farm had to drive to town once in a while. I fear we have already exceeded the carrying capacity of the environment for our species. Buckle up, it's gonna be a bumpy ride!

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#7
In reply to #3

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

06/26/2008 11:44 AM

HelloEnviroMan:

Although the insurance companies are greedy, they don't even merit honorable mention next to lawyers. As an example if my car were to be stolen it is quite likely I could be sued if the thief were to cause injury, after all most thieves don't carry liability insurance (the deep pocket laws) . Obviously legislative changes would be needed to limit the insurance companies liabilities, and of course the loudest screams would come from the trial lawyers.

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#9
In reply to #7

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

06/26/2008 11:52 AM

Yes, but the most common profession elected to office as a State or Federal Legislator is...LAWYERS! And once defeated for re-election, they usually become...LOBBYISTS! Shakespeare may have got it right...Warren Zevon certainly did.

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#18
In reply to #3

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

09/15/2008 7:31 AM

Hi, EnviroMan!

"in the real world, when it goes green for me, it goes red for someone else"

In Hamilton, Ontario Canada, the streets were converted to one-way with the exception of some of the adjoining side streets.

In that city (and I've done this several times over the years just to show friends that this amazing possibility actually exists), you can travel cleanly from one side of the city to the other (both east-west and north-south) without once hitting a red light, so long as you start at a green light. When the traffic is heavy at rush hour, this changes to being able to go only 10 lights or so until the slower movement of more vehicles sharing the road runs you into a red. But you still travel farther than if the lights were not timed for one-ways.

It seems that there is absolutely a difference when the lights are timed on one-ways. I would really like to know if there are any genuine statistics on gas savings in those conditions.

Pedestrian crosswalks are not found anywhere in Hamilton or on the one-way streets in Toronto where I live, because they aren't necessary. When a light goes red, all of the streets ahead of the red become empty except for turning cars. Children are taught to cross at the corners and look both ways (in case some jerk is going the wrong way on the one-way street). This KISS methodology has worked to keep their pedestrian accidents to a very low incidence rate.

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#19
In reply to #18

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

09/15/2008 9:56 AM

"...Pedestrian crosswalks are not found anywhere in Hamilton..."

On a related note, Denver, Colorado has some of the most useful pedestrian crosswalks in the downtown area I've ever seen. Not only do the lights go green for the usual back-and-forth crossings, there's also a separate signal for diagonal crossings (all auto traffic has red lights) so your travel distance on foot is reduced. Works great!

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#20
In reply to #19

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

09/16/2008 3:46 AM

Hi, enviroMan!

The practice in Denver is very sensible indeed; as it takes place in a traffic light intersection.

In Toronto, pedestrian crossings are a nightmare in action. They happen anywhere along a street that the so-called traffic planners in this city, as well as the local citizenry, happen to place them. Any pedestrian can come along at any time and push the button for the flashing amber lights on a string overhead to start working. When the pedestrian is in the crosswalk all the traffic coming up to it must stop until the pedestrian is safely across their lane of traffic.

Even so far as it is possible to regulate the stoplights to make them as friendly as possible to traffic flow in a two way street system, this throws a random factor into the traffic flow that absolutely prevents any meaningful timing of the lights when the pedestrian crossings are used. Also, each year several people are killed --especially elderly people-- using Toronto crosswalks.

This month, Toronto officially opened its first open pedestrian intersection that allows foot traffic to cross in any direction before the flow of traffic is resumed through the intersection.

Mark

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#4

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

06/26/2008 8:57 AM

Another KISS suggestion to save tax dollars and energy consumption: suspend postal mail delivery on Saturdays. There have to be hundreds of thousands of mail delivery vehicles on the road, and this would immediately reduce their consumption by a factor of 1/6 with a corresponding reduction in pollution emissions.

Most businesses aren't open Saturday anyway, and I can sacrifice having to wait a couple of days to receive my Saturday junk mail and bills.

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#8
In reply to #4

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

06/26/2008 11:49 AM

Hello Delmar:

Great idea, I was hoping to get a few more you never know we could forward these to our legislative representatives. Certainly it can give the politicians some new ideas, that is if any of them can read.

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#11
In reply to #8

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

06/26/2008 12:24 PM

I would like to start a local grass-roots movement to push this issue. You occasionally see politicians stumping the issue only to gain attention, but when the cameras turn off they don't do anything about it. At this time the post office is mandated through congress to provide service six days a week, so unfortunately will require legislation.

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#12

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

06/26/2008 6:40 PM

Hi,

I have tried previously to talk the insurance companies into
insuring me, rather than the vehicles, and they will, effectively,
by having a commercial licence.

If you think about it, what you are asking them to do is for them
to cover you for ANY type of car or vehicle.
Today it may be your motor cycle, tomorrow your Rolls Royce.

How can they do this in the same policy? The liability is too varied.

What they are willing to do, for a vehicle "dealer or trader" is provide
a general licence - to cover all vehicles - but it will cost you!
These sort of policies are expensive, and have a very hefty excess!

Look at it from their side; say YOU are going to insure this "stranger"
to drive whatever vehicle he/she likes and pick up the damage tab?

One has to see it from both sides; but I do agree, they should payout
a lot quicker, and the full amount, after a genuine claim; - so they
are not "Snow white" in this regard. (personal opinion.)

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#13
In reply to #12

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

06/27/2008 8:27 AM

Hello JT

a good point but I think easily resolved. Of course individual vehicles would have to be ensured for damage and that rate would of course be reflected by the value of the vehicle. As far as for liability the amount I paid for liability insurance does not very much buy the vehicle I'm driving. However while my son was still in the same state a policy of three separate insurance companies motorcycle, family car, classic car was that he was not insured in the vehicles.

Also agreed is the price of liability insurance can vary by vehicle, I know trying to insurer my avatar when I was 18 was very costly, and next to nothing now that I'm 50 plus. Generally younger drivers or drivers excessive tickets and accidents are higher to insurer and exorbitantly higher in high-performance vehicles, so liability decoration stating exactly what types of vehicles will be covered under an individual private liability coverage would seem to be necessary.

However this was just one idea, not necessarily a good one, I was just thinking there are a lot of very inexpensive used economical beaters out there that would be more feasible to have lying around if you weren't paying $200-$400 a year liability insurance.

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#14

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

06/27/2008 9:01 AM

I think you're onto a good idea.

I've probably told this story before, but I'll tell it again (trying hard not to change the facts).

During the 1977-78 coal strike I worked in a manufacturing plant where we depended greatly on electric motors. About a month into the strike, we were told by the local power company to cut electric use by 25% or face complete cutoff. In less than a week we did it, kept production up, and didn't lose a single job. We turned off anything (elevators, hall lights, vending machines, copy machines, even clocks) that used electricity without helping production. We changed hours to match daylight. We scraped paint off windows to let daylight in. We cut HVAC use, opened windows and wore sweaters or coats. We bought a diesel generator. We installed power correction capacitors. Nothing hard (except the generator which we could have probably avoided), nothing that greatly affected our quality of life (in fact, it was a little better with the copy machines off).

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#15
In reply to #14

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

06/27/2008 8:04 PM

Hello TVP45

Isn't it amazing what you can do when you have to, and how a lot of little savings can add up to a sizable savings. Certainly something needs to be done.

About the only thing our legislature seems to be able to do is to ask the big five how much money they make.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24757944/

I believe it was $136 billion, with one of the lead executives making 12.5 million. I hate to say anything about a windfall profits tax, but it might just be time to think about it, the main problem I see is keep in the bureaucrats hands out of the money, ensuring that is dedicated only for energy development like synthetic fuels.

I did a little further research and synthetic fuels predate World War II, one of the processes has been around since 1911.

PS. Not to be an alarmist but the world must be close to running out of oil. Iran's oil reserves are the second largest known and they have to build a nuclear reactor to meet their energy needs.

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#16
In reply to #15

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

07/01/2008 8:23 AM

"...they have to build a nuclear reactor to meet their energy needs..."

Or maybe they're just savvy enough to realize the oil will eventually run out? Gosh, if they sell the rest of us all their oil, they will need an alternate source, won't they? But WE won't, oh, no, not US, we'll just get oil from somewhere else! Won't we? (Oooops!)

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#17
In reply to #16

Re: Rube Goldberg the energy crunch and KISS

07/01/2008 9:17 AM

Well were agreed on one point, nuclear power makes sense. Certainly there are problems, and two very publicized accidents have pretty much destroyed the industry in the US. The saying my minds made up don't confuse me with facts has never been truer, Chernobyl was a 50s design reactor that didn't come up to any Western standards, 3 mile Island didn't have a catastrophic release, and would probably still be in operation if the operators had gone to lunch when the alarms went off and let the automatic safety systems do their job.


The US government has little more grasp on the situation than the general population, using breedable U238 to make bullets. One way or the other it is certain we will eventually run out of fossil fuels, and until or of ever fusion reactors are perfected, it is doubtful that other alternatives such as solar and completely supply the world's energy demands. Certainly generating electricity from nuclear sources and using it in the electrolysis of water to make hydrogen makes a lot more sense than using fossil fuels for the electrolysis of water.

However as far as Iran being farsighted actually they're suffer from myopia, the only thing they can see is the past. You don't even need a nuclear reactor to destabilize the whole region, POUR A 17 foot thick 100,000 psi concrete slab and you'll get everybody's attention, you don't even need to unpack the centrifuges. Personally we would be doing ourselves a favor as well as the region by developing a self-sufficient energy policy, being self-sufficient would get us out of Middle Eastern politics and our own self-serving interests, and relieve some of the tensions in the area.

PS. Now that I'm given my cerebral response, I long for the day when we could offer the region modified synthetic fuels technology, I mean after all a main component of oil is hydrogen it would be great if the only thing oil was valuable for was to convert into water. I'm sure a dose of humble pie and famine would encourage the population to join the world community. I would much rather be in the role of benefactor than our current role of Satan, which isn't entirely undeserved.

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