Driving Ecologically [Update]

Since mid-summer, I’ve been the proud owner of a Peugeot 306 (as seen here). It was a used car (1994) and an affordable buy. Like all older cars, the fuel economy is not up to par with recent cars, but it’s not terrible either.

Since I only got my drivers license some three months prior to getting the car, I’ve been trying to learn to drive ecologically / economically. I do not drive much, I only use the car for longer trips (parents, weekend getaways, IKEA). In the process I have picked up a few tricks which I’d like to bounce off of you, esteemed reader and/or more experienced driver than me.

  • Drive in high gears
  • Switch to 4th a little earlier than you normally would.

  • Sometimes, skip a gear
  • Switch from 2nd to 4th, or in better cars than mine, from 1st to 3rd. But be careful and skip to a gear that makes sense for specific type of situation.

  • Freewheel whenever you can
    If you see a red light ahead, if you’re going downhill, if you’re stuck in traffic, freewheel as much as possible.

    Don’t freewheel, I’m told it’s a bad idea for both safety reasons and fuel economy reasons.

  • When driving on the highway/autobahn/motorway, remember that your most efficient speed is often below the speed limit (I believe the average value for most efficient speed is 55MPH in the highest gear). (Thanks Jonathan)
  • Don’t carry superfluous weight. (Thanks Jonathan)
  • Don’t use an unloaded roof-rack or anything else that will introduce unnecessary drag. (Thanks Jonathan)
  • If your car has air-conditioning, only use it when you absolutely must. (Thanks Jonathan)
  • Learn the road and the stoplights

Know when to accelerate and know when not to, so you don’t have to break / accelerate all the time.

What did I miss? Which of these would annoy you, were you driving behind me? Which of these would be dangerous?

[Update]: See comments for more tips / corrections. Special thanks to Jan and Jonathan.

Fusion Power Plant to be Located in France

Fusion Power in France

A while back, I wrote an article about fusion power, in which I mentioned that the project of building a fusion power plant was stalled because the involved parties could not agree on where to place the plant. It seems now, that they have agreed. Fusion is the process of deriving energy from atomic particles such as Hydrogen, as opposed to fission which requires radioactive materials Uranium or Plutonium.

Fusion Power

Ever since I heard about B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann’s supposedly successful Cold Fusion, I’ve been interested in fusion power. I didn’t really believe in cold fusion, (although there are still believers/conspirators), but knew from my physics lectures that hot fusion happens every day—in the core of our sun.

Fusion is the process of—yes — fusing atoms together, rather than splitting them as is done in fission reactors. Put quite simply, fuse two Hydrogen atoms together, and make Helium and energy:

H + H = He + e

While there’s a lot more to it than this, the general concept is simple. What makes it difficult, however, is the temperature required, for atomic fusion to occur…

While cold fusion, if it was possible, would require only room temperature, the fusion that takes place in the core of our sun requires temperatures of 100 million degrees centigrade or more.

The benefits of fusion power are enormous. The process produces no greenhouse gasses, no radioactive pollution, and Hydrogen—the main fuel for the process is the main component of water. In other words, fusion power would be a limitless source of clean, renewable, reliable energy, and could potentially solve all energy problems today. Considering the fact that currently, our world is suffering from the ill effects of fossil fuels, this prospect is quite uplifting.

“All the predictions say oil and gas consumption will increase over the next 30 or 40 years. But fusion power will give us a breathing space to phase out fossil fuels”— Professor Yevgeny Velikov – Source

The answer to the question that’s been troubling cold-fusion zealots and physics-afficionados alike: “When?”, may just arrive soon enough. In fact, several research institutions now believe that the Spherical Tokamak is the solution.

The tokamak is a donut shaped device that, roughly interpreted, provides a magnetic field that keeps a warm plasma under high pressure at its center.

So far, the donut shaped tokamaks haven’t proved to be viable in terms of efficiency, but the latest research in spherical tokamaks have shown far better results.

tokamak

“The ST Power Plant conceptual design has shown that a viable electricity-producing power station could be built based on a Spherical Tokamak.” – Source

The most promising path for fusion power, however, lies with a project named ITER. ITER stands for “the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor”, and has been on the drawing board for years, with participants from the European Union, US, Russia, China, Japan, Canada and South Korea. When built, the scientific bounty from the project will hopefully provide a path to an economically viable fusion power solution. What’s more, the press surrounding ITER and the fact that fusion power may be possible in our time, will no doubt boost further funding and research into the topic.

On the downside, it seems that ITER is currently on hold due to politics. ITER needs a site, and the discussion is centered on whether it is to be located in France, or in Japan. Meanwhile, there’s a US election year coming up, and add to that a bulk of other political issues, and a decision is likely to be delayed further.

I hope, that one day, you, I, or perhaps our children or childrens children, will be able to visit ITER and see how one kilogram of fusion fuel wields the same power as 10.000.000 kilograms of fossil fuel. Let’s hope it’ll be sooner, rather than later.

References

"Bumper Mentality" – Why SUVs Must Go

“According to market research conducted by the country’s leading automakers, Bradsher reports, SUV buyers tend to be ‘insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors and communities. They are more restless, more sybaritic, and less social than most Americans are. They tend to like fine restaurants a lot more than off-road driving, seldom go to church and have limited interest in doing volunteer work to help others.'” – Source

This pretty much sums up my opinion on SUVs, or Sports Utility Vehicles, as they would have you call them…

Personal Transportation

My dislike of SUVs is not rooted in my belief in public transportation. There is a need for personal transportation.

Cars, for instance, serve a purpose. They transport you from point A to B. Jeeps, even, can serve a purpose. They are built for rough terrain, and certainly Indiana Jones, and The Army has need of those.

An SUV, on the other hand, is a combination of a personal transport vehicle, and a rough terrain vehicle. Such a vehicle has no point, no purpose.

Well, according to the article I quoted, they may not serve a purpose, but they do satisfy a certain demographic, and even though there is somewhat of an oil crisis right now, SUVs are still the latest craze.

Soccer Moms & Road Rodeos

SUVs are marketed for soccer moms, not to mention security moms. This demographic wants to feel safe. And although an SUV brings the opposite of just that, it’s size and bulk indeed makes them feel safe.

They are also marketed for those who want adventure in their life; read: those who do not have any adventure in their lives already. To this demographic, the SUVs are exhilerating beasts that needs taming. When on the road, they feel big and dangerous, often resulting in them being so. I’m sure Freud could say even more.

Personal transport, should be the focus of any vehicle. But this is not the case with SUVs. In exchange for size, large cupholders, intercooler and BIG tires, we sacrifice not only security, but our environment.

I can’t blame global warning on SUV users alone, but their mileage certainly doesn’t help the situation. In fact, the environment was already in trouble before the SUV craze. But bulky “light trucks” with low mileage, insecure egotistical drivers behind the wheel will do nothing but accelerate the destruction of our world.

It’s sad, that when focus should be on energy preservation, a trend comes along that does exactly the opposite.

Here’s to the Road Rodeos. Mother Nature takes one more hit, for you.