Monday, August 15, 2005

Powering the Future

At the risk of sounding like Tom Friedman, I thought I'd point out two interesting articles I came across today about two simple ideas that might help our society break its addiction to fossil fuels.

The first is a story from CNN on how a bunch of tinkerers working in their garages have figured how to get between 80 and 250 miles to the gallon out of their Toyota Prius hybrids. The trick is to wire up a plug to the car's battery pack so that you can charge it up by plugging it into any ordinary electrical outlet. The juice in the batteries is enough to drive you around ten miles, and on round trips of 20 miles the boost from the fully-charged batteries can drive up the fuel economy to 80 mpg. True, the power in the charged batteries is only as clean as the source of the electricity being used to juice them up, but since the conversion of fossil fuels into electrical energy at a power plant is far more efficient than burning it in your car, there are environmental gains to be had with this simple do-it-yourself hybrid hack.

Our second story comes from bucolic Prince Edward Island, where Michael is currently vacationing (and no doubt enjoying a nice seafood dinner while I am slaving away on maintaining his blog). A small Ontario-based startup called Hydrogenics Corp. is experimenting with a novel system in the village of Sea Cow Pond that aims at eliminating the biggest drawback currently associated with wind power: namely that the juice goes out when the wind stops blowing. The trick to the system is to use any excess power generated when it is good and gusty outside to extract hydrogen from water by electrolysis that can be burned when the winds are calm. One can only dream of the day when the vast deserts of Saudi Arabia are filled solar panels generating electricity to produce hydrogen to burn in the Priuses of America rather than with the dirty and polluting paraphernalia of oil production.

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