Improving Wetware

Because technology is never the issue

Best in class efficiency — because we didn't import the fuel efficient vehicles

Posted by Pete McBreen Sat, 08 Jan 2011 00:32:00 GMT

Recently I had to replace a Volkswagen TDI Golf (after 300,000km it was well used), but was appalled at the lack of improvement in fuel efficiency over the past 10+ years.

Overall I normally averaged 5.1 l/100km in the TDI, normally managing 1000km between 51 liter fill ups. In Canada the Ford Fiesta is advertised as Best in class fuel efficiency. Well it might be, but only because nobody seems to be importing the really fuel efficient cars. Based on the Canadian figures, the Fiesta will probably end up somewhere around 6.0 to 6.5l/100km. On the european figures, it is listed as 5.9l/100km, for the 1.6L 120 HP version - the only engine spec that is available in Canada.

Read this and weep

The 1.6 Duratorq TDCi ECO version of the same vehicle that is NOT available in Canada gets 3.7l/100KM and still pumps out 90HP, there is another version listed at 95HP that gets similar fuel efficiency. For people who do not like diesel, there is a 1.25L version that still does 5.5l/100km, and another1.25L petrol engine that does 85HP that does 5.6l/100km.

Canadian figures for the Fiesta are 7.1 city, 5.3 highway. There is supposedly going to be an ECO version out later, but for now an average that we might be able to expect is 6.2 l/100km.

Current vehicle

After much looking around I ended up with a Honda Fit, (Jazz in europe). It claims 7.2 city. 5.7 highway for a combined 6.4, but in practice I’m averaging 6.6l/100KM, more than 2l/100km worse than I would be if I could have got one of the fuel efficient cars that are available in Europe.

A new TDI Golf was not on the cards since it is only available in the high “comfortline” spec, for CDN$28,000, and not very fuel efficient as the version available in Canada is 140HP, so 6.7l/100km city, 4.6l/100km highway for a combined 5.65l/100km. So in 10 years the car has more power and worse fuel economy than the previous model.

Time to keep on watching the CO2 level.

Very interesting Chemist blog

Posted by Pete McBreen Tue, 16 Nov 2010 18:30:00 GMT

Lots of interesting articles about the life of a chemist. Particularly interesting are the series of posts about Things I Won’t Work With

Tetrazole derivatives have featured several times here in “Things I Won’t Work With”, which might give you the impression that they’re invariably explosive. Not so - most of them are perfectly reasonable things. A tetrazole-for-carboxyl switch is one of the standard med-chem tricks, standard enough to have appeared in several marketed drugs. And that should be recommendation enough, since the FDA takes a dim view of exploding pharmaceuticals (nitroglycerine notwithstanding; that one was grandfathered in). No, tetrazoles are good citizens. Most of the time.

Well, the authors prepared a whole series of salts of the parent compound, using the bangiest counterions they could think of. And it makes for quite a party tray: the resulting compounds range from the merely explosive (the guanidinium salts) to the very explosive indeed (the ammonium and hydroxyammonium ones). They checked out the thermal stabilities with a differential scanning calorimeter (DSC), and the that latter two blew up so violently that they ruptured the pans on the apparatus while testing 1.5 milligrams of sample. No, I’m going to have to reluctantly give this class of compounds a miss, as appealing as they do sound.

Global warming humor

Posted by Pete McBreen Mon, 15 Nov 2010 03:22:00 GMT

Approximate calculations

Posted by Pete McBreen Tue, 26 Oct 2010 04:26:00 GMT

Sometimes we do not need to be exact in order to understand what is feasible, sometimes ballpark estimates and back of the envelope calculations are sufficient.

For a set of calculations and supporting data about the climate and energy issues, look at the Without Hot Air site that has the full PDF of a book available that is full of the calculations and approximate data, allowing the ethical considerations to be addressed after we understand the physical constraints.

Redefining the conversation

Posted by Pete McBreen Mon, 25 Oct 2010 00:56:00 GMT

Introducing Climate Hawks as an alternative way of framing the conversation.

it becomes about values, about how hard to fight and how much to sacrifice to defend [the] future.

SPIEGEL Interview with Craig Venter

Posted by Pete McBreen Sat, 07 Aug 2010 05:00:00 GMT

Craig Venter has an interesting view of the state of the Genome Project.

I am, for example, a fan of the work that was done a short time ago that led to the decoding of the Neanderthal genome. But we don’t need any more Neanderthals on the planet, right? We already have enough of them.

Some serious thoughts as well:

The real problem is that the understanding of science in our society is so shallow. In the future, if we want to have enough water, enough food and enough energy without totally destroying our planet, then we will have to be dependent on good science.

The same could be said about the effects of computing power. Craig Venter managed to decode the human genome by harnessing the power of computers 10 years ago. We still do not appreciate the potential that computers have to change society, and maybe few realize how much computers have already changed society.

Understanding large numbers

Posted by Pete McBreen Sun, 16 May 2010 19:52:00 GMT

While reading Eaarth I came across an number that needed further thought. Supposedly a barrel of oil contains as much energy as a man working can put out in 11 years.

OK, so that needs some cross checking. A barrel of oil is 42 US gallons, or 158.987 liters (used to link to a Thailand website that was near the top of the google search for that conversion, now linking to wikipedia). That barrel of oil has about 6.1 GJ or 1,700 kWh, or 38 MJ per liter. roughly 10.5 kWh.

Maximum sustained energy that a human can put out is around 100W over an 8 hour period, so 0.8kWh/day, but that would be classed as extremely hard labor, so a better number to use would be about half that, so a good estimate would be 0.5kWh/day. Allowing for 250 working days/year, that means a strong, fit human can put out about 125kWh/year.

Comparing this to the 1,700kWh per barrel of oil, a human capable of a sustained output of 50W would take about 13.6 years to generate that much energy, so the figure of 11 years energy per barrel is reasonable. Other numbers in Eaarth suggest that in North America, the annual consumption of oil per person is about 60 barrels, so in a year, a human uses the equivalent of 660 humans worth of work.

Since that is hard to imagine, a smaller scale to look at it is that 1 liter of oil, enough to drive a car for maybe 15 km or 10 miles (assuming an efficient car), uses as much energy as an average human could put out in a month of working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. (21 days work at 0.5kWh/day for the 10.5kWh in a liter of oil).

Small wonder then that the thoughts of Peak Oil and Global Warming from excess CO2 have everyone concerned in one way or another…

Worst Case Thinking leads to bad decisions

Posted by Pete McBreen Fri, 14 May 2010 00:05:00 GMT

Bruce Schneier on worst case thinking

Worst-case thinking means generally bad decision making for several reasons. First, it’s only half of the cost-benefit equation. Every decision has costs and benefits, risks and rewards. By speculating about what can possibly go wrong, and then acting as if that is likely to happen, worst-case thinking focuses only on the extreme but improbable risks and does a poor job at assessing outcomes.

Bruce covers the idea in depth, but for me the problem with worst case thinking is that is can be used to justify doing nothing. By focusing purely on the extreme possible downside it forgets the value of the benefits, AND forgets that doing nothing also has a cost.

A different take on climate change and the media

Posted by Pete McBreen Fri, 09 Apr 2010 06:25:00 GMT

Just who is pulling the strings?

the real story is not the relationship between science and the media at all. It’s the story of how the media has been completely taken in by a third group, a third culture, consisting of ideologically-driven, pathological liars, who will say almost anything in order to score political points, and will smear anyone they regard as an opponent.

Krugman has written about Building a Green Economy

If you listen to climate scientists — and despite the relentless campaign to discredit their work, you should — it is long past time to do something about emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. If we continue with business as usual, they say, we are facing a rise in global temperatures that will be little short of apocalyptic. And to avoid that apocalypse, we have to wean our economy from the use of fossil fuels, coal above all.

Interestingly Krugman didn’t write much about James Hansen’s proposal for a tax and dividend to cut down on CO2 emissions. James HAnsen is against the Cap and Trade for reasons he explains very well. Hansen also has a paper that shows pictures of what cold winters used to be like - when the Niagara falls could freeze.

What we need is an approach that addresses the fundamental fact that keeps us addicted to  fossil fuels: they are the cheapest form of energy, provided their prices do not have to include  the damage they do to human health, the environment, and the future of our children.    For the sake of the people, especially young people, there should be a rising price on carbon  emissions.  The price should rise at a known economically sensible rate, so that businesses have  time to plan their investments accordingly.  The money collected should be put in the hands of  the public, so they are able to make the purchases necessary to reduce their carbon footprint. 

Why this site has the CO2 badge

Posted by Pete McBreen Sun, 10 Jan 2010 02:39:00 GMT

Since the trends on global CO2 levels are not good, I decided that it would be useful to watch how they are changing, The historical trend has been that on average we are increasing CO2 levels by approx. 1.9ppm/year. Based on this trend we will probably reach 400ppm in April or May 2015.

But we will see fluctuations up and down over the course of the year

This is a feature of the way the climate relates to the overall earth systems, the CO2 level drops as vegetation grows in the northern hemisphere summer, and then rises during the northern hemisphere winter, peaking in the spring, and then starting to fall off again in June. On an annual basis this fluctuation is around 6 ppm, but year on year we are averaging nearly 2ppm higher - but this varies with the economy and the weather in any year, hot years tend to be associated with a higher rise.

Below is sample data extracted from which is also the source of the badge.


Overall this is a large scale experiment

How much CO2 can humans add to the atmosphere without adversely affecting the climate systems that we depend on?