May 20, 2007

An Innovation that elongate Earth's lifespan!

Innovation Matters when it results in something that can elongate earth's lifespan. In other words, an innovation that positively contributes to the earth's deteriorating environment (the one caused by Global Warming), would be the one that matters the most.

In my earlier article The Global Thing, I'd suggested some pointers that will potentially help in alleviating the every deteriorating enviroment of earth due to Global Warming. While reading BusinessWeek, I came across an innovation by a Swiss engineer, who has developed a "Zero-Pollution Car"! A car that refuels at solar-power pumps! This is precisely the need of the hour.

Working in a skunkworks in Switzerland, researchers have developed the Hy-Light, a fuel-cell car that drives 80 mph and refuels at a solar-powered pump. Working for the tiremaker Michelin, Varenne, who heads a group of researchers, has developed a real car - not a concept car - that can run on hydrogen cells and refuel at solar-powered pumps.

The Hy-Light is a car built around a hydrogen fuel cell, meaning it generates electricity through a basic chemical reaction involving hydrogen and oxygen. The gases are stored in two specially developed tanks (the hydrogen is pressurized and its tank can withstand the direct shot of a Swiss Army rifle!).

The fuel cell used in the Hy-Light prototype was developed by the Paul Scherrer Institute, a leading Swiss research center. What sets it apart from most other automotive fuel cells (such as the one in the GM Sequel) is that it uses pure oxygen from a tank. Most fuel cells suck oxygen from the surrounding air, but that approach requires an onboard compressor and a system for controlling air quality—all of which lowers the efficiency of the power system. According to Varenne, the Hy-Light method increases the efficiency of the fuel cell by almost one-third. Michelin is now working on the next iteration of the fuel cell.

Electric motors have an advantage in that they can become energy generators. In the case of the Hy-Light, when the car slows down or the driver brakes, the kinetic energy produced by the vehicle's motion is captured and stored, to be released when the driver accelerates. The energy is stored in supercapacitors: an ingenious compromise between a battery (which can store a lot of energy but isn't good at delivering bursts of power) and traditional capacitors (which offer phenomenal power but little storage). Made by Maxwell in Switzerland, this technology increases the car's power for acceleration without increasing its energy consumption.

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