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CNN is spun right round, baby, right round

Filed under: — gavin @ 14 January 2009

With the axing of the CNN Science News team, most science stories at CNN are now being given to general assignment reporters who don’t necessarily have the background to know when they are being taken for a ride. On the Lou Dobbs show (an evening news program on cable for those of you not in the US), the last few weeks have brought a series of embarrassing non-stories on ‘global cooling’ based it seems on a few cold snaps this winter, the fact that we are at a solar minimum and a regurgitation of 1970s vintage interpretations of Milankovitch theory (via Pravda of all places!). Combine that with a few hysterical (in both senses) non-scientists as talking heads and you end up with a repeat of the nonsensical ‘Cooling world’ media stories that were misleading in the 1970s and are just as misleading now.

Exhibit A. Last night’s (13 Jan 2009) transcript (annotations in italics).

Note that this is a rush transcript and the typos aren’t attributable to the participants.

DOBBS: Welcome back. Global warming is a complex, controversial issue and on this broadcast we have been critical of both sides in this debate. We’ve challenged the orthodoxy surrounding global warming theories and questioned more evidence on the side of the Ice Age and prospect in the minds of some. In point of fact, research, some of it, shows that we could be heading toward cooler temperatures, and it’s a story you will only see here on LOU DOBBS TONIGHT. Ines Ferre has our report.


INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Will the day after tomorrow bring a deep freeze like that shown in the movie? Research more than 50 years ago by astrophysicist Milanchovich (ph) shows that ice ages run in predictable cycles and the earth could go into one. How soon? In science terms it could be thousands of years. But what happens in the next decade is still up in the air. Part of the science community believes that global warming is a man-maid threat. But Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute predicts the next 20 to 30 years will actually bring cooling temperatures.

Dennis Avery is part of the ‘science community’? Who knew? And, while amusing, the threat of ‘man-maids’ causing global warming is just a typo. Nice thought though. Oh, and if you want to know what the actual role of Milankovitch in forcing climate is, look at the IPCC FAQ Q6.1. Its role in current climate change? Zero.

DENNIS AVERY, HUDSON INSTITUTE: The earth’s temperatures have dropped an average of .6 Celsius in the last two years. The Pacific Ocean is telling us, as it has told us 10 times in the past 400 years, you’re going to get cooler.

For those unfamiliar with Dennis Avery, he is a rather recent convert to the bandwagon idea of global cooling, having very recently been an advocate of “unstoppable” global warming. As for his great cherry pick (0.6º C in two years – we’re doomed!), this appears to simply be made up. Even putting aside the nonsense of concluding anything from a two year trend, if you take monthly values and start at the peak value at the height of the last El Niño event of January 2007 and do no actual trend analysis, I can find no data set that gives a drop of 0.6ºC. Even UAH MSU-LT gives only 0.4ºC. The issue being not that it hasn’t been cooler this year than last, but why make up numbers? This is purely rhetorical of course, they make up numbers because they don’t care about whether what they say is true or not.

FERRE: Avery points to a lack of sunspots as a predictor for lower temperatures, saying the affects of greenhouse gas warming have a small impact on climate change. Believers in global warming, like NASA researcher, Dr. Gavin Schmidt disagree.

I was interviewed on tape in the afternoon, without seeing any of the other interviews. Oh, and what does a ‘believer in global warming’ even mean?

DR. GAVIN SCHMIDT, NASA: The long term trend is clearly toward warming, and those trends are completely dwarf any changes due to the solar cycle.

FERRE: In a speech last week, President-elect Obama called for the creation of a green energy economy. Still, others warn that no matter what you think about climate change, new policies would essentially have no effect.

FRED SINGER, SCIENCE & ENV. POLICY PROJECT: There’s very little we can do about it. Any effort to restrict the use of carbon dioxide will hurt us economically and have zero effect on the Chicago mate.

Surely another typo, but maybe the Chicago mate is something to do with the man-maids? See here for more background on Singer.

FERRE: As Singer says, a lot of pain, for no gain.

Huh? Try looking at the actual numbers from a recent McKinsey report. How is saving money through efficiency a ‘pain’?


FERRE: And three independent research groups concluded that the average global temperature in 2008 was the ninth or tenth warmest since 1850, but also since the coldest since the turn of the 21st century.

DOBBS: It’s fascinating and nothing — nothing — stirs up the left, the right, and extremes in this debate, the orthodoxy that exists on both sides of the debate than to even say global warming. It’s amazing.

This is an appeal to the ‘middle muddle’ and an attempt to seem like a reasonable arbitrator between two opposing sides. But as many people have previously noted, there is no possible compromise between sense and nonsense. 2+2 will always equal 4, no matter how much the Hudson Institute says otherwise.

FERRE: When I spoke to experts and scientists today from one side and the other, you could feel the kind of anger about —

That was probably me. Though it’s not anger, it’s simple frustration that reporters are being taken in and treating seriously the nonsense that comes out of these think-tanks.

DOBBS: Cannot we just all get along? Ines, thank you very much.

Joining me now three leading experts in Manchester, New Hampshire, we’re joined by Joseph D’Aleo of the International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project. Good to have with you us.


DOBBS: He’s also the cofounder of The Weather Channel. In Washington, D.C., as you see there, Jay Lehr, he’s the science director of the Heartland Institute. And in Boston, Alex Gross, he’s the cofounder of Good to have you with us.

Well that’s balanced!

Let’s put a few numbers out here, the empirical discussion and see what we can make of it. First is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has very good records on temperatures, average temperatures in the United States, dating back to 1880. And here’s what these numbers look like. You’ve all seen those. But help us all — the audience and most of all me to get through this, they show the warmest years on record, 1998, 2006, and 1934. 2008 was cooler, in fact the coolest since 1997. It’s intriguing to see that graph there. The graph we’re looking at showing some question that the warming trend may be just a snapshot in time. The global temperatures by NOAA are seven of the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. The ten warmest years have all occurred since 1995.

So let me start, if I may, Joseph, your reaction to those numbers. Do you quibble with what they represent?

D’ALEO: Yes, I do. In fact, if you look at the satellite data, which is the most reliable data, the best coverage of the globe, 2008 was the 14th coldest in 30 years. That doesn’t jive with the tenth warmest in 159 years in the Hadley data set or 113 or 114 years in the NOAA data set. Those global data sets are contaminated by the fact that two-thirds of the globe’s stations dropped out in 1990. Most of them rural and they performed no urban adjustment. And, Lou, you know, and the people in your studio know that if they live in the suburbs of New York City, it’s a lot colder in rural areas than in the city. Now we have more urban effect in those numbers reflecting — that show up in that enhanced or exaggerated warming in the global data set.

D’Aleo is misdirecting through his teeth here. He knows that the satellite analyses have more variability over ENSO cycles than the surface records, he also knows that urban heat island effects are corrected for in the surface records, and he also knows that this doesn’t effect ocean temperatures, and that the station dropping out doesn’t affect the trends at all (you can do the same analysis with only stations that remained and it makes no difference). Pure disinformation.

DOBBS: Your thoughts on these numbers. Because they are intriguing. They are a brief snapshot admittedly, in comparison to total extended time. I guess we could go back 4.6 billion years. Let’s keep it in the range of something like 500,000 years. What’s your reaction to those numbers and your interpretation?



DOBBS: Go ahead, Jay.

LEHR: Lou, I’m in the camp with Joe and Fred Singer and Dennis Avery, and I think more importantly, it is to look at the sun’s output, and in recent years, we’ve seen very, very low sunspot activity, and we are definitely, in my mind, not only in a cooling period, we’re going to be staying in it for a couple decades, and I see it as a major advantage, although I think we will be able to adapt to it. I’m hopeful that this change in the sun’s output will put some common sense into the legislature, not to pass any dramatic cap in trade or carbon tax legislation that will set us in a far deeper economic hole. I believe Mr. Obama and his economic team are well placed to dig us out of this recession in the next 18 months to 2 years, but I think if we pass any dramatic legislation to reduce greenhouse gases, the recession will last quite a few more years and we’ll come out of it with a lower standard of living on very tenuous scientific grounds.

DOBBS: Alex, the carbon footprint, generation of greenhouse gases, specifically co2, the concern focusing primarily on the carbon footprint, and of course generated by fossil fuels primarily, what is your thinking as you look at that survey of 130 — almost 130 years and the impact on the environment?

ALEX WISSNER-GROSS, CO2STATS.COM: Well, Lou, I think regardless of whatever the long-term trend in the climate data is, there a long- term technological trend which is that as time goes on our technology tends toward smaller and smaller physical footprint. That means in part that in the long term we like technology to have a smaller environmental footprint, burning fewer greenhouse gases and becoming as small and environmentally neutral and noninvasive as possible. So I think regardless of the climate trend, I think we’ll see less and less environmentally impactful technologies.

Wissner-Gross is on because of the media attention given to misleading reports about the carbon emissions related to Google searches. Shame he doesn’t get to talk about any of that.

DOBBS: To be straight forward about this, that’s where I come down. I don’t know it matters to me whether there is global warming or we’re moving toward an ice age it seems really that we should be reasonable stewards of the planet and the debate over whether it’s global warming or whether it’s moving toward perhaps another ice age or business as usual is almost moot here in my mind. I know that will infuriate the advocates of global warming as well as the folks that believe we are headed toward another ice age. What’s your thought?

Curious train of logic there…

D’ALEO: I agree with you, Lou. We need conservation. An all of the above solution for energy, regardless of whether we’re right and it cools over the next few decades or continues to warm, a far less dangerous scenario. And that means nuclear. It means coal, oil, natural gas. Geothermal, all of the above.

DOBBS: Jay, you made the comment about the impact of solar sunspot activity. Sunspot activity the 11-year cycle that we’re all familiar with. There are much larger cycles, 12,000 to 13,000 years as well. We also heard a report disregard, if you will, for the strength and significance of solar activity on the earth’s environment. How do you respond to that?

Is he talking about me? Please see some of my publications on the subject from 2006, 2004 and 2001. My point above was that relative to current greenhouse gas increases, solar is small – not that it is unimportant or uninteresting. This of course is part of the false dilemma ‘single cause’ argument that the pseudo-skeptics like to use – that change must be caused by either solar or greenhouse gases and that any evidence for one is evidence against the other. This is logically incoherent.

FEHR: It just seems silly to not recognize that the earth’s climate is driven by the sun.

Ah yes.

Your Chad Myers pointed out it’s really arrogant to think that man controls the climate.

This is a misquoted reference to a previous segment a few weeks ago where Myers was discussing the impact of climate on individual weather patterns. But man’s activities do affect the climate and are increasingly controlling its trends.

90 percent of the climate is water vapor which we have no impact over and if we were to try to reduce greenhouse gases with China and India controlling way more than we do and they have boldly said they are not going to cripple their economy by following suit, our impact would have no — no change in temperature at all in Europe they started carbon — capping trade in 2005. They’ve had no reduction in groan house gases, but a 5 percent to 10 percent increase in the standard of living. We don’t want to go that route.

What? Accounting for the garbled nature of this response, he was probably trying to say that 90% of the greenhouse effect is caused by water vapour. This is both wrong and, even were it true, irrelevant.

DOBBS: Alex, you get the last word here. Are you as dismissive of the carbon footprint as measured by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

GROSS: No, not really. But I think in the long term, efficiency is where the gains come from. I think efficiency should come first, carbon footprint second.

DOBBS: Thank you very much. Alex, Jay, and Joe. Folks, appreciate you being with us.

FEHR: Thank you.

In summary, this is not the old ‘balance as bias‘ or ‘false balance‘ story. On the contrary, there was no balance at all! Almost the entire broadcast was given over to policy advocates whose use of erroneous-but-scientific-sounding sound bites is just a cover for their unchangable opinions that nothing should ever be done about anything. This may make for good TV (I wouldn’t know), but it certainly isn’t journalism.

There are pressures on journalists that conspire against fully researching a story – deadlines, the tyranny of the news peg etc. – but that means they have to be all the more careful in these kinds of cases. Given that Lou Dobbs has been better on this story in the past, seeing him and his team being spun like this is a real disappointment. They could really do much better.

Update: Marc Roberts sends in this appropriate cartoon:

596 Responses to “CNN is spun right round, baby, right round”

  1. 551

    Some backup that helps illustrate the very large possible gains is at See Fig 8, page 12.

    Note that the green bars for buildings represent heat from natural gas. If that natural gas was first used to generate electricity (a high temperature use)and then be used for building heat (a low temperature use), a significant part of the electricity part of the CO2 would be cut out. This would reflect on the separate right side of the chart. And that could be a significant impact on CO2 from coal.

    But the CO2 from transportation is the biggest thing to address as this Figure 8 also points out.

  2. 552
    Hank Roberts says:

    Nice find, that EIA draft doc:

    “• Even though the mix of investments in new power plants relies less on coal than in recent AEOs, coal remains the dominant fuel for electricity generation because of continued reliance on existing
    coal-fired plants and the addition of some new ones in the absence of an explicit policy to reduce GHG emissions (Figure 7).”

  3. 553

    Re Ray Ladbury #550
    Thanks for your good wishes.

    For the junior soccer team you still need the Dymaxion by Buckminster Fuller, said to have been capable of 37 mpg. It supposedly held 11 people. It attempted to utilize airship characteristics, but the large body near the ground just does not quite get there. Seriously, I think we could accommodate 2 or three kids in the back for the basic size now, but I really have not fully addressed family use.

    I had originally intended for the car to be even narrower than the current configuration, but I widened it somewhat and used the space for substantial side structure, safety being one of the things I hope to do a lot better than the car companies have done. Notice that there are no side doors and that entry is via a ramp that lowers at the rear and beneath the car, like some of the Boeing 727 aircraft of the past. So the side structure should be substantially better than conventional cars. In my demonstration model I am using steel tubing in tetrahedral shapes to get about the best strength structure possible. Also, the wheel trains, though low, still act as a barrier to threats from the side, and these are full of lead acid batteries, or something similarly heavy.

    Street legal is something that will have to be worked out and it will no doubt take time. I am hoping to hand it off to someone else since that process is not something I look forward to handling.

    I put a lot of mass down low; note the wheel trains that hold the batteries in line with the wheels. The wheel trains look like pontoons to some observers. Stability for cross wind forces is handled this way, and part of the elevation allows the cross wind force to be similar to that on a cylinder, which is a big advantage at high wind speeds.

    Getting the waste heat out on the road would be minimized due to electric operation for much of the mileage. When the electricity runs out on a long trip, the engine would be cooled like in a conventional car, except it makes a difference that it is only 16 hp due to the very low drag forces.

    Yes rolling resistance due to weight is probably not going to be a lot better than the Prius. I am trying to keep the weight down and .0065 rolling resistance coefficient for the tires looks entirely possible.

    But the waste heat I am really talking about is the heat generated when parked next to a house where the heat is produced while running the engine and generating electricity. This heat is piped into the house, mostly at night, where heat is to be used for heating and air conditioning, and such. Hence the generation of electricity has a system efficiency of theoretically approaching 100%. First the car batteries would be charged, then the electricity produced would go to household use, and then sold back to the utility grid. Power sold back to the grid could be at a price competitive with the cost of power from coal.

    However, the most important stability which is that needed to handle radial acceleration forces in a turn is provided by the widening wheel base which happens automatically as a part of the turning action. Stabilization and turning functions are locked together since they are the same mechanism. Hence the middle wheels which act like the rear wheels of a fork lift truck.

    I concluded from my looks at the Messerschmitt and the Isetta etc. that these nearly ideal cars lacked something that people simply are not willing to give up, which is a sense of safety, real or perceived. I put it, “People do not want to ride puny.” So the elevated enclosure puts the motorist’s height of eye about even with the SUV driver’s eye.

    There is no doubt that the Miastrada will be about the most geeky thing ever seen, at least until they become familiar.

  4. 554
    James says:

    I do think your Miastrada concept may have overlooked a couple of pretty important points. First, consider the use of waste heat from the cogenerating engine for home heat. Why, when with a comparatively small investment in solar collectors and insulation (probably comparable to replumbing the house system to connect to the car), most houses in most of the country could get most, if not all, of their heating needs from the sun?

    Second, the cogenerating efficiency. You quote the Prius engine efficiency at 38%. That is at the low end of the range for fossil-fuel generating plants – some gas turbine generation can approach 60% efficiency: On top of that, a significant fraction of generation is from non-fossil fuel sources (in the US, about 20% nuclear, 7% hydro, and a bit from wind, solar, geothermal, etc), so the net efficiency of the system is higher. Plus you’d have the cost of some sort of storage or backup if the car’s not home. Suppose you spend a month driving to Florida for a winter vacation – what happens to the house while you and your car/heating system are gone?

  5. 555
    jcbmack says:

    thank you for responding in such detail, it is refreshing and well received. I still think you have your work ahead of you, but I am not one to say don’t give it a try. I am still concerned about the thermal efficiency versus heat loss and how to make such an application more viable, but strange ideas sometimes do turn the world on its head in a favorable fashion. I am glad you have done some research and put some thought into this. Practical usage is still years away, you must realize that even if they become marketable sooner, which I dare say is enough of a challenge in itself, but please keep us posted as to your progress and any newer specs or ideas.

  6. 556

    Re James #554

    It sounds like you understand the concept quite well and do indeed make points that have to be thought out carefully. But you do recognize that the basic electric power generating machine would be a part of the car, and as such, would not be a cost burden to the electric power operation. Electrical interfacing equipment would be.

    Certainly the role of solar collectors needs to be considered, and in some cases it looks like they could be nice complements for warm sunny day operation. However, I think we see costs differently. My efforts at putting solar panels on my roof have not turned up very promising results, and I was looking at numbers in the $20 to $40 thousand range. The last contact I made the estimator declined to even come out and look since I had trees that he thought would cut down power a couple hours in the am and pm. As far as insulation goes, most people still end up with furnaces and fairly substantial heating bills, even with new construction under strict building codes. Absorption chiller type air conditioners and refrigerators are also possible, but any system needs to be sensibly designed. When there was no need for heat, the system would appropriately not operate, since then the central power plants would be superior in efficiency.

    Plumbing and heating involves mostly rather old and well known methodology, and pipes and heat exchangers are things that cost might be more in the hundreds of dollars. Still there would be installation costs which have to be considered. I think it would work out ok for many places.

    For rough comparisons, the 16 hp car engine could produce 12 kW of power on a fairly continuous basis. It would take quite a lot of solar panel area to come close to that, and the fact that sunshine is not required at all makes the car cogeneration concept appealing, or so it seems to me. Curiously, you would not want much more than a 12kW output if this was going happening on a widespread basis, since the power grid could be overwhelmed. That is why the 16 hp car is important since it fits in to the system.

    Our utility, PGE, offers rebates for cogeneration systems that are “appropriately sized.” I am sure they were not thinking of the concept I am talking about.

    I have a careful analysis of actual fossil fuel power generation efficiencies at where the conclusion for 2005 actuals for the USA for a year were that coal plants were 33% efficient and natural gas plants were 40% efficient. Then there is a 7% distribution loss for the grid. Combined cycle natural gas plants are said to be theoretically capable of 60% but that seems rare in actual practice. More to the point however, is the fact that coal is the fuel that most needs to be displaced, and as long as it is so cheap, and that appears to be the case, that is the fuel that will be used for load increases and it is the fuel that will be not used where loads decrease. I contend that net efficiency is not relevant, since the ideal sources you mention will operate full tilt regardless of load variations.

    I did not envision disposing with existing household heating systems; neither would electric service be canceled.

    I appreciate your thoughts and thanks again to our hosts.

  7. 557
    James says:

    Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co. Says (1 February 2009 at 8:33 PM):

    “However, I think we see costs differently. My efforts at putting solar panels on my roof have not turned up very promising results, and I was looking at numbers in the $20 to $40 thousand range. The last contact I made the estimator declined to even come out and look since I had trees that he thought would cut down power a couple hours in the am and pm.”

    I think in that price range you must be looking at photovoltaics, which are not at all the same as solar heating. That’s much more efficient, and much cheaper, especially if you’re into DIY. They’re quite durable: my neighbor has had a solar system since the first “energy crisis” back in the ’70s.

    As for insulation, all I can say is that it’s worked for me. I use no air conditioning in the summer, and virtually all of my winter heating comes from passive solar and a small wood stove.

    “For rough comparisons, the 16 hp car engine could produce 12 kW of power…”

    I think you may need to rethink that, too. I drive a Honda Insight, which is one of the lightest & most aerodynamic cars around. It takes (by my rough computations) about 17 hp to move it on a flat road at 60 mph. As it happens, I live in the Sierra Nevada, where flat roads are scarce, and it takes all of the 60-some hp the engine will produce to move it uphill at reasonable speed. That’s something that’s not going to be much affected by improvements in aerodynamics or rolling friction, it’s simply the energy needed to lift a mass against gravity.

    “More to the point however, is the fact that coal is the fuel that most needs to be displaced…”

    I don’t quite see how displacing coal with another fossil fuel is going to offer much improvement. I think there’d be much more room for improvement going the opposite way: PHEVs (with charging from PV panels on your roof or a covered parking lot, if possible) that use only limited quantities of liquid fuel for long trips or winter heat. Then work on removing coal generation from the grid, which should be easier because there are relatively few targets.

  8. 558

    James #557

    A quantitative discussion is aided by reference to the chart at , Fig. 8, page 12. More than anything, this chart pounds home the need to do something sensible about coal.

    I understand your point about solar heating. That can and should reduce the opportunities for the distributed cogeneration. If all reasonable effort at reducing the need for heat is not first taken, then my argument for the efficiency of cogeneration makes no sense.

    However the chart I refer to above by link tells us the amount of heat delivered to buildings. The most CO2 reduction we can hope for from insulation and solar heating is a fraction of the green bar. It is the remainder that leaves us something to work with as far as the electric cogeneration is concerned, and that fortunately has an efficiency multiplier of 2 or 3 that folds back as a reduction of coal usage for electric generation. Actually, there is an increase in natural gas to account for the double use of that fuel, that is, the first high temperature usage being for electricity generation which means there is a fraction of energy removed from the available heat energy for heating.

    I am assuming as a ground rule that cars will be designed correctly, meaning that electric apparatus would be configured to provide the extra horsepower to get up the hill and the energy entailed in this would be given back when you went back down. Here is where electric systems are very useful since they do not necessitate calling on the heat engine, along with its ineffeciency and then dumping the energy through braking processes. Toyota seems to do this quite well with the Prius. And of course there are efficiency losses (maybe 10% to 20% each way). But these are nothing like the efficiency losses in heat engines (maybe 75% loss for the Insight engine) and the 100% loss in braking.

    I hope to keep the Miastrada design light weight but probably it will not be much lighter than the Insight. However, the Insight aerodynamics is plagued with the ground effect and all the traditional car aerodynamic losses. Try as they might they have not broken with automobile industry tradition. I think their drag coefficient is about .26. Based on a .05 measured drag coefficient for the airship body and additions for the wheel trains the Miastrada Cd looks to be about .07. The Insight frontal area, again they are stuck with the idea that a car has to have double wide seating however cramped, is about 60% greater than the Miastrada with tandem seating and roomy driver compartment. So the Miastrada concept CdA is about a sixth that of the Insight.

    Displacing coal with natural gas cuts the CO2 emitted by about a half. Again, look at the linked chart, Fig8, page 12 and you will see the gain dwarfs anything conceivable that could be done with insulation. I am quick to point out that this is meaningless in the face of fuel cost for natural gas being about five times that for coal. This is the motivation for the efficiency multiplier of two to three that cogeneration could provide. If we do this much then a fuel tax on coal of a reasonable amount could be politically feasible.

    Assuming the PHEV actually gets charged from PV panels, nothing could be better. However, I remain pessimistic about the cost feasibility of PV panels added to the cost of PHEV batteries. I think we know that most PHEVs will end up getting charged from coal generated electricity. Again look at the linked Fig.8 and good luck trying to believe otherwise.

    Imagine trying to get a coal fuel tax passed when Americans are driving around in plugged in Yukons loaded with batteries.

  9. 559
    jcbmack says:

    Do you have any idea how many BTU’s of energy are required just to heat a small room? It just is not practical. I called the master plumber and master electrician:)the engineering on this would cost more than just placing solar panels as well. Again if you can make it work, and somewhat marketable let me know, I will invest inn your company.

  10. 560

    Re #559 jcbmack,

    Heating air in a room is just the constant pressure specific heat for air times the temperature increment times the mass. Most of the heat would go into heating solid stuff such as the walls. It looks like my 2000 sq ft house, built when natural gas was almost free but upgraded where feasible, uses 20 MMBTU (200 therms) a month, 90% of which is for heat and 10% for water heating. This is in Sunnyvale California where it might or might not freeze a few days in the winter. Colder climates would be even better opportunities for cogeneration.

    Note that making cogeneration nearly 100% efficient as an electric generating system just requires that all the heat is needed and used. So the need numbers just have to be greater than the supply since existing heat systems could still be used as supplementary heat. So for rough numbers, for my roughly 2000 sq ft house I use about 200 therms or 20 MMBTU (20 x 10^6)BTU in the winter and about 20 therms or 2 MMBTU in the summer (water heater). This means about .7 MMBTU and .07 MMBTU respectively per day, and if we pretend they run 7 hours a day it comes out .1 MMBTU/hr and .01 MMBTU/hr. 2570 BTU/hr is 1.0 hp (I checked.) Putting it in the most useful way, I use 40 hp of heat in the winter and 4 hp of heat in the summer.

    So a heat engine at 40% conversion efficiency would put out the other 60% as waste heat. So a 26 hp engine would produce the 40 hp of heat rate that I need. For the postulated 7 hours of operation per day, we have 26 hp available for (1)car battery charging, (2) household electric power, and (3) for sale to the utility at !!!rates that might come close to competing with coal fuel cost.!!! I am assuming natural gas at about $6 per MMBTU.

    Note that this system puts out two to three times as much electricity per unit of natural gas allocated to electricity production as the big central power plants. There is nothing magic; we just stop wasting heat energy by this system.

    In the summer, it would need to run at 2.6 hp or of course, it could run at 26 hp a tenth of the time.

    (Note that if the car engine was 20% efficient, as most are, then a 10 hp engine would put out the 40 hp of heat that I need in the winter. The implication of this last statement is that a car engine of 100 hp would put out way more than I could use, and would thus be described as inappropriately sized. Even the Prius is a little overpowered to work this way.)

    So operation in the summer when only 4 hp of heat is needed for 7 hours, my proposed 16 hp car engine would put out 24 hp of heat. So its operating time would have to be cut down to a sixth of full time. Here we get to about an hour of operation a day. That is ok since it would come out to about the right amount of electricity generating time needed to charge the car batteries. The house and the grid would need to go on their own as far as electric power goes.

    Doesn’t it sound like this system kind of works out to be practical in a lot of places?

  11. 561

    Correction: I said, “Putting it in the most useful way, I use 40 hp of heat in the winter and 4 hp of heat in the summer.”

    It should be, “Putting it in the most useful way, I use 40 hp of heat rate in the winter and 4 hp of heat rate in the summer.”

  12. 562
    James says:

    Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co. Says (3 February 2009 at 4:37 PM):

    “Doesn’t it sound like this system kind of works out to be practical in a lot of places?”

    Well… no. At least not if you consider other alternatives, and are thinking of Sunnyvale as one of the places where it’d be practical. In most of the Bay Area, you should be able to obtain essentially all of your heat & hot water from solar. If such systems were mass produced, as your car would be, it’d be far cheaper to install one than to buy a new car and modify your house to accept the cogen system, and your costs would be limited to occasional maintenance.

  13. 563
    jcbmack says:

    James is right. Also from such a low hp engine there are other concerns as well, in the way of everyday practical travel.

  14. 564

    You mention the question of global warming and the man-maid threat issue. I know that Gary Hart and Bill Clinton, among others, fully understood the man-maid threat.

    But, more seriously, the visual on this page of

    shows the heating trend over the last 50 years and the last 150 years. It is compelling and convincing. Word arguments can swirl around and around, while a graphic that properly displays information can end all debate (well, at least ending debate from those who have functioning and fair minds).

  15. 565

    Re James #562
    We see the costs differently. It is fundamental to the cogeneration system that the cost of the car is zero. This is expected since it would be the car you would buy when you needed to replace your old car. As it looks right now the car can be quite inexpensive, though this always depends on the trimmings added. I am expecting to use lead acid batteries for starters, and these are very cheap. This is very different for most of the planned electric systems for cars.

    Nearly every house in the SF bay area has natural gas service and it is used not too differently from what I described. Of course it is possible to build a house that uses very little heat at night, but current building codes still leave quite a lot of heating load to the furnace. Beating these building codes requires considerable money. It is even more costly to try to retrofit houses. And even in Sunnyvale the sun does not shine at night, so there are some storage challenges. And it also depends on what is demanded in the way of comfort. But even if you are down to the cost of running a water heater, there is a use for some engine discarded heat. It just will not run for a long time, and in that case the electric power generated would just go to making the car run the next day. At least this would keep the car from being a load for coal to fill.

    For an idea of the cost of plumbing, think of the little radiator in your car heating system. Something a little bigger than this would be in the plenum of your existing forced air furnace. This is just an example.

    In general I think of the house not being replaced but the car will be.

    Re jcbmack #563
    The first task is to get the car working, and yes, it has to work on a low horsepower engine if the cogeneration concept is to work out. James noted that for level travel, even his Insight could get along on about 17hp. Uphill takes more but the batteries provide that additional load for uphill time, with expectation of getting much of it back. For the Miastrada car, the flat, steady 80mph operation only needs 12 hp. 16 hp is planned to give some reserve.

    We have to not think of conventional cars here, which require a lot more power just to push air. Perhaps it is hard to believe that there can be such a difference; here we have to go back to the narrow car concept which enables the airship and why that airship is elevated.

    I think the biggest question is whether the strange looking narrow car will sell.

    It is clear that this is not going to be a fast moving project; as such, it probably will not be a candidate for investment for some time to come. I am only trying now to get some exposure for the ideas since the “getting used to it” factor is maybe the biggest problem.

  16. 566
    jcbmack says:

    With such low hp the vehicle loses marketability. With such a low top speed and uncertainties about the battery it loses any shareholder or private investor confidence. In physics, chemistry and engineering applications it is those batteries that require so much work and ultimately testing, this assumption on return of so much power on a steep hill is premature. The EV applications are more technologically feasible promising more hp and torque while not being overcomplicated by a cogeneration, heating system for homes. The appearance of the vehicle is the least of your problems from both engineering and marketing standpoints, but formidable ones as you and James concede. You need more hp for marketing purposes, Americans want some power, as do most other countries and you have so many ideas that are not doable or reasonably priced; the main faults are in the engineering problems that are NOT currently solved nor can be in the near for- seeable future.I admire your passion and commitment, but home heating is pretty cheap and there are other alternative options appearing that are more feasible: wind, solar, cleaner burning gas etc… We need to save the environment and fight global warming, but it does not seem very viable to buy 3 vehicles to carry a family and keep one hooked up to a house while they are away to keep it warm.

  17. 567
    jcbmack says:

    I will say, however, if you use engineering and your ideas in modified forms for EV and hybrid vehicles you could have some winners on your hand.

  18. 568
    jcbmack says:

    Look folks, with all this talk of good bank, bad bank, TARP, executive salary caps and free market fiasco’s, we need to rely upon green technologies well established, well applicable in engineering & technology, and somewhat accepted by the people as real livable alternatives. On the bright side in environmental science and climate research we now have good people qualified and skilled put in place with some real authority in their areas of specialty; on the dark side the credibility on other fronts of this administration is under attack and this can and WILL affect funding to all sectors including those that deal with conservation, green technologies, climate research, weatherization of homes and new jobs in green sectors. We do have old techniques that can be applied with newer technologies: concrete & steel production, (green)high power DC lines that now are more efficient than AC, proper usage of well placed wind mills, better, more efficient and smaller solar voltaic cells,etc… EV’s are 100% viable from an engineering standpoint, despite what anyone might claim, (Shaw and others) but we need to get the cost down. Hybrids are pretty damned good, and we can produce electricity cleaner,and those light bulbs do make a difference. This car of yours may be able to be modified, but the cogenertaion the way you outline it is not going to happen…ever. Still keep working at it, you may get to an answer just the same.

  19. 569

    #566,#567 jcbmack

    I did not mean to suggest a low top speed. 100 mph and more should be expected. Batteries and electric motors are sized for 0 to 60 mph in 8 seconds.

    I use 80 mph as a basic speed for horsepower calculations. It works out that only 12 hp is needed for that speed. That is a good thing. Getting around fast is the number one requirement. Getting this done efficiently means low horsepower needs. The engine just needs to exceed that.

    The battery need here is unlike that which most are talking about for electric cars. These folks need a lot of battery capacity since they do very little about their vehicle’s need for energy.

    Putting out 12 hp for one hour gets you 80 miles. For that range you need 12 hphr or 9kWhr from the batteries. Lead-acid battery technology was quite well settled a hundred years ago, but with some advances the deep discharge batteries from Costco are rated such that they should put out 50 amps for one hour. (25 amps for 150 minutes is the actual specification.) Two banks of 8 batteries gets you 96 times 2 in voltage, so we should get more than the needed 9 kWhr. These two banks of batteries fit in the wheel trains, in compartments between the wheels.

    This of course does nothing at all similar to what we typically expect of cars, except for speed, comfort, safety, and convenience. And I even add that people get a little ego support from riding in a commanding position in the elevated vehicle so as to look down on many other cars.

    Back to heating the house: The car is not required to do that. But much of the time, such as from 6pm to midnight, cars are typically near their respective households. Then the need to burn fuel in the house would be reduced to the degree that the car heat could fill the need. When the car is away from home, the situation reverts to the house getting its heat entirely from burning natural gas in the conventional way.

    Thanks for carrying on the dialogue.

  20. 570
    jcbmack says:

    Of course, such dialogue may lead to a solution, When I have more time I will make some suggestions.

  21. 571

    #568 jcbmack
    I like your point about “green technologies, well applicable” but think that there are some myths out there about a lot of these.

    Some things that sound good, I am just not so sure about, but would be glad to be convinced.

    A few examples:
    Wind: Although it was on a smaller scale relative to now, the wind farms of the 1970s were largely fakes, designed more to suck money out of subsidies than to really produce energy. Even still, they should be working to at least show the path to something better. But half a dozen times a year I drive over Altamont Pass in California, which might be the best place on earth for wind energy, and nearly every time most of these are idle. Why was the promise of these not fulfilled. Another data point Ontario province power generation schedule which shows wind farms producing energy, but at less than half their capacity at best. (See This is a remarkable site for its forthright honesty unlike anything I can find for California. Anytime anyone makes assertions about power generation, it is a good place to check. Sure, Ontario is not California, but it is not all that different in the mix of sources either.) So I checked and today, they only came up to about a third of capacity and then fell back to about a sixth.

    On the subject of the Ontario Power production, they have a few industrial cogeneration sites that run on natural gas, and these are the ones that run steadily. My guess is that it is practical for them to do so.

    (2) Concentrated solar: Seems like a great idea, but there is something amiss in the reality. Maybe the Sterling engines are not really practical? A huge investment in the 1990s was shut down as not economically viable.

    (3) Solar heating: These work great for our neighborhood swimming pool in the summer, but all those that used to be on roof tops are in disrepair or gone. Even this simple stuff has to be kept up. So no, it is not cost free.

    (4) PV solar: I have tried to keep up with this technology for many years, and a few months ago I was encouraged by the Cadmium Teluride panel technology. Even though this seems to be a cost breakthrough it takes more area to make it produce enough. The upshot was that the company licensed for this refused to come out and give me an estimate on the basis that there were a couple trees that would cut down morning and evening sun exposure. The general conclusion that $20 to $40 thousand is the installed cost of a meaningful system still seems valid.

    The story goes on, but my general conclusion is that the “green technologies” are not so well established as we are led to believe by those promoting them.

    It seems that the basic equipment of most if not all of these is really quite capital intensive.

    Although it is not absolutely proven, I think the cogeneration concept has a very low capital requirement, relatively speaking.

    Whether or not the cogeneration concept is viable, I think the high efficiency car could well be. In fact, for those who think a car can be powered by solar PV power, they would have a much more viable situation on their hands if the car only needed 9 kWhr to go 80 miles fast. A 2kW peak panel system should get the job done on most days. Even that will cost $10 to $20 thousand but at least we are getting closer to feasibility.

    ( THE CAPTCHA words say “be humble”. I say, the heck with that.)

  22. 572
    jcbmack says:

    there is always risk involved in any business, investment, marketing venture. This is especially true when it comes to newer technologies where the sharks come out to make a fast buck without actual sincere concern for the actual basis for such an improvement or whether it ultimately works or not. Think of tax write offs, bankruptcy protection and a temporary increase in jobs. In the case of wind mills, yes they were off to a slow start and even now many people get too ambitious with them and want to turn a billion dollars into 10-15 billion dollars without proper independent oversight, engineering and placement issues carefully thought through, and time constraints largely ignored. Wind mills can be very efficient and in some cases are used correctly and efficiently. Mainly, what stops wind mills is voters and too much spending where it is not necessary. The technology is very sound nowadays. An EV can absolutely hit 100 plus mph and go 300 plus miles on a charge, but car companies do not want this neither does the oil industry, though the opportunities are beginning to appear as there is a greater sense of urgency and marketing trends meet with the Obama image and symbology. Hybrids are not what EV’s could have been, but they are getting real efficient and are more viable. Home heating is still dirt cheap even when paying a little more for alternative heating sources. Electricity is plentiful. I think cogeneration will get very expensive based upon the money needed to invest just to make cogeneration efficient enough and marketable. The technology has come a long way, I suggest you grab some of those engineering books and manuals available. Britannica also offers many interesting insights into heat transfer, batteries, hybrids, solar panels, material chemistry and physics.

    Also Infinite Energy is an interesting publication you may want to check out.

    Cogeneration is actually your biggest challenge, let me know about your ideas based on science, math and engineering on how to solve those issues.

  23. 573
    jcbmack says:

    Now on that note I am busy with work and research so I wish you good luck. I recommend Britannica and not wikipedia because wikipedia is an open format encyclopedia which stresses the wrong areas on a given subject even when it is not inaccurate. I also suggest you get your hands on engineering journals and take a loo at how you are going to get that plumbing and electrical work to work in synergy smoothly.

    Britannica stresses the right areas of focus and gives enough details to get started and then reference specialty textbooks and applicable journals. Again good luck! Feel free to email me at or drop a comment on my blog

  24. 574

    RE jcbmack and James,

    At the industrial level, cogeneration is common practice. If you have the main machinery present for other reasons, at least for first order analysis, the system is free. None of the sustainable electric producing methods have that advantage. The system I suggest is a simple scaled version of industrial systems.

    I rely a lot on experimental data to give me confidence that a car can be as efficient as I say. For example is the drag data for the airship. Perhaps the definitive measurements on that airship are reported in This 1933 report by Freeman needs to be read with a realization that they formulated the drag force equation based on a different definition of drag coefficient than is now standards in fluid dynamics. That is, instead of frontal area, they use volume to the 2/3 power. Consequently the measured Cd of .02 is more like .05 in current literature.

    You can read this report either by searching at the NASA reports server or using the link.

  25. 575

    I checked the link above and found that it goes wrong if the period after pdf is included. Delete the period and then it is ok.

    Here it is cleaned up of the period.

  26. 576
    James says:

    A few points:

    “Putting out 12 hp for one hour gets you 80 miles.”

    On level ground. Suppose you need to climb from sea level to 8500 ft in those 80 miles? (Not an unrealistic example: at one time I was doing it once every couple of weeks.)

    “But half a dozen times a year I drive over Altamont Pass in California, which might be the best place on earth for wind energy, and nearly every time most of these are idle.”

    What time of day? That drive also took me over Altamont, often enough to know that while the winds are fairly light in the morning & early afternoon, they really pick up after dark.

    “At the industrial level, cogeneration is common practice. If you have the main machinery present for other reasons, at least for first order analysis, the system is free.”

    Your system, though, is almost the opposite of standard industrial cogeneration. Rather than having the equipment (or more usually, the heat source) present, so that you get useful energy out of what would otherwise be wasted, you’re driving in a fairly expensive piece of equipment that uses a resource at less than best efficiency. It’d be more efficient to use a purpose-built home heating system (which you’d need anyway, for times the car’s away), than to waste part of the energy content of the heating fuel in driving an electric generator.

  27. 577
    Rod B says:

    James (576), a curious aside: Does that mean the wind turbines at Altamont Pass generate most of their power when it is least needed and don’t generate much when it is needed? Or is there some mechanisms that allow better efficiency there?

  28. 578
    dhogaza says:

    Remember that Altamont Pass is a very old project and much has been learned about design and siting since then.

  29. 579
    dhogaza says:

    However the answer to your question appears to be “no” (wikipedia):

    An advantage of this particular site is that under hot inland (California Central Valley) conditions a thermal low is developed that brings in cool coastal marine air through this pass, driving the turbines at a time of maximum need. Unfortunately this is not always reliable and with an inland high pressure condition the entire region can be both hot and windless. At this time additional power is provided by natural gas powered gas turbine peaker plants. Future development of solar power stations may provide a complementary source of renewable energy, because summertime heat events often feature abundant sunshine to compensate for the low winds.

  30. 580
    James says:

    Rod B: I can’t do more than guess at how the wind patterns at Altamont match up with demand. I have only the experience of driving I580/205 every week or two for a couple of years. Mornings and early afternoons (when I tried to do the eastbound) there was seldom much wind; late evening up to midnight, when I’d usually be headed westbound, I’d usually be pushing into a substantial headwind, and if there was enough moon I could see the turbines whirring away.

    But in any case, the power generated at Altamont is only a fraction of demand, so it would be used whenever generated.

  31. 581

    Re James #576

    That is a great question, though most people do not actually make such a climb. My weight budget is 2400 lb. So lifting that 8500 ft requires 20.4 x 10^6 ftlb and doing that in an hour makes it very easy to calculate since it makes the units into ftlb/hr. Divide by 3600 to get into ftlb/sec and use the definition that 1 hp = 550 ftlb/sec. Answer: 10.3 hp. That puts us at 22 hp needed for constant speed operation at 80 mph. With a 16 hp engine and batteries half charged you could get to that 8500 ft peak with no problem. If you went down hill to Lake Tahoe level you would get back some charge; isn’t Lake Tahoe 5000 ft? Anyway, these numbers seem quite encouraging. Of course they are rough calculations, but there seems to be enough margin in the story to make things work.

    Your Honda Insight has to work harder since it faces four times the air drag, and this forces you to work the engine a lot harder to keep speed at 80 mph. (Fd = Cd x A x .0012 x V^2) Force is in lb, Area, A, is in ft^2 and V, velocity, is in ft/sec.)

    Also re Rod B and dhogaza,
    Yes the wind goes up significantly at late afternoon and evening hours. Maybe it is still going an hour after dark, but judging from the wind on SF bay, its all over before long.

    Yes they have learned some things about siting for wind farms. Everyone knew that Altamont pass had wind so not much needed to be learned. A more general idea of wind potential can be seen for the example Ontario Canada at

    This data is ground truth, unlike anything I can find for California. Ontario had a very ambitious wind program over the last ten years so it can be thought of as fairly up to date information, at least for that region.

  32. 582
    James says:

    OK, let’s look at that calculation a different way. It’s not a constant climb, but sections of different grades (even the occasional downhill). The maximum grade you’re likely to see on a major highway is 7% (though I’ve biked up grades of 18% or more in Europe – and been passed by grey-haired Swiss couples carrying their weekly shopping :-() Just lifting a 2400 lb car up that grade at 60 mph takes an input power of 14,764 ft-lb/sec, or 26.9 hp, over & above what it takes to drive on the level. So unless my math’s off, you’d need about 40 hp for acceptable performance.

    That’s also assuming you’ve got an electric drive, so no issues with the car being geared properly, so as to get into the max power range at the desired speed. That’s one area where I admit the Insight suffers: it really needs an extra gear or two for mountain driving.

    I do agree with your point about the downhills. Though Tahoe is at about 6228 ft (lake level varies a few feet, depending on season and precipitation), I live around 5000. It irritates me no end to have to burn gas to climb the hills, then waste all that energy in braking on the downhill side.

  33. 583


    While I have to admire your moxy, you appear to have ignored a significant amount of motor vehicle engineering.

    One area where you seem most at risk of running into a brick wall has to do with both motor size and the choice of battery technologies. Yes, lead-acid is very cheap — I own about half a ton of them and I didn’t go greatly into debt. But that half ton of flooded lead-acid batteries is much heavier than the comparable weight of any reasonable modern technology.

    Now for a bit of math. A 16 HP DC motor takes no less than 12KW to operate. 12KWH of lead-acid is about 600 pounds (computed for GC2 class flooded lead-acid traction batteries). Care to do the math to turn the acceleration of that mass (do not quibble that pounds are force!) into power? That’s where the problem is going to be — the power required to ACCELERATE a mass is huge compared to highly aerodynamic bodies moving against wind resistance. Hint: the integral of power with respect to time is equal to the mass times velocity (someone check my ancient math skills — it’s 1AM and I’m not going to drink coffee to improve my math skills).

    You’re fighting against yourself — lower the drag to reduce engine size, and you lose acceleration due to reduced engine size. Assuming a 1,000 pound car with zero rolling and wind resistance, a 1HP engine CAN accelerate it to freeway speeds. Eventually. 1,000 pounds at 88 ft/s (60MPH) is 88,000 ft-lb / s, or 160 seconds at 1HP (550 lb-ft / s). My motorcycle has a 27HP DC motor and is about 700 pounds with vehicle and rider and it greatly reduces battery power going from a standing start to 60MPH on the freeway — and that’s just 27HP to move what would be the mass of a 12KWH battery pack, which was sized based on a 16HP motor operating for one hour. Getting that same 1,000 pound car to 88,000 ft-lb / s in 15 seconds is 11HP, assuming 100% efficiency and both zero rolling and wind resistance. Starting to see the problem?

    Proper electric vehicle design takes more than looking at power to overcome drag on a level road at a constant speed. You have to consider all modes of operation on all foreseeable terrains.

    (As a side note, I’ve read hundreds of patents and applications and yours looks to be self-filed. Care to share a little bit about how you filed?)

  34. 584
    Rod B says:

    James, dhogaza: Thanks for the responses and info; all sounds reasonable.

  35. 585
    jcbmack says:

    Exactly my point, the car will not work. And all that engineering and math can be found in Britannica to show why. As can introductory engineering courses:)Dhogaza thanks for your much needed post…been very busy lately.

  36. 586

    James #582,

    I am not sure but I think you unnecessarily complicated the problem with the grade question. The only thing that counts is how fast you gain altitude, that altitude gain being 8500/5280 miles. So you are only going up 1.7 miles. If you do it in an hour that is only 1.7 mph. The 60 mph speed is not applicable; for example it could be 600 mph and you could go down to Bakersfield on the way to that 8500 peak, and the vertical rate of motion would still be 1.7 mph. Problems have to be easy for someone my age.

    Furry #583,

    Acceleration is indeed the biggest load on the motors. I use 4 dc motors that are rated for about 18 hp each continuous. But these can be operated at a much higher horsepower for 8 seconds which is the time requirement for getting from zero to 60 mph. Things get a little hot if you use the motors to brake back to zero, and repeat this over and over without a break. But your conventional car brakes will have a little trouble with this kind of usage as well.

    I have not sorted out the diffences in the way we calculate things, but you are getting numbers that seem similar to mine. But your point is well taken that the load is significant. This really shows how electric motors can really be used to advantage as does the point Steve made about climbing loads. Where they are used like this as load levelers in conjunction with an internal combustion engine that is highly optimized for a fixed load, the system can be very efficient. (This is not my idea; Toyota worked this out quite effectively with the Prius.)

    I have a fair amount of practice in self-filing patents. Hopefully they are not too clumsy. This one was a real struggle with the first examiner, and the process made it probably better but it seemed to come out unnecessarily awkward. Anyway, I found the book by Pressman, “Patent It Yourself”, to be very useful.

    I should say that while I am working out the design for the demonstration car using lead acid batteries, there is no constraint that would restrict the car to this very heavy type. Things can only get better as better batteries come along. But I do not think that batteries that cost upwards of $10,000 are viable as part of a practical system. The other reason for choosing to work with a $1000 set of batteries is that we are only talking about a concept demonstration at this time. I think this is how things have to be to get something really new started.

  37. 587
    James says:

    “I am not sure but I think you unnecessarily complicated the problem with the grade question. The only thing that counts is how fast you gain altitude…”

    One of us (though I don’t rule out both) is obviously missing something. While you need the same amount of energy to raise a mass a given distance, the power required depends – by definition – on the time taken. Isn’t it obvious that the power needed to maintain speed on a grade increases with the steepness of the grade? If you stretch out an 8500 ft climb over a thousand miles, you won’t even notice it – it’d be about like driving from Omaha to Denver. Now try to do it in one mile…

    The point I was trying to make is about driving on a real highway. That particular route’s one I know well, and the climb makes it a pretty good test case for whether a car’s drivable in reasonable conditions. Maybe I wasn’t being explicit enough when I just said that it climbs about 8500 ft in 80 miles, because the climb isn’t a smooth grade. There are some fairly steep parts, some less so, and even several substantial downhill sections. To be drivable (to my taste, anyway), a car has to be able to maintain speed on the steepest parts, which is going to require a certain power output.

  38. 588


    I think the point of the discussion is that what you’ve described is not a workable vehicle. For one thing, while having 4 18HP motors is a much better way of making sure the vehicle moves right along, you’re starting to complicate a system which must have “gets me home” as a failure path. I know what $1,000 will buy in batteries — $1,000 is about 10KWH in reasonable quality traction batteries and that’s not enough to move all that far down the road. I hope you didn’t buy $1,000 of SLI batteries — they are cheaper than deep cycle and traction batteries, but the plates will warp the first time you try getting any kind of power for any length of time out of them.

    This ignores other factors like sprung versus unsprung weight, system complexity, safety, jack-knifing, and so on. Not sure why something having a body like your design above an F-1 type suspension wouldn’t be better. Sure, you win big with low Cd on the body, but the size and complexity of what’s below looks like it can’t be all that practical on anything other than a pristine road. Three points define a plane, and you look to have about 6 wheels or so.

    The proof is in the pudding, so I’ll wait to see what it looks like when your done.

  39. 589
    Mark says:

    FHC one thing is that a 1000 lb vehicle is actually quite heavy. Reduce the weight.

  40. 590

    Re Mark #589

    Those who think that weight reduction is where most progress can be made are starting with the assumption that the basic car form is an absolute requirement. I make a huge break with that rule so that all the assumptions have to be reconsidered. A well known expert named Amory Lovins touts a “Hypercar” concept. He thinks this is the ultimate car. And he thinks that weight reduction is the path to great progress. He is wrong in his emphasis. If you look at his Hypercar you will see that he is still stuck on the wide, flat bottomed, four wheel vehicle as a basic starting point. He is unable to rise above the idea that people have to sit side by side in a car. On this basis, weight reduction is the only thing left.

    My approach is to start with a thin car where tandem seating is the starting point. Then the breakthrough was the combination of steering and stabilization that made the dynamic operation work for this thin arrangement. I originally expected this would cut air drag force in half, assuming reasonable aerodynamic provisions. However, I was surprised to find that a whole separate breakthrough was possible using an elevated airship configuration. Everything about cars has to be reconsidered.

    Furry #588

    The stabilizing and steering system is accomplished with an articulated vehicle which flexes about two axes. The six wheels stay on the ground due to this flexible arrangement.

    Actually the weight budget I am working to is 2400 lb and actual results could go over. For freeway travel, assuming it is moving ok, aerodynamic drag force is far more important than rolling resistance. Of these resistance forces, only rolling resistance has anything to do with weight. And this is mostly due to tires which are usually about have a rolling resistance coefficient of about .01. There are a few that do a lot better, one production tire is .0065 according to reports that seem reliable. Drag force due to rolling resistance is that rolling resistance coefficient times the weight. It does not matter much how many tires you have since the whole weight of the vehicle times the rolling resistance coefficient gives the overall rolling resistance drag force.

    James #587

    I made a mistake in saying “I am not sure.” and

    jcbmack #585

    Come on all of you. Dust off those freshman physics books. All you need to read is the F=ma chapter. Well, while you have them out take a look a the chapter on the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Britanica is fine but a lot harder to drag around like I dragged my Sears and Zemansky text through all my work history.

    I like the MIT physics text by Sears which was popular for a couple generations around my time. All you need to remember about the Second Law is the Carnot efficiency equation which he says is a “corollary” to that Second Law. However, he discusses practical implications to heat engines in general. I picked up a couple more recent freshman physics texts and was a little concerned at how badly this subject was handled. No wonder most people think central power plants are a good way to make electricity–and think I am nuts for talking about changing this to a distributed cogeneration system.

  41. 591
    James says:

    “No wonder most people think central power plants are a good way to make electricity–and think I am nuts for talking about changing this to a distributed cogeneration system.”

    I think you may be missing the point there. It’s not the distributed part that’s the problem, but the cogeneration part. Distributed generation is fine if it’s a bunch of PV panels on roofs, wind turbines in back yards, dairy farms generating power from cow gas, or anything that doesn’t emit more fossil CO2. But you’re inventing a system that uses fossil fuels to produce domestic power at much lower efficiency than at central generating stations, and in the process locking in even more fossil fuel burning. What’s needed is to move every system possible away from that.

    On the question of wide, flat-bottomed cars vs your “dirigible” design, being low to the ground is a big factor in making cars more fun to drive, which in turn gets people to buy them.

  42. 592

    Re #591 James,

    Did you ever ask yourself why is it fun to drive low to the ground?

    Even the market shows otherwise. Look at 100 years of automotive history and you will see that low cars do not usually make it in a large way. My conclusion is that when all the talk is over, people really do not like to ride puny. In fact, I think it may turn out that riding tall wins.

    Is there anything really more silly than using cow gas? How much power do you really think you can get from a few cows? As you drive past Harris Ranch, you might see enough cows to make a little energy; have fun collecting it. It would cost something to get me to do it. I lived some, not much, of my life on a farm

    I can not comprehend why you think central power plants are all that efficient, except perhaps that electric power companies tell us they are. Their designers are faced with the same problem of making too much NOx when they get the temperature too high that internal combustion engine designers face. And there is no use made of the discharged heat at all. And I can not see why you do not see the advantage of a 16 hp engine, free because it is in the car you would, could, should have anyway, hooked to household heat using devices. The electrical generation efficiency in the cogeneration is 100% as long as all the heat discharged from that engine is used in place of heat that would have been made by burning natural gas. The key: no energy is wasted.

    But you correctly point out how people think. Auto fashion and misleading information about power plants is the basis of our technical decisions. I am trying to say that now is the time to try to rethink some of our assumptions.

  43. 593
    jcbmack says:

    Freshman physics will not solve these problems either I am afraid. The electric motor is the most powerful engine period, this much is true. Actually freshman physics explains why these vehicles will not work. What I wonder, Jim is can you extrapolate from both the freshman physics textbooks and more advanced ones why these vehicles are feasible? What are the working equations, units, laws, and theories involved? How can one reconcile the physics with engineering problems? Between PPRUNE and work-wife I have been busy as of late, but I am curious what you mean these textbooks delineate answers to many problems you are faced with and questions we have asked.

  44. 594
    Gordon Elliott says:

    George Will’s recent column repeats very similar misinformation. Here can be viewed in Kansas City Star, the original in Washington Times is not easily accessed: .

    **All this makes it difficult for many to recall that in the 1970s “a major cooling of the planet” was “widely considered inevitable” because it was “well established” that the Northern Hemisphere’s climate “has been getting cooler since about 1950” (The New York Times, May 21, 1975).

    Although some disputed that the “cooling trend” could result in “a return to another ice age” (The Times, Sept. 14, 1975), others expected “a full-blown 10,000-year ice age” involving “extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation” (Science News, March 1, 1975, and Science magazine, Dec. 10, 1976). The “continued rapid cooling of the Earth” (Global Ecology, 1971) meant that “a new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery” (International Wildlife, July 1975). Because of “ominous signs” that “the Earth’s climate seems to be cooling down,” meteorologists were “almost unanimous” that “the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century,” perhaps triggering catastrophic famines (Newsweek cover story, “The Cooling World,” April 28, 1975).

    Armadillos were fleeing south from Nebraska, heat-seeking snails were retreating from central European forests, the North Atlantic was “cooling down about as fast as an ocean can cool,” glaciers had “begun to advance” and “growing seasons in England and Scandinavia are getting shorter” (Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 27, 1974).

    Speaking of experts, in 1980 Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford scientist and environmental Cassandra who predicted calamitous food shortages by 1990, accepted a bet with economist Julian Simon. When Ehrlich predicted the imminent exhaustion of many non-renewable natural resources, Simon challenged him: Pick a “basket” of any five such commodities, and I will wager that in a decade the price of the basket will decline, indicating decreased scarcity. Ehrlich picked five metals — chrome, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten — that he predicted would become more expensive. Not only did the price of the basket decline, the price of all five declined.

    An expert Ehrlich consulted in picking the five was John Holdren, who today is President Obama’s science adviser. Credentialed intellectuals illustrate Montaigne’s axiom: “Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know.”**

    He goes on to point out that “environment” has taken back seat to economy in voter’s minds. He ends with:

    **Besides, according to the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade, or one-third of the span since the global cooling scare.**

    Information is needed for letter writers, bloggers, and anyone else interested in replying to the misrepresentations in this material.

  45. 595

    I linked my 9 months out-of-date website that I NEED to get back to. Kansas legislature is considering the building of another power plant again, possibly stripping the Governor’s office ruling that considers carbon dioxide a pollutant and denies a power plant permit.

    The Kansas legislature largely holds beliefs similar to the Will presentation, and takes seriously the misinformation and misrepresentations from the media. They will use this misinformation in their policy decision making. There are many in the legislature who are more careful in their study — I do not mean to berate Kansas legislators as a class. Rather I fear that they are victims of the politics and media system we have.

    Your site has a wealth of useful information, and my previous post is a request for help as it can be given, not a statement that you all are not doing a wonderful job. Thanks so much.

  46. 596

    re jcbmack last, and furrycatherder last,

    Sorry to be slow to respond. Yes, Britanica will take this into several areas that are needed beyond basic physics. I was mostly thinking about definitions of work, power, etc, and the fact that energy needed to increase elevation can be considered separately from the energy needed to travel horizontally.

    Before focusing on technical relationships per se, maybe it would be more interesting to relate this to the concept a bit more.

    Originally it was intended to find a way to make a narrow vehicle which led to a combined steering and stabilizing system in an articulated vehicle. There are many variations possible based on the resulting wheel system which was the starting point for the present Miastrada configuration. The basic concept that motivated the steering and stabilizing system was driven by my perceived need to make more cars fit on roads and in parking spaces. By making the car half wide, it seemed that there would be a gain in fuel efficiency. The fundamental physics relationship between velocity and radial acceleration gives the performance requirements for the stabilizing system that would make this work.

    A second part of the development was to fit this with an aerodynamic body. That turned out to be a huge benefit that was much more than initially expected.

    The same kind of thinking that led to SWATH ship (Small Waterplane Area, Twin Hull) configurations led to my enthusiasm for the elevated airship that is now the baseline Miastrada concept. The struts that allowed the hulls of the SWATH ships to interact with the water in a way that circumvented the Kelvin wave problem that limits performance of displacement hull of typical surface ships was kind of turned upside down to allow the airship to function aerodynamically as if it was functioning in free flow conditions. The basic character of the SWATH ship pays off by eliminating the well known “hull speed” that sets a practical limit to ship speed.

    A variation of the SWATH ship can be seen at Wikipedia by searching on “Sea Shadow”, though that version has other features that are given more emphasis. Other SWATH ships have been in existence that are more simple demonstrations of the hulls under water but connected by struts to the above water parts of the ship.

    It has been suggested that a hovercraft concept could also avoid the hull speed limitation on the water, but for road operation that concept seems inferior to a wheel system where wheels cause relatively low drag resistance, if done right. The hovercraft requires significant energy to keep the air cushion effect going, whether the vehicle is moving or not; and it works best if the base surface is quite smooth.

    Miastrada is now configured based on the USS Akron airship as scale model tested in 1933 (Freeman 1933 NACA reports) as the ZRS-4. The remarkably low air drag is so very different from the usual bluff body that is the standard car, it has to be implemented in a useful form. Instead of struts as in the SWATH waterships, Miastrada uses posts and stays, more like arrangements that make sailboat masts and stays very effective in handling special kinds of forces. Such post and stay construction appears to quite adequately maintain free flow aerodynamic conditions, which are critical. I particularly base my confidence in this on the work of Morelli, 1983 where it is adapted in particular to the elevated airship instead of the form he used.

    I proved you right, this is not in basic physics texts.

    If you link to the current patent page at you will see the recently published patent application that shows the wheel system in more detail. However, while the original vehicle patent disclosed vehicle variations that could be interesting in off road applications the real payoff of the high efficiency airship based body comes at highway speeds that would probably not be so relevant for off road use.

    There is often a reaction to the “design” which seems to refer to appearance aspects of the design. Yes, that is a barrier to widespread acceptance. Without a strong motivation from high fuel prices, it will be hard to overcome this barrier. Hence, the time might not yet be right. There may be some design work that could help make the visual appeal better, but it has to take a far back seat to technological function design. I have no interest in such efforts which I worry might wrongly shift the emphasis from performance to fashion appeal.

    Because the vehicle I show looks very different, a common reaction is that it will entail “a hefty development price” I do not see this as being so hefty, but at the same time, I have to acknowledge that Miastrada is still in the experimental category, and may evolve somewhat before it gets finalized. That is ok, and maybe the timing will work out such that high priced gasoline will return when the car is ready.

    Yes, furry, there is work to be done to prove “the pudding.”

    Best regards and thanks for the questions.

    But again I assert that solutions to global warming such as this could lead to much progress.

    Best regards, Jim Bullis, Miastrada Company