Volatile Matters - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Volatile Matters
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FUEL CELLS AND EXPLOSIONS
Re: Reid Collins’s Nine 9’s:

Although it doesn’t detract from Reid Collins’ excellent argument regarding reliability and why we continue to explore space, accuracy demands that I rise up from my retirement and dig back into my days as a Test Engineer on the Fuel Cell/Cryogenic Systems on the Apollo space capsule. Having personally been “responsible” for ruining three prototype fuel cells at $375,000 each during an early test run, I think I have paid my dues and know whereof I speak.

The explosion on Apollo 13 was not in a “fuel cell tank” of which there are several, but in the main oxygen tank which supplied oxygen to mix with hydrogen in the fuel cells to produce electricity and potable water. This resulted in an electrical power and oxygen shortage requiring all those inventive workarounds while the astronauts waited out their return from space.

To make such an erroneous statement as Mr. Collins has done is to suggest that fuel cells are in themselves subject to explosions and are therefore dangerous. The possibility of an explosion in a fuel cell itself is minuscule compared with the possibility of an explosion in the fuel cell’s fuel tanks. Any collection of oxygen and/or hydrogen in tanks anywhere, whether it be on a spacecraft or an automobile, is dangerous. But then, so were Ford Pinto automobile gas tanks!

As an aside, one might ask where the hydrogen and oxygen that a fuel cell in an automobile would use comes from? From water, broken down by electrolysis (passing electricity through the water), just the reverse of the fuel cell’s process whereby electricity and water are reclaimed from the two gasses. Now, where does the electricity come from which is used to break the water down into hydrogen and oxygen? Duh! From electrical power plants of course, burning natural gas or fuel oil, or nuclear power plants or water power or solar power or wind power.

There ain’t no free lunch! I no longer know the exact figures, but roughly speaking, approximately 30% of the energy contained in crude oil can be turned into electricity, and approximately 30% of the energy contained in that electricity can be converted to hydrogen and oxygen, and approximately 30% of the energy contained in the hydrogen and oxygen can be converted back to electricity by a fuel cell, and approximately 30% of the energy contained in that electricity can be converted to mechanical energy to drive an automobile down the highway. The rest of the energy is wasted as heat.

Others are invited to suggest more accurate percentages than I have used, but even if we are most generous and allow that 80% efficiency in each of the above-listed conversions is more accurate, we still have 0.8 X 0.8 X 0.8 X 0.8 = 0.4096, which equals 41% conversion efficiency. I wonder how that compares with the efficiency of an internal combustion engine? (Again, one of your readers probably knows the answer so I won’t bother to research it.)

Of course, all the pollution in the fuel cell sequence comes at the electrical power plant stage, assuming either natural gas or oil, so that’s an advantage of burning hydrogen and oxygen in an automobile. Energy conservation, however, isn’t one. We are still going to have to build more nuclear power plants, or start drilling in Alaska some day.
Bob Johnson
Bedford, TX

Reid Collins replies:
Johnson’s letter misquotes the piece. I did not call what exploded in Apollo 13 a “fuel cell tank” as he puts it (and in quotes). I called it a cell tank, which it was, an oxygen tank that supplies the fuel cell with the oxygen side of the hydrogen mix that creates electricity.

Johnson goes on to say “to make such an erroneous statement as Mr. Collins has done is to suggest that fuel cells are themselves subject to explosions and are therefor dangerous.” In the next sentence he goes on to say that the tanks that supply the fuel cells are indeed subject to explosion. So the cells themselves are not explosive, only the tanks that feed and make them operate.

The Johnson complaint is based on a misread of what was actually written and in fact becomes a launching pad for his exposition of knowledge of energy conversion.

As a writer, I object to being misquoted. As a taxpayer, I especially object to being misquoted by someone whose admitted incompetence has cost us $1,125,000.00!

UNDER THE BORDER WALK
Re: Bill Tucker’s and Bruce Demo’s letters in Reader Mail’s Why Even Border?:

Mr. Tucker makes an erroneous assumption about our “37,000 effective border guards” in South Korea. The vast majority of those troops are not stationed near the border, some south of Seoul. U.S. troops only patrol one small stretch of the border around Panmunjom. The rest of the border is guarded by the South Koreans (as well as mines). And that small stretch of border patrolled by the U.S. keeps busy most of an entire US Infantry Battalion at any given moment. During my tour, the five infantry battalions in the 2nd ID each rotated for part of the year to handle that job.

In addition, the North patrols their side of the border to prevent potential escapees. Here in the U.S., the border is vastly larger and the Mexican Army isn’t going to be patrolling the border to stop illegal immigrants. Also, mining such a huge border effectively would be a massive investment.

Finally, Mr. Demo is correct. Guarding a border to prevent illegal immigrants is a police job. Using troops for that task will ruin them for combat. It also would expose them to bribery by smugglers (privates make a lot less than border cops). But most of the world would love to see the U.S. blunting its military and changing them into border cops incapable of stopping aggression beyond unarmed illegals.
Leonard Speakman
Hockessin, DE

HE’S JUST OUR BILL
Re: The Washington Prowler’s One Shot Politics:

Representative McCollum ran against a high profile name in Florida. Senator Nelson’s name was extremely well known in the state. Unfortunately, there are many voters who used that as a criterion. There are many now who regret their decision.

I think Representative McCollum would make an excellent choice.
Martha Craig

WORLD NET DAILY UPDATE
Re: Jeremy Lott’s Pounding Ploughshares Into Swords and Joseph Farah’s letter in Reader Mail’s Why Even Border?:

After reading Jeremy Lott’s “Pounding Ploughshares Into Swords” and then reading Joseph Farah’s response to it, I have to say I have never seen such an outright misreading of a fairly complimentary article. For someone in a supposed editorial position, Mr. Farah apparently lacks even the most basic reading comprehension ability. And just because he doesn’t like the word “conservative” doesn’t mean that he isn’t one.

Mr. Farah needs a reality check. Consider his recent column of sympathy for Texas murderer Clara Harris where he wrote, “Send a message far and wide — no cheating husband is safe from the wrath of his angry wife. And, vice versa, no cheating wife is safe from the wrath of an angry husband. There is a price to pay. Sometimes it’s the ultimate price.” In the column, Mr. Farah plainly advocates the murder of adulterers without involving the justice system.

Mr. Farah may take offense that a former employee would call his publication conservative, and, on second thought, he may be right. From now on, I’ll just call him a [flake].
Jay Dillon
Atlanta, GA

I’ve just finished reading Farah’s letter and your reply, having read your article the other day and not finding anything objectionable in it. What’s the matter with Joseph, I wonder? His tirade is a showcase of self-righteous hysteria, which surely must have something other than your article behind it. Anyone would think that you were a Clintonista threatening to slip a poison pill into his drink. I used to read WorldNetDaily, though I’ve drifted away. This certainly gives readers something to think about, but not perhaps with the sympathy that Farah hoped for.
Amanda Bernsen

Mr. Lott’s confusion on the World Net Daily isn’t terribly surprising. Anything that isn’t well left of center is, by today’s liberal standards, ultra-far-right-wing and conservative. While the editors and staff of WND may indeed be conservative, the daily output is well balanced with views from left, right and center. I find it funny, in a tragic way I suppose, that liberals today are generally so far to the left that the center looks to them to be an extreme right-wing position.
Jeff Swett
Goffstown, NH

My name is spelled: ILANA MERCER. Moreover, I write quite explicitly, at times erotically (see my film reviews, and pop culture section on my site) and have never been curtailed/censored by WND.com.
Ilana Mercer
www.ilanamercer.com

NRO A-GO-GO
Re: Jorge Fallas’s “Growth Spurt” letter in Reader Mail’s Why Even Border?:

It’s too bad Mr. Fallas can’t read both The American Prowler and National Review Online regularly, as I do, because they are both excellent and refreshing.
Greg Barnard
Franklin, TN

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