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Why we're not going to see sub-orbital airliners

Sorry folks, but we're just not.

One of the failure modes of extrapolative SF is to assume that just because something is technologically feasible, it will happen: I'm picking on sub-orbital passenger travel as an example of this panglossian optimism because I got sucked into a thread on twitter the other day and I think it's worth explaining my objection to it in a format that permits me to write more than 140 characters at a time.

The proximate cause of my objection was someone asserting that Virgin Galactic's business model is ultimately targeting sub-orbital flights between continents, rather than brief bouts of free-fall tourism for the rich. At first glance, this isn't an obviously stupid assertion: enough folks have signed up for the sub-orbital tourist package that there's clearly demand, various companies have been buying patches of isolated terrain as sites for spaceports (even in Scotland), and there's a British start-up proposing to build an air-breathing hypersonic carrier craft for satellite launches and passenger travel. It's a perennial dream technology that keeps coming back from the dead, because the idea of flying from Heathrow to Sydney in three hours instead of 22 is obviously appealing to those of us who occasionally fly LHR-SYD.

Except ... it's bunk. Let me explain why.

Let's start with a simple normative assumption; that sub-orbital spaceplanes are going to obey the laws of physics. One consequence of this is that the amount of energy it takes to get from A to B via hypersonic airliner is going to exceed the energy input it takes to cover the same distance using a subsonic jet, by quite a margin. Yes, we can save some fuel by travelling above the atmosphere and cutting air resistance, but it's not a free lunch: you expend energy getting up to altitude and speed, and the fuel burn for going faster rises nonlinearly with speed. Concorde, flying trans-Atlantic at Mach 2.0, burned about the same amount of fuel as a Boeing 747 of similar vintage flying trans-Atlantic at Mach 0.85 ... while carrying less than a quarter as many passengers.

Rockets aren't a magic technology. Neither are hybrid hypersonic air-breathing gadgets like Reaction Engines' Sabre engine. It's going to be a wee bit expensive. But let's suppose we can get the price down far enough that a seat in a Mach 5 to Mach 10 hypersonic or sub-orbital passenger aircraft is cost-competitive with a high-end first class seat on a subsonic jet. Surely the super-rich will all switch to hypersonic services in a shot, just as they used Concorde to commute between New York and London back before Airbus killed it off by cancelling support after the 30-year operational milestone?

Well, no.

Firstly, this is the post-9/11 age. Obviously security is a consideration for all civil aviation, right? Well, no: business jets are largely exempt, thanks to lobbying by their operators, backed up by their billionaire owners. But those of us who travel by civil airliners open to the general ticket-buying public are all suspects. If something goes wrong with a scheduled service, fighters are scrambled to intercept it, lest some fruitcake tries to fly it into a skyscraper.

It's going to be a lot harder to intercept a hypersonic service, to say the least. If nothing else, the reaction time will shrink by an order of magnitude. Today, it takes perhaps 2-5 minutes to get an RAF QRA Typhoon-II into the air. It can then go supersonic and overhaul a subsonic target at relatively high speed. From Coningsby or Leuchars a Typhoon-II can reach just about any spot over the UK in 15-20 minutes, in which time a subsonic airliner can travel perhaps 100-200 miles. The picture is very different for a hypersonic passenger craft. In 20 minutes such an aircraft would travel somewhere between 1000 and 3000 miles. None of today's military aircraft are up to the job of intercepting it, and indeed, active radar can't even track it effectively—for that, you'd need something on the order of a cold war ballistic missile warning radar system, designed to provide advance notice of an ICBM strike.

A hypothetical hijacker interfering with the flight profile of a hypersonic transport wouldn't need to deviate from their flight plan 20 minutes before it crashes into a target; it could be a last-minute gambit. So the security surrounding such flights is going to be intense, they're only going to be allowed to fly on well-established schedules (no short-notice bizjet-equivalents need apply!), and they're going to fly in and out of spaceports some distance from the destination city. For example, there's a proposal to use the former RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland as a spaceport for the UK. It's a good site for polar orbit satellite launches (north of Moscow but with far more clement weather), but it's nearly 600 miles from London. Similarly, the New Mexico spaceport isn't exactly next door to Los Angeles.

There are some places where it may be quite difficult to build a spaceport suitable for civil sub-orbital transport. There's lots of cheap land in New Mexico or Australia, (and, at a pinch, in northern Scotland), but it's unlikely to be easy to find land for a spaceport at an affordable price within a few hundred miles of Beijing or Seoul or Tokyo. But that's beside the point. It may be technically possible to build and operate hypersonic intercontinental passenger services. But they'll be scheduled, regular services, and subject to stringent passenger security checks at all times (think in terms of flying El Al, all the time). Moreover the spaceport will be at least an hour away from your nearest hub by non-hypersonic transport—possibly several hours away by high speed rail (never mind automobile).

And now for the killer: the inconvenience factor.

First class air travel by civil aviation is a dying niche today. If you are wealthy enough to afford the £15,000-30,000 ticket cost of a first-class-plus intercontinental seat (or, rather, bedroom with en-suite toilet and shower if we're talking about the very top end), you can also afford to pay for a seat on a business jet instead. A number of companies operate profitably on the basis that they lease seats on bizjets by the hour: you may end up sharing a jet with someone else who's paying to fly the same route, but the operating principle is that when you call for it a jet will turn up and take you where you want to go, whenever you want. There's no security theatre, no fuss, and it takes off when you want it to, not when the daily schedule says it has to. It will probably have internet connectivity via satellite—by the time hypersonic competition turns up, this is not a losing bet—and for extra money, the sky is the limit on comfort.

I don't get to fly first class, but I've watched this happen over the past two decades. Business class is holding its own, and premium economy is growing on intercontinental flights (a cut-down version of Business with more leg-room than regular economy), but the number of first class seats you'll find on an Air France or British Airways 747 is dwindling. The VIPs are leaving the carriers, driven away by the security annoyances and drawn by the convenience of much smaller jets that come when they call.

For rich people, time is the only thing money can't buy. A HST flying between fixed hubs along pre-timed flight paths under conditions of high security is not convenient. A bizjet that flies at their beck and call is actually speedier across most intercontinental routes, unless the hypersonic route is serviced by multiple daily flights—which isn't going to happen unless the operating costs are comparable to a subsonic craft.

Concorde made money because a predictable daily London-New York route could carry a lot of traffic, and if you flew LHR-JFK-LHR you could grab four extra daylight hours in New York, making a workday commute for high-powered meetings just about feasible. There's no obvious equivalent productivity gain for hypersonic transports around the Pacific rim or between the North and South hemisphere capitals. (If anything, hypersonic travel may make jet lag worse.) Let's not forget that attempts to operate Concorde on other routes didn't show a profit. London to Sydney was viable in a little under 18 hours, with refuelling stops—but there wasn't enough passenger traffic to justify the heroic logistics. Flying LHR-SYD, Concorde burned 500 tons of fuel in each direction, and the plane required 12 hours of ground maintenance per hour of flight time: British Airways managed one flight per week before they dropped the service. If I could have afforded a first class LHR-SYD ticket at the time, common sense would have told me to spend an extra four hours on a 747 with a seat that turned into a lie-flat bed, instead of 18 hours crammed into a Concorde (in seats jammed together like economy on a 747).

Merely supersonic bizjets for the rich might well be viable if they can be operated between regular airports in a manner compatible with current security requirements. (They'll almost certainly need passenger screening, though, as the margin for intercepting them will be much narrower than with current subsonic airliners.) Virgin Galactic's sub-orbital pleasure hops are unlikely to be problematic, as long as the end-points lie nowhere near major population centres. The military will love the technology (although the military think nothing of building and flying bombers that cost on the order of $1M per hour to operate). But point-to-point sub-orbital passenger services are, I think, going to remain a pipe dream for the foreseeable future. Costs too much for the inconvenience.

And this is my classic worked example of roads not taken. Just because something is technologically possible, it does not follow that it will inevitably happen. Someone has to want it enough to pay for it—and it will be competing with other, possibly more attractive options.

497 Comments

1:

Airbus is still trying to make a supersonic jet aircraft, so we might see the resurrection of expensive supersonic travel at some point on some routes. If they can actually get the sonic boom issue minimized to the point where they could fly some land routes, even better.

I can't see suborbital flight routes any time soon, either. And the farther out we go, the more likely it is that you start seeing in-person meetings replaced with some crazy-good HD telepresence.

2:

I recently had a slightly similar argument with regards to supersonic air transport. A friend proposed that we would see a massive resurgence in supersonic travel in our lifetime, that concord was ahead of it's time and that with various technologies currently in the pipeline we could quieten down/redirect a sonic boom and have SSJs cross large portions of the world. We argued for a while about the economics but the real point I kept coming back to was that no one needs to go that fast. Back in the 70s/80s it might have made sense to regularly need to send businessmen from London to New York and get them there faster than a normal jet. But since then telecommunication technology has exploded. Not only can people give lectures/business presentations from anywhere with an internet connection but the ability to share documents, data and increasingly pics/videos is mind bogglingly greater than that in Conchords life time. It seems like super-fast travel, already a niche market, will only get smaller over time with much more accessible communications.

On a separate note a sub-orbital jet would have worrying military considerations. Currently most nations in the world are unable to drop bombs easily on others, as I understand it even the nuclear powers are limited in this (unless you're a country that maintains a supply of ICBMs). But this technology is essentially a commercial ICBM. There's plenty of fuss about North Korea trying to develop it's own long range missile. If a nation like that could simply confiscate a hypersonic at one of their airports (I know NK is isolated but it's just an example) and load one of their nukes into it they've just become a rival for the US. I'm not saying that's likely to happen but given the paranoid nature of western politics are governments going to be so afraid of it they allow this tech to be commercial?

3:

In my deep ignorance of the technical aspects of the whole thing...

... wouldnt it be kind of, lets say, unpleasant for the passengers to be accelerated like, what are we talking about, 2g? More?

4:

"At first glance, this isn't an obviously stupid assertion"

Is it? Branson (and people like Musk) can't simply buy off former NASA personnel who either know exactly how to build this stuff or actually did build working prototypes, after all. He would've to pump good coin into a massive R&D program in order to do actual ~innovation~ worth the name, like Manhattan Project or Apollo. And that's not within the power of the parasitic corporation. They can only mock, not create.

And besides, if something goes wrong and his ubersonic plane ends up as fine metal dust in the Pacific he won't have a foaming-mouthed mob of Internet Libertarians rushing to his side and joining the "SPACE IS HARD!!1" chorus.

So peddling glorified rollercoaster rides to the criminally rich it is. Or fleecing New Mexico, whatever works out I guess ( http://www.buzzfeed.com/jgwheel/failure-to-launch-how-new-mexico-is-paying-for-richard-brans ).

5:

One of the arguments that came up in that exchange was that, after the flights had become regular and "safe in the public mind", the spaceports would move closer to the cities. The problem with that assumption is that it ignores the sunk costs. We've (and I say we because of course these things are going to be built with heavy raiding of the tax payer coffers) already spent many millions building the spaceports out in the boonies. Now 10-15 years later we are to build a new one closer to the city just so the hyper rich can shave a few more hours off their commute?

In a world where plans like this: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/true-north/2014/jan/21/new-privatized-african-city-heralds-climate-apartheid?CMP=share_btn_tw exist and you have the executives at Uber talking openly about blackmailing any reporters and politicians who oppose them I can see a puch to do it as a vanity project, but I don't see it as a sustainable business venture, for the reasons in the blog post.

6:

Every time I hear of hypersonic airliners I think of this bit of 80s TV schlock:
Starflight: The Plane That Couldn't Land

okay, now to go and actually read the post.

7:

I think telepresence and teleconferencing will cut into business travel, but I don't think we're there yet. In-person meetings still have advantages of privacy and schmoozing opportunities (you can slip out for private discussions at a diner), and the costs of travel aren't huge if you're a CEO or high-ranking officer in a company.

I wouldn't be surprised if it does start hurting the commercial viability of business travel in the 2020s or 2030s, though.

8:

I nearly forgot; reading the twitter argument at the time reminded me of a 'Mythbusters" episode where they tested whether it was faster to drive or fly between Las Vegas to LA. After all the airport security, waiting and delays it worked out even. The other person on twitter seemed to think that you could just hop on your sub-orbital flight and get anywhere in an hour or so.

9:

What I think will happen at the high end is segmentation.

1. Convenience -- the first class travellers who are today migrating to bizjets will continue to do so. As the bizjets get better in-flight comms they also serve as mobile offices.

2. Comfort -- the civil airlines will fight back with more comfortable conditions. While first class seats are dwindling, eaten away by competition from bizjets, business class seats are increasing in numbers and becoming more comfortable. A trans-Atlantic business class seat on Delta or Air France today is like a first-class berth (with lie-flat bed) 15-20 years ago. Meanwhile, Premium Economy on AF or KLM or BA is a wide recliner with leg support and more space, like a 1980s business class seat (or a US domestic first class seat).

We're seeing bigger wide-body airliners (such as the A350-XWB). While economy seating will remain miserable, as an incentive to upgrade, the higher class seats will continue to compete on luxury. And meanwhile, the threshold is coming down. That Premium Economy seat equivalent to your late 80s business seat only costs twice as much as regular economy, today, on trans-Atlantic routes -- and regular economy, when you correct for inflation, is half what it cost in the late-70s. So today you get the equivalent of a 1980s business class seat at the price of a late-70s economy seat.

10:


I realize on reading this that I've tended to think of hypersonic vehicles as ones using aerodynamic lift and mostly continuous propulsion with v > M5. Sub-orbital, OTOH, is something I think of as mostly-ballistic with, for long-distance travel, associated velocities northward of M15 or so.

Do others make this distinction, or is it just my poor old confused brain?

11:

Face-to-face meetings are likely to get commoner for high-powered business types, not rarer. Because they're the only way left to have a communication that you can be reasonably sure is off the record and won't turn up to embarrass you in a few years' time when your company or your video-conferencing provider or the NSA get hacked and their data gets barfed out over the Internet for all to see and analyse. But I take the point that a slow bizjet is actually quicker and more convenient than a scheduled hypersonic service.

12:

And I of the novel "Orbit", on which the cited TVM is very clearly based.

13:

Well, as one of the gloomy-doomers, I do strongly agree that supersonic passenger transport is probably a thing of the past, for most of the reasons you listed. The other reason you didn't touch on is fuel price volatility. One might presume that the people who fly supersonic won't care about fuel surcharges for flying a fuel hog home, but enough of them are actually financial wizards (or employ the same) to point out that there are better, cheaper ways to go. Depending on a plane where the costs may change in the double digit percents due to fuel price fluctuations isn't necessarily a wise course.

The only quantum fly in the ointment is all that new construction, including a "bulk fuel storage facility," at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave in California. Rumor has it that they're building a home for a program that's "coming in out of the black." While I suspect this is something to do with worldwide drone war prep, it's also possible that the black triangles will finally surface, and we may find out something the public didn't previously know about supersonic flight. Most likely, whatever it is will have little or nothing that can be co-opted by civilian aviation, but we'll see. The speculation wave function doesn't seem to have collapsed on this one yet.

However (tongue in cheek time)...If they have, as rumor suggests, figured out how to engineer a stealthy STOL troop transport, I can just see the clamor for adapting such planes for urban airports. After all, if they're so quiet and have such long range, wouldn't they be great for taking off and landing over suburban tract homes, or in even denser air settings like Hong Kong?

14:

It would be faster to drive, given a Valentine-1.

15:

"One of the failure modes of extrapolative SF is to assume that just because something is technologically feasible, it will happen . . ."

Hmmm. Perhaps this is part of why we have seen a decline in hard-SF publications. It's a lot more fun to think about the the implications of the outer reaches what is technically possible than it is to think about what will be practical and/or economically viable in the dullness of the everyday world. Once you get lost in those weeds, fantasy starts to look a lot more appealing. (Though I did enjoy the econ-driven plot lines in Saturn's Children and Halting State/Rule 34.)

16:


Informed comment says that audio stealth and radar stealth are two very different beasts, and this would be quite possible given a transport with audio stealth.

17:

Feels odd to be calling Reaction Engines Ltd a startup after they've been going for a quarter of a century...

18:

The other reason you didn't touch on is fuel price volatility.

I think that's actually a non-issue.

Current operating costs for airliners with oil at around the $100/BBl mark are 33% airframe depreciation, 33% personnel and maintenance, and 33% fuel. Fuel could hit $200/BBl and the price of aviation would increase by less than 50%; price of oil crashing to $50/Bbl only shaves 15% off ticket prices.

Once crude hits $200/BBl, Fischer-Tropsch synthesis becomes cost-competitive, and it's the sort of thing you can integrate with a photovoltaic farm to use excess power produced during times of slack demand. It's not efficient, but if it soaks up your surplus capacity it's still useful. So, apart from short-term spikes, I see the price of oil as having a natural cap below $250/BBl.

Upshot: I think even after we stop burning fossil fuel for energy, even if all our ground transport goes electric and our shipping goes nuclear or back to sail, we'll still have airliners chugging through the skies and burning oil (although it will probably be biofuel or synthetic stuff by then).

19:

I don't really buy the idea that airplanes will increase comfort to make up for the loss of first class and business class fliers. The exact opposite has been happening

http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304384104579141941949066648

http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/columnist/mcgee/2014/09/24/airplane-reclining-seat-pitch-width/16105491/

http://qz.com/177043/airline-seats-are-now-1-5-inches-narrower-than-they-used-to-be/

airlines have been shrinking seat width and pitch (the space between seats) to fit more people on the plane.

20:

You're mistaken. At the high end airlines are improving the comfort level in their non-economy seats.

(As I noted, however, economy is getting worse -- to give frequent fliers an incentive to upgrade.)

(And note that the rules are different for domestic US services, as opposed to long-haul/intercontinental flights. Everything is worse on US domestic flights, even first class and services for elite-status frequent flyers.)

21:

Do we even have a choice on planes burning aviation fuel? the power:weight ratios on other alternatives are very constrictive. Your battery being twice as heavy as your full gas tank isn't something that really matters on a car, but on a plane that can preclude takeoff. The core metrics are going to be energy density, but also how fast you can release the energy - batteries discharge at a lower rate than gas burns. I'm not aware of anything on the drawing board that can do that. Closest out there was a proposal for University of Illinois back in 2009 for a battery based around changing the alignment of carbon nanotubes to allow gasoline level energy densities and up to 10^20 watts.

22:

There's one job a hypersonic suborbital passenger plane would be absolutely killer for: deployment of a company-size body of people from home base to anywhere in the world in ~24 hours. Lacking a real-world International Rescue, the only conceivable customer is JSOC, which is unlikely to waste that kind of money on development of technology that might be peripherally useful to them.

23:

It's good they're a small share of overall emissions, on the order of 2-4% of the annual total. You might be able to offset that with tree planting programs.

If you really wanted to build a low-emission plane, you could run one off of hydrogen. Of course, the storage would be a lot more expensive, and the bulkiness means you'd have to re-design your planes to store more fuel in the fuselage instead of the wings - but on the upside, the fuel would weight a lot less, and hydrogen is more energetic as a fuel. Airbus looked at it about 10 years ago and hasn't done anything since, although they say it's feasible.

24:

I'll take your word for the moment that that is a very desirable military capability, one for which there isn't a reasonable substitute (like deploying 10 companies in 24 hours instead). Either way the discussion here is commercial hypersonic/SO transport. The military has a very different way of determining ROI compared to profit seeking companies.

25:

Assuming that the technology actually came together somehow, another limit might well be the puke factor. A lot of passengers are going to have psychological or physiological reactions to free fall, some of them so drastic that they will never use the service more than once. Given the huge cost this would reduce the pool of potential passengers pretty quickly.

But I think that this idea is a non-starter for all of the other reasons already given. It's a means looking for an end to justify itself, and that's never a good business model.

26:

It's good they're a small share of overall emissions, on the order of 2-4% of the annual total. You might be able to offset that with tree planting programs.

No point. If you're running on synthetic fuel from Fischer-Tropsch, it is by definition carbon-neutral -- your carbon source is atmospheric CO2. (Add energy and H2O and you can turn it into methane. With some lossy reactions along the way, you turn the methane into long chain alkanes. Then you burn them and return the carbon to the atmosphere until next time you re-use it.)

27:

I can't see "unidentified sub orbital missile just launched towards us from a military base" not being responded to as a worst case scenario, different flight profile from an ICBM or no.

The billionaire toy on a heavily regulated and monitored schedule landing far away from any inhabited area, that runs into the problems above. But it can at least plausibly not be treated as an act of war. "It is pulling less Gs and is following a different flight path than an ICBM would while heading directly towards our major city" is not the fig leaf you cling to when the midden hits the windmill.

28:

Let's presume, for now, that I have enough shoulder and leg room. What determines seat comfort?

Covering material? No, not even slightly.
Lots of padding? Not really. The answer is more likely to be a shape that actually suits people.
Anecdodal explanation - I used to know a guy who used to drive the same make and model cars as me, up until we came to one individual model in the range, when he switched because he found the seats in that model gave him severe backache.

29:

At the low end of airline travel, I think we'll also start seeing some innovations as well. The limiting factors at the low end are how many people you can cram into the aircraft, and how little service you can get away with providing.

If you can make people more tolerent of really cramped conditions, such as by means of a heavy tranquiliser (not anaesthesia; that's risky) then you could literally stack in double the number of lightly snoozing customers into what would amount to a windowless cargo aircraft. You could then also perform a few biological clock manipulations onto them to reduce or eliminate jet lag, and of course sedated passengers wouldn't need much entertainment, or feeding, or toilet breaks other than a catheter and nappy.

This would also have great security benefits, in that sedated passengers don't hijack aircraft (indeed cannot get out of their individual passenger pods to perform a hijack) and don't annoy the airline staff, get drunk and so on; they are also pretty much immune to panic over flying.

Only thing is, which airline will be the first to try to introduce such a system? I'm betting on the military, with the likes of RyanAir very close on their heels.

One other point: building an aircraft that burns ammonia is easier than fischer-tropsch synthesis, at the expense of needing somewhat bigger fuel tanks.

30:

So who needs to fly to and from China in a hurry and how much will they pay? London-Shanghai is mostly over Siberia. Does that help?

31:

Any reason the sub-orbital airliner could not coast the final stretch of the journey at normal airliner speed? First fly at high mach to somewhere the military liked, and then proceed to a suitable hub or even city airport?

Sounds like a solution for the security related problems.

32:

deployment of a company-size body of people from home base to anywhere in the world in ~24 hours

Nah, that's what aircraft carriers are for.

And now I have The Rezillos' Thunderbirds Are Go! in my head--not that I mind.

33:

Back in the 70s/80s it might have made sense to regularly need to send businessmen from London to New York and get them there faster than a normal jet. But since then telecommunication technology has exploded. Not only can people give lectures/business presentations from anywhere with an internet connection but the ability to share documents, data and increasingly pics/videos is mind bogglingly greater than that in Conchords life time. It seems like super-fast travel, already a niche market, will only get smaller over time with much more accessible communications.

Totally.

The short version is my wife spends most of her time living near DFW Texas. I spend most of my time in Raleigh, NC. One of us goes back and forth about once a week. But not always. We have several reasons for this arrangement. But it would be much harder to make work without modern cell phones and fast Internet connections. Several times a month we will go "live" with FaceTime on our iPhones so we can show the other one something. Or use our phones or a printer/scanner to PDF something up and ship it to the other person. Instantly for all practical purposes. Plus we almost don't need paper mail as we pay most things via online banking or site specific sites. Toss in "real" email (vs. what was around during the 70s and 80s[1]) and remote control of U-Verse and Time Warner and our having to be somewhere is more about companionship vs. need to be there.

[1] I was involved in a lot of early remote things by computers in the early 80s. It was somewhat OK and better than paper AT TIMES but no where near as useful as today.

34:

whether it was faster to drive or fly between Las Vegas to LA. After all the airport security, waiting and delays it worked out even.

I spend a bit over 4 years having to travel from Raleigh NC to Laurel MD 10 or so times a year. I almost always drove. My wife kept saying why not just fly. I showed her how it took the same amount of time door to door and with driving I had much more control over the schedule and could take things with me that would have been impossible on a flight.

250 miles -> 5 hour drive
(If you avoided the various rush hours)

35:

You can't do that.

Passenger density in civil aviation is fundamentally and irrevocably limited by the ability to evacuate the plane rapidly in event of an emergency (e.g. controlled crash, fire on board, etc).

You can't do that if the passengers are unconscious/sedated. You can't do that if the seat pitch is so narrow they can't squeeze out in a hurry.

(Exotic solutions such as ballistic recovery systems might be feasible, but would have to await a new generation of airframes with support for parachute capsules built in. And as the service life of an airliner is over 30 years ...)

36:

"some lossy reactions" - Make that about 50% loss, if you're trying to go for a pure biomass->Fischer-Tropsch->synthetic jet fuel, thus doubling the cost and land area needed. If you're trying to go from biomass to jet fuel via F-T with the process powered by external energy, then you can avoid that, but that energy still needs to come from somewhere.

And if you're trying to go from CO2 in the air to jet fuel, then the cost and energy demand of capturing 400 ppm adds to your problem. (The advantage here is that the longer you leave it, the greater the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, so this problem gets smaller.)

Clearly, the best way to get carbon-neutral air travel is to use nuclear power to drive the F-T to make the fuel. I think OGH & I agree on the reasons why nuclear power isn't a good idea in the current socio-political situation, so next best is renewables. Even with those options, the rate of roll-out, build-up, and adoption remains far below anything that might make a difference to the overall growth rate of the impact of aviation.

Carbon emissions are priced into the cost of aviation through the cost of fuel and airlines have been trying to push that down for decades. They have only ever managed 1% per year, driven by better engines, more aerodynamic planes, and squeezing ever more people into tinier seats. That rate of improvement has been constant for fifty years. At the same time, passenger mileage has been growing at ~5% per year. That trajectory isn't compatible with a livable planet.

And getting back to the original topic - going faster costs more energy, per person, per mile. There are no good solutions for this: hydrogen is too bulky, F-T too expensive, and taking a short-cut through the vacuum of space requires too much energy to get there (and looks like a nuke). I might just stay home.

37:

Door-to-door time and jet lag compensation also dictate how far I'm willing to travel in economy class before biting the bullet and saying "I'm flying business, or not at all".

There is only one city in North America I can get to in less than ten hours, door-to-door -- New York, and only if I'm willing to fly a shitty United 757 for 7 hours. (It goes direct from Edinburgh to Newark.) I vastly prefer a much longer journey -- 12 hours door-to-door -- via Paris or Amsterdam: I have lounge access (via frequent flyer alliance) and the wide-bodies on the route are much less uncomfortable. (Also: Air France/KLM or United on long-haul? No contest.)

But when you measure door-to-door travel time some places are farther than they look on a globe. Orlando is actually 21 hours door-to-door from here, involving three sectors (or going out-of-alliance and using the aforementioned shitty 757 long-haul). That's almost as far as Sydney (26 hours), and is considerably further than Tokyo (15-16 hours). And San Francisco is as far from home for me as Tokyo.

38:

Fuel price volatility is a non-issue because every airline hedges the cost by buying fuel months or years ahead.

Air New Zealand made a bet the last time oil hit US$80, in 2009, that the price would go up and so bought about a year's supply at that price. They made NZ$350 million from that good guess. http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/fuel-hedging-save-air-nz-530m-next-year-102372

Obviously, this cuts both ways and when oil prices take an unexpected dive, airlines get very unhappy by being locked in to swaps and options.

39:

This would also have great security benefits, in that sedated passengers don't hijack aircraft (indeed cannot get out of their individual passenger pods to perform a hijack) and don't annoy the airline staff, get drunk and so on; they are also pretty much immune to panic over flying.

Only thing is, which airline will be the first to try to introduce such a system? I'm betting on the military, with the likes of RyanAir very close on their heels.

The problem with this approach to passenger traffic is you're looking at only flying adults in good health. No kids, elderly, even slightly pregnant women, etc... allowed. Got a medical certificate that you can be sedated without liability? No? Go away. Need to empty your bladder every hour or few? Go away. Have high blood pressure? Go away.

Most airlines cover expenses with the back of the plane crowded seats. Profit comes from the front of the plane.

40:

Minor nit to pick: Lossiemouth is still an operational RAF base. Leuchars has a runway long enough to support sub-orbital jaunts (Space in the morning and golf in the afternoon) and RAF Machrihanish comes up from time to time when these ideas are punted around.

41:

every airline hedges the cost by buying fuel months or years ahead.

Ah, no they don't. One reason AA profits have surged is they did not hedge recently. (There are other reasons but that's a big one.) When things are steadily rising most do. When there is a lot of volatility up and down it gets trickier and many go for spot pricing. Of course didn't one US airline just buy an oil refinery.

42:

Door-to-door time and jet lag compensation also dictate how far I'm willing to travel in economy class before biting the bullet and saying "I'm flying business, or not at all".

Airframe dictates it also for me. 5 hours in the back of an MD-8x is misery while the same time in the back of a 737-800 is OK. Slightly wider and much better designed seats plus power and maybe a video display.

43:

I'm gonna push back on the security issue a bit. It's real, but it's not going to be something that represents any more threat than will be out there at the time of deployment.

HSTs don't fly routes; they fly near-ballistic trajectories. Assuming you had this capability, deviation from a flight plan is easy to detect on the civilian radar of the originating country, which gives the "target" country plenty of time to prepare for an off-plan reentry.

Second, you're not hypersonic after reentry. You're probably a glider, or at best a horrifically underpowered aircraft. So, not only are you slow but the capability of deviating from planned final approach is going to be very low.

Third, if you have civilian HSTs, then you have military HSTs, and therefore you have HST air defense. In fact, there are lots of military HSTs under development in multiple countries right now, which means that the air defense for them is also under development. Just as current air defenses are able to distinguish whether somebody's transatlantic G5 is a threat or not, we'll have similar ways of separating the hypersonic sheep from the hypersonic goats. Clearly, highly connected, international air traffic control and flight plan systems are a requirement for this kind of thing, but those are going to be a requirement no matter what.

So I don't think non-commercial HST bizrockets are any more of a problem than non-commercial subsonic bizjets. And if that's true, then the inconvenience argument goes out the window.

As for fuel efficiency, I think you're underestimating the savings you get on a ballistic trajectory. I don't think fuel will be the big marginal expense over subsonic; maintenance will. Things like SABRE are fiendishly complex. Getting them reliable enough to inflict them on civilians is going to be a formidable engineering and systems feat. That, and the barf factor, are the real hurdles here. They may well be insurmountable for a long time, but not forever.

44:

>>A hypothetical hijacker interfering with the flight profile of a hypersonic transport wouldn't need to deviate from their flight plan 20 minutes before it crashes into a target; it could be a last-minute gambit.

Come on, Charlie, this is a lousy argument against hypersonic transport.

How many 9/11's happened after the original? That's right, 0. And the planes are basically the same, while a new sub-orbital thing could be designed to be completely un-hijackable.

Price of fuel and general conservatism of the airlines are better arguments.

45:

I don't think FT synthesis draws from CO2, but instead it draws from CO, which is typically generated in industrial quantities out of fossil fuels. Large-scale FT synthesis would, in all likelihood, be not even remotely carbon-neutral. Most likely, it would be used as a way of generating small amounts of higher-quality hydrocarbon fuels from large amounts of low-quality coal.

I can't imagine there being any useful way to extract CO2 from the atmosphere in the first place. Well, except for conventional photosynthesis, anyway.

46:

Third, if you have civilian HSTs, then you have military HSTs, and therefore you have HST air defense. In fact, there are lots of military HSTs under development in multiple countries right now, which means that the air defense for them is also under development.

I agree with your other points but HST interception is more like ABM territory than 747 interception. Orbital / ballistic trajectories are very confining when you want things to meet during flight.

Also it was mentioned that a fighter can be launched on 2-5 minutes notice. Yes BUT it is very expensive to keep things that close to flight. Very. And is rarely done for the last 20 to 30 years. And for HST is likely even much more expensive.

47:

It can draw from anything containing carbon, but the main use is from methane or coal. NZ built a methane-source synfuel plant as a response to the 1970s oil shocks. It failed commercially with the low oil prices of the 1980s and was converted to turn methane into fertiliser. South Africa built numerous coal-source plants in the 1970s and 1980s. Again, not economic but useful as a hedge against sanctions and oil embargoes.

48:

If your battery capacity is high enough, you can solve the peak discharge rate with a few supercapacitors (or a bank of regular capacitors, but supercapacitors have a LOT lower leakage, and can even replace batteries in a few circumstances).

Of course this adds weight...

49:

3 actually, that I can think of off the top of my head. 1 in Austin, another in Florida, but both with Piper style light aircraft. The former an anti-tax, anti government guy in 2009, the latter a suicidal teenager in 2002.

And the third was in NYC in 2006 involving a baseball player where it was suspected but never proved that his depression was a factor.

50:

The Lockheed Skunk Works tried to develop a hydrogen-powered spy plane in the 1980s. The project was abandoned as too risky, and their risk tolerance was far greater than commercial air transport. Hydrogen forms a wide range of explosive mixtures with air, and is much less tolerant of heating of the fuel chamber (compared to normal aviation fuels).

The book Skunk Works discusses this in some detail, in a chapter titled "Blowing Up Burbank".

51:

Wildly off topic, but something that I think several of the regular contributors, and indeed OGH himself, will be interested in/concerned about:-

There is apparently a threat by the MoD to withdraw funding from (effectively close) the Battle of Britain Memorial Chapel at Biggin Hill to save £50-000 a year. If you feel that this is not reasonable, websearch "government e-petitions" and it's presently on the trending list.

52:

That's true for modern airlines, which are definitely fuel efficient for what they do.

For a supersonic plane? I suspect the fuel economy is a lot different. I don't know the fuel economy of modern jets, but here's a comparison from a few years ago (Deffeyes, When Oil Peaked. Deffeyes is a Princeton geology prof, and not an environmentalist doomy-gloomer like myself). According to him, the Concorde got 467 payload ton miles/ton fuel, while a Learjet got 3400 payload ton miles/ton fuel. In comparison, a Mayan peasant got 333 payload ton miles/ton fuel, although that fuel was corn rather than jet fuel (this from Richardson Gill, the Great Maya Drought).

If these numbers are correct, flying a Concorde to your destination was about 8 times less efficient than flying a private jet, and only 1.5 times more fuel efficient than loading up a pack full of food and hiking to your destination. Granted, hiking across the Atlantic Ocean isn't feasible, but you get the point. Fuel costs matter a lot to high speed planes.

I'd point out, incidentally, that bulk cargo carriers run somewhere around 1,300,000 payload ton miles/ton fuel on Deffeyes chart, which does explain why so much global trade runs on them. He pointed out that carrying fuel in bulk carriers is even more efficient than sending electricity over wires (15,600 payload ton miles/ton fuel) or in a pipeline (25,000 payload ton miles/ton fuel) or even on a freight train (63,000 payload ton miles/ton fuel). I'm not going to derail this thread into a discussion of Keystone XL or similar issues, but you can guess how Canada is going to ship its oil based on these numbers, and there are some interesting ideas in there about how to efficiently ship a lot of energy.

53:

For months after 9/11, even the pilots' union was saying that for distances under 300-400 mi, taking the train was comparible/faster. Let's see, LA-LV, 270 mi. For a train running at the speeds that, say, the Broadway Limited clocked, regularly, up through WWII, I'm guessing under 4 hours, but I don't know about mointains on the rail route - it might be faster. (And they were running steam engines....)

Remember, trains go *straight* to downtown....

mark

54:

Also it was mentioned that a fighter can be launched on 2-5 minutes notice. Yes BUT it is very expensive to keep things that close to flight. Very. And is rarely done for the last 20 to 30 years.

You missed my links to RAF QRA. They keep two Typhoon-IIs (roughly equivalent to non-stealthy F-22s) on QRA, 24x7, at two airbases for the whole UK. Behind each of those flights there are another 10 aircraft (for maintenance and training and rotation) and, about 80 ground crew. Yes, it's expensive: each plane costs £30,000/hour to fly and the QRA duty costs hundreds of millions a year to maintain (two entire squadrons of US $150M fighters devoted to the duty).

Flipside: the UK is a very densely populated area and notionally a high-value target to Al Quaida. Also, the Russians keep sending Bears down the North Sea. The QRA Typhoons get to sortie and intercept at least once a month. So there are situations where it's not only desirable but actually maintained on a 24x7 basis.

55:

And if you spend a lot of defence budget in one place, it is harder to maintain other capabilities e.g. Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Apparently the UK govt has requested allies' assistance again since the Nov/Dec episode. http://aviationweek.com/defense/canadians-french-us-hunt-submarine-scotland

56:

{censored} Because what I'm thinking stands no chance of getting through even OGH's liberal policy on language etc!

57:

The fighters on QRA are an echo of the RAF's big WW2 legend. Think of the RAF movies you can remember, and the chances are that The Dam Busters is the only heavy bomber movie. There are movies such as 633 Squadron, but most of the rest centred on fighters, almost all of them Spitfires.

OK, the Battle of Britain mattered rather a lot. But look how much it became the focus. There are air shows, and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and it became the focal point for the movie makers. And even when the Americans made a movie about Pearl Harbor, they had to put the Battle of Britain in it.

I think Fighter Command wonder the propaganda war. Though how can anyone object to that. And it's easy to sell fighters on QRA.

I was once at RAF Binbrook, and the air show had to stop for a few minutes while they scrambled a Lightning F6 for real.

And everyone watched the Spitfires.

58:

Hydrogen as a fuel could make a comeback for stealth aircraft.

The bad news for stealth these days is that infra-red sensors are very good, very cheap and airframes are noticeably warm compared to the background sky or even in lookdown against a cold landscape. The solution would be to cool the skin of the aircraft using something like liquid hydrogen before burning it in the engines. The Skunk Works has experience in that area, the Aurora/YF-12 pioneered skin cooling with fuel but that was to combat the very high skin friction heating effects of flying at Mach 3 in thick air rather than concealing a hull with a couple of multi-megawatt space heaters inside it.

Hydrogen cooling has all sorts of downsides but it gets rid of the pesky infra-red signature that bedevils anything energetic that wants to stay hidden these days.

59:

I was going to argue against this on the basis of USian films such as "Strategic Air Command" and "Memphis Belle", then it occurred to me that there are way more USian films about fighters and/or tactical/close support bombers than about heavies too.

It also occurred to me that almost every "submarine film" is pretty much a "fighter film" too (evidence includes The Enemy Below, Down Periscope, The Hunt for Red October {don't laugh; apart from one macguffin it's a typical sub tactics film}).

60:

Minor nit: Leuchars is now an Army base, and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards move in later this year (they're getting rid of the Challenger 2, and becoming Light Cavalry with wheeled vehicles).

Macrihanish is IMHO a bit of a dive (I spent a week there a while back). There's a long runway, and not much else; it wasn't a big base, and it's now an industrial park for the locals. There isn't a rail link, and the road journey to anywhere is quite a long one.

61:

Yeah, cancelling the Nimrod MRA4 program without a clear replacement was a really fucking stupid thing for the current shower of clowns in the government to do, even among all the other really fucking stupid things they've been up to since 2010.

(Not that I'm bitter or anything ...)

62:

It strikes me that getting rid of leading-edge heating (as beloved by modern IR seekers) would be a bit tricky to put everywhere on an aircraft (what, the nose cone? tail fin? full length of leading edges?); and very tricky to apply to the exhaust.

Signature reduction, perhaps; signature removal, I'm sceptical.

63:

I think we're probably thinking along the same lines here. (Hint: Frigates and helicopters do not fill the gap left by a long-range maritime patrol/anti-submarine aircraft equivalent to the P-8A Poseidon.)

64:

Other factors on HST interception:

1) Civilian craft are specified to 2.5 - 3.8 G never-exceed loads, so at 1 km/s (Mach 3) the turning radius must be 30 to 40 km; much tighter and the airframe could fail catastrophically. Course deviations would be obvious even at max G maneuvering, and note max-G radii increase as the square of speed.

2) As RM points out, re-entry will most likely be slower than supersonic cruise. Aerodynamic pressure is a function of air density multiplied by the square of speed, so speeds acceptable at altitude would destroy the aircraft if they were attempted closer to Earth. Therefore multi-Mach kamikaze flights into buildings can't happen: the wings would rip off well before impact.

65:

Yeah, cancelling the Nimrod MRA4 program without a clear replacement was a really fucking stupid thing for the current shower of clowns in the government to do

But what was the alternative? The accounts were empty, and the MRA.4 airframe was an unsafe and marginally flyable pile of poo. No sense in pouring good money after billions of bad.

The RAF promptly invested in SEEDCORN, which was predicated keeping ASW skills up-to-date by packing off the Nimrod crews to exchange postings with other Air Forces and Navies; keeping things like the ASW acoustic trainers up and running; and trying to get its financial house in order so that an MPA might turn up soon, once the money was available. Philip Hammond apparently did a bang-up job of banging the financially-incompetent MoD heads together, to the extent that the P-8 is a credible purchase after the 2015 Defence Review.

In fact, the USN had a winning entry in a recent NATO ASW competition by a P-8 with an entirely RAF crew...

66:

One reason I read about why the UK CAA is twitchy about certifying supersonic ex-military aircraft is that one moron doing a low-level supersonic run across London could bankrupt Lloyds with the resultant insurance damage claims from sonic boom...

67:

The big advantages to Machrihanish as a base for "space planes" are:-
1) Long runway, with thresholds over low population.
2) Near a very large body of water.
3) Even with security theatre time, it's under 2 hours flight from 3 international hubs.

68:

The accounts were empty? Pull the other one it's got bells on. They managed to find a couple of billion each year to kill foreigners, and tens of billions more to replace trident.

69:

Except they haven't spent billions on Trident (yet), and the "empty" is a shorthand summary of the note left by the outgoing Labour secretary to the Treasury... meanwhile, the wars don't come out of the MoD budget, they come out of Treasury contingency funds.

For clarity, the MoD budget was empty (or rather, fully used). MoD was shockingly bad at financial management and planning; some of the threads across in the Army rumour service have been enlightening (actually, the one on the MPA replacement has had some seriously well-qualified participants).

MoD budget isn't ringfenced like Health and Social Security; and that means... cuts. Why else do you think the Army has dropped to 80,000 regular soldiers? People are the biggest slice of the budget, so if you want to cut costs...

70:

I can't imagine there being any useful way to extract CO2 from the atmosphere in the first place. Well, except for conventional photosynthesis, anyway.

CO2 dissolves and concentrates as ionic species in ocean surface waters. You can electrically disproportionate seawater into reduced- and enhanced-acidity portions and then degas the acidified portion under vacuum to recover gaseous CO2. There is not a major difference making synthetic hydrocarbons starting with 1 mole CO and ~3 moles H2 or 1 mole CO2 and ~4 moles H2.

http://www.imeche.org/news/engineering/model-craft-takes-flight-with-fuel-from-seawater-080414-2

71:

So you've got liquid hydrogen running under the skin of the aircraft, millimeters from air being pressurized and heated by the forward motion of the airframe. Some high-voltage systems add the occasional spark. I'm not loving this plan.

72:

And this, of course, is why we don'have supersonic business jets.

The eight-to-one fuel efficiency advantage of subsonic isn't going to be engineered away: drag rises with airspeed *squared*, and supersonic engines are entirely reliant on expelling a hot exhaust - bypass-flow turbofans only work in a subsonic airflow.

There *are* exotic turbine-assisted ramjets that are as efficient as a turbofan (the SR-71 was said to cruise at Mach 3 on the same fuel burn as a 737) but I don't hear much about them these days; and I don't think we'll see them in commercial aircraft in the next 20 years. Not even if titanium gets as cheap as aluminium: the flight regime for an exotic engine is just too extreme for civil operators.

That does leave us with better materials (and cheaper titanium) for business jets, so *some* or the economic gap between sub- and supersonic flight will close in the next few years.

And there are more billionaires these days, as well as the NetJets sharing scheme for mere multimillionaires; I don't doubt that NetJets has been running feasibility studies on the market for a supersonic business jet for the last five years.

...It would appear they haven't got a manufacturer to offer a supersonic development program at a credible price, yet.

73:

The joker in the pack is that the existence of a commercially-successful satellite-launcher spaceplane would lower the development and production costs.

Whether that will actually happen is another question.

74:

No one's mentioned the rattling and rolling thunder from supersonic jets. I've had a few jets fly directly overhead of my house -- amazingly awesome feeling! --- but not particularly healthy for the buildings (or birds) in their wake. Insurance coverage on residences along the flight path would ... soar.

75:

There's a heap of ways to extract CO2 from the atmosphere. There is no way to do so usefully, i.e. at a reasonable cost of money and energy.

There's a good summary of direct air capture techniques in the latest IPCC assessment report (section 6.9.1 in http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg3/ipcc_wg3_ar5_chapter6.pdf), with the conclusions that all the possible technologies are immature and the costs are likely to be far higher than other techniques for CO2 mitigation:

"The availability and scale of these and other Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies and methods are uncertain and CDR technologies and methods are, to varying degrees, associated with challenges and risks." That's IPCC-speak for "ha ha no".

So low-carbon aviation remains a problem without a technical solution. The best solution so far is to pack larger numbers of people into economy class. Sub-orbital with high speeds and small numbers of passengers per trip is just looking awful.

76:

That may be true, but Soviet Long Range Aviation and Naval Aviation routinely tried to violate UK airspace, week in, week out for nigh on forty years, and the Russian Air Force infrequently continues to do so.

The EE Lightning was woefully inadequate as QRA interceptor, because it first had to rendezvous with a Victor tanker to fuel it to where the uncorrelated target was, and the job was taken over by F-4 Phantoms, and Tornado F3 (which, despite much criticism, was excellent at this job - would have hopeless at air combat though)

At one point in the 1970s using standing airborne patrols of converted Vulcans were once considered by the RAF, each of them toting twelve of these...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AIM-54_Phoenix

Spitfire snobbery doesn't really come into it.

Back on topic - big tech projects like SSTs or HST will never emerge from the private sector. Who's going to invest in such a long-term technology-intensive project? The airlines? No. The Government? No. The flight test programme for such a vehicle is going to cost billions alone, and there may not be any customers at the end of it.

77:

To add to your skepticism, Virgin Galactic doesn't take us much closer to sub-orbital intercontinental travel.

SpaceShipOne and its successors aren't just sub-orbital, they're very sub-orbital: the trajectory reaches around Mach 3 at the fastest point, and peaks at about 100 km altitude. At the peak of the trajectory it's basically stationary. Gravity does its thing, PE is converted to KE, and it sheds its speed using the feathering mechanism that was developed by Burt Rutan.

To travel interesting distances downrange in ballistic flight would require something more like orbital speeds, say 4 or 5 km/s. Getting to that speed is challenging but achievable, but what you do afterwards is also problematic... All that energy needs to be dissipated (aerodynamically otherwise huge fuel costs) which means a controlled hypersonic entry and thermal protection like the Space Shuttle or Apollo.

78:

When I lived in London I was directly under the Concorde flight path, beautiful plane, but as the locals would remark (in a raised voice to overcome the noise) " it makes no more noise than any conventional aircraft"

79:

"...but HST interception is more like ABM territory than 747 interception..."

Agreed, but my point is that you have to have that kind of air defense anyway, because lack of such a defense leaves you vulnerable to genuine military hypersonic attack.

I'm not denying that the response timeframes get a lot smaller and the margin of error narrower, but that's what really smart computers are for. If this is the sole instance where we're nervous about a computer making a mistake, I'll be more than surprised.

80:

Well said. I also have to point out that, if I've got the math right, we're emitting teratonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (we've already blown 1 teratonne, and we could blow up to five if we used all fossil fuels and the methane clathrates let go too). Scaling up to recapture all that carbon and put it in some insoluble, non-toxic form is a difficult problem. Probably better not to emit it in the first place.

Note that, if we blow 5 teratonnes, even the ocean won't be able to absorb all of it. Some will be stuck in the air until it can bind with minerals through weathering. It's thought that will take about 400,000 years, because it's not a fast reaction. Carbon dioxide's up there with radioactive waste in terms of how long it can be a problem.

81:

Yes, capturing ambient CO2 and turning it into liquid fuels is far more expensive than other paths to CO2 mitigation. That's orthogonal to whether or not you can make liquid fuels from CO2 at a cost that wouldn't end civil aviation. Retiring old coal fired power plants is much more cost effective as a CO2 mitigation measure, for example, but it doesn't do anything to supply liquid aviation fuel.

82:

Perhaps no more 'noise', but a lot more in the concussive thunderclap department. Beautiful but noisy.

83:

Just to point out, the MOD wasn't shockingly bad at financial management - they were just all furiously playing games to protect their babies against a budget that wasn't big enough - and then the treasury changed the rules on them.

If you want to point fingers, point them at treasury and the politicians generally. Clueless muppets.

Oh, and cancelling MRA4 was the only choice, though they should have sued BAE into the ground over their incompetence.

As for sub-orbital airliners, it's perfectly possible to come up with a viable approach - and the bit that hasn't been covered is such a beast would be ideal for a rapid reaction military force etc. and the whole idea of such a beast being controlled from a conventional cockpit (and so possible to take over) is a bit daft (just as conventional aircraft are looking to ditch them).

84:

Kinda-sorta related; here's Russia's Buran taking off powered by jet engines, and other footage of it.

85:

I think you're mistaken. There's a healthy niche of not-extremely-über-wealthy people who would like to minimize the "air time".

Just look at the first class tickets between LA and Hong Kong - they are in the $2000-$5000 range. That's certainly affordable for upper middle class managers who need to travel often. And at that price you can get a nice horizontal bed with aisle access and a restroom shared with only 6-10 other passengers.

That's a healthy market with plenty of room to grow.

About security problems - hypersonic travel will mostly happen above the atmosphere, and as any good space cadet learns by heart: "Plane change maneuvers are expensive". A hyperplane won't be able to deviate from a set course until it descends into the thick layers of the atmosphere. So it's manageable from a security viewpoint - just put some intercept rockets near the re-entry points.

86:

As OGH has mentioned, F-T from biomass and renewables starts to look good at $200/bbl. That's a price that doesn't end civil aviation, it doesn't even halt the 5% per year growth in air traffic, maybe it knocks it down to 4% per year.

The problem is that it will be cheaper to use F-T from fossil carbon sources. The aviation industry continues to do a great job of making carbon pricing look politically impossible, resulting in aviation emissions continuing upwards for the foreseeable future.

87:

A $5,000 first class flight from LAX to Hong Kong sounds incredibly cheap. I looked at prices, and I think you're out by quite a large amount; flying in March, the cheapest I see is almost $13,000. In my time working for a large multinational corporation, only a very small proportion of them (vice presidents and above) got even business, let alone first: the upper middle class manager isn't such a common species. So this doesn't sound so much to me like a healthy market with room to grow.

88:

Cheaper to have hi-rez telepresence rigs.

Moving meat is a sucker's game.

89:

Right now I'm seeing flights for $3800 for the first class from SFO to HKG on Expedia. For example: https://www.expedia.com/Details?action=UnifiedDetailsWidget@showDetails&rfrr=&c=2c3ec08c-14ca-4cc6-9ab3-e518a89d56ad&udpDisplayMode=normal

I saw even cheaper prices earlier. Last year I flew roundtrip on that route in the first class for about $6000.

90:

Well, that surprised me. Those URLs Expedia produces are session specific and don't work for me, so I can't reproduce that without knowing the exact dates you put in. :-(

Was that flying non-stop? Were you the beneficiary of an airline's panicked revenue manager dropping a rate? If I look, right now the cheapest non-stop I see in March is about $11,000. I also have the sense that there's a bit of a glut in trans-Pacific supply right now, which is leading to some really cheap fares.

91:

Sub-orbital is only going to happen if a super-billionaire decides to eat the development costs personally, and also if the plane can also cruise at subsonic speeds to land at a regular airport (which would resolve most of the security issues).

I expect that a supersonic bizjet (and, probably, quite a large one for a bizjet) will be flying in the next few years. If it can range trans-pacific without refuelling as well as transatlantic, then there are probably enough passengers prepared to pay five or ten times what they pay NetJets to get there in a third the time (and, likely, travel in slightly less comfort / space).

There certainly seem to be plenty of development programmes out there for an SSBJ.

92:

One-title reply to that comment: Das Boot

93:

Well, what did you expect?
The last Prime Minister who was not a traitor was Jim Callaghan.
All the remaining survivors should be dangling from a rope's end & the sooner the better.
( I'm counting the "Nimrod" & it's predecessors & any maybe-successors as parts of the Navy here ) - & without a Navy - & we don't have an effective one, now, we are totally screwed.
What I want to know is who has profitted from this deliberate destruction of our ability to defend & feed ourselves?

94:

Nile - we all know, after this years worldcon, that that means Reaction Engines & the Skylon, don't we?
And that, assuming HM Treasury dont totally fuck-up AGAIN, that it will fly 2023-25, won't it?

95:

Concorde wasn't so efficient subsonic, but it was efficient enough that the fuel-cost for the subsonic sections of the flight were tolerable. It wasn't ridiculous by the fuel and noise standards of the 1960s, but then 1973 happened. There was apparently the possibility of developing an improved version that didn't need afterburners.

So a supersonic bizjet, with current knowledge going into the design, might be easier to operate. And Virgin Galactic essentially are trying to build a rather specialised supersonic passenger transport.

I'd class the supersonic bizjet as being on the wrong side of the plausibility curve, but if OGH wanted to put one in a near-future story, it's a lot less wrong than a sub-orbital transport.

96:

Which immediately gets you another terrorist's wet dream ... you hack the plane's software - it deviates from course & gets blown up, killing all on board - which was actually, what you wanted to do in the first place, because your target was (one of?) the passengers.
Let's not go there, shall we?

97:

I had a crazy idea. Could you build an airplane powered over at least short routes by flywheels?

98:

No, because the RSPCA won't let you pack hamsters in at the density necessary to get sufficient cargo space for it to be commercially viable.

99:

The killer is not the technology, but the inconvenience. Imagine you wish to fly from London to Sydney...

First of all you have to get to the Sub-Orbital Spaceport(tm) in Scotland. If you live near London you could drive - at least 7 hours. Or fly from London - only an hour, but with travel to London Airport, plus the security theatre, say 5 hours. Or go by train - at least 6 hours, assuming that the infrastructure is in place which it won't be for years.

Perhaps shorter transit travel at the Australia end, but even so the 3 hour sub orbital flight is going to require between 10 and 14 hours extra connecting travel at each end.

Would you be prepared to take 3 flights and 3 check-ins (or equivalent land travel) to save 5 - 10 hours? I wouldn't.

100:

The RSPCA might object for hamster wheels, but I bet they don't care as much about poor flies.

101:

Actually, there is a low-carbon fuel that more or less fits the bill here: ammonia. It can be synthesised using the Haber Process from nitrogen and hydrogen, it isn't insanely explosive like hydrogen, and it can be compressed into a liquid fairly easily, and maintained in this form without needing a horribly strong tank.

Ammonia has an energy content of 11.62 MJ/l, which compares well with methane at 11.43. Hydrogen has an energy content of 4.46 if highly compressed. Kerosene is about 32 MJ/l.

The disadvantages here are that ammonia is smelly, somewhat poisonous and the infrastructure for synthesising the huge volumes needed isn't quite there yet. It is however much easier to synthesise vast amounts of ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen and synthetic hydrogen using a nuclear plant for power than it is to concentrate atmospheric CO2 as a carbon source.

To be honest, I don't think anyone would bother trying to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere directly this way. Atmospheric CO2 has a half-life of only about 15 years, so actual removal of atmospheric CO2 isn't really a huge priority, whereas switching from fossil carbon to fossil something else as a fuel source (nuclear is effectively a very ancient fossil fuel; fossil supernova to be precise) is much more the priority.

102:

What would probably happen is that there would be dedicated shuttles at each end.

So you'd go to Heathrow, and check in, with all your fellow passengers.

You'd then all board a 737 which would act like an airport bus, except instead of driving across the tarmac to your plane, it would fly up to the distant space port.

Once there, all of you would troop over to the space plane, and the luggage cannisters would be transferred as well. A bit of a faff, but not too bad, I reckon.

At the far end, the reverse happens.

Yes there's an overhead of maybe three hours over a direct LHR-SYD flight, but you don't need to run multiple checkins if you treat it on an end to end basis.

(In principle, you could do something similar today with dedicated shuttle trains from the city centres to the airports, but people have got used to entering the system at the place the aircraft arrive and depart. And not everyone starts from the city centre.)

103:

You'd be surprised how all-encompassing animal rights activists can be; whilst doing a PhD involving plant parasitic nematodes, I did once get a bit of hassle off one such activist for cruelty to said wildlife.

As the few thousand I was breeding up and using as sources of pheromones were a tiny number compared to what the average potato farmer would poison routinely using such nasties as aldicarb, I simply wrote off any further communication with this twerp as unproductive.

104:

Technologically, I'd have thought that there's a nice simple solution to the security problem: install a remote-controlled bomb somewhere on the plane inaccessible to passengers and crew and give the detonation code to the air defence authorities of the countries you're flying between. Instead of shooting the plane down with interceptors, they can just blow it up remotely.

But somehow, I think people might be just a *little* reluctant to fly that way...

105:

Joe Random Terrorist: "Hey shall we hijack that new hypersonic and crash it into something?"

Jane Random Terrorist: "Nah, let's just buy some radio equipment and a decent computer and hack all the remote det bombs on them."

106:

Just to point out, the MOD wasn't shockingly bad at financial management - they were just all furiously playing games to protect their babies against a budget that wasn't big enough

Sorry, trying to knowingly spend more than you have is incompetent. Pretending that it won't cost that much, oh dear what a surprise, is incompetent. The whole FRES project has wasted a billion, for nothing (no vehicles delivered); Challenger 2 has been ignored for a decade, meaning that the UK no longer has an AFV design capability. None of these things are down to the Treasury. Granted, the one-eyed Chancellor hated the MoD and didn't fund the 1997 SDR fully, but even so - you have to work with what you've got.

Now look at the Haddon-Cave report after the Nimrod MR.2 crash in Afghanistan - namely, the sacrifice of flight safety standards? Down to RAF officers, not the Treasury. The assurance that the planned force for Afghanistan back in 2006 was sufficient to task? The Army, not the Treasury. The assurance that it was still sufficient, when they allowed that task to change? Those same Generals. The privatisation of Army recruiting, and subsequent failures? Yup, a General (who entirely coincidentally now sits on the board of the winning bid). Again, there's some debate on the Rumour Service as to how much the Army is going to suffer in the next Defence Review, mainly because some of its senior people are apparently sticking their fingers in their ears and going la-la-la-can't-hear-you. The current "of course we can build the TA up to 30,000" (having cut it down from 65,000 to 20,000 over twenty years) is perhaps indicative. The Generals have assured Government that yes, they know what they're doing, of course their plan will work. Government can now view this as a competence test. Personally, I think it's unlikely to succeed, and that as a result Cabinet will look on the General Staff as a bunch of incompetents who don't actually understand how their own Army works.

Yes, the politicians have blame enough after the BOWMAN radio procurement (stuff RACAL, they're not promising an assembly line in a Welsh Labour Marginal and seats on the board to politicians) and apparently the results of FRES were always skewed by "workshare", so it's amusing to see that having picked ASCOD over CV90, that GD are apparently going to build all SCOUT abroad to save cash, rather than the original "assemble in UK" plan (presumably in another key marginal).

107:

Careful about the Tornado F.3 jibes; apparently it was a lot better at air combat than given credit, and would occasionally give F-15 a nasty surprise on Ex RED FLAG. Apparently, tailoring your tactics to make best use of "two people in the cockpit" can occasionally work against single-seat fighters. That, and Skyflash was no slouch.

Using a Vulcan to haul around twelve Phoenix sounds on a par with the plans to use VC-10 as a bomber, or Concorde for that matter... Nice thought experiment (if you ignore the limitations of AIM-54), but a subsonic QRA isn't much use, and a constant CAP would be ruinously expensive. You'd also need to replace the H2S with something a bit more modern :)

108:

" it makes no more noise than any conventional aircraft"

Not actually true (and yes, I lived in London for a few years at a time when Concorde was going overhead).

Concorde's noise emissions at subsonic speed and without afterburner was comparable to a Boeing 727, pre-hush-kit. We just forget how loud airliners were in the 1960s.

Concorde used afterburners for take-off and transsonic transition. If they'd gotten around to building Concorde-B, a version with incremental improvements (including an uprated Olympus engine and leading-edge slats) which was slated for 1979-91, it could have taken off and reached supercruise without afterburner, although it'd still have been early-1970s-airliner-loud.

Concorde's flight profile banned supersonic flight over land, and it cruised at 55-65,000 feet -- if you were on a ship within 20-40 miles of its flight path you might hear the sonic boom as it went past, as a very distant thunderclap, but that's about it.

(And these days there's been a lot of research on how to muffle a sonic boom, because without that research the FAA won't license a supersonic bizjet to fly over the continental USA, and without such routes the sales will be crap.)

109:

What I want to know is why they took the idiotic decision to stretch the Comet Mk 3 airframe life out towards a century -- rather than taking the avionics and weapons of the MRA4 program and stuffing them inside an Airbus 320-series plane -- a modern airframe, with all the endurance and efficiency gains proposed for MRA4, available off the shelf at a fraction the cost of hacking on Nimrods. Yes, the Nimrod already had the huge unpressurized underslung bay, but the Airbus A319 MPA already exists and presumably has some way of dropping sonobuoys and weapons. Yes, the MPA might not meet the specific RAF laundry-list of requirements -- but it proves that the principle is viable. (As does the P8, based on a 737 airframe.)

110:

The B-70 did that very thing half a century ago. It worked just fine. Well, they were running jet fuel, but it was well past the boiling point when it was fed to the engines.

Hydrogen has three general problems as a fuel - it has a very low energy density (it is very bulky), it's under high pressure (which means its storage containers tend to be heavy and either spherical or cylindrical), and hydrogen loves to do a mating dance with all sorts of normal engineering materials, even better at high temperatures. This shortens the lifespan of the storage system, which means the tankage has to be replaceable (which means more expense). The failure modes all cluster around "BOOM!"

111:

I wrote a lengthy para explaining that then removed it from the original post as unnecessary b/c obvious.

Sensible people always minimize connections when travelling, because connections are annoying and unpredictable and provide opportunities for things to go wrong. But basically you're right.

112:

My proposal of Fischer-Tropsch for carbon fuel using atmospheric CO2 is based on the assumption that Hertmeles is right and we blast ALL the fossil carbon into the atmosphere, and there is NO fossil carbon available any more.

Think deep time. Think about the demand for aviation in 3000 years, or 30,000 years.

113:

Ah, the Conc-bomber!

I gather the airframe for prototype 002 had attachment points for a bomb bay inside the fuselage, although it was never fitted with one. The most demented version of the idea involved hanging an uprated Blue Steel stand-off bomb on the thing and making a mad run on Moscow at Mach 2.2.

I'd write it off as silly except apparently the Soviets also investigated using the Tu-144 as an air-launcher for SS-20 upper-stages, shades of Skybolt ...

114:

> violating airspace

It's a tit-for-tat thing, started by General Curtis LeMay of the USAF, who began sending bombers trolling around in Soviet airspace in the early 1950s, which drove the Rooskies half-crazy. This was on LeMay's own initiative, not any kind of official policy. Finally LeMay got a quiet word from El Presidente and the far-inland flights mostly pulled back to nibble along the USSR's border areas.

(see also: U-2)

The flights were mostly from US bases in Japan. The Soviets didn't have any convenient forward bases to overfly the continental USA in retaliation, so they built a base in east Siberia and started flying over Alaska. The Strategic Air Command then sent its own aircraft up, both AWACS and bombers, and for decades both US and Soviet bombers flew in interlocking circles over the Bering Sea. They called it "orbiting", and sometimes the tankers would keep the B-52s refueled and flying for days.

The B-52s carried nuclear weapons. I would assume the Soviet bombers were similarly armed.

It became such an established tradition that, very quietly during the end of the Cold War, we had Soviet military aircraft landing at US bases to refuel, and vice versa.

As far as I know both sides gave that up after the USSR broke up. But flight crew still need their flight pay, and Britain and the US are still tight allies, and it's way cheaper to noodge around the North Sea than it is to maintain a major military base in the end of Siberia. And, hey, they're doing you a favor; at least the RAF can justify their flight pay with something besides "training," and they can demonstrate a true need for more and better toys.

115:

We now live not-too-far from a railroad.

The trains are far more annoying than when we lived near the airport.

116:

> You'd then all board a 737 which would
> act like an airport bus,

Unless you live near a major transit hub, that's how all long-distance flight works.

If I were to visit Britain, I'd have to drive to the airport in Little Rock, board a "puddle jumper" flight to Memphis, take a larger aircraft from there to either Chicago or Atlanta (because, that's why...) then to New York, where I'd make another transfer to a plane that would go to a major British airport, probably hundreds of miles away from where I wanted to be, so I'd either make yet another connection or rent a car.

That itinerary was from 1995. It would have cost $3,500; I decided not to go.

There might be direct flights from places other than New York now, but they'd likely still be 500 miles away, so there's not much real difference.

My brother made the same trip a year later, except in the other direction except it only cost him something like $350. Ri-ight...

117:

Someone I know bought a house in a "historic" neighborhood. First winter he discovered an issue. Local rail yard not too far away kept the engines idling all the time to keep the cooling systems from freezing as they didn't use anti-freeze. Took a while to get a good nights sleep.

118:

We did UK to Memphis and back in October/November the following year, changing once (O'Hare, IIRC), and thankfully it was nothing like your itinerary cost. (OK, so no hop to Lil' Rock). But airlines - I can quite believe ridiculous pricing if you want the 'wrong' day or the 'wrong' final destination.

The issue with changes though is that your usual change involves people from a whole load of different inbound planes getting onto a bunch of major route planes - it's a many-to-many mixthrough. What I'd expect for a hypothetical sub-orbital is a one-to-one transfer: everyone boarding the first shuttle in London is disembarking from the second shuttle in Sydney. Logistics in that sort of case is much simpler, as you don't need to run multiple check ins, multiple boarding desks, you don't need to do luggage sorting, &c. &c.

(And I suppose immigration/customs could be done on-board one of the shuttles, if you so wished.)

But anyway, given the rest of the problems, I'm quibbling. I can't see it ever happening.

Talking of the fuel costs, yes, I would assume sub-orbital is expensive to get to, but does anyone have actual figures on the fuel cost to get up there, as opposed to the fuel cost incurred by pushing against atmosphere for a couple of dozen hours?

119:

take a larger aircraft from there to either Chicago or Atlanta (because, that's why...) then to New York, where I'd make another transfer to a plane that would go to a major British airport,

Actually, there are plenty of long-haul flights between the UK and Chicago or Atlanta. And not just to London; you can probably get to Manchester and possibly some of the larger regional airports direct from Chicago. Even if there are no direct flights to your chosen UK destination, you could do ATL to Amsterdam or Paris and then use the other European networks to get to just about anywhere in the UK.

I'll grant you Little Rock is still three sectors from anywhere in Europe except the major capital cities, but it's not quite that bad.

120:

"If you can make people more tolerent of really cramped conditions, such as by means of a heavy tranquiliser (not anaesthesia; that's risky) then you could literally stack in double the number of lightly snoozing customers into what would amount to a windowless cargo aircraft. You could then also perform a few biological clock manipulations onto them to reduce or eliminate jet lag, and of course sedated passengers wouldn't need much entertainment, or feeding, or toilet breaks other than a catheter and nappy."

This is the medical equivalent of what Charles described as the 'steel tank and algae' school of life support.

Drugging tens of thousands of people per day, in batches of hundreds, and then putting them in a position where no medical support is available for several hours, ain't gonna work.

121:

"...heavy tranquiliser (not anaesthesia; that's risky) ..."

I've had both, for various surgeries; they are just as concerned with the former as well as the latter.

122:

"Fuel price volatility is a non-issue because every airline hedges the cost by buying fuel months or years ahead."

(snip)

"Obviously, this cuts both ways and when oil prices take an unexpected dive, airlines get very unhappy by being locked in to swaps and options."

In which case the lower fuel costs make up for that. The whole point of hedging something is to balance your direct costs vs. the gains/losses from hedging.

123:

"Only thing is, which airline will be the first to try to introduce such a system? I'm betting on the military, with the likes of RyanAir very close on their heels."

Please note that the military already can and does cram people into small seats on almost windowless planes for long flights.

124:

As I noted earlier, this idea is utterly not going to fly on civil airliners. Reason: FAA-mandatory evacuation times in event of an accident.

125:

"Which immediately gets you another terrorist's wet dream ... you hack the plane's software - it deviates from course & gets blown up, killing all on board - which was actually, what you wanted to do in the first place, because your target was (one of?) the passengers.
Let's not go there, shall we?"


Which could be done for conventional aircraft, as well. In fact, all that would need to be done is to render the aircraft uncontrollable, ideally at landing or take off.

126:

"Technologically, I'd have thought that there's a nice simple solution to the security problem: install a remote-controlled bomb somewhere on the plane inaccessible to passengers and crew and give the detonation code to the air defence authorities of the countries you're flying between. Instead of shooting the plane down with interceptors, they can just blow it up remotely.
But somehow, I think people might be just a *little* reluctant to fly that way..."

It would make hackers' jobs easier; they'd just need that code. I'm sure that they'd appreciate it.

127:

Charlie, while I agree with most of your arguments, and the conclusion that we're not going to see hypersonic airliners, I don't think you're being cynical enough when you talk about security issues with business jets. Current air travel security laws are based on hysteria, security theatre, and the desire for an excuse to keep the plebs in line, not on any rational assessment of the actual threats. I think it was Bruce Schneier who pointed out that the only post-9/11 measure that is actually likely to have genuinely increased security a little was the addition of locks to cockpit doors.

I think we are going to see supersonic bizjets fairly soon (10-20 years?), and maybe even hypersonic or suborbital ones in a few more decades, because the legislative instinct to apply security theatre to everything is going to be overruled by the First Law: Don't inconvenience the rich. Even if there is actually a 9/11-like incident in which someone flies a bizjet into a skyscraper, at most we'll get some sort of token legislation that pretends to tighten up general aviation security, but with enough loopholes that nobody is actually put to any trouble. At least, nobody worth speaking of.

128:

As it stands, there are plenty of small airports that only service existing large hubs. These hubs tend to be in urban areas, but I'm not convinced that the majority of the traffic to and from these hubs actually terminates in these urban areas on either end -- I've been on flights where I made several hops, where the innermost hops were on passenger jets and the terminal hops were on little prop planes. In other words, if suborbital flights are essentially just between 'superhub' airports that also service subsonic jets between smaller hubs, it doesn't matter much if the superhub is in the middle of nowhere -- someone who is already riding in a prop plane for an hour and then riding in a subsonic jet for a whole day could instead ride in a prop plane for an hour, ride in a subsonic jet for twenty minutes, and ride in a suborbital jet for an hour. Superhubs would be an easy sell to whatever communities could afford to build them (and might even be somewhat subsidized by the airline) -- the tiny hamlet of Bad Ass, TX can replace half of one of the larger cattle pens with an airport where everything can cost two to three times the already inflated amount they charge at regular airports (because every passenger is someone willing and able to pay double the ticket price to chop twelve hours off their itinerary), employ locals at the kiosks, and keep hotels within the 'secure zone' -- then don't bother building shuttle buses or a pickup area, because you don't let passengers out of the airport proper except through the jetway.

129:

Which could be done for conventional aircraft, as well. In fact, all that would need to be done is to render the aircraft uncontrollable, ideally at landing or take off.

And the fact that this never actually happened should be a clue that "hacking plane's software" is a lot harder than it sounds.

I work in software security, and over the years I have come to a conclusion that non-professional public has a highly exaggerated image of what hackers can do. That image is fueled by recurrent break-ins at retail stores, stealing credit card information. What most people do not realize is there is a world of difference between stealing data and maliciously manipulating data, especially in real time. When was the last time you heard of hackers taking control of and/or damaging actual physical machinery? The only time I can think of is STUXNET worm, and it took the resources of NSA to accomplish. Not something a terrorist group can do.

130:

You assume the, cough, "security" authorities operate under pure rationality and not under several layers of systemic paranoia.

As long as there's the slightest chance of Big Terrorist Plot, they will obstruct the shit out of it.

131:

It's almost like they were selling vaporware! Hmmmmm...

132:

How to put the o back in the name so I can be Heteromeles again?

Anyway, it's worth reading David Archer's The Long Thaw if you want to understand where atmospheric carbon should go in the long term. Under normal circumstances, carbon can last a few minutes in the atmosphere (if you breathe on a photosynthesizing plant) to Dan's 15 years (wherever that came from), but generally the take-ups are, in order of speed of uptake and size of the reservoir, plants, the ocean, and rocks and soil. Right now, we're blowing out about 8.5 gigatonnes of carbon/year through industry and 2 gigatonnes/year through deforestation, and the plants are taking up 2 gigatonnes/year.

If we blow all fossil carbon into the air, we saturate the first two reservoirs, and we're stuck waiting around until the carbon gets into the ground, which is what takes up to 400,000 years.

The problem is that most of the surplus carbon stays in the air only for around 1,500-2,000 years. After that, most of the carbon is in the ocean and ocean sediments (composed in part of former coral reefs and former limestone-based islands). While there will be a lot more carbon in the air than there is now, it's not an unlimited source of carbon to be bound into fuel. You can't keep rerunning the 20th century in perpetuity by recycling atmospheric carbon through some photosynthetic process, using it as fuel, and then blowing it back into the air.

The ocean might be a better place to find that carbon, but still, you're competing with limestone sediments (which are buffering the acid produced by the carbon dioxide in the water) for carbon from which to make fuel.

And that doesn't get into all the problems with dealing with 6-8oC of average global warming, just to have a lot of carbon in the air to keep the jets flying. Among other things, you won't have to worry about flying into London, New York, or Shanghai (or many other coastal cities), because they'll all be under the ocean if the Earth is that hot.

133:

Seriously folks, jet noise is an issue ...

http://ctr.stanford.edu/ResBriefs/2011/01_nichols.pdf

"The large velocity ratio and the presence of shocks in the exhaust plume from low-bypass engines cause jet noise to be the dominant component of the overall aircraft noise, and therefore is an important issue in the design of the next generation of civil supersonic transport."

134:

How to put the o back in the name so I can be Heteromeles again?

If I've done it right, from your next comment.

Or even the next time the page is updated as a result of a new comment. Like this one.

135:

Well, there's always O'Neills idea of running magnetically levitated trains in evacuated tunnels. This actually works! In fact you can run them fast enough to put them into free-fall. With electricity. Of course, the up-front investment is rather high . . .

Didn't Roddenberry have a pilot where the protagonists on a post-Apocalyptic Earth got around on them?

136:

I read a book or story about it a few decades ago. Not sure who wrote it. And there was a not so great SF movie with the concept in the last few years.

Both treated the earth as a solid granite chunk. But it's not. :(

137:

In other words, if suborbital flights are essentially just between 'superhub' airports that also service subsonic jets between smaller hubs, it doesn't matter much if the superhub is in the middle of nowhere

In most large US hubs you still have 10% to 20% of the traffic end pointing at the hub. To have a large hub you need a fairly large population base in the area to draw all the hub employees from. And that large population base makes those airports good places to build warehouse distribution centers and so on. Which makes it good for the hub to grow. Etc...

Putting a superhub in the middle of nowhere creates problems with staffing and such.

138:

Thank you sir! Let's see if this works.

139:

Didn't Elon Musk propose something like this for California, using a route that crossed the San Andreas fault multiple times? As I recall, the failure mode for such a system is rather spectacular, as is the braking mode for the train behind the failure. If we were running with Musk's proposal (trains five minutes apart in an evacuated tube), a train trying to avoid colliding with a stopped train ahead of it would have to decelerate at something like -2gs, and the passengers would be hanging through their seat straps at something like that force. If you're stuck in one during a breakdown, you're probably going to have what the military calls a "bad day."

140:

Seems like a reasonable analysis. Even if new technology made the cost of energy dirt cheap and thus technically easy, the regulation and security theater complications are unlikely to improve.

I'm of the suspicion that we've passed peak "cheap energy" and, however we're living in the future, it will have to be lower energy. Only in a cheap energy glut could we imagine that sprawling suburbia and car culture makes sense. The resources involved in a housewife driving a car to go shopping while the husband drives his own car 30 miles to work... Any reasonable man of science in the 19th century would run the numbers and call it futurist poppycock. Just the physical concentration of wealth represented by an automobile and you're proposing there will be one for every common laborer? You're mad!

It seems to track that electronic geegaws and wizardly tablets will drop in price and astound in performance while other examples of wealth dwindle. Health care, wages, hours worked, vacation time, general quality of life, all will get the squeeze. I think cheap air travel will be an artifact of the cheap energy age.

141:

The resources involved in a housewife driving a car to go shopping while the husband drives his own car 30 miles to work... Any reasonable man of science in the 19th century would run the numbers and call it futurist poppycock.

Flip side: looking forward to a future when we've fucked the climate and burned all the fossil carbon, I still see no reason why we can't have personal transport. We may be riding to work on a high-efficiency electrically assisted bicycle (with photovoltaic panels that unfold from the frame to help it recharge while parked), and we may have to build the bloody things like mediaeval swords -- to last for generations, with maintenance, because they're an expensive investment of energy and resources -- but I see no reason why we won't have them. (Or rather: the only plausible reason for not having them is being unable to build them due to loss of knowledge, which would seem rather likely to require a massive population crash, of a severity to make the Black Death look like a minor flu epidemic.)

If our technology plateaus this decade, and energy continues to get more expensive, and the climate gets worse, lots of people will die unnecessarily over the next century -- but I think the 23rd century survivors will still have a standard of living that would seem unimaginable from the perspective of the muscle-driven 19th century.

142:

A friend does training at a sizeable airline. We've gone in after hours and played on the escape slide.

No matter what it looks like on TV, you basically fall straight down, then make a sharp horizontal hook at the bottom. You're moving pretty darned fast dropping out of the 747 trainer; fast enough that people have broken bones as they've shot out ofthe slide and tumbled across the room.

It's a lot like the water slide at a fun park, excecpt you hit a hard surface instead of water. But at least the simulator had linoleum instead of concrete or asphalt for authentic road rash...

143:

I still see no reason why we can't have personal transport.

An apartment block is FAR more energy efficient, both in summer and winter (especially in winter) than same number of people in suburban houses. If energy costs force people to concentrate in cities, demand for personal transportation may well drop.

An electric bus carrying 80 people may or may not use less energy than 80 electric bikes, but it will definitely make less of a traffic jam.

144:

With bicycles, bamboo frames might work better, but in general, I agree with you. Biggest problem with bikes is where to get the rubber.

The process design challenge is building things like PV panels, motors, and other bits and bobs that will last, rather than (especially with PV) turning into expensive, somewhat hazardous, garbage after 20 years or so. We're not currently thinking that way on most consumer products. It's a good challenge for any designer, to figure out how to extend the life of a product while still making it affordable in some fashion.

145:

Yep, noted. My guess is we'll see dense apartment blocks, streetcars for urban transport, bikes for personal off-route mobility, and rent self-driving cars by the hour (a la zipcar). We'll probably still have jets for long-haul travel: it'll be a higher proportion of income if you want to fly, and they might be packed a bit more densely. Also, we'll probably use trains for getting to long-haul hubs, rather than commuter planes. Ships for transport, possibly nuclear or with aerofoils for wind power -- the latter will probably also depend heavily on weather satellites for route optimization and storm avoidance.

146:

A pedantic correction - medieval swords were made to hurt other people, but to do so at various price ranges. There were expensive, very carefully made ones for rich people, right down to cheap, badly made folds in half when you hit armour with it ones. Looking at later medieval wills, swords are surprisingly cheap, and unsurprisingly, those ones haven't survived. What have survived are mostly the very well made ones made for rich people.

147:

"Proposing" is too strong of a word...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7tTqdR7qtQ

"Fantasizing", "babbling" or "wanking about" is more apt. He let his lackeys draw a cartoon about a sooper-train so he could bask in the celebration of gullible, ignorant nerds the world over.

Meanwhile, here in the real world, the not-SF-tech and therefore boring Californian high-speed rail project "Hyperloop" was a response towards is actually breaking ground, while the latter is still a cartoon.

http://sfist.com/2015/01/05/californias_high-speed_rail_finally.php

148:

Another consideration with regards to cities is that in the mid-long term (20-200 years) energy efficiency regulations will mean that new developments would require less energy than previous generations. Given the lifetime of buildings in European countries this is a long term game but I expect that a city like London circa 2115 will consume significantly less energy per dwelling than one nowadays.

149:

For intermediate-range travel the high speed "bullet train" setup can be fast and much cheaper than aircraft. There have been a number of attempts to build something like that in the US; each time the backers ran into heavily-financed lobbying from the airlines and aviation industry. The last system to make it very far was the "Texas Grand Vitesse" system that was to link up Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, back about 20 years ago. They proposed to buy their rolling stock from the French instead of starting from scratch.

As far as I know they planned to lay the tracks on the ground. I always thought it would make more sense to just build the whole line as a bridge several meters up; no crossings, no cattle | drunks | children wandering on the track, probably an order of magnitude simpler and cheaper to acquire right-of-way. Long ago elevated railways were common in some urban areas for the same reasons, so it's not like it's a new idea.

150:

If titanium was free, a part made of it would probably cost about the same as a similar part forged and/or milled from ordinary "aircraft aluminum." (6061 or 7075 alloy, not the exotic aluminum-lithium stuff, which is so expensive even NASA doesn't use it)

Titanium truly sucks to work with. (*) It doesn't much care for forging or casting, can only be welded to aviation standards in an argon-filled box, requires special equipment for grinding, and absolutely sucks to machine. The increased tool wear would probably nicely balance the "free" part.

Weight/strength tradeoffs change when working temperature goes up. The wing leading edge temperature of an SR-71 is around 1,000F. At that temperature, the weight/strength tradeoff isn't nearly so much in favor of titanium; much of the B-70's airframe was stainless steel. The Soviets used carbon steel in many high speed aircraft, notably the MiG-25. CIA engineers were astonished to see bits of the one Victor Belenko defected with start to rust in humid Japanese weather...


(*) titanium might as well be cheese if you're comparing it to uranium or plutonium, though. Besides the "sucks to machine" and being radioactive parts, plutonium is both poisonous and pyrophoric, which means your machining swarf is really, really nasty stuff.

151:

I think that what we'll see is a return to older economic realities.

The American Northeast is very old and very highly developed. The economic reality is that you had to build where the people were and people weren't going to walk five miles to your store if another was closer. They might not walk an extra hundred feet. Things were built on a denser scale. The automobile meant that land outside of town became useful, you could build it and people would come. Cheap personal transit was a game changer.

The horse and carriage (but mostly foot) gave way to the automobile. If the automobile gives way to the electric assist bike, we can afford less density than then 19th century but more density than the 20th.

My thought experiment for a really low energy future goes out a hundred years: Cowboys and Kalashnikovs. The American Southwest becomes uninhabitable due to climate change. Not just ghost towns and ghost cities but ghost states. There's a remnant of civilization on the Pacific, basically Oregon and Washington State. There's already existing ranches in Washington and I'm imagining that a thinning of the population could open up more land for cattle and other grazers. Primary exports would be meat and resources salvaged from dead cities. China would be a major player, plying the trade routes with modernized windjammers, computerized airfoil sails and operating with minimum crew and zero carbon emissions. They would carry high-density manufactured goods like electronics for trade. Chinese merchants and entrepreneurs would be an unwelcome and unavoidable presence in the new west, and ironic mirroring of unwelcome western interlopers in 19th century China. The assumptions run with the idea that ocean transit to China is far cheaper than land transit to the East coast. I'm assuming it'll be hard to keep the railroads running with all the regional squabbles of a US in broad collapse. So Beijing has more influence on the West Coast than Washington, DC.

The ironic schizotech portrait of this era would be a cowboy with a relatively modern rifle and a smartphone riding his horse. While there are still motorized vehicles, they have a long supply train behind them while horses drink the water and eat the grass and the parts don't come from Shenzen. In the cities the cars will look more like glorified golf carts. No, they can't go 70mph on the freeway and keep passengers alive in high-speed crashes but they don't go more than 20mph and there's not much traffic to worry about.

152:

One of our interesting issues is the explosion in new materials science over the past 50 years. A lot of these materials simply haven't been around long enough for us to identify their age-related failure modes -- e.g. solar UV embrittlement of plastics.

Another issue is that we haven't really developed much in the way of biosynthetic materials yet. The holy grail of synthetic spider-silk would be a huge step forward. And why can't we come up with a bioengineered source of pre-laid carbon fibres suitable for baking and embedding in a resin or silk matrix, rather than having to make the things out of petrochemicals?

153:

Also note, US infrastructure in general suffers hugely from "not invented here" -- and rail is a particularly bad case of this. The USA has the slowest, most expensive, heaviest high speed rail on the planet (the Acela service) simply because DOT standards assume all passenger trains will travel on regular tracks including level crossings where they may hit random semi-trailers, or mix it with derailed freight locos. Whereas the LGV systems the rest of the planet use mostly run on purpose-built grade-separated tracks where there are no freight trains to bump into, much less level crossings, and so they can be much lighter and faster.

154:

Agreed about the efficiency of density. There's a lot of talk that the slums of the 21st century may well be the suburb. There will still be a huge demand for bikes in cities, even with proper mass transit.

With declining income levels and rising costs, we are already seeing impossible situations. Where are your service economy workers going to live if they make $10/hr and there's no affordable housing in your town? You expect them to drive in twenty miles from somewhere else? With the price of properties, schoolteachers and policemen living in town right now are in houses they couldn't afford to buy now. They'll make a tidy profit when they retire and sell but where will their replacements live? I think there will have to be a major price collapse. There's only so far people will commute and the distance drops along with the pay. A manager might drive in an hour from the burbs but the fry cook will not, cannot.

155:

Note the one screaming drawback with high speed rail compared to aviation kicks in at longer range: infrastructure.

An airline service requires: an airport at each endpoint, and vehicles (plus fuel). Cost is not terribly sensitive to distance between endpoints -- a Boeing 737-800 burns around 600 gallons of fuel per hour, travelling 500 miles, with up to 190 people on board: the heaviest fuel burn happens at take-off and landing.

A TGV network requires: a station at each endpoint, vehicles, and track. 2-3 miles of track per mile between stations, because TGV's don't stop and start easily -- you can't have two-way running on a TGV track. The track needs to be built on very solid foundations, grade-separated from other surface obstacles, and it needs to have signalling infrastructure and a high-tension power grid (because you do not want to weigh down your TGVs with many tons of fuel if you can burn it trackside and just ship the electrons). Worst of all: any railway network needs to budget to re-lay 1.5-5% of the track every year, or it decays. High speed rail is particularly sensitive to bumpy rides or subsidence, so the maintenance load is at the high end.

So the cost of building and maintaining a TGV network scales linearly with distance, but the cost of airline service scales mostly with the number of nodes (airports) and maintenance cost of vehicles, and not much at all with distance. It's as if you're getting the tracks for free.

156:

The economic reality is that you had to build where the people were and people weren't going to walk five miles to your store if another was closer. They might not walk an extra hundred feet. Things were built on a denser scale.

Dude, that's how I live right now. I am literally 200 metres from the milestone defining the heart of a capital city. There are three pubs within 50 metres, three large-ish urban supermarkets within 500 metres, and this building I'm living in is about 8 years off it's bicentennial.

What you're missing in your scenario for trade transit from the Pacific north-west to the eastern seaboard of the USA is the Guatamala Canal, which is just starting construction. The Pacific North-West will be less than 2000 5000 miles from New England by water (strikeout because I fact-checked before I allowed my unconscious European assumptions about distance to lead me astray: memo to self, the Americas are big), so about the same again as the distance from China to the west coast. Once it's afloat it keeps moving ... and 5000 miles by sea is inevitably going to be cheaper than 3000 miles by rail (let alone wagon train).

157:

Admin note: Brian Cushion has been unable to log in and post a comment, but his email about the Nimrod MRA4 is interesting enough and relevant to the sub-topic that I've obtained his permission to post it here. I repeat: this is not a Charlie Stross comment, this is a reader submission.

-------------------------------

I am a former Nimrod captain; MR1, MR2 and R1; with extensive "back office" experience to boot. I find it surprising that no one seems to have mentioned to David Cameron that we happen to live on an island whilst the cancellation decision was being considered but I think that one has to look a bit deeper than that.

There is no doubt that the whole Nimrod 2000/MRA4 project was a debacle from beginning to end. there was a clear need for a major update to the MR2 tac systems and it was also apparent that the airframe was fast running out of life. At the time there were few option. An aircraft based upon the Canadian Aurora was considered and rejected, the P7 development of the P3 was high risk as the USN was not committed and an Atlantique could not meet the spec (It never could in all the preceding years, but that's another story). In the end we darted down the "British" route in what was in may ways a replay of the Nimrod AEW cockup of the 1980s.

I should point out that although I spent many Years flying and instructing on the Nimrod I never really saw it as the best option for the role. I thought at the time, and still do, that the P3 would have been a better option and I should point out that I was a Vulcan pilot who went into maritime, not a dyed in the wool Shacklebomber driver. But it was "buy British" again.

After all the faffing around and delays with Nimrod 2000 becoming MRA4 the stage was set for yet another tragedy. The real end to the project was when Gordon Brown reduced the order from 12 to 8 airframes. The fleet number was too low to have been an effective force and the cost of operating and supporting these 8 unique aircraft would have been unsustainable. Following the reduction there was never any realistic prospect of the MRA4 entering service. But this of course played better than cancellation and redundancies in the run up to an election. Cynical, moi?

When Cameron took office he was faced with an unavoidable decision, we desperately needed the capability but there was no way ot could be afforded. At this point I shall not mentioning aircraft carriers in order to avoid an exponential rise in my blood pressure! I really do believe tha Brown did enormous damage to defence through some of his decisions and he has so far escaped the full opprobrium that he deserves.
What of the future, well SDSR 15 looks no better than SDSR 10, in fact in many ways worse. However I feel that it is pretty well acknowledged that it is essential that we regain some maritime air capability.

We are never again going to see the 5 squadrons that we once had but something more than a "militant" coastguard is necessary. In the short term I would hope that we might do a deal for 3xP8s. It would be enough to retain a cadre and in spite of the low number affordable as we could tap in to USN support. Far from ideal, but maybe achievable.

It saddens and worries me that when I think back to what we did, even some of the more simple operations would now be out of our reach.


--- (snip) ---

158:

Charlie, while I agree with the general thrust of your argument, you seem to assume that these hypersonic planes will have pilots. I suspect that by the time hypersonic planes can be made, most planes will be pilotless. (It certainly makes a lot of sense with business jets, where to pilot mass and cost to passenger ratio is high.) We are already reaching the stage where commercial pilots are doing so little real flying that when there is an emergency, they cock things up.

Failure modes:
There will be the normal precautions about taking bombs on board, but hijacking will be useless.

You can hack into the plane's controls, but this would be a subset of hacking into the controls of any dangerous technology.

If the plane needed to divert, the command would be give from a central control station, which would be in some sort of securitized building.

159:

Holiday season Disney movie overdose has kicked in ...

The intense urban crowding (population density) with lots of vertical and horizontal planes/spaces, high fuel costs, no personal jet-packs, general lack of fitness among the population, alongside research showing that better physical fitness does indeed improve cognitive performance lead me to propose: Construction of atria-like housing (domed) modules complete with real and synthetic vines for doing the daily personal commute and physical fitness routine, i.e. emulating Tarzan. Professional sports teams and betting pools would make this a surefire winner. Would also be good business opportunity for new fashions/apparel ... yoga/Lululemon move over.

As for the appeal of swinging through the vines ... there are a couple of local businesses in my area that offer instruction in leaping up walls and staircases a la Spiderman.

160:
Once it's afloat it keeps moving ... and 5000 miles by sea is inevitably going to be cheaper than 3000 miles by rail (let alone wagon train).

What are the economics of canals? I'd guess that they're more energy efficient than rail when it comes to moving things around, but more expensive infrastructure-wise… but I've no actual idea.

161:

We are already reaching the stage where commercial pilots are doing so little real flying that when there is an emergency, they cock things up.

That is really not my understanding of what goes on in a cockpit -- even a modern glass cockpit in an airliner. No, seriously: while there are training issues for sure with some airlines (and crew over-reliance on automated systems) they really don't fly themselves even when things are going according to plan.

162:

Actually, there's a big problem with assuming that China's going to be a big player: heat stress (if you follow this link, I recommend really looking at figure 1F. In the pdf, you can really blow it up). Depending on your time scale, Shanghai will go underwater if the east Antarctic ice sheet melts. Unfortunately, it will be seasonally uninhabitable then. This is the 35oC wet bulb temperature (or 30oC wet bulb globe temperature if you're in the military or industrial hygiene) where the air is so hot and humid that people can't lose heat through perspiration. In this extreme weather, people die unless they can get indoors with air conditioning. Reportedly, it came close to that mark in the summer of 2013, so it may not take much longer for Shanghai to start losing a lot of people to heat stress.

Fortunately for us, the way we get to Sherwood and Huber's scenario is to blow all our fossil fuel carbon into the air, blow the clathrates around the North Pole and wait for a century for the humidity to really get bad. Bad news is, if that happened, a lot of currently densely-populated real estate (south China, India) would have to be vacated. The "fun" news is that, if we don't get our carbon act together, some spots on the globe will likely start experiencing 30oC wet bulb globe temperatures, probably unpredictably. That kind of chaos would be "fun" for those who like disaster scenarios or who profiteer off of crises, so this might not be very fun for most of us.

163:
We are already reaching the stage where commercial pilots are doing so little real flying that when there is an emergency, they cock things up.

When a plane crashes it is - by definition - one of those instances where both automation and pilot were faced with something they couldn't handle. You never hear about the far more common instances of pilots doing the job they are very heavily trained to do well since "jet landed safely without problems" is rarely a headline story.

164:

Further to the comments about making stuff to last, that does rather presuppose a major revolution in how we organise culture and society, such that the economy operates differently. I don't see how else we can consume less, which is what things built to last actually means. We already know what happens when people spend less, we end up in a long recession. There are lots of people who would like to be able to afford to buy a new car/ computer/ sofa, but can't at the moment; yet if they don't the economy suffers since it is used to a certain throughput of money.


Gregory #154- yes, we do/ will expect the plebs to spend a long time commuting. For instance the Big River distribution centre in Dunfermline was bussing people in from Stirling, Perth and Dundee at peak time; an hour and more commuting to a 10 hour a day physically demanding job. A lot of the same goes on in London.
Of course if transportation gets expensive enough that won't happen, but then how will you deal with the varying capabilities of economic units? THey after all insist on having something called a "life", which added to high property prices means they are reluctant to move house every year in order to serve their masters well.
So we'll end up with company supplied housing, but it'll be scuzzy dormitories, all very well when you are seeing the world aged 18 or 19, and in that respect no different from the lot of itinerant farm workers in the 19th century. But the necessity for the proles to reproduce themselves is not nowadays thought of, whereas at least the farm workers had a good chance of graduating to more permanent positions; I would expect birth rates to be lower again under such an outcome.

165:

Yes, it was called "Chrome Dome", thermo-nuke armed B-52 bombers loitering at Arctic and European points, ready to turn and attack the USSR, should the balloon go up, in the hope that SAC would be able to get its retaliation in first.

The operations were only phased out once there were sufficient Polaris, and Poseidon SSBNs to do the job instead, well into the 1960s, hence the crashes of B-52G and tanker at Palomares in '66, and the lesser known 1968 crash at Thule.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_Thule_Air_Base_B-52_crash#Thule_Monitor_Mission

KC-135D and KC-135R/RC-135s were used to fly recce operations with sideways looking synthetic aperture radars, and air sampling equipment.

One of those was stooging around Sakhalin when KAL 007 flew off course and was shot down in 1985.

166:

I am so jealous of your walkable city. I've got stores damn close to my house and it's still a 15 minute walk. There's no mass transit in South Florida. Riding my bike nine miles to work makes me seen as some kind of freak.

Point well understood concerning boats being cheaper than trains, diesel or wagon. The new canal you mentioned might make transit distance equivalent for the East Coast (Seattle to Shangai is around 5000 miles). But this is assuming a) the are the canal runs through remains docile b) local government is able to maintain the locks and canal c) no other threats manifest in the region. A Cuban pirate fleet could ruin an otherwise viable route. The political and military will to secure the route would have to come from the American government. It would make for a great bit of conflict in the setting. US Government tries to reestablish sea connection with the West Coast after twenty years wasted trying to rebuild the railroad. Chinese merchants worried about losing their American markets, agitate for their government to intervene. New funding mysteriously appears for Guatamalan rebels, Cuban pirates more aggressive with new ships and black market firepower.

I would consider the Chinese trade angle to be a workable assumption in worldbuilding rather than fantasy by fiat, aka viable passenger zeppelins with 1930's tech.

21st century zeppelins might be possible, of course. Solar-powered hybrid airships would be useful in a low energy future but their viability would have to be weighed against the cost and practicality of conventional aircraft, ships, etc.

167:

Yes, if commercial airliner travel was as safe as space travel, and presumably sub-orbital travel - there would be at least fifteen airliner crashes a day

Nothing posted thus far has made the prospect of sub-orbital travel attractive to me, but then I don't think I'm quite the target market.

168:

No F-3 jibes here - the Tornado ADV was a much better bet than the Vulcan ADV, full details of the post-war UK Air Defence Environment plans can be found here

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Battle-Flight-Defence-Projects-Weapons/dp/1902109260/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420580780&sr=8-1

Tornado F-3 was very impressive zoom climbing after take-off with the reheat on at the Crash gates at RAF Leeming.

My Ears! My Ears!

169:

I've heard about this scenario and it is pretty frightening. Very near, too.

The scenario I'm outlining is a diminished future, though. I'm not talking about China as new superpower putting fleets of super-carriers to sea. So even if they take it hard from climate change, they're a big country. A little corner of the US ran worldwide trade fleets back in the day, yankee clippers. Holland was once a world trade power.

It might or might not prove viable. This is more an intellectual exercise, a scenario rather than a setting for a novel. There's not much riding on it if I get it all wrong. :)

170:

A Cuban pirate fleet could ruin an otherwise viable route.

Is Cuba still going to be inhabitable in such a scenario? As Heteromeles noted, there will be regular wet bulb temperature emergencies: Cuba's pretty hot already, and a chunk of the US South (and midwest) will become totally uninhabitable. Then there's the hurricane season: if Cuba gets hit by a cat 5 storm every single year it'll be quite hard to maintain infrastructure.

Rents for use of the Guatamalan canal suggest to me that maintaining it will be a very high priority for whoever lives there in centuries to come. Because trade.

171:

Thanks Gregory, I'm actually working on a book on this. It's not a novel, but more of a guide book for those who are trying to figure out how all these trends play out. It's a complicated enough mess that it needs a book in itself just to explain what happens when and where, even under a single scenario.

As for global warming and the US, the biggest loser is likely to be the Southeast, due to heat stress (and sea level rise, but they hit at different times). The Southwest will run short of water. This will probably take out Vegas, perhaps Phoenix and Tucson, but not Los Angeles, which will probably still support 200,000 to 300,000 people on the various watersheds that feed the basin.

The big winners are the Rocky Mountain states, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, New England, and possibly the Great Lakes states, depending critically on how bad the heat stress situation gets. The upper Midwest might or might not do well--it will be paratropical in climate, but the water situation is unclear, as is how bad the summer humidity will be. Current jokes about how it's not the heat that gets you, it's the humidity will sooner or later stop being jokes.

And then there's Canada. They'll have all this wonderful climate, and old, bog-covered soils with which to reap the benefits. Life's so unfair sometimes.

172:

Um, what re. Canada soils? All I've ever read says that their soil is simply wrong and not enough of to replace the midwest american farms and their produce.

173:

Charlie, Brian,

Although the cost overruns, the time overruns, and the generally poor performance/lifetime numbers of MRA4 were bad, they weren't the final straw AFAIK. Unfortunately I don't think I can say what I think was; but the canning of it wasn't any surprise.

The UK certainly needs the capability for Maritime Surveillance (though I'd be more inclined to look towards drones today) - but MOD/politicians have got themselves into one of those 'no way out' situations regards military capability that will get worse before it has a hope of getting better.

And Martin @106, if only it were that simple - and yes the fingers do point back to the treasury and the accountants, coupled with the very long procurement timelines and in-service time horizons. Long term vs short term viewpoints - guess who won.

174:

It's quite sad when 'plane landed safely with no problems (other than an _indication_ of losing a primary system which has multiple redundancies/backups)' becomes 'passengers feared for their lives!!!'.
Pilots routinely make live-saving decisions about stuff like weather avoidance, as well as more mundane trade-offs about risk, cost, and convenience. Any sort of large-scale 'managed from the ground' system that relies on sharing decision-making resources is going to be subject to overload when multiple unexpected events occur (un-forecast weather plus runway blockage plus ATC outage - when the mid-USA ATC was taken out last year the weather was good, thankfully).

175:

Here's an interesting -- well, I think it is -- mental experiment with respect to the US and transportation. Pull up a relief map of the 48 contiguous states like this one. Notice that one-third of the country is not like the other two-thirds. Pull up the corresponding population density map, like this, say. Same one third is not like the rest.

The American West's population is enormously concentrated into a handful of metro areas. The West has to deal with one form of sprawl, suburbs around the urban core. Most western cities have not seen a lot of urban core decay, and all but one of those metro areas is building light rail to tie the suburbs and urban core more closely.

The East, OTOH, has two sprawl problems. One of them is the same suburban issue, but complicated by the lack of a robust urban core in many cases. The other is that there are enormous numbers of small cities and towns scattered everywhere. That's a whole lot harder problem to solve by rail. People have mentioned most of the components you would need in the West -- glorified golf carts for intra-suburb, light rail around the metro area, rent by the hour. In the East, you have to somehow deal with all of those folks out in the countryside.

The long-term electricity issue is easier in the West as well. The region is rich in undeveloped traditional hydro, wind, and solar. The first one provides 22-32% of the region's electricity each year (depending on snow pack); the latter two are being built out rapidly.

176:

The American Northeast is very old and very highly developed...

When compared to the west coast or the central states, sure - but I'll remind you that many of the people reading this are European. They may point and laugh at American ideas of 'very old.'

My thought experiment for a really low energy future goes out a hundred years: Cowboys and Kalashnikovs. The American Southwest becomes uninhabitable due to climate change. Not just ghost towns and ghost cities but ghost states. There's a remnant of civilization on the Pacific, basically Oregon and Washington State. There's already existing ranches in Washington and I'm imagining that a thinning of the population could open up more land for cattle and other grazers. Primary exports would be meat and resources salvaged from dead cities...

The eastern parts of Oregon and Washington already look like that, and I can assure you that there's just not that much population out there to collapse. (Note for Europeans: those are the rectangular states in the northwestern bit of the US. There's a big mountain range running north-south through them, dividing the region into a damp coastal third good for agriculture, mountains, and a big empty space.) Grazing on steppes is fine but I wouldn't be optimistic about the economy there without cheap transportation.

177:

Actually, I think those big square states are a bit more like California: the land sea-ward of the coastal mountains is a bit wet for most types of agriculture. The land behind the coastal ranges is where the good farmland is. Then there's the cascades (or, in California, the Sierras), and then you get to the desert.

Anyway, the ghosts are in the Southeast as much as in the Southwest. There's actually a not-bad correlation between where the climate change deniers are most vocal in the US and which areas are likely to get harmed the most by climate change. You can already see some of the effect, in that areas hit hardest by drought around 2013-2014 voted most stridently against Obama. It's hard to tell whether this is a truly irrational response, or whether it's conflict between the growing urban core and the stressed supporting periphery, with the democrats seen as the increasingly urban party.

178:

The Southwest will run short of water.

One of the great unknowns that the climate models can't handle yet is the North American Monsoon. The problem with modeling is the complexity -- for example, if the moisture flows move up or down 1,000 feet vertically in the atmosphere, where the summer thunderstorms form can change a lot. It is entirely possible that the Four Corners states in the Southwest -- Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah -- will get increased summer rainfall. It would tend to come in inconveniently large bursts, so storage and management would be critical to taking advantage of it (in at least the cash sense, though, big dams are remarkably cheap). Despite the ongoing drought in the deep Southwest, the last two years have seen unusually strong regional monsoon effects (Colorado in 2013, Arizona in 2014).

179:

Aegis BMD is going to be a hot item if they do decide to go with sub-orbital passenger service.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aegis_Ballistic_Missile_Defense_System

181:

Ah-ha, we have returned to the topical strange attractor of future energy constraints! I doubt that suburbs will become abandoned wastelands post-oil. In most of the USA a detached suburban home has more than enough roof space to mount PV modules sufficient to provide 100 km of daily travel in a battery electric vehicle. Most households will run out of money to add modules, or run out of sufficient electrical consumption to justify more modules, before they run out of space for modules.

The detached home is actually the easiest case for rooftop solar: there is usually a high ratio of usable space for modules to occupants, and the occupants are more likely to own outright. Contrast with multi-story dense housing and rented dwellings: there is much less roof space per occupant, and there is no financial benefit from lowering tenants' electricity costs. Early adopters of solar power are/were overwhelmingly living in detached houses rather than apartments. Dense city living is still more efficient overall, but the higher land rents extracted for that privilege keep city dwellers from personally seeing much benefit.

Of course the typical suburban household gets a battery electric vehicle and home electrical storage only if battery costs fall considerably. Call me Dr. Pangloss, but I think that they will. People have been looking for a miracle breakthrough alternative to crystalline silicon PV for 40+ years and instead it's good old c-Si that has continued to lead the way on efficiency, volume, and cost. I think the same will happen with lithium batteries: no miracles of chemistry or physics needed to make them affordable, just small incremental improvements compounded over time. Additionally, much of the energy used in homes and commercial buildings is just to regulate the interior temperature. Better insulation can shave that consumption and thermal energy storage in a large tank of water, for heating or for cooling depending on the season, can buffer intermittent daily energy flows at much lower expense than on-site electrical storage.

Longevity of PV modules is also quite good. There will probably be a rash of early failures from off-brand modules made in the 2010-2012 time frame when prices were collapsing and some manufacturers cut corners recklessly. But historical and ongoing field trials in Germany, California, Italy, and elsewhere indicate that modules typically hold up better than manufacturer data sheets promise. Some modules from the early 1980s are still performing close to their original factory specifications, and durability testing has become much more demanding in recent years. I would guess that a large fraction of modules from first-tier manufacturers will still produce over 70% of original rated output 50 years from now.

182:

Drones for maritime surveillance? Arguable, if all you're wanting to do is take pictures of naughty fishing boats. But for ASW it's a definite non-starter.

Apparently, the way ahead is not a specialist MPA, but a "Multi-Mission Aircraft" - i.e. sensors that aren't just limited to hunting periscopes, but also manage overland operations. The French use their Atlantiques for this in Mali, and the RAF was flying Nimrod MR.2 over Afghanistan.

The P-8 has been trialling a big radar pod that sits underneath, and allows it to do E-8-like things (or Sentinel-like, if you prefer RAF rather than USAF).

183:

Actually, I think those big square states are a bit more like California: the land sea-ward of the coastal mountains is a bit wet for most types of agriculture. The land behind the coastal ranges is where the good farmland is. Then there's the cascades (or, in California, the Sierras), and then you get to the desert.

You're correct of course, but I didn't want to get into that much detail; Oregon's coastal mountains aren't worth noticing if you're examining the state from Scotland. I also skipped the Olympic peninsula, where you find rare temperate rain forest (for Europeans, that bit of land west of Seattle). Good agricultural soil doesn't always go with good water supplies so irrigation systems are necessary, which in turn require stable governments and long range planning.

The American southwest has been short of water since the 1930s, currently has less water than its usual not enough water, and it's not at all clear that the region will be getting more water for irrigation any time soon. Turning the Imperial Valley into farmland was actually a magnificent feat of civil engineering; it wasn't cheap nor is it obvious that the accomplishment can easily be copied elsewhere, although with practice maybe we can avoid making another Salton Sea.

Hm...weren't we talking about supersonic aircraft recently?

184:

In most of the USA a detached suburban home has more than enough roof space to mount PV modules sufficient to provide 100 km of daily travel in a battery electric vehicle. Most households will run out of money to add modules, or run out of sufficient electrical consumption to justify more modules, before they run out of space for modules.

Space is a false measurement. Structure and sunlight are bigger issues. Many older houses built without truss systems can't handle much more load than they have now. And the entire asphalt shingle method of roofing has issues with putting up lots of solar panels on roofs. I seriously doubt that my house (1961) and many around me have the structure to handle much in the way of solar panels. Actually I'm fairly certain they don't. (I've been around the home construction market for much of the last 50 years and have seen how roofs are built.)

As to sunlight, you'd have to fell maybe 50% of the trees in my part of the state. Not that removing all these stupid loblolly pines is a bad idea at all.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinus_taeda
These things are weeds pretending to be trees.

185:

Ian - you may find this (lengthy but impeccably researched) article on FRES useful.

http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/future-rapid-effects-system-fres

You'll be hard put to blame the Treasury for any of it - that wasted billion is all down to Army and MoD mismanagement...

186:

Putting aside for the moment the potential environmental damage caused by human sub-orbital flight (CO2 emissions, etc.) what is the potential for damage to the human passengers? Just how much radiation would a human passenger receive on a single round trip, sub-orbital, transcontinental flight?

187:

Though I appreciate your terrorism concerns in regards to sub-orbital flights I believe them to be overstated. In a world where sub-orbital passenger flight is common laser weapons capable of shooting such a craft out of the sky before it can hit a ground target will also be common.

Destroyer, armored vehicle and plane mounted lasers capable of destroying mortar rounds, artillery shells, missiles, and drones have been around for sometime. They need only be scaled up and use the energy from a fixed power plant to intercept wayward sub-orbital craft.

Furthermore given the time constraints and the ballistic trajectories I'm not sure that a terrorist controlled sub-orbital craft would have much time or opportunity to maneuver to a new target as the passenger planes used in the 9/11 did.

188:

Sub orbital flight would be worth it if only to call at least one spaceport Mos Eisley:

"Welcome to Mos Eisley - You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. Please have your passports out."

189:

In most of the USA a detached suburban home has more than enough roof space to mount PV modules sufficient to...

I wouldn't go as far as most of the US, particularly for the Pacific Northwest or much of the Atlantic Coast at some times of the year, but anyone who's come in regularly on commercial flights in the afternoon anywhere on the arc from Denver to Santa Fe, to Phoenix, to San Diego, is well aware of how much energy rooftop solar could collect. The best initial sites are actually schools, mega-groceries, and malls.

190:

So China' proposed Silk road high speed rail line connecting Moscow (and eventually Madrid) to Beijing doesn't make much sense economically?

191:

Many older houses built without truss systems can't handle much more load than they have now. And the entire asphalt shingle method of roofing has issues with putting up lots of solar panels on roofs.

In the southwest US, where the solar resource is the best, most of the housing is new and done with trusses adequate to handle several-to-many kWs worth of panel. Another thing to keep in mind is that in many of the suburban developments of the last 50 years in that part of the country, the back yard offers plenty of space for ground-mounted panels. Once people are desperate enough, that space gets used.

192:

Agreed. But Matt started off with:
In most of the USA

Chicago, Cleveland, Bronx, and Pittsburgh are NOT like DFW, PHX, or Tuscon. In many ways.

193:

Well, yeah. Problem is, I agree with Charlie. Unless we're blasting semi-ballistics off the launch pad with PV-powered lasers, I don't really see this working. With lasers, I don't really see it working it either, but it sounds all science fictiony and such.

The real, underlying question is what a sustainable-ish, post-fossil fuel world would look like. I tend to think it's almost as radical a transformation as a post-crash, sustainable world is. That makes it interesting. So probably no suborbital planes, but...what? Spaceflight? AIs? Gated ex-urb arcologies with elevated freeways for the wealthy, giant slums with Medieval death rates for the rest, except for those hired to tend the arcologies? It's a fun topic. Maybe there's a book in there somewhere?

194:

"welding titanium in an argon-filled box": Not QUITE correct.

The Soviet Union developed welding technology that allowed grandmothers in babushkas to weld titanium, to make submarine pressure vessels in conventional shipyards. This made the submarines invisible to conventional magnetometers.

The West found out about it when a sub driver screwed up and ran aground, and the local NATO affiliate flew a magnetometer over the hulk to grab some priceless signature data.

195:

Where is this "expensive energy" argument coming from? It might get expensive in a particular form - petroleum fuels - but in general energy is cheap and getting cheaper, especially with the cheaper cost of solar power.

And you don't necessarily need the petroleum fuels for 99% of your daily travel. Electric cars can get around fine over a city's potential range, public transportation is even better, and so forth. A big problem might be house heating - most of the homes here in the US use natural gas for heating via furnaces. You'd have to figure out alternative set-ups using electricity, unless the climate in your area has warmed up enough that you just don't bother (or you go the Japanese route and have a couple of heaters around the house rather than central heating).

196:

The Guatamala Canal seems to be an interesting beast - what they call a 'dry canal'. That article describes a port on each coast, with a highway and railway link between them. That requires transshipment, which may or may not be an issue, depending on your cargo.

(http://www.trendingcentral.com/two-three-many-canals-in-central-america/)

However, they started digging the Nicaraguan Canal about a fortnight ago.

197:

> The American West's population is
> enormously concentrated into a
> handful of metro areas.

Two reasons not immediately obvious from the map:

a) much of the West is technically desert; those urban areas you see are absolutely dependent on water from elsewhere

b) much of the northern area is Federal or state nature preserve, and building is prohibited.

On the East Coast things were even worse in the early days. The settlers faced an entire continent, but it all belonged to the Crown. Settlements could only be made with a royal charter. Plus there wasn't a great deal of arable land without major investment in clearing primary-growth forest with only hand tools. Simpler to settle where there were it was easiest to clear land for farming. Plus it made it easier for the tax collectors... so the early settlements were well-established when the Industrial Revolution happened shortly after the one in 1776, and population density is a good thing when you want cheap exploitable workers for your factories.

198:

What other technically feasible but flawed "solutions" to world or personal problems are out there?

199:

One data point - when we travelled the trans-Canada railway from Toronto to Vancouver, we spent a lot of time in passing loops while mile-long freight trains went the other way - and we were told that much of that freight was coming in by ship at Vancouver and going out of Montreal by ship. For Far East to Europe it seems it's much quicker to do that.

Whether you want to do that is dependent on the cargo type. Ore is not at all time sensitive, just send it the cheapest way available and that'll almost always be ship. But for industrial products, with a higher value/volume ratio, it becomes worth the extra handling and fuel costs to take that short cut.

Note that that line is a real bottle neck: it's single track for much of its length (hence our passenger train spending so much time parked over letting the freights pass). But four days from Vancouver to Montreal is a lot quicker than steaming all the way down to Panama and back up again.

Talking of bulk/speed/cost tradeoffs, where are our Ekranoplans? Come on, no flying cars, no jet packs, and now no Ekranoplans? I want fleets of Caspian Sea Monsters plying the world's oceanic routes. Nuclear powered optional.

200:

So China' proposed Silk road high speed rail line connecting Moscow (and eventually Madrid) to Beijing doesn't make much sense economically?

It all depends on how fast you want to move stuff.

For moving hundreds of kilotons at a time, when delivery isn't really time-critical, you want container freight be sea; on the order of $100/ton from China to Europe. On the other hand, it takes multiple weeks. It's so cheap that Fiji exports mineral water -- shipping only adds 10-20 cents to the cost of a litre bottle that sells for $2-3.

Rail is an order of magnitude faster, but IIRC the train that ran Beijing-Madrid recently (as a Silk Road cargo route trial) took around 10 days. You wouldn't use it for bottled water or cement, but cheap bulk-manufactured fashion clothing or paper products might fit.

Subsonic Air freight is 1-2 orders of magnitude faster and more expensive than that: not $100/ton or $1000/ton but $10-100,000/ton. It gets you there in hours, not days, and it's suitable for perishable or valuable goods -- I've seen camera shots of a cargo 747 stuffed to the gunwales with new iPhones on their way to Europe for a launch day (a quarter of a million of them in one plane! Retail value: around $250M).

I am at a loss to figure out if there's an economic case for any kind of hypersonic air freight service unless the price is not measured in millions of dollars per ton delivered. Perishable organs for transplant surgery, maybe -- but we're getting better at keeping them viable during shipping. (Diamonds and microprocessors aren't perishable: there's no reason not to ship them via subsonic airliner, or secure railcar.)

201:

... As for the passenger side of high-speed rail linking Madrid to Beijing, it does make sense, as long as you don't assume there will be lots of folks spending 48 hours on a train going from Spain to China for a multiple of the price of flying in a quarter the time.

There will be plenty of stops en route, and they're linking up that route for freight anyway: they might as well add the extra tracks and in-cab signalling infrastructure to run fast passenger services at the same time. And then they can get people between major hubs along the way. There's plenty of demand for Madrid-Paris, Paris-Berlin, Berlin-Warsaw, Warsaw-Moscow, and routes bridging those segments. I'm pretty sure there'll be more demand, once a service is available, for routes linking Moscow to the capitals of the former Soviet underbelly and places like Tehran. And within China, you need to consider the implications of connecting the hub of the nascent superpower more tightly to the intermittently secessionist periphery out to the north-west.

202:

As part of my accountancy finals I had to do an extended and examinable case study. The topic in my year was the clothing industry.

There is credible competition to the Chinese manufacturing of clothes from countries closer to Europe or the US with cheap (not as cheap as China) labour who can get their goods to market quickly.

The model is to see what the seasonal fashion trends / medium term weather forecasts are, knock up some designs, have them manufactured quickly and shipped to the demand centres. China is too far away. Weeks by boat. By the time the linen trousers from China have arrived in Edinburgh the heatwave has passed. So countries like Turkey, Romania, Jordan can offset their higher wages by being part of a nimble and opportunistic supply chain.

The Silk Road railway seems to be a counter for this sort of trade.

Struggling to think off the top of my head of other examples where supply is a bit time sensitive but not extremely so. The run up to Christmas perhaps.

203:

Guatamala, Nicaragua, what's the difference? I always get those piddly American countries mixed up!

(Slaps head. Yes, I meant the Nicaragua canal. But seeing there are other routes -- Panama, and a dry port/rail route via Guatamala, makes it even more interesting.)

204:

What other technically feasible but flawed "solutions" to world or personal problems are out there?

Plenty. Here's an intro to the OSI protocol stack which should have been the backbone of the internet instead of TCP/IP, for starters.

205:

The argument that commercial pilots have lost the skills to fly, thanks to automation, is practically word for word, one that was advanced recently on the Today programme. Either Friday or Monday at a guess.

I couldn't tell you the time, I was awake for long enough to listen to just about all 6 hours of the combined shows, but the wording resonated. I'm obviously not a pilot, I really don't know just how well founded his point view was, and there was, naturally, a contrarian view advanced. However, there clearly is a strong feeling in some sectors of the airline and airline safety industry that aircrew in commercial planes don't really know enough to fly a plane if things deviate more than a little from the norm.

Obviously this was tied in to the recent crash. It was basically saying the level of 'disaster' to cause the crash could be much lower than we might think. It didn't seem like your typical FUD merchant line although I didn't pay particularly close attention.

206:

What's interesting about this is how the cost and time compare to the British HS2 project. Some of the time difference is in the politics of acquiring the land, under British law, but the Chinese are aiming for 5 years, not 20, for a much bigger hole in the ground. This is faster than the main construction work on the Panama Canal.

Heck, the first London and Birmingham line took that long from the Act of Parliament to the opening. They had Irish navvies, not JCB, to dig the holes. Agreed, this is a simple and misleading comparison, but railways and canals need to be built before they make money to pay off the loans. Maybe the early phases are cheap, and it's not so bad for the big bills. Maybe out politicians know they'll not be the ones who pay for all this.

207:

Taking that observation to the more general, we keep being told that it's hard to pay back loans for big projects. Maybe what decides what future we can get is the answer to who can successfully con the investors. George Hudson, the "Railway King", looks all to familiar to modern eyes. And look what he gave us.

208:

"Another consideration with regards to cities is that in the mid-long term (20-200 years) energy efficiency regulations will mean that new developments would require less energy than previous generations. Given the lifetime of buildings in European countries this is a long term game but I expect that a city like London circa 2115 will consume significantly less energy per dwelling than one nowadays."

And in a world of more expensive energy, I'd expect the retrofitting technology to improve radically.

209:

There was a single class of Russian titanium hulled subs. Although this reduced the magnetic signature, they had a lot of other defects, and other Russian subs use conventional construction.

Magnetics are not the primary method of detection in most scenarios.

210:

"...and possibly the Great Lakes states, depending critically on how bad the heat stress situation gets...."


*Possibly* the Great Lakes states? The ones surrounded by the largest concentrations of freshwater on Earth? The ones whose climate is too cold in the winter, and generally tolerable in the summer?[1]


[1] My family didn't have air conditioning for a single story house in southeastern Michigan until the late 1980's. It's great, but significant warming will take a lot of places in this area from 'got to have A/C in July' to 'got to have A/C in June-August', which will still be far better than much of the rest of the USA.

211:

This is where things actually get interesting. If you take the US national energy usage for 2013 (https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/energy.html#2013) and divide it by the number of people in the US in some part of 2013, it works out to Americans using about 11 kilowatts. As I pointed out in a blog entry awhile ago, this is about the energy consumption of a 20 ton animal, say a medium-sized baleen whale or a large sauropod. Pretty good for an ape, I'd say.

Thing is, people who go off the grid aren't mounting 44 kilowatts worth of PV panels on homes with families of four. The average home installation in the US is more on the order of 450 watts, or about 1% of our average use per American. While we use more than 450 watts in our houses, the point is that the energy we use at home, driving, and so forth is a small fraction of the energy used by our country.

Where's the rest of that energy being used? That's the *interesting* question. It's in the system supporting people, everything from transportation and manufacture to military to whatever. And yes, a lot of it is being wasted due to entropy and other issues.

Turning that whole system renewable is a really interesting problem.

But getting back to the suborbital transport plane, it is an energy question. Specifically, if we get stuck with less energy in the system as a whole, does a gadget like this make any sense? Charlie answered that the first time, no, but for different reasons. I'd suggest that, if you're running a society on renewables, such a plane doesn't make sense either. The slightly bigger question is how to rebuild basically everything so that it can cope with a smaller energy budget powered largely or solely by renewables.

212:

"Welcome to Mos Eisley - You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. Please have your passports out."


Which is retrospect is hilarious; Mos Eisley was a small spaceport on a small planet. Obi Wan had traveled the Old Republic, and had to have seen 10,000X worse places.

213:

"In the southwest US, where the solar resource is the best, most of the housing is new and done with trusses adequate to handle several-to-many kWs worth of panel. Another thing to keep in mind is that in many of the suburban developments of the last 50 years in that part of the country, the back yard offers plenty of space for ground-mounted panels. Once people are desperate enough, that space gets used."

On many of these houses, the garage would offer lots of roof area, and would presumably be easier to reinforce.

214:

And the fact that this never actually happened should be a clue that "hacking plane's software" is a lot harder than it sounds.

It has been publicly disclosed as happening at least twice against American drones. Turns out it is stupidly easy, all the attackers did was spoof the GPS signal so the aircraft when where they wanted it to while thinking it was somewhere else.

I work in software security, and over the years I have come to a conclusion that non-professional public has a highly exaggerated image of what hackers can do. That image is fueled by recurrent break-ins at retail stores, stealing credit card information. What most people do not realize is there is a world of difference between stealing data and maliciously manipulating data, especially in real time. When was the last time you heard of hackers taking control of and/or damaging actual physical machinery? The only time I can think of is STUXNET worm, and it took the resources of NSA to accomplish. Not something a terrorist group can do.

One of the groups that stole a drone was a pack of students at UT-Austin, who did it on a budget of under $1000. They hijacked a Homeland Security drone while it was in flight and took it for a joyride.

215:

"Chicago, Cleveland, Bronx, and Pittsburgh are NOT like DFW, PHX, or Tuscon. In many ways."

Please note that in all of those places, the peak electricity load is on hot, sunny, windless summer afternoons. For what it's worth.

216:

Great questions, tons of room for speculation. We joke about Florida being uninhabitable before AC but if that literally becomes the case, imagine the logistical headaches for military operations. There's a long tradition of resource-important but hellish territories, many of them in the Caribbean. Tropical diseases could utterly ruin European armies. If the Guatemala canal remains strategically important but happens to be in seasonal wet bulb territory, how do you maintain control? We've seen political crises around canals before, see Suez. If neither side can place sufficient forces in the region for decisive control, the canal could remain disputed territory and thus unsafe for transit. A war against shipping could try to deny access to the other side, shades of the Tanker War in the 80's or historical privateering.

Power projection is expensive as hell and, if we have a low energy future, nobody will emulate American deployments from the war on "terror." Then again, a 5000 man force might be effective if the other guy can only field 1000. The real question is whether or not a conflict can be ended decisively. Mechanized warfare tends to be over more quickly because heavy equipment is visible and the weapons powerful. Both wars in Iraq saw the army defeated in short order. Occupation, now that is prolonged and grinding. Insurgencies can go on for years with no clear winner, especially if insurgents have outside backers.

I picked Cuba simply as an example of a large island that had a history in the golden age of piracy.

217:

Canada could well become a more significant player. Their population skews very heavily towards the south. I wonder if the northern areas could prove more useful and take more settlement with warmer temps. I wonder if they could end up absorbing a lot of migrating USians.

218:

When compared to the west coast or the central states, sure - but I'll remind you that many of the people reading this are European. They may point and laugh at American ideas of 'very old.'

The UK is lousy with pubs older than my own country. In South Florida, old for a building is something not put up while I was alive. Go back a hundred years, there wasn't much here. It's a different perspective.

219:

Expensive energy comes from the argument that nothing beats fossil fuels for cost/energy density. I don't know enough to have an opinion yet but can appreciate the arguments.

Cheap energy proponents say there's always a substitute. Wood and steam power beats muscle power, coal supplants wood, then oil replaces coal. Nuclear power was supposed to replace all fossil fuels and later it's fusion in the next 20 years or so (and always will be 20 years off according to the wags.)

Expensive energy critics say nuclear is too expensive and nothing beats fossil fuels for maintaining a base load on the grid. Renewables are tied to fossil fuels for production. You can't run a foundry or factory on renewables. There's no technology on the horizon to beat fossil fuels and they're running out. There's no good substitute, no good replacement.

My own unqualified opinion is that energy will get much more expensive and much of the inefficiencies made possible by cheap energy will go away out of economic necessity. But this guess could be greatly changed by new technology I cannot foresee. Again, I'm no expert.

220:

Tangentially, we were in our local Thai restaurant with a Malaysian friend on Sunday[1]. He was looking at the wooden ceiling and wall beams in there, and wondered how old it was.

We told him: about 4 centuries.

He boggled - back home in KL, it would have rotted long before that.

I wonder how much quicker some of the wooden infrastructure would disappear under the more extreme conditions possible.

[1] We actually have a Malaysian place, which doubles as the Chinese restaurant, where we took him there on a previous visit. It also has old ceiling beams, but as it is lacking the vertical columns and it has modern coloured lighting, the actual age had escaped him.

221:

FYI the 34(?)-passenger-seat layout of a B737 ..

http://imgur.com/ICbEKIj

222:

What other technically feasible but flawed "solutions" to world or personal problems are out there?

Well, waking the Sleeper in the pyramid would solve the issues with housing prices by reducing demand.

Which is retrospect is hilarious; Mos Eisley was a small spaceport on a small planet. Obi Wan had traveled the Old Republic, and had to have seen 10,000X worse places.

In retrospect, Obi-wan pretty racist. A nomadic culture made up of freed slaves that not only survives but thrives in a harsh environment being reduced to the slur "sand people", who are apparently too incompetent to shoot as well as the white people army (never mind they can hit a moving pod racer no problem). Speaking as an American, when an old white guy clinging to his lightsaber and religion and whines about how it was more civilized a few decades back puts on a pointy hooded cloak and starts making spooky noises, damn right the minorities get the hell out of there.

Also for a guy who hates that town he sure knew where the best bar was.


In non nonsense, I think all prognostications on the future as driven by climate change is overly optimistic because it assumes the threat comes from the difficulties of adapting to change, rather than from how the existing organizations will react. I look at the climate disruptions of the 1600s and see something all too plausible. Famine, disease, disaster and organized conflict killed between a quarter and a third of the global population. It saw more states breakdown than any other period. And the Little Ice Age and its after effects ran their course roughly from 1618-1680. The climate change we are looking at now will be around far longer

223:

I was at one of the giant US telecoms during the OSI "war" (as a relatively-early largely-lone voice arguing that Ethernet and TCP/IP had won). I was involved in a lot of network test and maintenance. One of the lesser-known OSI-killers was when they finally got around to test and maintenance, and announced that the T&M architecture was something that would bolted onto the side of the seven-layer stack, and would violate most of the stack's principals.

224:

This is a thoroughly off-topic comment on a re-tweet that Charlie, and others, have put up. Delete if inappropriate.

I live literally 2.5 blocks from the NAACP bombing--go one block west, turn left, go one block south and you're there.
Here's a local news story about it: FBI Investigating Explosion Outside Of Building Shared By NAACP And Hair Salon
Comparing it to what's happened in Paris seems a bit much to me. It's certainly (most likely) a hate crime, but no one was injured, thankfully, because the 'bomber' didn't know what he was doing. Again, comparing one ignorant man's attempt to harm to the actions of a group of gunmen murdering several people is kind of a stretch. Yes, you can say that both involve free speech issues--definitely in Paris, but until the bomber is caught we won't know what was in his mind.

225:

Thinking about it slightly more. It's like people on the interwebs are saying; "OMG! Someone bombed the NAACP, it's just like Paris!" based on headlines, not actually reading about it*. One is tragic, fortunately the other is not.

*What! That never happens.

226:

You can't run a foundry or factory on renewables.

You can run them on a foundation of conventional hydro, and with a sufficient amount of pumped-hydro storage for leveling. A successful renewable-powered grid requires a diverse set of renewable resources, geographical diversity within a particular type of resource, and a grid designed to shuffle large amounts of power around. You have to build more excess capacity than is current practice.

The real problem is that there aren't a whole lot of places in the world where those are reasonable things to do. The North American Western Interconnect is one of the few. One of the bigger problems facing WI attempts to go heavily to renewables -- a decision which is being made by state/local politicians, although perhaps not consciously -- is that US federal policies about how a grid should be operated don't match very well with how the renewable-based grid will have to function.

227:

Not sure it's the soil composition. Canada has only 1 growing season versus the U.S.'s 2 or more growing seasons, depending on region. Sunlight and temp vs. soil.

To Heteromeles:

Would it make sense to expand mangrove coverage along the coastlines -- natural stabilizers/levees? Maybe even do some in-fill plantings of other food stuffs.

228:

Yes, that's a good point; even with warming, the areas won't get so much sunlight at the right time of year to be as good as areas further south.

I did some digging, it seems that there is a more fertile, but semi-desert area of good useful soil often called the Canadian Prairies with a Chernozemic soil type. However a glance at a soil type map will immediately
http://www.soilsofcanada.ca/images/Soil_Order_map.jpg
shows that such soils are not that widespread.

229:

why would most people be "commuting" to a job in 50 years ? Assuming you mean "physically moving the body thru meatspace"?

230:

The claim that you can't run a factory or foundry on renewables is easily falsified by the likes of the Ex Alcan now Rio TInto Zinc operated plant in Fort William, Scotland, which started operation around 1929, producing Al by electrolysis using electricity from a local dam. The internet suggests it now produces 40k tonnes a year of Al.

Of course the problem is that we can't just build hydro plants everywhere, and often the best place to build the foundry (flat land beside deep water) is a long way from a good hydro site (Mountains with high rainfall).

231:

Speaking of which, who ordered THAT? -- female suicide bomber kills cops in Istanbul (Turkey). While a far-left group, the DHKP-C (aka Revolutionary People's Liberation Party–Front) have allegedly claimed responsibility, I find the whole thing really questionable (female suicide bomber in hijab from a far-left Marxist group? One that's allegedly connected to the Ergenekon organization (which is far-right and nationalist))? Something smells: Islamist-looking modus operandi, attributed to far-left secular terror cell, which in turn is allegedly a sock-puppet for far-right secular quasi-fascists ...

232:

There is $BIGNUM quantities of renewable power sitting around going to waste in Iceland, in the shape of geothermal (it helps to be sitting on a massive fault line with active volcanoes), to the point where it's economically feasible for Iceland to export electricity by importing bauxite, turning it into Al, and shipping it out again.

233:

Charlie: so far, the Nicaragua Canal ain't happening.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02f8kpd, starting at 4:01.

The project makes no economic sense. The concession is ludicrously unfair to the Nicaraguans and the project itself is pointless, considering as the Panama Canal expansion is about to open /and/ deliberately designed to enable further expansion at low cost.

So far, there is no financing and very little activity on the ground, beyond property surveys and the start of a few access roads.

It is possible that the Chinese government will throw its weight behind the Nicaragua deal, although for the life of me I don't see why they would. It's a $50 billion boondoggle ... or more likely a Trojan horse for tax-free 100-year-concessions to build free trade zones, pipelines, and vacation resorts. (See minute 5:28.)

More here: http://noelmaurer.typepad.com/aab/2014/12/the-nicaragua-canal-is-still-unlikely.html

234:

I got confused with Guatamala. (Central American countries all sound the same to me. Like an ignorant American talking about Europe, okay?)

235:


Hi Guthrie:

Thanks very much for the map. Unfortunately I don't have the sci/technical background to appreciate what it's telling me.

How does Canadian acreage useability (i.e., number of acres times length of growing season) compare versus other geographically large countries, i.e., U.S., Russia, China, India, Brazil, Argentina, and Australia?

Also - at what point does Greenland become a potential food growing/agricultural region?

Regards,
SFreader

236:

Not sure the Canadians would appreciate a big migration of USians skewing their politics rightward, assuming of course the US doesn't simply invade them.

Aside from poor soil and less sunlight there's also substantially less land in Canada than it looks like on the Mercator projection and once you get outside the southern belt hardly any infrastructure. As someone noted above even the main east-west rail is only single track any large scale agriculture is going to require a huge investment in roads, rail and building. Which may well be moot anyway if we run out of phosphorus.

237:

>USians

Point of information:

"British America" was the term used by the Admiralty, and later by the king and parliament. It referred to about two dozen separately-chartered British colonies in the New World, each with its own governor and colonial bureaucracy.

The thirteen southernmost colonies successfully seceded, dropping the "British" part and simply referring to itself as "America."

After the secession Parliament began referring to the remainder of British America as "British North America." In the mid-1800s British North America reorganized as "The Dominion of Canada", except for Newfoundland, which basically viewed itself as the Scotland of North America, and didn't sign up until after WWII.

The Dominion has *two* kinds of "USians" to the south; the United States of America and the United States of Mexico. There might be more; my geography is a bit vague south of the Canal Zone.

[we return you to your regularly scheduled programming]

238:

Well, perhaps the Thunderbirds could use sub-orbital flights ("Thunderbirds are GO!")

Or "Team America: World Police"

239:

Oops, apologies to anonemouse, "International Rescue" WAS a "Thunderbirds" reference.

Another "organization" might be SHADO (Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defence Organisation)

240:

Seriously, though.

I think the reasoning behind the cost structure of a sub-orbital transport is too limited to SSTO's.

Another futuristic approach might be a space elevator, with an orbital transfer to a destination space elevator. This should have minimal energy costs, yet would also lack a convenience factor (unless you can picture the Earth as a big hairy ball of space elevators, where every burg and village is somehow growing their own monomolecular filament into LEO).

241:

Actually, about 75% of Iceland's electricity generation is from hydro, and only about 25% from geothermal. They are also more aggressively developing the hydro, because it is easier (given their particular set of circumstances) to scale up the hydro than the geothermal.

The geothermal is still quite, quite valuable, of course, but it is mostly used for HEAT, rather than for electricity. The electricity generation is a bit of a sideline actually, compared to the heating value. They pipe the nearly-100-Celsius water from the geo station to Reykjavik (and elsewhere) to heat the roads, sidewalks, homes, and greenhouses.

Only about 25% of the energy from geothermal is extracted as electricity, the other 75% is from the heat value of the waste water. This is simply because geothermal heat really isn't that hot, thermodynamically speaking. It only comes out at on the order of 250 Celsius, and thus Carnot tells us that the maximum turbine efficiency can't really get much higher than about 25%. The 100-degree "waste heat" water is still valuable as a heat source though.

242:

I know that Iceland has a surplus of geothermal energy and so is heavily involved in refining aluminum which is mined elsewhere and shipped in.

But the point the critics were making is that these are local solutions that don't scale everywhere. I've read talk of trying to get geothermal working even in boring places but nothing has come of it yet.

I've seen others mention that wind and solar can work for baseload with a smartgrid and better battery tech for capturing peak generation and supplementing low times.

It's important to note the agendas critics have when making their pronouncements. For example, I've heard many times that meat as we eat it isn't sustainable. I'm aware vegans and animal rights activists who say this have an agenda and the environmental argument is a way to advance it. Which doesn't automatically invalidate the argument but you do need to check other sources who aren't as ideologically committed to the argument. When religious people promote abstinence, they're couching it in terms of health benefits and reducing pregnancies and STD transmission but they're mainly driven by religious superstition; a scientific argument is just camouflage.

243:

First, about the soils of Canada. Much of Canada is on old rocks (the Canadian Shield), and old rocks tend to have had most of the mineral nutrients leached out of them. While some places with old rocks do produce decent soils, in general, if you want good soil, you want to be near an active mountain range or, preferably, a volcano. Young stuff.

Looking at that map of the soils of Canada you posted (thanks!), I'd hazard a guess that the Chernozems (aka mollisols) and solonetz (aka arid mollisols) came from the same source as the prairie soils of the US: glacial dust, aka loess. That's rich soil, in part because it was ground up from by the glaciers and spit out 12,000 years ago, give or take. Again, it's young, and the Canadians already grow a lot of wheat there, if I remember correctly. It's kind of neat that the map mixes US and Russian soil terms.

The problem are all those frozen soils up north. I suspect they're basically frozen peat bogs, which are not exactly the best thing to grow anything that doesn't like an organic substrate. I don't know what's under the peat bogs, should they dry up and blow away, but that's what people colonizing the Canadian Arctic will have to make a living from.

Now, it's not all bad news: the permaculturists and regenerative farmers have demonstrated conclusively that it's quite possible to make soil. Thing is, you've got to have something to live on while you're making that soil for your farm, and managing that particular transition is the tricky part of colonizing a rapidly warming Arctic. Regenerative farming also kind of ties you to your land because you have to invest so much into getting your farm working. That makes you vulnerable to whoever comes along with weapons and a deal you can't refuse. It's a trap peasants have had to deal with for thousands of years.

The general point is that great weather doesn't necessarily mean much in terms of agricultural production if you don't have good farmland in that weather zone to take advantage of it.

Anyway, the only way this plays into the economics of suborbital passenger planes is that the jet stream is supposed to get weaker and grow away as polar and temperate zone temperatures equilibrate, since it's powered by the temperature gradient between the two. One symptom of the weakening is supposed to be that the jet stream will start wandering as it weakens, much as it's doing right now. Not sure what that does to international aviation, but I don't think it's a showstopper.

244:

Not sure the Canadians would appreciate a big migration of USians skewing their politics rightward, assuming of course the US doesn't simply invade them.

The American Indians weren't too happy about it, either. Remember, of the north american countries, it's the Canadians famed for their politeness. The US is the one with the rep for genocide and conquest. But given the rightward trend in Canadian politics, we may well be greeted with open arms.

245:

The term "Acreage usability" has, as far as I can tell from searching, no relevance to the discussion, feel free to direct me to information showing otherwise.

As for Greenland, it is already growing and exporting cabbages and the like, but that is from a comparatively small area of sheltered ground on the west coast. The rest of it will be covered with ice and rock for the foreseeable future, and making good soil on areas uncovered by melting ice is a matter of centuries, not a few years.

246:

Oh darn. I liked the idea of a Nicaraguan Canal (The Canal Rojo? Cool!) to go up against the Panama Canal. IIRC, the Nicaraguan route was a competitor to the Panama route back when they dug the first one.

On the longer scale, if things get stupid hot and the East Antarctic ice sheet melts, that 65 meters of sea level rise would swamp both canals, turning Costa Rica into an island. Since there are higher tides and a slightly higher ocean on the Pacific side, I suspect there would be a bit of scouring going on until the East Antarctic refroze (which would take awhile, probably >100,000 years). At the end of it, it's just possible that Costa Rica would remain an island, if both canal zones got scoured deep enough by the Pacific flowing into the Atlantic at 10 km/hr in the right tide.

247:

Never heard that DHKP-C was linked to Ergenekon, I had figured them to be mostly nationalist Stalin fans.

248:

given the rightward trend in Canadian politics, we may well be greeted with open arms.

a rightward trend seems more likely to lead to being greeted with shoulder-borne arms...

249:

Turns out it is stupidly easy, all the attackers did was spoof the GPS signal so the aircraft when where they wanted it to while thinking it was somewhere else.

I did not know about that story, but it demonstrates that there are many different things under term "hacking". The most common way to break into corporate systems is to send some bozo an official-looking email which asks to enter his password "in order to verify" something or other. Amazing how many bozos fall for it.

What you described is a special case of faking real-world input, which is fundamentally no different from any optical camouflage or false radar signature -- basically telling a sensor (living or robotic) that something is where it in fact is not. Obviously false GPS signal is something nobody in Homeland Security had thought of before that incident (why am I not surprised?). Now that this particular vulnerability is known, it would be taken into account.

250:

The Guatamala Canal seems to be an interesting beast - what they call a 'dry canal'. That article describes a port on each coast, with a highway and railway link between them. That requires transshipment, which may or may not be an issue, depending on your cargo.

See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isthmus_of_Tehuantepec#Tehuantepec_Route , which is the Coatzacoalcos to Salina Cruz, MX route. A lot of that route is less than 20 meters ASL currently, and the remainder seems to top out for a short distance at 200 meters.

251:

Gregory, the question you should be asking is how fast the world can be made more energy efficient, vs how fast the population and living standard expectations are rising.

Personally I don't think you are going to be seeing efficiency improvements, globally, above 5% pa at maximum. Certainly not as it gets harder and harder the longer you go on.

At the same time the population growth rate is 1-2% and the living standards expectations is on top of that (if you think you can ignore those, google "Arab Spring").

And finally, substituting fossil fuels is mainly about transportation - and that means electricity and batteries. So you have to swallow *additional* inefficiencies to switch away.

In short, if we had started back in the 1990s, it might have been doable - but now? With a political system that couldn't organise to deliver any coherent global change? And with a financial system holed beneath the water line.

You are asking for more than a wartime mobilisation level of change, in every country on earth, for decades to come.

Then you look at Jeb Bush, Tony Abbott, Nigel Farage...

252:

One of the lesser-known OSI-killers was when they finally got around to test and maintenance, and announced that the T&M architecture was something that would bolted onto the side of the seven-layer stack, and would violate most of the stack's principals.

OK I give up. What is T&M?

My fuzzy maybe wrong memories of the debate involved the OSI stack not dealing with dial up at all. And being more of an academic theory than a boots on the ground design. At the time (1980+) we were using 2780/3780 IBM RJE to move things around as it was somewhat widely implemented on various vendor hardware and supported dial up.

A notable exception to being widely implemented was some flavor of IBM MVS crashed hard when a major US company tried to enable the 3780 option to talk to our systems. After some crash log investigations they turned to the source code. Where the code should have been was a comment something like:
"Put code here when written."
"Abend"
If you don't know 2780/3780 were IBM remote job entry stations which had a decent way (at the time) of pushing printable files back and forth. We all thought it a bit odd that the one site where we had such a problem was an IBM shop.

253:

A successful renewable-powered grid requires a diverse set ... You have to build more excess capacity than is current practice.

... One of the bigger problems facing WI attempts to go heavily to renewables ... is that US federal policies about how a grid should be operated don't match very well with how the renewable-based grid will have to function.

Here in North Carolina where Duke Energy is now the largest Utility (investor owned?) in the US they get sued for having too much capacity as the cost adds to the base rate and that's "anti-consumer". They just one the current suit but it took a year or so and more than a few $$ and will happen again with the next round of rate setting.

254:

The tend to get mixed up by most of us over here also. Brazil, Chile, and such are easy. Big blobs on a map. The smaller ones are more like the size of larger US metro areas.

255:

One problem with supersonic aircraft in the US, besides noise, is that the air traffic control system wasn't really designed for it. I last worked on ATC back in the late 80s (we were the lucky team that lost; IBM were the poor suckers who won the deal, and eventually delivered it something like 7 years late, because it was a badly overspecified project), and at least that generation of wide-area control system really didn't do a good job of displaying aircraft going faster than about 600 mph / 1000 kph. Much faster and the stuff would blow off the screen between radar refresh cycles.

256:

T&M equals test and measurement, as used earlier in the sentence. My bad, should have used better notation.

The then-CCITT was notorious for spending years developing the specification for exactly how the system was supposed to work when nothing was broken, but adding maintenance as an afterthought at the last minute. Sometimes a painful and expensive afterthought. One other guy and I built the world's first ISDN test set. Six months before initial systems were supposed to be deployed, the CCITT discovered that they had to change the layer-2 specification in order to accommodate a half-assed test channel. Promptly breaking every implementation in the world. I was cool, because I had busted my butt building layer-2 in software on a very expensive dedicated processor and could fix my implementation in a couple of weeks. Real switch and consumer equipment caught up in about 18 months.

257:

“What other technically feasible but flawed "solutions" to world or personal problems are out there?”

We currently spend around 2 Trillion USD (2 T$) per year on fossil fuel subsidies. 2 years of that expense put toward HVDC lines could link all the world's major electricity networks . (At a cable cost of 10 million dollars per km, 4 T$ would pay to lay cable around the Earth 10 times) That would mean that energy could be sent from anywhere in the world to anywhere else with an efficiency of greater than 50%.

The primary energy consumption of the whole world is about 15 TW and much of that gets converted to electricity at less than 50% efficiency.

It's always sunny somewhere but nowhere is always sunny. On average solar panels output about 1/5th of their rated capacity.

So to cover the whole world's energy needs would mean installing 75 TW of solar panels. In that kind of scale you'd be looking at about 33c/W installed (it's currently 50c/W but several companies are projecting costs in the mid 30c if they can get the volume). 60 TW x 0.33 dollars is 25 T$. That's 12.5 years of the current subsidies. Actually slightly less as that assumes that the power is used on the exact opposite side of the world. In reality most would be used within a few thousand km. So for what the governments of the world currently spend on subsidising fossil fuels they could build basically free energy for everyone in under 15 years and then we'd all be rich.

Atmospheric CO2 + Water to Methane has been demonstrated in the lab at 80% energy efficiency using microbes. So synthetic fuels and oils can be produced with the excess electricity. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es803531g SST can be done in the future if the only problem is available zero carbon fuels. Of course there are other bigger problems with SST than fuel as OGH has pointed out.

Of course this will never happen as the people who get rich are the plebs, while the fossil fuel barons will lose out. (in a comparative sense only. They'd still be richer than they are now, but not as much richer than everyone else).

While this is a global plan, it could be implemented at the country level here in Australia. We spend about 20 billion (20 G$) on fossil fuel subsidies each year (mostly military spending to provide free security services for oil companies). Most of our electricity consumption is when the Eastern States are making dinner around 6pm. At that time the west is still in sun. A 5000 km HVDC line would cost around 50 G$ (2.5 years at the current spending rate) to connect the East and West. Our peak consumption is about 20 GW. Given only a quarter of the panels in sun, you'd need 80 GW installed solar. (Panels spaced well apart and angled for the setting sun) That would be about 4 years of the current spending rate. So after 6.5 years you'd have covered the peak load period. In the following couple of years sprinkle another 40 GW of panels around the Centre and East, oriented more conventionally. Of course it's not always cloudy and it's not always peak, so there would probably be more than 200% overproduction at most times. That could smelt aluminium from the large bauxite deposits in Western Australia or it could be used to make Methane for natural gas fired power stations that would cover the night loads. So less than 10 years of the current subsidy would pay for a completely renewable power system. You'd probably also make a tidy profit by exporting “carbon neutral” methane. The government could even process it into petrol and stop importing 33 G$/yr worth. After 10 years you'd have a balance of trade improvement of 50 G$/yr and you could cut tax by 100 dollars per week to every taxpayer.

None of this will ever happen as it will make the wrong people rich.

258:

I work in software security, and over the years I have come to a conclusion that non-professional public has a highly exaggerated image of what hackers can do. That image is fueled by recurrent break-ins at retail stores, stealing credit card information. What most people do not realize is there is a world of difference between stealing data and maliciously manipulating data, especially in real time. When was the last time you heard of hackers taking control of and/or damaging actual physical machinery? The only time I can think of is STUXNET worm, and it took the resources of NSA to accomplish. Not something a terrorist group can do.

A German steel mill suffered significant damage last month after attackers took control of one of its blast furnaces:

http://arstechnica.com/security/2014/12/computer-intrusion-inflicts-massive-damage-on-german-steel-factory/

259:

If you're only looking at today, then you can't really run a base-load grid entirely off of renewables - but we're talking about the future, right? During which it's certainly possible to weave together a diverse set of renewable energy sources and a lot of storage to even out the supply of electricity. That's assuming we don't resurrect nuclear in some form or another, which I think is probably going to be the case for most countries.

The expensive energy critics are too hung on fossil fuels - they're not the end-all, be-all of energy. They're just a very, very convenient form of energy storage, which we can actually make on our own using cheap electricity if we decide that's better than simply using the electricity directly.

260:

It's a while[1] since I wrote control software for metal smelting furnaces[2], but when I did it, getting it onto the controller involved blowing a set of EPROMS (8K total at first, then the software overflowed to require 16K), plugging those into a circuit board, and walking that five minutes up a Derbyshire hill to plug into the actual PLC (programmable logic controller). That's an air gap and more.

These days, I strongly suspect there is a network to the control room, but back then the PLC in question didn't understand the concept of I/O at more than sensor level at all.

[1]OK, it's decades.

[2] The "largest single site producer of recycled lead in Europe". And the moulds for the ingots appeared to be metal bathtubs - rubber moulds would have been totally inadequate for this.

261:

The expensive energy critics are too hung on fossil fuels - they're not the end-all, be-all of energy. They're just a very, very convenient form of energy storage, which we can actually make on our own using cheap electricity if we decide that's better than simply using the electricity directly.

Fossil fuels are key in the discussion of cheap energy because even if other technologies become cheaper the cost of R&D, manufacture and installation is much higher than sticking a pipe in the ground and collecting the oil.

I could go on but I think Professor Tom Murphy can say it better:
http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/02/the-alternative-energy-matrix/

Check out that article for a discussion on the relative pros and cons of different power sources versus fossil fuels. What's interesting about it is if you look at the matrix and extrapolate technological developments that raise the score of prospective candidates it's still pretty difficult to match the score of fossil fuels.

I'd also suggest reading through the rest of the blog. There are a lot of good articles examining future energy production.

262:

A reasonable bottom line is that electricity from solar will be less than $0.05 per kWh during daytime and other generation technologies will be greater than $0.15 at other times. Solar PV is NOT going to suddenly get more expensive.

And your electric car running costs will be far cheaper than using fossil. A 100kWh battery will get you 300 miles, and daytime charging would be around $5

All those newly uninhabitable Southern places can be paved with PV.

263:

While I like the idea of using fossil fuel subsidies to fund alternate energy, once the subsidy ended, it would be snapped up by a multitude of interests, as gone as a grasshopper who jumps into a chicken pen. And it would make the wrong people well off, for many of the .01%, it's not absolute wealth, but relative wealth that matters. The elderly, rural expression that comes to mind is "King turd of shit mountain".

264:

Just why are we subsidizing fossil fuel at all?

265:

Seventy five years ago, it was a good idea. The rest can be an exercise for the reader.

266:

The 21st Century "Suburban" slum is already here in the US; Fergusson, Missouri. Just about every major city that has not been totally hollowed (cough* Detroit) out has significantly gentrified the inner core, pushing the unemployed minorities into the inner ring of suburbs.

The Suburban High School I went to (Pretty much lilly white IIRC), Upper Darby, PA is now "Struggling" with 40% minority population in the city. Inner ring of Philadelphia.

267:

"Cheaper to have hi-rez telepresence rigs.

Moving meat is a sucker's game."

Maybe, one day. Or maybe not...

I am one of those slabs of meat that gets regularly shuttled around this ball of dirt, on a more or less monthly basis and in the rarefied, weird world of telecoms standardisation at least, gaining consensus on anything isn't about sitting in a big conference room and debating the proposals presented to the floor from competing companies with vested interest. Most of the hard work takes place in ad-hoc splinter sessions (usually involving food and beer*) and long nights and hastily gathered coffee break meetings, and last minute re-drafts. It's almost like a full-on 3 or 4 day continuous meeting, or meeting cluster.

I just can't see any kind of telepresence technology replacing this. 2 hour voice-only meetings are just about bearable without your brain exploding. I've done a couple of half day video-conferences without going insane, and maybe full HD immersive telepresence might get you through a day without serious brain trauma, I doubt anyone could do 3 18 hour days locked in a telepresence suite without melting.

*usually lots of beer. In fact I would go so far to say that almost universal 3G/4G roaming would never have happened if the brewing industry didn't exist.

268:

Why subsidize fossil fuels? Military power. Same goes for uranium.

The thing to remember is that oil was initially really pushed forward, not for cars, but for battleships. Petroleum products are an absolutely wonderful method of energy storage. While you can run an aircraft carrier or large submarine off nuclear power, for the bulk of any mechanized military force, petroleum products are the best fuels. You have to remember that whole mess with the Middle East and especially Iran started when Churchill worked to establish British Petroleum to provide oil to the British Navy early in the 20th Century.

If we went 100% renewables tomorrow, one of the follow-on effects would be that the great militaries of the world (US, Russia, China, Britain, France, etc.) would cease to function. They wouldn't have the capacity to move huge volumes of stuff all over the world until their fleets of windjammers were ready, and once they could sail again, they would be much slower to respond. This enormous power vacuum would cause chaos. Note also that this isn't just about projection of violence. This also means that humanitarian missions and crime-suppression missions (for instance, of human trafficking) would also be scrubbed.

I suspect that this is going to be one of the most difficult problems to solve on the road to sustainability, especially if we try to leave some oil in the ground. After all, when there's an emergency, how is any leader, elected or otherwise, going to tell his suffering people that, for the sake of the future, they're going to have to keep suffering while they rebuild with renewables, rather than pumping some oil to power up the emergency relief and rebuilding? Even in normal times, there's always an emergency somewhere. With climate change making storms bigger and making crop failures more likely, there are likely to be a lot of emergencies everywhere.

It's going to take some really interesting batteries to power a helicopter or construction equipment, even if these vehicles are doing nothing but disaster relief and humanitarian operations. While there's been a tremendous amount of development of electric cars, I haven't seen much work on purely electric bulldozers and similar equipment.

269:

It's going to take some really interesting batteries to power a helicopter or construction equipment, even if these vehicles are doing nothing but disaster relief and humanitarian operations. While there's been a tremendous amount of development of electric cars, I haven't seen much work on purely electric bulldozers and similar equipment.

Yep. In terms of a daily cycle, a dozer uses a lot of power, and uses it for a long time. A car is comparatively lightweight, with a much lower power-to-weight ratio, and even so, I think we're a way away from one that can be driven for a whole working day.

(Urban electric taxis, with ranks where they can do opportunistic charging and with relatively low speeds are perhaps the best candidates for that.)

And helicopters may fly much less, but also have a horrendous power to weight ratio to worry about. Though I do wonder how much quieter an electric helicopter might be in the cabin: the relatively modern passenger one I crossed the Baltic in a few years back was LOUD.)

270:

I was wondering if there was a way to use tanks of electrolytes, rather than batteries, as a power source, and then to figure out a way to pump the used electrolyte out and the charged electrolyte in very quickly.

It's probably possible, if the electrolyte tanks has some sort of unidirectional flow through them. Still, finding an electrolyte fluid that stores as much energy as petroleum products and is relatively cheap and relatively not dangerous (explosive, corrosive, or just plain toxic) will be challenging.

Or, I suppose we could go with hydrogen. I find myself wondering whether a hydrogen-powered helicopter would work, or whether we should just give up and call it a dirigible.

271:

Lithium air batteries exist, so why not a liquid sodium flow battery? If you need cold starts then run it on NaK :)

272:

Lithium air batteries exist

In labs, has anyone managed to get a prototype out in the world yet? I was under the impression there were still major hurdles to be overcome. Not least the fact that lithium and water...well I wouldn't like rain to leak into that type of battery that's for sure.

273:

Hahahah! No worries, sir! I deliberately didn't call you out on that, figuring it was an honest mistake.

274:

If rain gets in then your waste heat driven Stirling engine and hydrogen fuel cells kick in obviously :)

275:

Or, I suppose we could go with hydrogen. I find myself wondering whether a hydrogen-powered helicopter would work, or whether we should just give up and call it a dirigible.

Hydrogen has a very good energy/weight density. The downside is the storage, either high pressure or cryogenics seeming to be required if you don't want to carry along a gasbag. (Though I recall someone getting impressive density using adsorption onto some form of metallic sponge, but I can't find it right now.) Liquid fuels (those liquid at around STP anyway) are just so damned convenient, so easy to throttle up or down (unlike solid fuels), and so easy to keep in place (unlike gaseous ones).

Hmm, figures for energy density, gacked from Wikipedia

Hydrogen (compressed at 70 MPa) 142 MJ/kg, 5.6 MJ/L
Jet fuel 46 MJ/kg, 37.4 MJ/L
Gasoline (petrol) 44.4 MJ/kg, 32.4 MJ/L

That's horrendously low volumetric density for hydrogen, even highly compressed. I'm thinking it might be rather like those personal jet packs: it can take off, it can fly, but don't expect it to stay up for very long.

276:

Though I recall someone getting impressive density using adsorption onto some form of metallic sponge, but I can't find it right now.

Palladium hydride?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palladium_hydride

277:

Given that:

(a) the IoT (Internet of Things) era is here (taken up quite warmly by the automobile consumer, in fact);

(b) personal ground transport is not yielding any (erm...) ground to public transit;

(c) complaints about the time wasted in travel is due to security bottlenecks/line-ups at airports;


... Future personal (and public) vehicles would be programmed to pre-screen travelers before they head out to their destinations. This means a security check at the start of the journey that is constantly updated real-time en route. (Extending this to its logical conclusion, the IoT could make 'house arrest' really mean something.) This approach could cut several hours off Charlie's total-travel-time scenario without any technological improvements to air craft. (Baggage would be processed in parallel a la grocery store self-check-out.)


And here's yet another peg on the 'no supersonic very high flying craft' tote board: the higher and faster you fly, the larger the contrails. And apparently contrails mess up the atmosphere even more than the craft's CO2 emissions, albeit for a shorter time span.

278:

Lithium is special for batteries for two reasons.

It gives highest cell voltages (so most energy per atom transferred).

It is the lightest metal - atomic number 3 - so those atoms are as light as possible.

It is not that rare; maybe 70ppm in the crust, and about 0.2 ppm in seawater.

However, because most lithium compounds are soluble, it tends to be very uniformly spread, so there are few good sources of it at decent concentrations. Global production is only of order 30,000 tonnes.

If every car in the world is going to contain many kg of lithium, a massive expansion of production will be needed. For example if they use 100kg of lithium each, and 10 million cars a year are built (arbitrary numbers to make the sum easy), a million tonnes a year would be need; a factor of 300 increase of current production. Global reserves are maybe 13 million tonnes, so even with very good recycling, the number of such vehicles will be small compared to global population.

The Tesla and co will remain statement cars for a priveleged minority.

279:

(Urban electric taxis, with ranks where they can do opportunistic charging and with relatively low speeds are perhaps the best candidates for that.)

And high gains from regenerative braking?

280:

Here in North Carolina where Duke Energy is now the largest Utility (investor owned?) in the US they get sued for having too much capacity as the cost adds to the base rate and that's "anti-consumer".

Which I compare to the American West (the states from the Rockies to the Pacific). 22-32% of the region's annual electricity production is from conventional hydro depending on the snow pack, with only about half of the sites developed (granted, big dams have their own environmental problems). The norm in those states is honest renewable mandates outside of hydro in the 20-30% range, and on-track to meet them. Ongoing conversion from coal to NG that started even before NG got cheaper (it's not a renewable, but it's better than coal). Nuclear declining rapidly (from eight reactors in the region a few years ago, to six today now that San Onefre has been retired, to likely four within ten years because I think Diablo Canyon will be retired rather than be modified to meet California's new laws). I expect a lot of East-West friction over the approach to electricity in the US over the next 25 years. Probably starting this year when the now Republican-controlled Congress pushes the issue of spent nuclear fuel storage from (largely) eastern reactors in an increasingly anti-nuclear West.

281:

I read your post and was concerned about only 13 million tonnes of lithium too, only it seems it is possible to get more:
http://www.greencarcongress.com/2011/08/lithium-20110803.html

"The researchers compiled data on 103 deposits containing lithium, with an emphasis on 32 deposits that have a lithium resource of more than 100,000 metric tons each.

The data collected included deposit location, geologic type, dimensions and content of lithium, as well as the current status of production. Using the definition of a lithium resource as a deposit from which production is currently or potentially feasible economically, the researchers estimated a global lithium resource of about 39 million tons."

I'm not totally sure that'll be enough, but it's not quite as bad as people think.

282:

Magnesium batteries, if their inherent problems can be overcome, look far better than Lithium

http://www.nature.com/news/the-rechargeable-revolution-a-better-battery-1.14815

283:

If we went 100% renewables tomorrow, one of the follow-on effects would be that the great militaries of the world (US, Russia, China, Britain, France, etc.) would cease to function.

More likely the renewable energy would be used to make synthetic petroleum to keep these vessels working. Several options exist for this, including biofuels.

Small nukes could also be developed as alternatives, much like those proposed for powering neighborhoods.

I don't think we need to go back to wind and solar powered ships, except for cargo ships (hybrids?) and recreational boats.

284:

Getting back to sub-orbital travel, I have to admit that Charlie's logic is compelling. Obviously the world of the 1950's was very different when Chesley Bonestell painted those rocket powered suborbital flights.

Although IIRC, even Arthur Clarke noted that for such trips, the toilet would be unreachable for half the time, and out of order for the other half, so the convenience factor is somewhat diminished by the loss of comfort.

An alternative thought is what sort of technology and conditions would make sub-orbital a compelling travel technology?

285:

Hi Alex, realize that "going 100% renewables tomorrow" is a statement of magic realism, not a metaphor for talking a few decades to transition to a more renewables-based system. The basic point was to stress that right now, without oil, most militaries are immobile, and that one reason we get wars over oil is because oil is currently required to fight wars. I'm quite sure that military planners understand this better than I do, and I'm perfectly happy to see them experimenting with green fuels of various sorts.

Still, the cheapest fuels are the wind and the sun. You're right that armed ships may retain liquid fuel motors as long as people can figure out a fuel. For a number of other purposes, though, I'm pretty sure we'll see a rebirth of windjammers. They may be kiteships rather than clippers, but if speed is not vital and efficiency is, it's hard to beat the wind.

286:

The reason military drones are becoming more popular: more fuel efficient?

287:

Here in North Carolina where Duke Energy is now the largest Utility (investor owned?) in the US they get sued for having too much capacity as the cost adds to the base rate and that's "anti-consumer". They just one the current suit but it took a year or so and more than a few $$ and will happen again with the next round of rate setting.

Fun fact: today they sent out a message that consumer need to reduce their usage because they don't have sufficient capacity to provide for the added demand from heating in this weather, and that if people don't they can expect rolling blackouts tomorrow.

Sure is awesome they got a net handout of 297 million in tax rebates, plus got to keep the green generation purchasing subsidies for a mandate that was rolled back, and still can't keep the lights on. Thanks McCrory and Tillis!

288:

I suspect that pilot efficiency in drones vs. planes ranks above fuel efficiency, but yes, I suppose it's possible.

290:

I take it back then there was no SCADA?

Hmm. I know at least one major builder of biogas plants who built plants and used MS Team Viewer for remote control and service! Apparantly it happened that the remote service person grabbed the SCADA off the actual operator.
Then again, many functions are coded on the PLC level and I think it would be hard to do much mischief with only control of the SCADA.

Now on to read the rest of the thread ...

291:

What about suborbital sneakernet?

292:

I really doubt it's fuel efficiency - they fulfil an old fantasy of asymmetric warfare. We're the good guys (of course) and you're irredeemably evil (equally inevitably) and we can kill you with little or no risk to our good folks. Drones fulfil that fantasy rather nicely.

I'm sure there are a lot of other post-hoc rationalisations. Some of them may even be good a priori reasons for the development of military drones. But I'd be willing to bet a lot of it is consciously or unconsciously based on "kill them and keep our boys alive" above all else. And I'd be willing to also bet none of it is based on fuel efficiency calculations.

293:

According to some reports a lot of the good folks being protected in this way aren't too happy about it. It seems that a lot of pilots actually sign up to fly aircraft, not sit in offices remotely operating them.

https://medium.com/war-is-boring/air-force-drone-crews-got-so-demoralized-that-they-booed-their-commander-cfd455fea40f

294:

If every car in the world is going to contain many kg of lithium, a massive expansion of production will be needed. For example if they use 100kg of lithium each, and 10 million cars a year are built (arbitrary numbers to make the sum easy), a million tonnes a year would be need; a factor of 300 increase of current production. Global reserves are maybe 13 million tonnes, so even with very good recycling, the number of such vehicles will be small compared to global population.

This is a considerable overestimate of per-vehicle EV lithium requirements.

This report indicates no more than 3 kg Li2CO3 (570 g Li equivalent) per kilowatt hour of battery capacity: http://www.meridian-int-res.com/Projects/How_Much_Lithium_Per_Battery.pdf

That would mean that a Nissan Leaf, with 24 kWh storage capacity on board, would need no more than 13.6 kg Li per vehicle. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Fiat 500e, BMW i3, Ford Focus Electric, Chevrolet Spark, and Kia Soul EV have capacities ranging from 16 to 27 kWh. Assuming that specific lithium consumption per kWh capacity never falls below 568 grams, you could have a vehicle fleet of 955 million Nissan Leaf passenger vehicles from 13 million tonnes Li. By way of comparison, the entire world had "only" 806 million cars and light trucks as of 2007.

But I don't think lithium reserves will stay as low as 13 million tonnes for very long. Between 2002 and 2011 the USGS reports of world lithium reserves went from 3.4 million tonnes to 13 million tonnes:

http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/lithium/450302.pdf
http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/lithium/mcs-2011-lithi.pdf

That of course isn't because the Earth's geology changed dramatically in a decade, but because "reserves" is just the amount that people have put effort into discovering and documenting.

295:

While the reasons for developing drones are the ones that got the project started, it's the post-hoc ones that keep it going.

No military can exist without a credible external threat. ISIS is a classic example. The western powers seemed reasonably content to let foreigners kill as many foreigners as they wanted as long as the oil kept flowing. That's bad for ISIS. Why would you join/submit to such an organisation if the alternative wasn't worse? They needed a credible threat from outside, so they beheaded a few westerners. Like obedient dogs, the western governments did as they were told and began to play the role assigned to them as "credible external threat".

The western military was/is in the same boat. With the fall of the evil empire, credible threats were thin on the ground. Bit of arming and agitation gets you "Terrorists" to have a war against. Particularly good as they're mostly harmless. (in comparison to the USSR and their fleets of nuclear ICBMs). Hey presto, a "credible external threat" is created and the trillions of dollars pour into the military coffers. If the threat starts to disappear then more arming and agitation would play badly at home. (for obvious reasons, you can get away with handing the enemy guns and bombs once, but twice might be a hard sell).

What to do, what to do...

Drones... Perfect!

They fly so high and are so small that civilians can't see them from the ground. They rain down random destruction. Perfect terror weapon. The chance of blowing up any actual terrorists with them is slim to none. (it's a bit like hunting for grizzly bears by tossing grenades out the window of a Cessna while flying 10 000 feet above dense forest) However if you blow up someone's grandmother, they, their brothers and cousins are all instantly converted into terror recruits that you can fight against later. Job done, "Credible external threat" created, money flows.

296:

Well yes, that's what I meant by that little remark about pilot efficiency vs. fuel efficiency. If there's a way to keep your million dollar pilot alive that much longer, then it's more efficient to do so. Of course, there are a bunch of tasks drones can't do, either autonomously or piloted remotely. Most of these happen when someone pulls a surprise on the drone. That's why I don't think they'll go away anytime soon.

As for boring, well yes, I can see that. Much of what drones do is loitering around waiting for a target to show up. I understand drone pilots get PTSD too, and that the switch from being in a battlefield for 10 hours then going home to a normal suburban life messes with some pilots' heads rather badly.

297:

Lithium ions are light and relatively low-charge, which makes them fast diffusers in a lot of situations where magnesium ions or aluminum ions would tend to get "stuck" (i.e. get immobilized by unwanted side reactions). Zinc is just plain heavy.

Sodium may be more scalable than lithium, but still not quite as good.

298:

Ammonia is somewhat more than "slightly toxic"

http://misc.medscape.com/pi/android/medscapeapp/html/A820298-business.html

"Ammonia most commonly causes damage when anhydrous ammonia (liquid or gas) reacts with tissue water to form the strongly alkaline solution, ammonium hydroxide. ... Tissue damage from alkali is caused by liquefaction necrosis and theoretically can penetrate deeper than that caused by an equipotent acid. In the case of ammonium hydroxide, the tissue breakdown liberates water, thus perpetuating the conversion of ammonia to ammonium hydroxide. In the respiratory tract, this results in the destruction of cilia and the mucosa, eliminating the barrier to infection. Furthermore, secretions, sloughed epithelium, cellular debris, edema, and reactive smooth muscle contraction cause significant airway obstruction."

Since its boiling point is -33 C, you're also creating very large volumes of gas with any loss of containment.

I suspect F-T synfuels are a much more viable option -- liquid hydrocarbons are amazingly benign -- both on their own and relative to other fuel options.

299:

Charlie: I've looked at the options for biofuels -- Boeing was claiming a halophyte (pickleweed) based biofuel feedstock was "the biggest breakthrough that there is out there".

On the plus side -- it can use salt water and marginal land.

On the downside yield is likely 48-102 gallons/acre. Using a mean of 75 gallons, 2013 US aviation fuel consumption (16 billion gallons) would require
21.3 million acres under cultivation.

That's about 330,000 mile^2, or a region 577 miles on a side. That's a hell of a lot of seaside real estate.

On the map, you could start in Shreveport, LA, head west to Hobbs, NM, north to Denver, CO, east to St. Joseph, MO, and south to Shreveport again, traversing seven states and completely bounding two (Kansas and Oaklahoma).

http://redd.it/1wo2hl

The other interesting tidbit I picked up researching this was that the U.S. hit Peak Aviation Fuel in 2000. It's one of a few places where U.S. fuel consumption has been falling (auto fuel peaked around 2005).

2012 actual commercial aviation fuel consumption was less than 50% of the 2000 projection. I've estimated total 2013 consumption based on 11/12 of total. That's down 15.9% from actual 2000 consumption.

Increased load factors and improved aircraft efficiency mean that passenger miles are still up, but only just.

Steve Kopits covered this about a year ago in a presentation at Columbia University. (see p. 37)

300:

I work in software security, and over the years I have come to a conclusion that non-professional public has a highly exaggerated image of what hackers can do.

TV shows like "Scorpion" in the US don't help. It's fun to watch and see how many absurd things they treat as normal per episode.

301:

On alternatives to aviation fuel: not really. Hit up Wikipedia's "Energy Density" article for a fast comparison.

LiON is about 1/150th to 1/50th the per-kg energy density of jet fuel.

The best metal-air batteries are about 1/10th the density. But no only don't you burn off fuel as you fly (fuel is 40% of the loaded weight of a jet transport), but the metal-air batteries get heavier as they oxidize....

Biofuel simply doesn't scale given present/forecast populations and levels of petroleum use. Aviation is about 5% of global petroleum consumption. I hit on other parameters in an earlier comment. The photosynthetic ceiling and HANNP (human appropriation of net primary productivity) are a real bitch.

Look up Jeffrey S. Dukes, "Burning Buried Sunshine" (hosted at Stanford) for a good overview of what you're getting with fossil fuels.

One down.

Electric aviation at present levels of aviation (huge jets packed with cargo or passengers) is a nonstarter. But you can pack a battery and motor onto a glider and give yourself what's effectively a "powered glider", and that is in fact a class of aircraft, and there are electric variants. Possibly capable of self-launching, though a ground catapult or ground vehicle pull-start could work as well.

But even a few litres of liquid fuel would give you the energy storage of many kilograms of battery. Production aircraft with engines of 40-100 hp were fairly common in the early / mid 20th century, some still exist (and not just ultra-lights).

But yes, with a really light airframe or drone, you'd be able to provide surveillance / light package delivery on a small scale. Even carry some people. But effectively powered gliders.

Third option is lighter-than-air craft. As jwz says about regular expressions: now you have two problems. Helium's hard to come by, and airships have handling problems especially in inclement weather, but a solar-powered airship is at least reasonably viable. Materials strength and properties are such that Neal Stephenson's diamond lattice vacuum airships aren't possible, but a helium (or hydrogen) gas bag covered with PV and having a small additional liquid fuel or battery reserve would be possible, and with modern designs could reach speeds of ~225 kph (140 mph). That's comparable to high speed rail speeds, so ground transport would trump air for continental travel, but would allow for ocean crossings in ~18 hours (Atlantic) to 3 days (Pacific). Cargo lift capacities are potentially large -- several times the largest present jet transports.

Fourth option is synfuels -- electricity to fuel. I'm relatively bullish on the concept of seawater-based Fischer Tropsch fuel synthesis. It's got a 50 year research history, starting with Meyer Steinberg at Brookhaven National Labs in 1964. M.I.T. and the US Naval Research Lab have also conducted research. You're combining hydrogen (produced via electrolysis) and carbon (separated from seawater, assisted by the electrolysis process), to produce direct analogs of existing hydrocarbons. Net energy cost is about 50%. Navy models $3-$6/gallon, I see closer to $9/gallon ($378/bbl) if you cost in solar power provisioning. But that's a stable price as long as there's an ocean and sunlight. It's carbon neutral. And most of the technology is proven at commercial operation.

Except for the carbon sep bit, which is still under development (though practical trials show the chemistry works).

302:

The reason military drones are becoming more popular: more fuel efficient?

Removing the need to keep a person in good health while flying a plane cuts the costs and weight in a very measurable manner.

303:

Increased load factors and improved aircraft efficiency mean that passenger miles are still up, but only just.

Yes. AA for example is replacing 1 MD-80 with a B737-800 or an Airbus something per week. Fuel savings add up to big numbers after a while.

304:

and 10 million cars a year are built (arbitrary numbers to make the sum easy)

As best I can tell US sales of new cars are 50% over that number. So world wide the number will be much larger.

305:

We currently spend around 2 Trillion USD (2 T$) per year on fossil fuel subsidies. 2 years of that expense put toward HVDC lines could link all the world's major electricity networks .

Not arguing if your number is true but would be interested in see where the number comes from.

In the US and AU much (most?) of the electric production is coal based.

306:

personal ground transport is not yielding any (erm...) ground to public transit;

WRONG
Even in the USA ...
The Autogerichtstadt is a failure, as Prof. Colin Buchanan pointed out ... the message is only now beginning to percolate, & some politicians still don't get it, but it's true, nonetheless.

307:

All of this is irrelevant if the Skunk Works sunshine-in-a-box proposals have anything at all in them, though, doesn't it?

Agreed, we will have to continue with work on stuff we are already engaged with, simply because we don't know if the Lockheed ideas will work or not, & many of them are useful in their own right, anyway.
But, if we are talking about mass power generation, the entire world could be (note could) very, very diferent by 2030 - 15 years time .....

308:

Can you unpack all of that for a non-USA reader, please?
It certainly sounds complicated, if not labyrinthine & proably crooked.
I mean wtf is going on - please?

309:

Sorry, but someone pointed out, several threads back that this is utter bollocks.
Drone-kills of innocent bystanders are much lower than with manned aircraft, or even (particularly?) troops on the ground.
Nice myth, no fact.
Please return to "start" & try again?

310:

... and today's battery research news:
http://www.electronics-eetimes.com/en/long-life-aluminium-air-battery-resolves-rechargeable-challenges.html?cmp_id=7&news_id=222923459

"The 0.7-0.8 V aluminum-air battery, which provides 400-800 mA/cell, claims to have a theoretical specific energy level of 8,100 Wh/kg and has the second largest capacity among various types of potential secondary batteries. Theoretical specific energy of a commercialized lithium-ion battery is 120-200 Wh/kg which means that the aluminium-air battery possesses theoretical capacity more than 40 times as large as that of a lithium-ion battery."

311:

Figures from the International Monetary Fund. Actual number is 2.38 Trillion (Gulp)

https://www.imf.org/external/np/pp/eng/2013/012813.pdf

312:

"utter bollocks"

I missed that thread, but you've missed my point.

Drones are terror weapon, used by terrorists to terrorise people. They're an ever present threat. Air raids where a pilot looks you in the eye and fires a gun is something that you realise is happening and can mentally prepare for. Even if you're an innocent bystander. 99% of life can go on as normal. Drones on the other hand are there all the time, looking down on you. There's a constant fear that if you pick up a hoe or an irrigation pipe that looks too much like a rocket launcher (when viewed from 10 km above via a telepresence set) you could suddenly be ripped limb from limb.

At the risk of invoking Godwin's law, the drone is more like a V2 than it is like the blitz.

Their *actual* innocent bystander kill rate is pretty much beside the point. They're most effective in creating the climate of fear that turns bystanders into combatants and as far as I can tell that's what they're used for. They're certainly completely useless (massively counterproductive) for the actual task of winning hearts and minds which is how one goes about defeating a distributed enemy.

313:

Oh, and further to their supposed better combatant to bystander kill rate. The *actual* combatants take precautions to *not* be carrying around pipes and whatnot. They have the luxury to be not doing anything suspect unless conditions are right. (foggy, dusty etc). The innocent farmers on the other hand do *not* have that luxury. While a bit of sly preparation for terror can wait until a snowstorm, farming doesn't wait.

Chances are that most/all the kills reported as being of combatants were of bystanders. Who's going to contradict them? The steaming bits of people? That's not what the drone owners report to the press of course.

The drone program is so *outstandingly* stupid when viewed from the perspective of it's stated goals that it beggars belief. So either the people running it are knuckle draggingly dumb, or the stated objectives are not the actual ones. I can only see one objective that makes sense, to keep the war going by converting bystanders into combatants. If you can see another please do say.

314:

Drones are terror weapon, used by terrorists to terrorise people.

That's an interesting point you raise. Drones are not 'terror weapons' under international law. Drones are legal.

This has been clearly established in one of the most time honored and inarguable ways: by a large nation going out and doing it, possibly not without objection from others but totally without anyone else being able to make them stop.

If you've read anything about the history of the 20th century you might have wondered why spy satellites were accepted as a part of life without anyone making the kind of gripes that accompanied overflights of less technologically novel aircraft. The legal principle was established by the USSR orbiting Sputnik; they showed that they could put a satellite in orbit, took the position that other nations' airspace rights only went up as far as the air did (with a not terribly subtle "suck it up, yankee lacky" subtext), and demonstrated that nobody could stop them if they felt like doing it again. Then someone got the idea of sticking a camera onto a satellite and flinging over someone else's country...

So drones are legal, for carrying both cameras and weaponry. This is likely to be inconvenient for at least one government in the very near future.

315:

Obviously this is something that you feel very, very strongly about. Unfortunately, it also appears that you actually know very little about it - lots of righteously indignant allegations, mostly incorrect.

You're making a fairly serious claim with your "Chances are that most/all the kills reported as being of combatants were of bystanders" and "carrying around pipes and whatnot", particularly as they are unsupported by the available evidence. Would you care to provide some evidence to support your assertions?

I would suggest that you don't have to worry about picking up a pipe or hoe. Moving in the dark, as part of an organised group of six to eight people, where everyone else is "carrying a four foot long pipe" as if they were a weapon, moving towards an ambush site, and then forming up in cover and "pointing your pipe towards a known patrol route" is what you should worry about. It's that midnight team plumbing in the ditch at the edge of a road that's risky ;)

316:

As the other previous poster pointed out ...
A manned, expensive, fuel-heavy aircraft can fire its weapons or go home, or the pilot thiks he can see something & fires & oops.
A drone can stooge around until the pick-up truck with terrorist leader is past the village, on an open road & then get blown away ...
I'm also told that drone HQ's carry embedded lawyers as well.
Sorry, but you are still wrong.
It is NOT a "terror" weapon if is is highly discrete & targeted at $WANTED_person_or_group.
A Terror waepon is a one of mass destruction, or of indiscriminate use, which drones are, almost by definition - not.
See also Scott Sanford on this.

I realise that you have an unthinking gut-reaction against drones, but ... tough.

317:

"Drones are not 'terror weapons' under international law. Drones are legal."

I had no idea that something being terrifying or not related directly to it's international legality. I'm not quite sure how that relates to anything anyway as international law doesn't apply to the US. The US "unsigned" the agreement to be bound by the ICC many years ago. They're immune from prosecution by the ICC.

I've googled and I can't find anything marking drones as legal or not legal. I did find that people like Jimmy Carter think they're terror weapons.

"I believe it creates more additional terrorists, with the fervor of killing Americans, than we would be if we were not using the drones to kill people," Carter said of the policy.

Does the weapon used mark it as "Terror"? If the weapon is legal it's not terror? The recent Paris shootings were with military weapons that are as legal as any other. Is that not "terror" then?

Should I use the USian terms for terror "Shock and Awe"?

318:

92% of the Yemeni population examined have PTSD, with drones as the proximate cause. Not a terror weapon?

319:

"I realise that you have an unthinking gut-reaction against drones, but ... tough."

That's why I asked you what the goal of the drone program is. I said I can only see that they give aid to the enemy. They are a powerful propaganda tool handed to the enemy on a plate. The former Commander in Chief thinks the same as me. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/25/jimmy-carter-drones_n_5028275.html

The only reason I can see that you would do that is to keep the enemy going. I asked you directly to not be unthinking like me and think of what their actual clever plan is if it isn't to aid and support the enemy in order to prolong the war.

Jimmy and I are unthinking, Please do some thinking for us and let us know.

320:

"I want to believe..."

Unfortunately Lockheed's web site is still just a bunch of PR and links to mass media news sites, which in turn link back to the Lockheed site, completing the circle nicely. The "10 year plan" part seems to have vanished from the site, and a casual web search doesn't return any publications from their research team.

Ownership of nuclear technology is a sticky subject in the USA. Through various laws and regulations, the Fed claims ownership and/or control of all civilian research. Plus research past a certain point (actually achieving criticality, for starters) requires full Federal oversight and control. But Lockheed's first customer would certainly be the Fed.

A "fits on a truck" fusion reactor like Lockheed is claiming would definitely be of interest to the Pentagon. Even small ships and submarines could make use of such a thing. Even aircraft, though it's easier with props than with jets. Civilian aircraft, maybe never; way too many of those crash, and spraying the impact site with plasma isn't going to impress the NTSB crash investigators much.

You're also looking at some impressive geopolitical changes. Widespread national energy independence would certainly change things in the Middle East and the 'stans...

321:

"It's that midnight team plumbing in the ditch at the edge of a road that's risky ;)"

Are you seriously proposing that after years of strikes the "terrorists" haven't mentioned to each other that choosing clear nights to set up ambushes in groups while waving weapons around is a bad idea?

They do that stuff in snowstorms or in rain. Not in groups but one at a time. Weapons are cached, carried in parts and covered or disguised. To assume otherwise is to assume that the enemy is less than human.

I'm not military but I've spent a lot of time with military people. None were as comprehensively stupid as your imagined enemy.

322:

Let's have a think about that. 92% of the population in the sample (sample size not given) in one of the most lawless and violent parts of the world, that has been at war at family/tribal/political level for the past generation.

And Rolling Stone announces that it's all the fault of those last couple of years of UAV strikes. Hmmmm...

323:

I've strayed too far from the topic of SST/suborbital and I'm drawing a line under "drones". Unless someone can come up with a way to relate this to living life under Case Nightmare Green. Feel free to have the last word but I shan't be replying no matter how much I desperately want to. This isn't the forum for it and any moment I expect a pre-emptive strike from OGH on my not-all-that-unsuspecting head.

324:

"In non nonsense, I think all prognostications on the future as driven by climate change is overly optimistic because it assumes the threat comes from the difficulties of adapting to change, rather than from how the existing organizations will react. I look at the climate disruptions of the 1600s and see something all too plausible. Famine, disease, disaster and organized conflict killed between a quarter and a third of the global population. It saw more states breakdown than any other period. And the Little Ice Age and its after effects ran their course roughly from 1618-1680. The climate change we are looking at now will be around far longer"

This. And the industrialized world's elites will make money off of causing it. The first people really hurt are/will be the poorer people, so we're looking at a billion or so more desperate and more stressed people with no means to help themselves which are 'legal'.

325:

This is an area of statistics I know little about, but that's a good question. There's long term stress from local conflict, so how can we distinguish that from such things as CODE NIGHTMARE GREEN, or drones? What makes them different?

Well, we could think Hatfields and McCoys, just as a start, as an example of a tribal-level conflict. It had a strong cross-border element, between Kentucky and West Virginia, but the killings were not all that frequent. There seems to have been general recognition that some of the killings were justifiable revenge, while others were not. Some things happened on behalf of, but outside, the law. One kidnapping reached the Supreme Court, and still has echoes in modern US law on the handling of extradition.

And what makes it different is that both sides were fully involved and as risk. It wasn't asymmetric warfare. It lasted a long time, but the outbreaks of violence were spaced several years about.

Whether it's a US Drone or CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, how do you get at the enemy? How can you fight back against either the US Government of Great Cthulhu? And, if you're trying to study PTSD effects, you may be able to distinguish some aspects, flashback for instance, because they're so different.

And here is an account of seeing the downing of a Zeppelin over London. Could that become part of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN? Will there be the same elation outside the Laundry when people realise that horrible enemy can be defeated, and will those on the inside despair at the insignificance of their successes?

Unlike that Zeppelin crew, the people who fly the drones face no personal risk. They push a button, and a missile descends on a group of people. And, even if that group really is in the war, how many dead wedding parties does it need to terrify? It's about the perception of the drone attacks.

There's a reason the writers of fiction produce red weddings. Long before the Rains of Castamere there was the "Moldavian Massacre" of Dynasty, an apparent cliffhanger that turned out to be an unexpected twisted ankle on a staircase. But there is an emotional involvement, and there can be wild speculations.

Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action."

326:

I haven't had the time to respond properly to Martin, but there's another aspect that makes drones special: they have a long loiter time, and their engines are very audible (to the point the Palestinian slang for them refers to the sound - and its irritation value). This means in some parts of Yemen you can literally hear death hovering over you.

327:

Random topic bomb . This could be quite important, if it pans out. Also , score one for Vernor Vinge.

http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2014/12/blocking-receptor-in-brains-immune-cells-counters-alzheimers.html

328:

the people who fly the drones face no personal risk. They push a button, and a missile descends on a group of people.

Nor do pilots, or artillerymen manning the gun line, the soldiers manning the mortar line, or the snipers. How is this a problem? The soldiers on patrol, the policemen manning checkpoints are still being targeted by the terrorists. There's no rule that says eveyone has to form up in straight lines, and only shoot at one another with rifles.

SLA Marshall's "Men Against Fire" debated this in terms of willingness to aim at the enemy, as did David Grossman's "On Killing". The latter also covered PTSD, but offered the theory that it was the knowledge and visibility of the act of killing that drove PTSD, not the act of being under threat - hence PTSD rates were higher amongst infantrymen than bomber crews, while the latter had the higher death rates.

(One apocryphal tale has it that the stabilised optics on the new French armed helicopters are so clear, that the gunners were finding the imagery very stressful in terms of what they were actually doing to the human at the other end).

The fixation on "drones as terror weapon" - the people they truly terrorise are the killers and the terrorists. Because they are effective, it makes sense to create propaganda against them. The observation helicopters in Northern Ireland came under criticism for the same reason: their effectiveness could only be countered by claims of "they scare the cattle and frighten the children", because PIRA had real problems getting hold of VSHORAD.

UAVs aren't generally audible or visible; otherwise they'd be fairly useless for tracking and engaging soldiers on foot. If you google for Predator camera images, there are plenty of images where a dismounted team in the countryside is being observed from a distance by an armed UAV; they very obviously do not know that the UAV is in the vicinity - and they're listening out for them.

The Palestinian perspective might be explained by a deliberate show of force, or going low to get the highest-possible resolution images.

329:

@Barry: If you read Mike Davis' Planet of Slums, you'll get the strong impression that what you're describing with the elites profiteering from causing climate change, while over a billion suffer in migrant poverty, is our present, not our future.

The real peak with climate change starts sometime after we finish emitting however much carbon we're going to emit, because there's a bunch of long lags built into our biosphere (oceans saturating, sediment saturating, and so forth). If we do blow through all our fossil fuels, it may take another 200 years for the peak to arrive, another 1500 years for the oceans to saturate, and so forth. By that point, I don't think that the elites or their descendants will be around, but I do suspect that close to 100% of all people on the planet will be climate migrants, either because they're moving to escape inhospitable climates, or because climates are moving around them.

In conditions like that, the problem isn't necessarily existing systems of coercion and control (e.g. governments and organizations like Hamas, ISIL, the Taliban, etc.) biting down to maintain order, it's that they fall apart and there's a scramble among people trying to exert control, as we're seeing in Syria and Iraq today. This is the kind of situation where a gang rides into town and offers to protect you in return for loyalty and support, and the they're not interested in discussing the alternative. It gets far worse when you have two or more such controlling entities fighting over who gets to control you. Kilcullen's Theory of Competitive Control (in Out of the Mountains) covers this situation in some detail.

330:

Meanwhile, on topic ..

The attraction of sub-orbital transport for , lets say, Reaction Engines, is that it is a f**k load easier to do than getting all the way to orbit, and would provide an intermediate less technically challenging milestone for your technology, even if your long term business plan involves creating a market for cheap access to space.

331:

Sorry, I started posting before you reply hit, my reply took a long time to write thanks to a lovely phone call in the middle of it.

332:

I've never seen (or heard) a military drone in operation.

I have heard and seen videos with different claims about "OMG the noise keeps us awake at night" and "They're so quiet no one knows they're there." Of course they could be different types of drone, or differently fitted for different missions. One doing reconnaissance and the other a mission of civil repression and so both can be true.

Equally a drone can be fitted to go and effectively be a flying sniper platform and assassinate a target, or so we're told. I'm sure it could be fitted to deliver a handful of hand grenades or similar to, say, a school for a terror attack. The standard British Army sniper's rifle masses 6.8kg according to the army's website, and their grenades are just under 0.5kg, so you could fit about 13 of them easily enough. (I'm sure if I was a trained terrorist with experience of making bombs, I could do nastier things but that's an easy comparison to make.)

It does strike me as very odd that a lot of people who are very suspicious of what governments tell them usually are all saying "No, no, look - here's the US Army video of what they do. See, they're all OK."

And naming things is obviously really powerful. Although even more way off-topic I was musing about IEDs (in relation to killing without engagement). Obviously IEDs cause horrific injuries. But why are they evil, cowardly weapons? It's just over 15 years since most of the countries in the world (except China, Russia and the good old USA of course) signed the Ottawa treaty outlawing the use of landmines. And what's an IED if it's not a landmine by a different name?

333:

That sounds great for my iPad or your mobile phone. It sucks lowish power and will last for an age on one charge.

I could back of the envelope for a car but it might work or not. It's only 0.64W/cell using the best figures - how much does each cell weigh? Can you pack enough into a car without it weighing too much? They seem to think so, so I'll take their word for it.

There's still a step up to shifting a tank, a bulldozer or whatever around - armour, or a big pile of earth, as well as the vehicle. And to flying a passenger vehicle with an electric engine.

Still, good news, lets hope it works out for them.

334:

Good point, although I was actually thinking about the supply chain for armed soldiers and pilots posted in hostile territory. (Are drones also being used to scout out heroin trade routes? If such trade routes could be put out of service, then funding for some terror groups would likely decline.)


Re: 325 Antonia ...

Not an expert on this either, but have done a bit of reading off and on...

Maternal behavior/condition and impact on progeny is a very active field in psych. Although much of the research is/was done on rats, some findings have already been borne out in humans, esp. abandonment and lack of stimulation (orphans Eastern Europe, post-USSR). Anyways, it turns out that male progeny of abused/malnourished (terrorized) female rats are much likelier to have higher stress hormone levels throughout their lives and lower stress thresholds -- that is their stress reactions (i.e., violence) can be set off much more easily. Such males also have more trouble bonding and mating, and in turn, social isolation and lack of mating success* have also been shown to result in an increase in psychological issues. (One study even found a much higher incidence of schizophrenia among marginalized ethnic groups, mostly among males. Study was done in the West - Europe/U.S.) Why some people are more resilient to stress is also being looked at - for example, PTSD incidence and/or suicide risk.

So what does this mean? -- Violence literally breeds violence, and the best place/time to stop it is probably prenatally.

* - Mating success in this instance means that these rats were incapable of mounting ready/willing female rats ... and no, these male rats did not start exhibiting homosexual preferences. Anyways, extend this to human males in a homophobic culture (where if a man can't mate with a woman it must mean that he's gay, etc.) and it's a surefire strategy for always having suicide bomber volunteers.

335:

The main reason that the airliner producer's order books are full (and production rates planned to increase, maybe that has changed in the last couple of months) is that we concurrently have high fuel prices and low interest rates. As the primary reason for getting newer aircraft is to lower operating costs, offset by the acquisition cost.

336:

The point is that someone has a working prototype of a battery with potentially 40x the energy density of Li-ion. If that can be productionized then ALL our energy problems are solved.

337:

40x energy density sounds like a really good start for a bomb.

338:

Contrary to the headline, this aluminum-air battery is still a primary battery. Double dose of obfuscation and exaggeration:

"The 0.7-0.8 V aluminum-air battery, which provides 400-800 mA/cell, claims to have a theoretical specific energy level of 8,100 Wh/kg and has the second largest capacity among various types of potential secondary batteries. Theoretical specific energy of a commercialized lithium-ion battery is 120-200 Wh/kg which means that the aluminium-air battery possesses theoretical capacity more than 40 times as large as that of a lithium-ion battery."

They are only saying that aluminum-air is potentially a secondary (rechargeable) battery. They're also comparing commercialized lithium-ion batteries to theoretical blue sky figures for aluminum-air. And finally they're ignoring that lithium ion batteries with specific energies higher than 200 Wh/kg have already been commercialized.

This is an improved aluminum-air battery that apparently has better efficiency and lifetime, but it still uses aqueous electrolytes and cannot be recharged at home. The only way at present to "recharge" an aluminum-air battery is to save the aluminum oxide produced by the consumption of the anode, send the aluminum oxide back to an aluminum refinery, and insert a remanufactured metallic aluminum anode. It's more like a fuel cell with metallic fuel than an ordinary rechargeable battery. By way of contrast, people who are developing sodium-air, lithium-air, and potassium-air batteries are actually working on batteries rechargeable in place, not ones where you ship the discharged anode material back to a centralized refinery.

339:

My apologies: the journal article proof here indicates that this actually is a true secondary aluminum battery, albeit one still having limited lifetime: http://www.fuji-pigment.co.jp/en/Aluminum%20Air%20Battery-2.pdf

I stand by my criticisms of comparing new-tech potential with old-tech demonstrated capabilities, but this is not a "metallic fuel cell" like previous aluminum air batteries. It is a worthy advance in battery technology -- thanks for the link.

340:

"They do that stuff in snowstorms or in rain. Not in groups but one at a time."

Or even better, they pay a farmer to do that stuff (in cash, or in not raping his daughter) such that the real asymmetric fighter stays hidden. The US comes along, blows up said farmer with a $3m weapon, and calls him a terrorist. Even more people hate the US, win-win for the asymmetric fighter.

Drones/UAVs, as currently formulated, have a limited shelf life. They work against enemies that's can't fight back, except asymmetrically (hence they don't actually work, big picture). Problem is, sooner or later you'll start seeing antidrone weapons taking them out, and we get into another arms race.

Total drone numbers in the preditor/reaper type class measure in the few hundreds, since they cost $17m each.

341:

Noting that the original postulate was that we won't see sub-orbital airliners, I believe that we will see sub-orbital private aircraft, regardless of cost, efficiency, or economics. In an era of USD$600 million yachts and USD$300 million private jets, someone somewhere will bow to their ego and find him- or herself smugly inviting colleagues or rivals on a two-hour across the world jaunt on their new billion dollar hyperjet, or whatever they end up calling them. And of course, if the US military decides that they want them then Congress will happily write the check, which will just be the first push that starts the dominoes falling as the rest of the world's militaries decide that they can't do without them.

Eventually, though, some might hit the surplus market. It would be interesting to see what happens after that.

342:

Can you unpack all of that for a non-USA reader, please?

The two main electric utilities of North Carolina recently merged. And with their operations in Florida, Ohio, and ???? they are now the largest investor owned utility in the US. Maybe period. Nuclear, coal, Nat Gas, etc.. They are big time when it comes to power.

There are many conflicting opinions on how they should do things. Some of the conflicts are between government bodies. Some in state, some fed vs. state.

There are guidelines about how much reserve capacity they should have. People who want reliable power want big reserves but that means unused capacity at times. People who want lower rates want less.

Power utilities are regulated by a Public Utility Commission in NC. So Duke submits it's planned rates for the near future for approval. There are always non trivial numbers of groups who disagree with the request and result. Many of them sue. Many times it gets to go up through 1 or a few levels of courts.

My comment was about how getting them to do things that make sense for renewable usage gets them sued by advocates for lower rates who want less reserve capacity. I think DK's comment was about they asking folks to cut back during our current very lower than normal weather so they will not have to consider temp blackouts.

His later comments about tax rebates is a very inside the park comment on NC politics. R's have taken over the legislature for the first time in 100 or more years. And an R governor to boot. I think the R's have done a few dumb things but personally I'm not blaming them for the Lindbergh baby kidnapping as some seem to want to do. But a discussion of this gets us miles off topic and would take many pages of discussion to do a superficial analysis. But in very quick mode. An investor owned utility in NC has lots of laws to follow about what is and is not an allowed expense in determining allowed rates. His comment is about how that got applied recently.

343:

I agree that watching a vehicle capable of maneuvering through the atmosphere at Mach 3 heading towards your city would be inherently scary. I also believe that manned vehicles traveling through an atmosphere full of weather and other vehicles will human operated or at least human supervised for quite some time to come. So no hypersonic space-planes will be landing at your local airport.

But a DC-X style suborbital rocket is a whole different story. If such a craft were optimized for getting from point A to point B it probably wouldn't be very good at making mid-flight diversions to a point C that was very far from the planned destination. Takeoff, which will determine possible destinations, will be pre-programmed and automated. So the need to land extremely far from population centers is much reduced. Service between, say, Osaka's middle-of-the bay airport and Washington Dulles might well be considered acceptable.

344:

Drones/UAVs, as currently formulated, have a limited shelf life. They work against enemies that's can't fight back, except asymmetrically (hence they don't actually work)

The "spend $3m on killing a single farmer" thing is less likely. More likely is to observe said farmer, and then track him back to where he lives, then watch to see the actual terrorists come to visit, then follow them home, then follow them to see where they make their bombs, then figure out which one is the engineer, etc, etc.

The RAF was flying unarmed UAVs long before it got any armed ones. Even now, it's AIUI mostly observation rather than attack.

The UAVs "work" in the sense that the management structure of the Taliban takes a pounding. No sense in going after the foot soldiers at the bottom, better to hunt the planners and engineers and leaders; and these positions apparently now have a high turnover. Observing them is presumably now done with a high-powered airborne camera from a couple of kilometres out, not by a small team in a hole half a kilometer away. Hopefully, they're only killing the fanatics, and leaving the pragmatists and negotiators alone (by way of example, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness are alive and well)

345:

There's been a couple of comments about not designing for mid-flight diversions but I don't think that would happen. If we're speculating about a civilian craft its almost certainly going to be designed to allow the pilot to abort a landing and come around for another run. Given that, while you may not be able to make a substantial change to the portion of the flight in low/no atmosphere you'd expect the fuel and control surfaces to deviate substantially once it dropped lower.

346:

UAVs - its an attempt to push a technical solution at a political problem and hence doomed to fail (cf all the other times that's been tried)

347:

Many UAV attacks start with on the ground intelligence from either special forces teams or "friendly" intelligence sources. In some cases transponders are actually placed on the target buildings/vehicles. The UAV operators don't just fly around looking for suspicious people to bomb. The "suspicious people" have to be in close proximity to where the UAV has been directed.

348:

by way of example, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness are alive and well

though that's rather more due to them following good anti-sniper practise than them not being targetted, by all accounts...

349:

Mach 3 at anything below 20km altitude isn't achievable by an aircraft, even in powered flight. Air resistance would turn any aircraft built as we know it (a lightweight hollow tube with wings) into white-hot shrapnel at anything like that sort of speed below 20km so the worries about a hypersonic aircraft hitting a city at Mach 3 are silly compared to the threat of a Mach 0.9 aircraft with a 90% fuel load hitting a skyscraper, and I've not noticed any diminution in the number of such aircraft taking off and landing close to major cities since the last time such an incident occurred.

As for requiring super-special airports, why would hypersonic aircraft need them? The SR-71 and Concorde took off from standard runways, the Space Shuttle landed on one too. Any hypothetical high-Mach transport aircraft would be designed to use existing airports in the same way the A380 was, to fit into a standard airport landing-and-handling "box". They wouldn't approach an airport at Mach-plus speeds in the same way a regular airliner doesn't make its landing approach at Mach 0.9 since the air's too thick low down and it's getting ready to come to a stop anyway.

There are fuel and cost benefits to suborbital ballistic passenger flight but most of the flight would have to be carried out in near-vacuum, 60km or higher up with the engines not consuming fuel but with no air resistance to slow things down. In such cases the greater the distance between takeoff and landing the better the fuel burn per km travelled figures would be. And no, it wouldn't be a high-acceleration/zero-gee flight so Clarke's comment about the toilets doesn't apply.

350:

Just a Brief excursion... at moment no capable of more...into the FUTURE beyond Hypersonic Toothpaste Tubes Filled with Food Apes...Why? Why This MAD obsession with Not Paying Proper Attention to...

" Where is @cstross? @fluffcthulhu is in the bed where he should be! Has Fluff done something terrible to Charlie? "

https://twitter.com/antipope_cats


My recently deceased friend Shona ... Who was Keeshond of The Baskervilles and also Fluffy the Vampire Sniffer ... would have found Menhit madly amusing ..." See, See LOOK what CAT is Doing! Oh DO pay attention and where is lunch? "

So, here ...

OH the Eldritch HORROR of IT!!! Beer in ...TINS!!!! ...


" Narragansett Creates H.P. Lovecraft Line of Beers "


The END Times are HERE and NOW!!! Wot will the US of Ameri-cans Do Next? Abominations RULE US of A !!!!!!!


http://www.bostonmagazine.com/restaurants/blog/2015/01/06/narragansett-creates-h-p-lovecraft-line-beers/

OH THE HORROR !!!!!

351:

Re: Drone Armament.

That is one of the trends in air-launched precision munitions, smaller warheads, so less chance of collateral damage.

352:

“And distract clueless western liberals from the fact on the ground that some people just need killing."

It all depends on your perspective doesn't it?

Now if your perspective is from FAR, FAR, away from the battlefield and maybe even in a Secret Underground H.Q. from which you can commute to your comfy home in Middle America it MAY just May well be worth the risk of wiping out an entire Wedding Party Women Kids and Suspect Men and all in the interests of YOUR Homelands Security..Why not if you are playing a kind of Video Game and your Blood - or that of that of your Wedding Party? - isn’t in the Game of hazard.

Drones are extremely dangerous in Distance Warfare because they create the conditions for Revenge against those Smug Western Bastards... Inc Me...Who use them rather than put their own Boots on The Ground.

No? I'm wrong? How many U.S of Americans are busily engaged in Nation Building on the Ground in Over There at the moment as opposed to Boots and Hardware on the Ground in Europe after the Second World War?


The US of Americans are a Great and Generous People but they appear to have run low on Generosity in Democratic Nation Building this Century.

353:

Oh, and a Missing Link of the ' Big Foot ' variety ? ..


" Drones and Collateral Damage "


http://www.huffingtonpost.com/azeem-ibrahim/drone-strikes-pakistan_b_1648681.html

354:

Any discussion which includes the concept "some people just need killing" will be removed, by me. I'll take getting yelled at by Charlie if necessary later.

Sasquatch, I am specifically warning you. I've already unapproved one comment from you and I will do more. There are plenty of other places where you can be an Islamophobe, and this isn't one of them.

Arnold, please don't respond to the trolls.

355:
"Drones are not 'terror weapons' under international law. Drones are legal."

That's an interesting way of defining what constitutes terror and what doesn't.

Historically, the instrument of terror during the time that bears the nomer "terror" was the guillotine. AFAIK at the time neither the death penalty nor the specific way of executing it were illegal under international law. Am I therefore to conclude that "La Grande Terreur" actually wasn't terror at all, and all the history books are wrong? And besides, only bad people had to fear it anyway?

Furthermore, would the apologists of the drone war against "terrorists" agree that small arms and bombs are also "not 'terror weapons' under international law"? Those happen to be the weapons that the people whom you call "terrorists" overwhelmingly use. Thus, by the logic used above neither the assassination of the "Charlie Hebdo" journalists nor any suicide (or other) bombings can be called "terror". And wouldn't it follow from this that also the perpetrators of such acts cannot be called "terrorists"?

And wouldn't this lead to the final conclusion that — contrary to your claims — not a single bomb-carrying drone has ever been targeted at a terrorist? Because whoever uses weapons that "are not 'terror weapons' under international law" has by definition not committed any act of terror, and therefore is not a terrorist?

356:

I think this is also a topic that can be dropped now.

357:

“Arnold, please don't respond to the trolls."


That’s Fair Enough Sean.

In this specific instance I thought it worthwhile to make a limited Response on the grounds that if you never make a reasoned argument in return to such poisonous comments then the comment will pass unchallenged and the commentator will learn nothing.

It’s a question of judgment though and I'll gladly defer to your judgment as OGHs agent and knowledgeable deputy.

358:

I think we will see suborbital airliners. Maybe not in my lifetime, but eventually. There probably will be suborbital business jets first because it's easier. A lot of work went into refining conventional airplane technology before there could be airliners with regularly scheduled flights.

How will the issues of fuel consumption, security and convenience be resolved?

The Virgin Galactic design is a great way to minimize fuel consumption. The first stage flies subsonic in the lower atmosphere with ordinary jet turbines. Nothing exotic, and it can be optimized for its mission profile of taking off and returning to base. The second stage can be optimized for cruising above the atmosphere. Keep mind that it doesn't have to go fast through the atmosphere, it just has to get up above the atmosphere, then it can go fast because of the lack of air resistance.

The solution for both security and convenience is take-off and landing at conventional airports. The carrier is a conventional aircraft. It can take-off and land at any airport, not just special spaceports in New Mexico. The second stage should be designed so it can land on any runway that can take a jumbo jet. It will be coming in high and fast, with limited maneuverability, but it has to slow down to land; it will be subsonic before it gets close to its destination. So it's convenient because it can go to most big airports, and it's not a security concern because it lands like a plane, not like a missile.

359:

"The Virgin Galactic design is a great way to minimize fuel consumption."

I've always thought that something like this would be a great design to minimise airport angst.

If the lifting body was separate to the passenger cabin then the lifting bodies could be flying while the cabins are loading.

Planes need to be unloaded, cleaned, restocked and loaded between flights. While that's happening a 500 million dollar aircraft isn't making any money. I've never been able to understand why the bodies aren't unclipped from the running wing/engine/cockpit and a fresh one full of settled passengers and luggage clipped in. Jet engines mostly wear out due to startup/shutdown cycles. Keep them running for days or even weeks at a time.

The airlines wouldn't even need to own them as such in the same way that the shipping companies don't own the containers on the ships.

Passenger experience is that instead of waiting for an hour in a lounge, they can board at leisure, get settled and organised.

From a security point of view there's no human connection between the passenger module and the cockpit. You might be able to blow it up but there's no way you can hijack it.

From a logistical point of view you can have multiple module configurations available. If there's a lot of cargo on this flight, pick a module that's half passenger half cargo. Lots of First class? grab the one with double first class space. An F1 team needs to get somewhere? Grab the 90% cargo module. Overnight flight, you could have an all sleeper module. If you need to reconfigure a module you can spend a day moving seats and partitions around without having your massive investment out of service.

As a traveller I'd be more excited by an all sleeper than by an SST

360:

I really don't think you have a realistic view of the mindset of the traveling public. Start treating people like cargo and you'll likely be out of business soon. UPS and FedEx already do much of this with their private fleet. But again, people are cargo are not interchangeable.

And I don't airplane can be designed for different markets to handle these "people pods." Jets come in varied shapes and sizes so airlines can use them to serve different markets. Over the last 5 years I've flown a lot between the cities of Raleigh NC, Greenville SC, Washington DC (DCA/IAD/BWI), and Dallas. All on the same airliner. Plus some other cities tossed in. Almost every route uses a different airframe so it can handle the demands of the route in terms of people wanting to fly, airport capacity, length of flight etc...

And the logistics of building plane with the ability to attach/load detach/unload these pods... I just don't see it. This is going to add a LOT of weight and take up SPACE. Both of which are premiums in aircraft designs.

Does each pod get a flight attendant? Or do we also have to make it so people can freely pass between pods. Current US standards are about 1 attendant per 50 people. (Which can be inferred to some degree if you look at the seating charts for various airframes.) And as Charlie reguarly points out, when flying people around there's a premium on how quickly you can get them out of a plane in trouble on the ground.

Also look at just how roughly cargo containers are handled when moved on or off a transport. And how rough the transport can be.

Sorry, I don't see it.

361:

May not be relevant, but I'm curious about wind shear effects at 40,000 feet and up ... At least a couple of regular commercial (non-supersonic) jets that attempted this climb didn't do so well. Is there anything special at the 40,000 to 60,000 foot altitude that a supersonic would have to contend with?

362:

It gets really thin up there. So thin that control surfaces don't really work the same way they do in thicker air.

363:

I'm not talking about little pods full of people stuffed into existing planes via the luggage system. I'm talking about something like the White Knight. A big plane that has a big space on top. A single big pressurised tube gets lowered onto it. That tube completes it's aerodynamic shape.

There's no reason that the boarding passenger would notice anything different except that there's no rush to board, no door to the cockpit and you can't see any wings when you look out the window, yet they're magically there just before you depart the gate. Same windows, same cabin crew same emergency exit system.

For the aircraft, it lands, drops one big tube at the arrival gate, rolls over to the departure gate and picks up a different tube. It may have come back from Disneyland with a pure Cattle Class pod/tube and be picking up a pure First Class for a flight to Washington. No need for a different airframe for every route, one size fits all. Even before minimum wage slaves have started scraping half melted lollies off the floor of the Disneyland flight the First Class Washington passengers are having their plates of caviare collected and being told to fasten their seatbelts for landing.

364:

I think you might have overdosed on Thunderbirds Thunderbird 2 always had just the right equipment ready to load in a cargo pod. Like a lot of episodic TV, it was all set up to get on with telling the story: they always arrived with just what was needed.

And if the Tracy family had been trying to recover the Falcon 9 on a barge. it would have had one of the brothers on board, waggling a joystick to control the system that kept it level and in place. And the Falcon propulsion system would have been nuclear, not chemical.

Anyway, ITV are doing a Thunderbirds remake, a 26-episode mix of CGI and miniatures. It's been fifty years...

Yes, I am feeling horribly old.

365:

Sorry. Still don't buy it.

One size fits all? So just why does this work when one route supports 5 flights a day of 150 people each and another support 3 flights a day of 50?

Attaching a module to a plane at the gate? Sorry. No way it doesn't add a all kinds of weight and complexity.

Makes for a neat SF movie prop but I don't see it working in real life.

366:

I think this says it better than I can.

http://www.aviation.unsw.edu.au/downloads/papersWu/1_JATM_2000.pdf

Basically they're saying that a more predictable turnaround means that the planes are more likely to leave on time. That means that less "buffer" needs to be built into the schedules, leading to better customer loyalty because the planes leave on time (greater revenue), reduced operating cost (money wasted on the ground waiting out "buffer" time) and lower lost opportunity cost (they make money by flying not waiting at gates while lemon soaked paper napkins are loaded).

Pods would not only make turnaround times much faster, but also make them more predictable, meaning less buffer is needed. Yes the plane would be more complex and carry fewer passengers, but if the plane is flying more it's carrying more passenger miles per unit time, which is what makes money for the airlines. Currently the buffer is about 20 minutes. That's in the order of 3000 dollars cost to the airline for each stop, just to make sure the plane leaves on time if there's a delay with turnaround. The total turnaround for a long haul is usually in the order of 2-3 hours (18-27000 USD). That cost recurs every flight, so two or three times per day. For airports with curfews that can often mean being trapped for 8 hours until the airport reopens. Nearly 100 000 dollars lost. That can add up to maybe 10 million dollars per year. Small change when the aircraft costs 200 million, but still worth saving if possible. Of course not worth it if it jumps the price of the plane to 300 million.

367:

We may not see sub-orbital airliners, but we might see fully orbital ones. If the price per kg to orbit can be dropped to below $1000 there is an orbital tourism market ready to be tapped.

368:

> The point is that someone has a working
> prototype of a battery with potentially 40x the
> energy density of Li-ion. If that can be
> productionized then ALL our energy problems
> are solved.

That's been the battery technology battle cry for a century now, since Edison withdrew his electric cars from service and went off trying to invent better batteries.

I've been watching the "real soon now" battery claims for four decades now (and fuel cells too), and it's just and same old story, one... more... time.

When it's on the shelf at Wal-Mart or Tesco's, I'll believe it. Until then, I'll just file all the announcements with the Elvis sightings and bargain real estate offers.

369:

I'd also be really interested to see cycling/recharging data on aluminum batteries. I'd be amazed if they didn't lose serious capacity after only a few charges.

370:

I bet you say that about solar PV as well

371:

Hard to accept that the very strong/fast winds at that altitude aren't damaging, but as you point out, there's very little stuff up there, therefore very little resistance.

Wonder what a photovoltaic spinnaker on a suborbital racing jet could do... sorta America's Cup 'atmospheric seas' racing.

372:

I agree that winds at that altitude can be very damaging. I was making the point that your ability to use control surfaces is more limited than at lower altitudes. Which compounds any problems you have.

373:

That can add up to maybe 10 million dollars per year. Small change when the aircraft costs 200 million, but still worth saving if possible. Of course not worth it if it jumps the price of the plane to 300 million.

I agree with the point of the article that more predictable turn around times makes for better profits. I disagree a bit with one of their points about loyalty of passengers. Airlines (in the US) have invested heavily in their mileage/points/spending programs to keep people from switching airlines. At least to keep the upper half of the spenders from switching. The infrequent travelers buy based on price of the day and they are hopeless as to loyalty.

But the cost of the airframe is only part of the cost of such a system. The infrastructure and operating costs on the ground would be huge. Working toilets and food and beverage service while the pod is not yet attached? Trolly systems to move the pods around, to gates, to airframes, to storage?

And the issue of moving the pods on and off the airframe without shake/rattle/roll of passengers will add a lot of costs.

And I can think of more things. To me it's a neat idea that doesn't hold up to implementation.

374:

Nearly 100 000 dollars lost. That can add up to maybe 10 million dollars per year. Small change when the aircraft costs 200 million

You're assuming that the total cost of the aircraft and two pods running at maximum efficiency, is less than that of a single aircraft running slightly inefficiently. You're assuming that the (hopefully very sturdy) attachment points, on both pod and aircraft, have no impact on the amount of passengers, or maintaining costs - i.e. the extra weight of these attachment points will of course have a measureable impact in terms of the number of passengers that can be carried.

So, instead of having a $200m aircraft, you have (say) a $175m aircraft and two $50m pods... or similar. What's the breakeven point for the extra cost? Are the pods compatible between different versions of the same aircraft? Will they constrain the aircraft design? What are the drag costs of any not-utterly-smooth joins in the airframe, and how do you avoid any dissimilar expansion problems with airframe heating / cooling?

I note that the one attempt to create a podded aircraft that I can think of (the CH-54 Tarhe, or "Skycrane") did most of its flying without the pods, and the experiment wasn't repeated.

375:

Well, I said that about PV awhile ago (it's been around for what, 100 years?) and I think it's a perfectly reasonable statement about nuclear fusion, Lockheed announcements notwithstanding.

376:

That Lockheed announcement is almost certainly BS. The one to watch in the short if Dense Plasma Focus fusion. They will be completing the make or break experiments within 5 years.

As for PV, it is a perfect example of how to effectively subsidize a technology in order to make it viable. What the subsidies have effectively done is two things. The most obvious has been to introduce vast economies of scale which has resulted in massive price drops. The other is to stimulate as huge amount of R&D into even cheaper future tech eg Perovskites.

377:

It was pointed out elsewhere that they made a similar announcement a few years ago. At that point, their estimated time to delivery was apparently a year less than it was this time.

When your remaining time to do something gets longer as time passes, your estimate tends to lose credibility.

Big defence contractors (and this is one of the largest here) are notorious for producing almost criminally optimistic forecasts.

378:

Basically, we're talking about containerising air passengers. It's possible I suppose that this has already been done by criminal or black ops agencies, although we're really talking spy fiction here.

Commercial air freight uses a range of semi-standardised containers (we like standards so much, we have lots of them)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unit_load_device

The LD9 temperature controlled container would technically do the job, with a range of -20 to +30 deg. C , good for 120 hours of autonomous operation.

http://lufthansa-cargo.com/fileadmin/user_upload/corporate_2013/pdf/Cool/Factsheet_Unicooler_RAP_LD9_eng_kl_1_.pdf


379:

> Loyalty

Customer loyalty is hard to get when you're offering an experience akin to stuffing a rabid weasel down your pants.

Leaving them standing at the airport watching the plane take off because you deliberately oversold the available seats will generally put you on a customer's hate list forever. Running so late you miss connections probably runs number two.

Establishing a multi-tiered pricing scheme for the *same* class of seating, based on which airport they leave from, how far ahead the ticket was booked, the phase of the moon, and rolling dice also doesn't establish much loyalty, particularly when your customer finds the guy in the next seat paid less than half of what he did for the same flight.

Airlines regard their customers as "pax"; annoying meatbags who have to be dealt with. Expecting the meatbags to be grateful for it is, in my opinion, unreasonable.

380:

Airlines in the US do lots of tricks to cement loyalty.

Advance seat assignments, free/cheap upgrades to more leg room or business/first class, fee waived checked luggage, early boarding (so you get a bin for your carry on), etc...

The issues you mentioned mostly affect those not in a special loyalty class. But if you switch airlines a lot you don't build up the points needed for this. So if you want that fight to Tahiti for free you stick with one airline. They are buying loyalty. They know it. And the non dumb customers know it.

As to pricing, I don't always like it but I understand it.

Disclaimer my wife works for a major US airline but not in a position to set policy. And I flew more miles BEFORE I met my wife over 20 years ago so I know it from both sides.

381:

When an aircraft is delayed from takeoff, it's usually because the plane has mechanical trouble. Containerizing the passengers would only make sense if there were spare engine-wing assemblies on hand, so that a nonfunctional assembly could be replaced with a new assembly without reloading the passenger compartment.

To the extent that I understand the economics of air travel, the engines and avionics are the expensive parts of the plane, and keeping spare assemblies on hand at every major airport would be prohibitively expensive.

382:

You'd only need to stock about 3 planes in North America to cover/service the entire continent ... that is, get the necessary parts to the affected plane within about an hour. Inventory management for the past 30+ years is based on JIT/flexibility and minimizing inventory investment. The burden of who owns the inventory for such scenarios is being increasingly shifted to the (plane) manufacturer which in theory reduces service costs further.

383:

Or it could be that people are skeptical of PV because of the battery problem. Inducing customers to install it with the promise of some other party buying back excess power isn't a solution.

Claims about a better battery coming along Real Soon Now have been made for longer than I've been alive . . . which probably is an indicator that you don't need any particular expertise in the particular tech being hyped to decide it's probably not going to make it out of the lab alive.

Bear in mind that I'd love to be disproved; it's just that at this point it looks like the only thing that's going to make Better Battery work are the sort of advances in nano-fabrication that would apply to a lot of other needful things as well :-)

384:

Note the one screaming drawback with high speed rail compared to aviation kicks in at longer range: infrastructure.

Isn't this true of virtually all transport whether it's starships or bicycles? A friend of ours took a teaching position near the Bootheel in Missouri; his Cooper mini (a fine city car) got trashed by roads within a year and now he knows why people drive trucks. OTOH, taxes are low ;=)

385:

About an hour of flight time, but probably about two or three hours of waiting for an opening on the runway, flight to where it's needed, waiting for an opening to land, making sure the airframe was ready to go again, moving the passenger compartment onto the new airframe, and more preflight checks.

Plus, mechanical problems aren't so rare that having a single airframe available would help much; a significant fraction of each air fleet needs a little extra maintenance each day.

386:

Thanks for the tip. I took a look at the company and they reminded me of the early days of Tesla and Edison. Couple of people messing in their own lab and they have results. And I love that they share the data. Really made my day regardless if they succeed with fusion (it's a hard nut to crack).

387:

Would have assumed that there would be a dedicated runway for such flights ...

388:

You've rather appear to have missed Charlie's point. It's not about the quality of the infrastructure, it's about the quantity.

For a road, a railway, a canal, between two cities, you need to build it to some minimum quality all the way between them. It may be pretty crap by civilised world standards, but you need something.

For port style transport, whether sea or air, you don't need to worry what's between. You assume open sea or open air. It's the end points that matter.

A pair of cities a hundred miles apart will require a tenth of the railbed of a pair of cities a thousand miles apart, whereas for airports, the multiplying of the distance makes effectively no difference. And when building a whole network, you need consider the number of vertices for air/sea, the total length of the edges for rail/road.

(This is obviously a simplification, since your vertices need junctions and stations for rail, and you need some ATC or similar for the edges in the air. But it's where the majority of the cost is for the two types. It also ignores the cost of the vehicles.)

389:

You'd only need to stock about 3 planes in North America to cover/service the entire continent ... that is, get the necessary parts to the affected plane within about an hour. Inventory management for the past 30+ years is based on JIT/flexibility and minimizing inventory investment.

BS. Totally removed from the real world.

390:

When an aircraft is delayed from takeoff, it's usually because the plane has mechanical trouble.

Sorry but no.

I'm not sure but my memory of when I read about this it was weather. At least in North America. Especially in the summer and spring with thunderstorms. When you have a plane making 6 so city pairs in a day and you have weather in the area served by those flights delays accumulate. Years ago I dreaded not getting to leave the New York area on late afternoon flights in late summer. Some times the schedules for the east coast would get to be behind by 4 or 5 hours due to thunderstorm delays. Now days they are better at avoiding the storms but a cell over a take off or landing path to a run way in the NYC area can tie up flights from coast to coast.

Now there are a lot of simple mechanical delays that the airlines, Boeing, and Airbus have figured out and learned to stock at most airports and have mechanics there certified to fix. But there's the rub. You have to have the part AND a mechanic certified to diagnose AND repair the problem and it not require unloading the plane for it to be fast and simple. And even then the paper work for a 30 minutes delay can account for 10+ minutes of that delay.

I recently dealt with a 1 1/2 hour mechanical delay at DFW as the problem required a certain certification and we had to wait an hour or so for a guy with that cert to show up and fix the issue. Apparently he was in high demand that day. Parts were there. Fix was simple but we were missing "the guy".

391:

Claims about a better battery coming along Real Soon Now have been made for longer than I've been alive

And they HAVE come. But they tend to be 1% improvements, not 100% like everyone wants.

But basically I agree with you.

I like my battery powered hand tools. They were a joke 20-30 years ago. Now they are useful. But they are no where near a full day of charge. Which is why I have lots of batteries and swap them out every hour or two when doing a lot of work.

392:

A friend of ours took a teaching position near the Bootheel in Missouri

College or high school? I grew up near there and didn't know there was much of anything in the bootheel except bottom farm land.

393:

You've missed the point -- missed it by a clean mile -- it's the cost, and how debt is serviced.

394:

The Bootheel is probably the only geographic feature people outside of Missouri will recognize; he's actually at Southeast Missouri State University, located in Cape Girardeau. He's a fight and dance coach in the drama department and also maintains their armory.

395:

How do the freight carriers operate then?

396:

(Wrt. electric battery power): A car is comparatively lightweight, with a much lower power-to-weight ratio, and even so, I think we're a way away from one that can be driven for a whole working day.

I think we're a lot closer than you think. Tesla just announced a free upgrade for the 500 owners of original Roadsters -- essentially the kickstarter supporters -- to replace their 200-250 mile battery pack with a 400 mile battery at no cost to the owners.

They mentioned that they're working on eventually doing something similar for Model S owners -- not necessarily free, but a 400 mile battery upgrade is possible down the line.

Now, I don't know about you, but 400 miles in a day is above my comfort zone for long-haul driving. (I've done up to 600 miles in a day, but you just about had to hose me out of the driver's seat at the end of it; for Edinburgh-London runs, which are about 420 miles, I almost invariably break the journey overnight at the half-way point.)

If you add that the supercharger stations can deliver a 60% recharge in 30 minutes, a Model S with a 400 mile rang is basically all you need. That exceeds the unrefuelled range of most petrol cars I've owned (eco/diesel can go somewhat further, but you don't generally need to do that in one day's driving) and basically means an electric car would barely sacrifice any utility relative to petrol -- 30 minutes to two hours for refuelling after a 7-8 hour drive rather than 5 minutes doesn't seem like a huge issue to me.

397:

Congratulations! You've just reinvented the flow battery. (They're relatively complex and have low energy density compared to LiION cells; typical applications are for stationary very high capacity backup to grid power supplies.)

398:

Excellent point! We don't have to do as well as gasoline/diesel; we merely have to do well enough to satisfy most consumers. Now that I'm regularly doing the Columbia/Chicago drive, I can safely say that 400 miles in one day is over and above what most people will tell you will be the upper end of their range anxiety.

399:

Well it is debatable because on our road trips, we used to change drivers (I guess charging stations could solve most of that problem) so >400 or 600 miles is necessary. And for typical day, Nissan Leaf is good enough (80 miles) and much cheaper. Now, what is the problem with charging stations? Electricity power network is well developed, I would assume that charging stations would require less work than gas pumps. What prohibits putting more charging stations, does anyone know?

400:

Cape Girardeau

Channel 12 / CBS :)

Ahh. Technically that's about 50 or more miles north of the bootheel. Which is why I was confused. The bootheel area is about as rural as you can get in that part of the country.

401:

How do the freight carriers operate then?

Packages arrive at their door per the preset schedule and are delivered according to the preset schedule. So there's a lot of work done OUTSIDE of the freight carrier that is done before and after they get involved. Including how the customer schedules people time at each end.

With an in house parts depot for a plane spare part you have to handle the request, pick the part, get it to the plane (not too hard as you're likely inside of security with your warehouse) the watch it go. Then at the other end get it out of the plane, hand it off to the repair guys who THEN get to start doing the repair. And with airplane parts there are signatures and such required many or all of the steps to prove that part X serial number Y build by company Z was put on plan # 9999 (and tested) on date yymmdd time HH:mm by mechanic with certificate 9999 and accepted by pilot ppppp.

I saw this happen a few months back with one carrier. A plane was taken out of service at about 9:00 AM. This airline had a hub about 35 minutes flying time away. They identified the issue, requested the part from the hub, it was put on a flight to our airport (they ran every 60 to 90 minutes or so), the mechanic (certified) did the fix. Plane started boarding a bit after 3:00PM. So 6 hours start to finish when it was easy and everything close by.

I doubt it they would have flown the part there on a special flight unless it would be the only way to get it there. Even so FedEx might be used if this was a one flight per day routing. Flying a jet somewhere for a part delivery is very expensive especially when you consider that it gets to also fly "back" empty.

Now I guess they could maintain a fleet of small jets to handle such stuff but then again $100 to $300 for a FedEx delivery to an airport at 6:00 AM is way cheaper than flying a jet around with just one part.

And when these things happen the airlines with interline agreements move passengers to other airlines to get people where they are supposed to go.

[Note: All of the above is based on my observations while flying and talking to friends, not from any inside knowledge.]

402:

Now, I don't know about you, but 400 miles in a day is above my comfort zone for long-haul driving. (I've done up to 600 miles in a day, but you just about had to hose me out of the driver's seat at the end of it;

Yes. I can handle a 250 mile / 5 hours drive with one quick pit stop. But more than that and I typically need a longer stop. 5 hours and I'm fine to finish the day. 8 hours and I'm 1/2 speed till I get 8 hours of sleep.

So a 400 mile range coupled with a quick charging state at major cities would be fine.

And now that I'm 60 I can tell my range is declining. I just tend to forget it until I'm in hour 6 or 7 of a drive. [Harking back to an earlier post.]

403:

Thanks for the info! Very time-consuming process...

404:

I occasionally do about 600 miles in one push (with a spare driver), but 400 would be sufficient for most purposes.

One question I haven't seen a satisfactory answer to yet is just how badly heating hurts the range. I work on the assumption that what they quote only applies to comfortable temperatures. No heating and no AC.

Most of my long drives tend to be for winter mountaineering trips in Scotland. All that lovely waste heat pouring out of my engine and into the cabin is extremely welcome, and it doesn't really cost extra to generate it.

405:

I wouldn't go that far, since I'd actually heard of such devices before. The issue at hand was more whether one could have something like an electrical aircraft that could be recharged from another plane using a boom as they do now. This only works if you can pull the old electrolyte out faster than you can pump the new stuff in. The answer is almost certainly not, but it's an interesting concept.

The other problem, of course, is that we already have a really good idea what energy-dense liquids look like, and we use them. I'm not too sanguine that there's some magic electrolyte out there that can has anything like the energy density of petroleum products.

406:

"how badly heating hurts the range."

I can't find anything definitive, but I guess that makes sense, it is one of those "how long is a piece of string" questions. If you start with a dead cold car, drive slow, it's very cold, you like the windows open and your feet roasted then the answer would be "a lot". If used the mobile phone app to wake up your car before you got into it and preheat while still connected to the charger (no more scraping ice off the windscreen), you're acclimatised to the weather in your area, dressed appropriately for skiing and you're driving fast then "Not much"


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZ5PqPeOPT0

Spoiler Alert:

He drives it like he stole it, including doughnuts and powerslides, drives over lots of snow, yet gets to his destination finding it will give about 2/3 of it's rated range.

407:

One question I haven't seen a satisfactory answer to yet is just how badly heating hurts the range. I work on the assumption that what they quote only applies to comfortable temperatures. No heating and no AC.

For a friend with a Volt it can be a lot. His wife wanted the heat on the way to and from a movie but since he hadn't had a chance to charge up before they left it was either be cold or walk. I think he said the range dropped from something like 35 to 10 when the heat was turned on. Now a Volt and Leaf are NOT a Tesla.

408:

Tesla: "how badly heating hurts the range."

There is an app for that

http://my.teslamotors.com/goelectric#range

409:

In most batteries, the anode and cathode materials are solids. The electrolyte carries ions (typically lithium) from one to the other, but it's at a more or less steady state. Replacing the electrolyte doesn't recharge the battery; replacing the anode and cathode materials does.

410:

Indeed, flow batteries are kind of interesting in their own right.

Vanadium Redox batteries are at 35 Wh/kg energy density, whereas LiON is at 80–200 Wh/kg. However, recent developments with the nano have claimed big advances in flow batteries, with energy densities at the 600 Wh/l level. It seems there ARE x00% wins possible in this side of the battery game. Still some way off the 12000 Wh/l of petrol though...

I've kind of wondered if Fischer Tropsch based approaches might not be a better bet. Rather than going hell for leather on the big battery front, look instead at FT creation of a synthetic petrol, compatible with existing engines, etc.

Process efficiency for FT is ~50% at maximum, and the ICE efficiency is stuck at 20%; making it combination a 'not that great' 10%. However from a standpoint of cutting the battery cost/weight down to the level of day-2-day drives - it would seem to be a very compatible way of shifting away from fossil fuels. Particularly if you can utilise times when there is power to waste (eg wind power at night).

411:

These guys
http://www.genifuel.com/
may have an alternative for Fischer-Tropsch fuel production.


412:

I occasionally do about 600 miles in one push (with a spare driver), but 400 would be sufficient for most purposes.

While a young non-car-owner, I went through a period of attending events where it was cheapest to send me to the other end of the country by hire car; I got lots of chances to try out different Ford, Rover, Vauxhall saloons. My conclusion was (unsurprisingly) that the difference between getting out after 400+ miles and either walking away whistling, or crawling away, was a decently adjustable, and well-adjusted driver's seat.

The wife and I are both Volvo drivers, and I have to say the seats are about the best we've encountered - although these days, we've stopped doing our regular "pile into car on Friday evening, travel 400 miles to Bisley or similar, arrive at 2am, competition starts at 9am" stuff. The car could almost do the M6 on its own after a few years...

413:

"What prohibits putting more charging stations, does anyone know?"

Land price. If you are replacing a 5 minute petrol charge with a 60 minute electricity charge you will need a station to have 12x the land area. The future of charging is supermarkets, not petrol stations.

BTW, my longest drive was London to Skye

414:

With the note that this would be about 12 years ago:-

I have done this - Day 1 up til about midnight (not original plan ferry Jersey - Weymouth was late leaving). Day 2 Up about 07:30 and leave Weymouth ~09:00: Drive to Dumbarton (just West of Glasgow) (478 miles, about 8hr 20min according to Bing, which seems right since I arrived ~17:30), shower, go out for curry with friends, get to bed ~23:30. Day 3 - Up ~09;00 and spend day chilling.

Ok, it's not "regular use" but it's clearly possible with a comfortable hydrocarbon car and not with a plug-in EV.

415:

s/supermarket/restaurant

416:

There may be more charge stations than you're thinking. They tend not to have giant illuminated signs with multinational corporation logos. There may be far more than you expect (or far fewer if you live in Australia) http://www.plugshare.com/

417:

Did you drive those ~8.5 hours non-stop? Most people would have stopped for a meal in there somewhere. If not, you should have - driving that long without a proper break isn't particularly safe. If so, you could have charged your car at the same time (I'm assuming the availability of a charging point), which should have given you enough charge to comfortably finish your journey.

I'm assuming that we're talking about the EV's that are apparently coming out now with ~400 mile range, not previous generation range, of course.

418:

s/restaurant/station carpark/

(Perhaps a bit of a waste, since the charging space tends to be blocked for way way longer than required, and also anyone taking the train is probably not going a long distance in the car. But there are a few at Cockfosters, the one we use most often.)

419:

If it's an hour a week charge that is required, it can be done at Tesco.

420:

I wonder how long it will be before it's a standard benefit at work. Trickle charge your car at the office.

421:

One question I haven't seen a satisfactory answer to yet is just how badly heating hurts the range. I work on the assumption that what they quote only applies to comfortable temperatures. No heating and no AC.

Probably less than you think.

One horsepower is around 740 watts, so let's approximate 1.3 Hp = 1kw. A 3 kw electric fan heater can warm up a small to medium room, so is a good fit for a car heater; that's around 5hp.

The Tesla Model S has around 350hp in those motors at full power. Assuming it only draws around 20% of that when rolling at highway speed, I conclude that running the heaters at full power probably only drains 10%, at most, of its battery draw.

422:

“I have done this -

Day 1 up til about midnight (not original plan ferry Jersey - Weymouth was late leaving).

Day 2 Up about 07:30 and leave Weymouth ~09:00: Drive to Dumbarton (just West of Glasgow) (478 miles, about 8hr 20min according to Bing, which seems right since I arrived ~17:30), shower, go out for curry with friends, get to bed ~23:30.

Day 3 - Up ~09;00 and spend day chilling.

Ok, it's not "regular use" but it's clearly possible with a comfortable hydrocarbon car and not with a plug-in EV.”

Well we can ignore day's 1 and 3, it's actually the trip from Weymouth to Dumbarton that's significant.
First leg, Weymouth to Bristol supercharger, 1 hr, 44 min. 96 miles. Recharge from 60% to 80% taking under 20 minutes. Leave at 2 hr and 44 minutes.
https://www.google.com.au/maps/dir/Weymouth,+United+Kingdom/The+Mall+at+Cribbs+Causeway,+Bristol+BS34+5QU,+United+Kingdom/@51.0808612,-3.0463603,9z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x487257fd62333533:0xebeb17fada5f4737!2m2!1d-2.457621!2d50.6144279!1m5!1m1!1s0x48719183cff92b79:0x5874d282f0d36bc2!2m2!1d-2.594945!2d51.524606
Second leg, Bristol supercharger to Warrington Supercharger. 2 hr 24 min 154 miles. Recharge from 30% to 90% in 45 minutes. Leave at 5 hours and 53 minutes.

https://www.google.com.au/maps/dir/The+Mall+at+Cribbs+Causeway,+Bristol+BS34+5QU,+United+Kingdom/Stretton+Rd,+Warrington+WA4,+UK/@52.4471015,-3.3627442,8z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x48719183cff92b79:0x5874d282f0d36bc2!2m2!1d-2.594945!2d51.524606!1m5!1m1!1s0x487afe0c432574c9:0x4ef6404c80c3ff5f!2m2!1d-2.5704557!2d53.3402554

Third leg Warrington Supercharger to Dumbarton 3 hr 29 min 235 miles. Arrive 9 hr and 22 minutes after leaving Weymouth (18:22) with 35 km remaining. Plug into the wall while you shower and change. After an hour you have 42 km remaining, enough to go out for a curry at India Quay on Finnieston Street. Park at the Exhibition Centre for free while the car sips some juice. Assuming you get there by 19:30 and charge till 23:00 you'll add about 200 miles range while you have dinner.


https://www.google.com.au/maps/dir/Stretton+Rd,+Warrington+WA4,+UK/Dumbarton,+United+Kingdom/@54.6263942,-5.7342991,7z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x487afe0c432574c9:0x4ef6404c80c3ff5f!2m2!1d-2.5580359!2d53.3444224!1m5!1m1!1s0x48884d562a7d8439:0x7f1b30b2e566de62!2m2!1d-4.564554!2d55.945287

423:

Sorry, the last paragraph should have said "35 miles" and "42 miles"

424:

Before I retired, my work (at an electricity company) let me recharge my electric motorcycle.

425:

Tesco? Oh, I remember them.

(Actually there's a big Extra taking up about 90 degrees of my field of view behind me, which I expect to remain open, and there's an Express being built in the town centre, which has apparently been spared the axe. So after all that, we look to end up with more Tesco rather than less.)

Hmm, pull into a parking space, attach the cable, drop a quid in the meter and wander off shopping. It does make logistical sense, and though I expect the charging posts cost more than a few square metres of tarmac, they'll have a heck of a lot of usage there.

Heck, it's probably even worth them running the posts at a loss if it brings customers in more frequently.

426:

I think you are right but not about the land (most chargers are in public garages so no extra land is needed). One needs to put that difference into the number of stations to compare to gas pumps so that scales the infrastructure costs.

427:

The Tesla uses a reverse cycle airconditioner (heat pump). I don't know how efficient it is but they're generally about 3 times more efficient than a resistive heater. So even less than what we thought at first. However when it's really cold they switch to a resistive heater.

428:

I took a look at my neighborhood and knew 50% of them but a big surprise was the residential chargers. Did not know they have that option, thanks.

By the way, I judge the wealth and snobish factor of the neighborhood by the number of teslas I see on the road, and the ratio of tesla/other electric cars.

429:

1) It's not for you to criticise my driving.
2) Yes, it did include breaks, timed on when I felt hungry or needed a comfort stop.
3) Suggestions that I could have "supercharged" whilst taking a comfort stop would assume a free station when I needed it.

430:

I wish there was an edit feature... I realise that I added 1 hour and 44 minutes and came up with 2 hours and 44 minutes. 40 minutes out for the whole calculation. Should have been arriving at Dumbarton at 17:42 not 18:22. My excuse is that it's 01:08 my time.

431:

Well we can ignore day's 1 and 3, it's actually the trip from Weymouth to Dumbarton that's significant.
And you're wrong before you even start the trip analysis. Days 1 and 3 were relevant to my tiredness, which is definitely a factor in whether or not the trip was sensible.

As to the day 2 analysis, driving a used diesel car is not an unwillingness to spend out on a Tesla, but a reflection of my income.
Oh and I would take the train to Exhibition Centre rather than drive if I was going to India Quay.

432:

Actually, your revised figures put you going through Glasgow just after 17:00 and that could easily add 40 minutes to your trip time (and kill your part 3 range).

Quite aside from I made 3 stops at the first service areas after I wanted to stop rather than having to select stops on "do they have 'superchargers'?"

433:

Don't forget the wind chill factor. Driving through cold air at speed will add singificantly to the heat loss from the car's cabin. I can tell you stories about riding an unfaired motorbike in freezing conditions if you like...

Another problem with electric cars and cold weather is that Li-technology batteries lose capacity as they get cold and especially when it's below freezing. The solution is to use some energy to heat the battery to keep it at a decent temperature (which eats into the range) and insulating the battery to conserve heat. Unfortunately the battery gets hot when fast-charging and rapid discharging and insulation is contraindicated in that case.

Early attempts at electric cars used a separate propane-fired heater for cold days rather than relying on the limited battery storage for heating. It might be something Tesla and other manufacturers investigate in the future.

BTW does anyone here remember "Electric Vehicle Developments", a sorta-fanzine for electric cars published in the 1970s? Enfield's lead-acid battery car, experimenting with sodium-sulphur batteries for buses, flywheel power etc.?

434:

"Would have assumed that there would be a dedicated runway for such flights "


!!!!! That would be an enormous expense, at each airport.

BTW, the original comment made the very favorable assumption that the wing/engine assembly could be flown on an aricraft.

435:

"And you're wrong before you even start the trip analysis. Days 1 and 3 were relevant to my tiredness, which is definitely a factor in whether or not the trip was sensible.

As to the day 2 analysis, driving a used diesel car is not an unwillingness to spend out on a Tesla, but a reflection of my income.
Oh and I would take the train to Exhibition Centre rather than drive if I was going to India Quay."

How can day 3 be relevant to your tiredness on day 2 when you did all the driving on day 2 and none on day 3? Tiredness goes forward through time.

Does day 1's lateness mean that you turned into a pumpkin after 8 hours and 20 minutes on day 2? That's your absolute exact limit, that you knew before you set out. Thinking "Lucky I'm not driving one of those electric cars, they'd take me 8 hours and 42 minutes while I know I'll be exhausted 22 minutes prior to that." I think you're stretching the bounds of credibility.

What you're saying doesn't make even the slightest sense. It's a journey that you state is "clearly possible with a comfortable hydrocarbon car and not with a plug-in EV." Clearly not possible? I've travelled 900 miles over mixed dirt and poor tar roads with a major city crossing chucked in the middle for good measure. You think half that in an EV on motorways is "not possible" because you'd be too tired? I think you're wrong. I think worse than that but I'm not going to say it on Charlie's blog.

Going through the city at peak hour wouldn't hurt the range at all. EV's don't suffer short range in stop start traffic. Actually the slower it goes the less power they use. You'd have arrived at your destination with even more range in hand. Also you didn't say it was a week day. It could have been a weekend.

You also say "3) Suggestions that I could have "supercharged" whilst taking a comfort stop would assume a free station when I needed it."

I counted along the google suggested route and there were 33 charging stations along the way an average of 16 minutes apart. If you must find a loo within 16 minutes of realising you have to go you have my sympathy, but you're not in the majority.

436:

Day 3 is relevant as an implicit admission that I wasn't feeling ready to tackle another similar trip.

Day 1 is relevant as a statement that my preparation for the trip wasn't ideal.

Your analysis assumes (on the face statements in #422) that EVs can do ~250 miles at motorway speeds on 1 charge. This is where I start to have issues, since AFAIK Tesla are the only EV maker to even claim a >200 mile maximum range. You know what; most people can't afford a £50_000 vehicle.

As for your comments on tiredness; the choice of vehicle is a factor there.

When making a comfort stop, I like to make it ASAP because it makes me more comfortable, oh and it's actually safer for you in a crash if you have an empty bladder. Also, by "free station", I meant that I had to be able to drive up to a charging point and plug in without waiting.

437:

Most likely: drop a quid in the meter, go shopping, get a receipt with a scannable QR code good for a free top-up on your next visit when you spend more than £20 at $SUPERMARKET within the next week. You know that's how they'll use it, right?

438:

"1) It's not for you to criticise my driving."

You're quite right, I always hate it when people do that to me. Sorry.

Regarding the driving distance, the point I was going for was that whilst your 478 mile drive isn't doable even with the new tesla batteries in one non-stop push, a practical journey would include at least a lunch stop that would give enough charging time to get the full distance. Charging at comfort breaks wouldn't be necessary, so no need to wait for a charging point to empty your bladder.

The key point is that with these new batteries, we can now stop saying that EVs aren't practical until we have better battery technology. Current battery tech is now not only technically good enough, but also apparently commercially viable.

The other part of the equation, charging stations, is apparently at the point of being good enough too (to my considerable surprise - I thought we'd be waiting another few years to get there). Granted, each location is probably only a couple of charging points, so we'll need plenty more to handle mass charging, but for now, we're good.

All we need now is to wait for the usual early adopter->mass market transition so that we can get them at a reasonable price.

439:

"it's actually safer for you in a crash if you have an empty bladder"

Really? That's a new one on me. Can you elaborate? Or link? (my google fu appears to be weak on this)

440:

Since the link i sent doesn't seem to be registering

According to Tesla

http://my.teslamotors.com/goelectric#range

heating from 32F knocks 28 miles off the range so around 10%

Air con from 110F knocks 43 miles off the range

441:

Empty bladders are safer for a couple of reasons.

In the case of sudden deceleration you don't have this mass inside you that wants to carry on moving in the same direction pulling bits of you around into places that they might not be happy. Basically it makes it much less likely to rupture if it's empty.

Secondly damage to the pelvic area with a full bladder can potentially mean an abdomen full of urine, making infection much more likely.

See http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001063.htm for some comments around it.

This reminds me of a quote from John Stapp (fascinating guy — flight surgeon, designer of aircraft test harnesses and safety gear, and test pilot for the things he designed!) on why he refused food & water before test runs "My experience is a full stomach makes for messy autopsy".

442:

I found that I (and in discussions with other they also) apparently exhale enough moisture when driving with either heat or AC on that I can sip fluids for hours and not need to empty my bladder. Works in airplane flights also.

Now this doesn't impact folks with frequent/nervous needs as much as those of without those issues.

443:

OneNeoEno said it better than me. My verbose reply simply lead down too many paths.

Simply stating, "No, your statement about EVs is wrong, you can easily do the trip in an EV, people have done similar, there are fast chargers scattered all along the route and it wouldn't have taken you appreciably longer" would have been better.

Your follow up claim that EV's can't do the trip because only Teslas can do it and they're expensive is is a "No True Scotsman"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zzSqL--d_I

444:

"All we need now is to wait for the usual early adopter->mass market transition so that we can get them at a reasonable price."

This hinges on the completely subjective measure of "reasonable". They will never reach that price because some people wouldn't drive an electric car if you actually paid them to take the car away.

A better (in my opinion) metric would be when they reach "similar" cost.

A USian has done the calculations and found that the total cost of owning a Honda Odyssey (which he picked because it was the other car he was thinking about buying) was "similar" in price. Slightly lower using one set of assumptions, slightly higher using another. He's a Harvard Business School graduate so I guess he knows what he's talking about. However he did check his figures by sending them to a former classmate (he's the one who thought that it was slightly more than an Odyssey rather than slightly less) and the former classmate ordered a Model S the following week.

Now that's in the US where petrol is cheaper than water (if you buy them both at a gas station). I'd suspect that the figures would swing further toward the Tesla in the UK. He assumed petrol at the equivalent of about 70 pence per litre. However all assumptions are sensitive to the distance travelled and the depreciation (which is unknown). Even given that, I'd say that we've already reached the point where the price is "similar" even if for many people it's not yet "reasonable".

http://www.teslacost.com/

445:

There are a few things still to come in the world of electric cars, at least here in the UK.

If electric cars (and vans, trucks, buses etc.) become really common then the UK government will start taxing them in some way, possibly by a road use pricing scheme. The government relies on the large amount of Vehicle Fuel Duty and associated VAT they charge on petrol and diesel to help keep the country's books balanced (about UKP 15 billion a year IIRC) and the lesser amount of VAT from electricity consumed by such cars won't match that. The VFD can't be collected at the meter since homeowners without an electric car aren't going to be too happy subsidising rich people with electric vehicles.

Another factor is going to be the entry-level price of a second-hand electric car for a driver of modest means. At the moment I could buy quite a decent used car in my local area for under a thousand pounds, drive off with it and have the use of it for a few years at the cost of filling the tank up every now and then and paying some amount for maintenance occasionally. I can't see a second-hand electric car of any utility being available for a thousand quid given that the battery pack costs several thousand pounds by itself. If the battery is gubbed then the car is just not usable. A replacement battery pack, even refurbished, would add thousands more to the price and still wouldn't match the range a new pack gives. My thousand-quid car's range on a full tank is the same, pretty much as a similar out-of-the-showroom car costing ten or twenty times as much.

I asked once in another forum who was the poorest person to own a Tesla, purchased or leased. I never got an answer but I suspect it's not someone in the lower 50% of the earnings bracket or total wealth (a trust fund baby, perhaps who was gifted it by their doting parents). Dropping 30,000 quid on a car is not a realistic prospect for most folks even if it is cheaper to run over the long term. See also home solar installations whose boosters presume the existence and ownership of a suitable home for the addition of solar panels to start with.

446:

I should perhaps have defined "reasonable" more precisely. To capture the mass market, you need to be selling something with ~400 mile range and other characteristics (size, capacity, build quality, performance, etc, ) roughly equivalent to a Ford Focus. To fully cover your bases, you need a Ford Fiesta equivalent too, though you can maybe get away with 2-300 mile range there. Crucially, the prices must be equivalent, so ~£15,000 for the focusalike and ~£10,000 for the fiestalike. By comparison the Nissan Leaf is roughly equivalent to a Focus, for a couple of grand more, including the 5 grand government subsidy, for a 75(!) mile range.

The battery fade issue is one that's been raised a number of times before. To some extent, this should be become less of an issue as the above price transition takes place. Current tesla battery prices are ~10% the cost of a new car, and the battery lasts about 8 years before fade starts to seriously impact range. The best solutions to this seem to be contracts to spread the cost over that timeframe (lease the battery, purchase a guarentee, etc). If we assume the battery cost shrinks in line with the car cost (it'll pretty much have to if the cost reduction is going to happen at all), you're looking the focusalike battery costing £1500 over 8 years, so ~£18 a month (including 5% interest). That's not enough to offset your savings on fuel unless you do very little driving indeed, but its worth bearing in mind.

Its also worth bearing in mind that I'm getting to the point of piling assumption on top of assumption here, so this analysis should definitely be taken with a large handful of salt.

The fuel tax issue is an interesting one, and not something I'd seen raised before. Its a very good point, the government makes a ton of cash on fuel, and they'll definitely be wanting to replace it. I'm guessing a tax on car batteries? That might do bad things to the leasing cost above, a similar relationship of fuel to tax would put that leasing price up to ~£35, which is much less enticing. Hmmm.

447:

You're still thinking like a professional earning a regular salary who can plan ahead for several years, who has a good credit rating, who can get favourable terms on a loan etc. so they can "buy" a new car or a fresh s/h trade-in model by signing up for a few years of monthly payments plus a deposit.

Right now I could go out with a thousand quid in hand and buy a decent usable car today. No leasing, no contracts, no loans, drive off the lot as a done deal. Heck, looking through the small ads online I could get something for 300 quid that would last me a few months, longer if I put another fifty quid and some sweat into fixing a problem with a noisy wheel bearing. Sure it's dinged up, sure it's got 100,000 miles on the clock but it would run and it would get me to and from work at a minimum-wage job somewhere for a year for the cost of a single month's payments on a new electric car, never mind the deposit.

There will never be an useable second-hand electric car for 300 quid because the battery will always be worth a lot more than that if it works at all and if it doesn't work then the car is useless until the owner spends a few thousand quid they don't have to replace it. That puts a limit on entry to being a car-owner, especially for young people and the less-well-off.

448:

"According to Tesla
heating from 32F knocks 28 miles off the range so around 10%
Air con from 110F knocks 43 miles off the range"

Right now it's 6F where I live (SE MI, near Detroit).

I plugged in 0F and 70 MPH highway driving, which means 10 MPH less than standard Michigan traffic flow, and still got 244/183 miles, depending on which battery I had. For 90F, it's 265/200 miles.

If the charging was doable during a meal stop, that'd cover my peak annual driving length.

Note that if you have children, you pretty much have to stop every couple of hours, and even at a highway rest stop, it'll probably take 20 minutes to take care of things. For a 30-minute charge cycle, that would top off the battery.

449:

The fuel tax issue is an interesting one, and not something I'd seen raised before.

It's a variation on the people with solar cells on their roof getting to sell their excess power back to the grid and the same rate they buy it. Which means they get to ignore the grid costs for selling power.

450:

Actually people with home solar get more than the metered cost of grid power for feeding excess electricity back into the grid. It's called the feed-in tariff, paid for by consumers who don't have home solar installations on their roofs. Many people like myself don't own the roofs they live under of course, and in my case it's even worse as the roof more than ten metres above me covers four separate flats and a street-level shop.

Unfortunately a lot of the energy that's fed in to the grid by home solar and wind generators is lost in the distribution system as it was designed to be efficient in one direction only, not bidirectional. The tariff is still in place though.

451:

The fuel tax issue is an interesting one, and not something I'd seen raised before.

I have. Road repair in US is paid largely with fuel taxes. Since hybrid and electric car owners use less gas and thus pay less fuel tax, some US states are considering special taxes on fuel-efficient vehicles:

http://www.npr.org/2013/08/15/212311986/states-targeting-hybrids-as-gas-tax-revenues-ebb

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-01-21/virginia-backtracks-on-its-hybrid-cars-tax

452:

The UK doesn't have ring-fenced taxes. Everything goes into the Exchequer's big Bag of Holding and the various interests fight it out over the budget every year.

Last time I saw worked figures for this about ten years ago cars, trucks, buses, taxis etc. contributed over 30 billion quid in tax to the Exchequer, including Vehicle Excise Duty (the old Road Tax), VFD, VAT on new vehicle sales, spare parts and repairs etc. and a stamp tax on the premiums paid for insurance. Losing even a billion or two due to electric vehicles not paying VFD is going to hurt and would probably hasten the introduction of road pricing, charging a fee per kilometre travelled to replace VFD.

453:

You have it simple then. We have the fed fuel taxes and state (50+) fuel taxes. All of which are supposed to go to pay for roads and such. But politicians never let big pots of money go easy into the night. So there are lots of variations on how the money is actually spent.

And layer on top of it that most voters in the US seem to think their roads appear magically free from the road fairy. They always want them "better" and never want to pay more in fuel taxes.

454:

Road repair in US is paid largely with fuel taxes. Since hybrid and electric car owners use less gas and thus pay less fuel tax, some US states are considering special taxes on fuel-efficient vehicles.

The fuel tax based funding of roads is foolish because it hasn't been increased for inflation in more than 20 years, and because heavy vehicles cause road damage costs above and beyond their increased fuel consumption: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/091116/03.htm

Oregon recently had a stupid proposal to put GPS tracking in vehicles to tax vehicles per mile traveled. Adding special-case taxes for vehicles that use little or no fuel from the pump is also making a flawed system worse. I would use a much simpler and privacy-respecting system: record odometer readings as a requirement for renewing vehicle license tabs, and charge a rate based on vehicle weight and number of miles traveled per year. Cars already go through inspections to ensure they meet tailpipe emissions standards; no new infrastructure is needed.

There are a couple of edge cases: what about vehicles registered in one state and mostly driven in other states? What about vehicles that aren't driven on public roads and don't have license tabs? For the first, I say the edge case misallocation of revenue among states is not enough to justify the higher complexity and invasiveness of GPS tracking. For the second I say that vehicles not operated on public roads don't need to contribute to public road upkeep.

455:

heavy vehicles cause road damage costs above and beyond their increased fuel consumption
ISTR (from print source) that road damage is proportional to the 4th power of axle weight.

456:
ISTR (from print source) that road damage is proportional to the 4th power of axle weight.

Indeed, that's my information as well. This was much discussed here (Germany, around Cologne) some months ago, when one of the major Autobahn bridges (A1 in Leverkusen) almost had to be closed because of the continuous wear and tear by heavy traffic.

The bridge is currently in repair (with some lanes closed off) and will be for years to come. And it's only the first major renovation project, because the rest of the heavily used Autobahn infrastructure isn't in a much better condition.

On the question what has caused the almost structural damage to that bridge the 4th-power relation was pointed out. So a lorry with ten times the weight of a car causes 10,000 times the amount of damage.

No taxation — whether of fuel or otherwise — will ever be able to reflect this. It would mean the end for the transport business as we know it. The whole economy just depends too much on cheap transportation.

457:

On the question what has caused the almost structural damage to that bridge the 4th-power relation was pointed out. So a lorry with ten times the weight of a car causes 10,000 times the amount of damage.

No taxation — whether of fuel or otherwise — will ever be able to reflect this. It would mean the end for the transport business as we know it. The whole economy just depends too much on cheap transportation.

The DOT report I linked earlier indicates that damage is lower than the oft-quoted 4th power axle weight relation would give, though still superlinear by most reckonings.

In any case I would push back against the notion that we can't fairly allocate the costs of some things because it would just be too devastating to the economy as we know it. No matter what the true costs of heavy trucks, they're being paid for now. They're just being paid for in a way that benefits a few parties to the net detriment of everyone else. If heavy truck transportation will go away when operators are responsible for covering its true costs, then it should go away, just like dumping untreated chemical waste into municipal sewers.

458:

Re: US Fuel Taxes, the Federal "Highway Trust Fund" was scheduled to go dry in November (?), by some bit of Financial Chicanery the Republicans extended this to May(?) of this year; Raising the federal fuel tax would violate their pledge to the unelected commissar of right wing thinking (Grover Norquist) of "No New Taxes."

It will be interesting to see what they do, as was mentioned above, many USAians believe roads appear through magic. The various State highway departments all get a cut of the Highway Trust fund, which is a significant portion of their (state) road and bridge money. The various State government highway departments are all dependent on those payments.

To further illustrate the problem, here in Arkansas (one of the poorest states, usually edged out of the bottom slot by Mississippi) ("Thank God for Mississippi" has been jokingly proposed as an unofficial state motto). Last year the voters approved a "Temporary" 1% sales tax (Ten Years) for roads and bridges, making our relative sales tax (regressive) burden third highest in the nation.


Strictly FWIW/FYI

459:

"I asked once in another forum who was the poorest person to own a Tesla, purchased or leased. I never got an answer but I suspect it's not someone in the lower 50% of the earnings bracket"

I suspect you're right there. A person at the very top of the lower 50% earnings bracket has a gross income of $2920 USD. I doubt that more than a few hundred people in the lower 50% of earnings buy a new car of any sort, petrol or electric, every year.

460:

I tend to agree with your logic about hypersonic airline routes. But the Skylon you referenced looks like it might be the key to low cost, high volume access to space.

I have followed Reaction Engines for years. The engineering is exceptionally clever, getting more energy out of liquid hydrogen than you can get from just burning it.

Could go into this much deeper if anyone wants.

461:

I'm reminded of the issue with cyclists.

"Bloody cyclists should pay for the road they use or not be allowed on it."

"But roads other than highways are paid for by home owners through their rates. Councils maintain the road, by your logic renters shouldn't be allowed on the road." (that's the case here in Oz and I think in the UK too)

In my experience governments have always managed to find some way of extracting tax. I'm sure they'll manage to get their pound of flesh even without petrol.

462:

OTOH that's 2 people from different nations have independantly stated the 4th power rule. In my case, I've now remembered that I got it from a haulage industry magazine and it's scarely in their interest to overstate the damage.

463:

"But roads other than highways are paid for by home owners through their rates. Councils maintain the road, by your logic renters shouldn't be allowed on the road."
That argument only stands up if the leasee does not pay the property tax (either directly to the council by statute or to the leasor in addition to the lease payment, or by the leasor adding the cost to the annual lease payment).

464:

As a notorious rent seeker myself, I charge what the market will bear. "passing on" isn't really a part of my calculation any more or less than "passing on" my need to eat. When the renters fail to pay the rent or leave without notice I still have to pay the council rates.

465:

The current models of Tesla available, you are pretty much looking at close to 100k for an average config with the good battery pack . You have to be an idiot to spend that much on any car unless you are really wealthy, savings on gas and tax write offs notwithstanding, it's still a deprecating asset.

There are suppose to be coming up with a lower proce model though in the 35k range, then you are in business but right now they are unabashedly a luxury vehicle

466:

It's not quite that high.

I test drove one back in November. Base price $70K. As configured $90K. You could skip the leather dash and other such things and get it down under $80. Maybe $75K. But still a bit on the high side for me. (Well a LOT on the high side for me.)

467:

Depends where you live and how much you drive. In Louisiana the big battery one is under 60k. If you work in London and drive to work, then it would pay for itself in parking fees alone let alone the congestion charge.

If you live in NYC and go everywhere by subway, driving only a short distance every few weeks, then yeah, you're right.

There's a guy in Norway who's hobby is driving. He just likes being behind the wheel. He's replaced his BMW 5 series (over 250 000 km) with the Tesla. He's put 100 000 km on his in a year. At that rate he