Water? Steam?

When we think of steam power, do late nineteenth century trains come to mind? The industrial, steam-powered gadgets of sci-fi fantasy movies like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Hiyao Miyazaki’s Steamboy may also have honorable mentions here. However, steam power is far beyond the world of leather buckled corsets or the retro chic world of George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon. What I am talking about is real power. Steam is essentially heat that can be converted to energy and power engines. Steam power had its heyday in the nineteenth century when inventors found creative ways to harness this power in steam engines, being used in mostly trains. Unfortunately, steam engines required heat which meant a large team of workers constantly shoveling coal into the furnace to keep the engine running.

If we want to propel steam energy into the 21st century, we need to unplug from the past and even fantasy. We can dream about the steampunk world that the futurists helped craft with their flighty rhetoric about being born again from factory sludge, or we can talk about real possibilities for steam power in today’s world. We are unequivocally beyond coal. We know that it is going out the door in terms of cost, sustainability, and even fashion. However, we are left with a vital question: What does steam power look like in 2016 and the upcoming years?

First of all, steam engines of the future would not let out clouds of smoke that we often imagine from turn-of-the-century locomotives. Instead, steam energy will produce little to no harmful emissions, have a high thermal efficiency, require a small team to operate (or even just one man), and will also be light in weight. These engines would not use coal as we have done in the past, but instead use biomass or low-sulphur coal. Secondly, to integrate these new fuel sources, the structure and technology of the engine need to be altered significantly. This will, like wind energy, require the teamwork of brilliant minds passionate about innovations and change. By approaching steam energy with open minds, we will see amazing changes in the world of steam energy.

Wind-Powered Engines?

Imagine rows of planes parked at a charging station powered by a fleet of wind turbines. Wind farms have replaced the fuel trucks of yesterday, filling the plane’s batteries with all the power it will need for a flight. Windmills may also be used to jumpstart these planes in a new eco-friendly airport that harnesses the power of wind. This future will have taken inspiration from the explorers of our past who circumnavigated the world by using ships powered by sails. This a future that is cognizant of the value of free and emission-free energy.

If we can devote meticulous studies to making wind-powered engines generating some serious power, we will see airplanes that can last a whole flight on a full battery tank as opposed to a full tank of gas. Imagine how much lighter these planes would be! With the typical gallon of jet fuel weighing around 6 pounds and a Boeing 747 burning over 30,000 gallons for a 10-hour flight, we are looking at an extra 180,000 pounds of weight for a long-distance flight. By eliminating this massive weight, the mechanics and needs of airplanes would change dramatically and for the better- focusing on the weight of the passengers rather than trying to accommodate tons of jet fuel.

Wind is all around us and a completely renewable source of energy. If we can get on board with mastering the efficiency of the wind engine, plane tickets will no longer be dependent on the price of heavy jet fuel.  Planes will shed the weight that requires so much energy for them to take off in the first place. We will also be building a new culture that is based on doing what is right for the environment instead of what is easiest or the most convenient. The path that has been taken has proven its finite nature and negative impact on our outdoor air quality. Giving wind power some serious research and development will definitely create the planes that will take us into the 22nd century and beyond.

Solar Airplanes?

Think about how there is a bad storm as your plane takes off, but soon you rise above the clouds, you see the bright sun through your window. Airplanes and solar energy make sense because no matter what the weather is like, aircraft will reach an altitude that will give it access to solar energy. By adding solar panels to airplanes and making them ever more efficient in harnessing the sun’s energy, solar planes can one day eclipse traditional planes in speed and capacity.

In fact, solar planes are already up and running even though they are not mainstream yet. We are in the beginning stages of developing this technology and it has a long way to advance before it can become commercialized. In the summer of 2016, the solar-powered plane Solar Impulse 2 flew around the globe and landed in Abu Dhabi. Its wings are longer than a Boeing 747’s, decked with over 17,000 solar cells to capture the sun’s rays. This was a 23-day journey that crossed both major oceans. This is just the first step in a long road ahead for the development of solar planes.

Developing this technology is crucial for our environmental future. The Solar Impulse has a maximum speed of just 140 km/h, making an 8,000km journey lasting about 5-6 days whereas for a jet fuel-powered airplane it would take only 17 hours. Obviously, consumers are still going to choose the quicker flight over being environmentally conscious. In addition, the Solar impulse’s body is very small, only able to accommodate one passenger while a typical Boeing 747 can carry over 500.

Proving that is possible for a solar powered plane to cross the skies is a feat in itself. There may be issues to iron out like increasing passenger capacity, speed, and making the plane stronger against turbulence, but the fact that a solar plane has gone around the world is astounding. Though it was not the goal of the Solar Impulse to make solar flights mainstream (it was to merely show the capabilities of solar power), I believe that we will have a future with more efficient and powerful solar planes that will replace our current planes. It will just take research, funding, and dedicated bright minds!

Why Alternative Energy?

Transitioning to alternative energy means creating a greener future for the upcoming generation. Currently, we are heading straight for an international energy and environmental crisis. Many homes still run on electricity generated from fossil fuels or potentially dangerous nuclear energy. Cars and airplanes predominantly run on fossil fuels as well with only a small, expensive minority of vehicles being hybrids, electric, or solar. The lack of availably of greener vehicles and their prohibitive price points are major barriers to the normalization of alternative energy in the lives of ordinary people. Whether the corruption of the long-standing oil industry has something to play in this or not, change must happen. CEOs must see the value in paving ways toward vehicles and energy alternatives that an ordinary consumer can access and afford in order to change the world.

The quest for safe, affordable, and eco-friendly alternative energy has never been more important. With the worldwide population booming, environmental crises like smog in China and the deforestation of vital ecosystems in South America trigger a great need to reduce harmful, climate-changing emissions. When a Hong Kong resident pays roughly $20 for a can of fresh air just to get relief from air pollution and when schools in Beijing close due to red alerts for hazardous breathing conditions, we know we are already knee deep in an environmental crisis. This leads me to my passion for making an impact for a better world by targeting one major source of air pollution: aircraft. With a typical Boeing 747 burning approximately 1 gallon of fuel every second, one can only imagine how much fuel one plane burns per flight. Now imagine how many gallons are burned every day with all the flights going on around the world and the emissions released into the atmosphere! My dream is to tackle this problem and create a better, greener future for us all.

While I complete my doctorate and prepare my startup, I can rest assured that I am not alone in my dream. Thankfully, there are companies that are already making a headway to bringing alternative energy into the lives of private citizens, because, let’s be clear- true impact won’t be made until alternative energy sources are normalized in the general populace. Tesla, for example, has manufactured solar panel roof tiles that are proposed to cost less than traditional roofing. These tiles will absorb the sun’s rays and convert them to electricity that will make the home self-sufficient. Imagine the positive impact on the environment if home after home stopped depending on traditional electricity sources?

Wind energy is also becoming normalized, especially in Europe. Sweden, for example, has taken the initiative to prioritize renewable energy since 2003. Using wind turbines to harness the country’s natural wind power, 7% of the country’s electricity now comes from wind-generated electricity. This number may seem small, but when you consider that this is a country of nearly 10 million people, this percentage encompasses thousands of homes and businesses. Sweden is also continuing to research and improve on wind energy, aiming to replace their nuclear power sources over time.

Water power is a major source of energy. The Hoover dam is just one example how the simple combination of water and gravity create sustainable, renewable energy without a negative environmental impact. By taking advantage of what is around us, we can find ways to harness sustainable energy. Though solar, wind, and water are the three main alternative energy sources on our radar, there is also geothermal energy and wave power that are also being researched and developed. With each step individuals make toward cleaner, alternative energy, we benefit our planet.

About Aero Fuels

Welcome to Aero Fuels, where I, Jonathan Walsh, talk about everything related to alternative energy. I am a student, father, and aspiring entrepreneur. While I am finishing my doctorate in engineering, I also make sure I spend quality time with my two amazing sons. There’s nothing like being a father and watching your kids grow and learn new things every day. I believe, just like raising children, you also raise your dreams. With each day that passes, we work toward the goal and help ours dream grow so that one day they will reach maturation. With that being said, I have a dream. I am preparing to launch my own company that will offer alternative fuels to airplanes. My goal is to pave the way to a future where aircraft run on cleaner energy for the sake of a greener planet. This dream requires the cooperation and unified vision of both consumers and investors and will also take time and hard work to realize. (On that note, I have been trying my luck on online casinos and hope to win the jackpot so I don’t have to go begging investors down the line!)

Until I graduate with my Ph.D. and win the jackpot or an army of passionate investors, I want to maintain a fun blog that opens a meaningful dialogue about the virtues and benefits of using alternative fuels in aircraft. Let’s brainstorm this topic together and work toward creating a future where we are not dependent on the limited quantity of fossil fuels on this Earth. After all, with each individual who becomes more open-minded to the idea of alternate ways to drive planes forward and into the sky, we will be one step closer to change. The general disposition to an accepted norm does not change suddenly but rather takes the personalized conversions of individuals over time. Just think about how normal it is for women to vote today while this trend was first vehemently opposed in the turn of the 20th century. Or how about the internet being an integral part of modern life while in the early 90’s and late 80’s it was seen as a high-tech network for only the computer-literate?

By getting individuals to “buy in” to new technology and social norms, lifestyles change. Let’s start this dialogue today and get more people to go “all-in” for alternative energy. Maybe then, I won’t have to throw all my chips into the pot at the online casino!