I read with interest your editorial about
the hydrogen ‘chicken or egg' quandary (ref. Design News,06.23.08). As a company that
has a vested interest in alternative fuel vehicle technology, this is a problem
that wields a noticeable influence on the potential for future sales.
In fact, this problem is not unlike the
dilemma the natural gas vehicle industry has dealt with for the past twenty
years. All across the United
States, buses, trucks, and cars are operating
on clean burning natural gas. But to drive a natural gas-fuelled vehicle (NGV)
cross country would be very difficult as fueling stations are few and far
between. Without a sufficient fueling infrastructure, the market demand for
NGV's is muted considerably. And thus begins the NGV ‘chicken or egg' endless
volley: no one wants to invest in a fueling station when there are no cars and
trucks to use it, and no one wants to build OEM NGV's when there is no market
for them (because there is nowhere to fuel them).
The key to eliminating this market barrier
is to reduce the investment required to implement fueling stations. For such a
solution, we can look to Southeast Asia, where Thailand is
currently building a thriving NGV industry. (There are numerous parallels
between natural gas and hydrogen as vehicular fuels: both can be used in
vehicular applications as either compressed gas or liquid; both can be
transmitted by pipeline; and both currently lack critical infrastructure
elements to make it successful on a larger scale. For these reasons, it is easy
to apply NGV lessons to the hydrogen vehicle industry.)
In Bangkok, Thailand, they employ a fueling
system known as "mother-daughter stations". In this scenario, a "mother
station" has large compressors and is supplied fuel via pipeline access. The
"mother station" compresses the pipeline feed stock and fills mobile tube
trailers designed to carry large amounts of gas. These mobile trailers are then
taken to "daughter stations" where they serve as the reservoir for the fuel
dispensers. The significant capital investment in the mother station
compressors is able to support multiple daughter stations throughout the city.
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For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.