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Friday, August 10, 2018

Japan’s Got Gas

Whenever I think about the use of hydrogen, my mind drifts to the Hindenburg disaster of May 6, 1937 at Lakehurst, New Jersey, U.S.

Just before that tragic event, it was still “up in the air” as to which technology would win out for passenger travel: the noisy but faster aeroplane/airplane, or the quieter, slower and far more relaxed dirigibles or zeppelins (they are two different beasts, by the way).

I had always thought that the hydrogen gas within the bladder of the Hindenburg airship had contributed to the extreme quickness that flames spread causing some 30 of the 97 aboard to perish.

Yes… people did survive.

But it turns out that hydrogen gas revulsion was the result of shoddy science and, ye gods, don’t make me say it: fake news.

From the website, I read about how the real contributing factors to the explosive disaster that was the Hindenburg.

Did you know that hydrogen gas was used because the U.S. controlled a major supply of the world’s helium, a non-flammable lifting gas? Yup… even then they did not want to sell helium to the aggressive Nazi-led Germany.

The outer skin of the zeppelin was cotton fabric, but since no one wants a soggy cotton balloon when there’s precipitation, it and all other zeppelins were coated with cellulose acetate (very flammable), and that was covered with aluminium powder. Powdered aluminum is a rocket fuel for space rocket SLS booster…. so yeah… explosive.

Okay… surely they knew this, and no one was smoking inside the gaseous area… but did someone throw a cigarette butt outside the zeppelin’s window causing it to catch fire?

No… though I suppose that COULD have happened it there was a reason for a spark to adhere to the zeppelin skin.

Rather it was the weather.

Just like weather took down the Challenger space shuttle back in the 1980s (read about that in my Pioneers of Aviation blog HERE), so too did weather play a major role in taking down the Hindenburg, and essentially destroying a mode of travel that only exists nowadays in dark, dystopian fictional movies and books where it seems like Nazism survived.

So… on the day of the Hindenburg disaster, an electrical storm was contemplating releasing its energy in the form of lightning down upon Lakehurst, NJ. A large static charge built up and adhered itself to the zeppelin.

Then, as the zeppelin prepared for landing, the crew dropped down the mooring ropes for the ground crew to help moor it… but by doing so, the “static electricity was earthed, which set off sparks on the Hindenburg”—according to the aforementioned website article.

Ka-boom. Oh the humanity.

Okay… so we have a spark, we have volatile flammable chemicals all over the fabric of the zeppelin, and we have a bellyful of flammable gas in the form of hydrogen.

That’s why it burned so quickly, right?


Did you know that hydrogen gas burns with an invisible bluish flame (It’s hot!)… and yet eyewitness accounts say the Hindenburg flame was red (a cool flame, as far as fire goes).

The new science believes that as soon as the fire pierced the gas bladder of the Hindenburg, the hydrogen gas would have escaped upwards immediately, and thus would not have been a contributor to the fire.

Ergo, hydrogen gas is not as dangerous a gas as we have all come to unscientifically believe.

Which brings me to my Japan tie-in.

Over near the town of Namie in Fukushima-ken, construction has begun on one of the world’s largest hydrogen-processing facilities.

See? There’s no need to panic.

The 4.5 hectare processing plant will have a total annual capacity of 10 megawatts, which could supply 10,000 hydrogen-gas vehicles. A further 35 hectares of land will house solar panels to capture and convert sunlight.

Right now fuel cell cars in Japan are as rare as they are everywhere in the world. They exist, they are expensive, and re-fueling stations are few and far between.

But they are a hell of a lot more green than oil and gas—fossil fuels (essentially made from decomposed dinosaurs) that will run out—unless we start growing our own dinos at some sort of Jurassic Park and then slaughtering them, and burying them within the ground  but speeding up the process to make it appear as though millions of years had passed to convert the deceased dinosaurs into much needed unleaded gas for my Nissan Micra SV… what would that cost? A billion dollars a liter?

Homie don't like fossil fuels.

No… alternatives to fossil fuels are needed, and are needed now before some sort of Mad Max world becomes the norm.

I mean I like Aussies just fine—especially the women—but I don’t want to have that accent, preferring my own neutral one understood by any English listener. (That was something the JET Programme prefers, but isn’t set in stone upon… so ya’ll don’t have to worry none iffin youse guys have some sorda accent. Just sayin’.)

The hydrogen energy facility is expected to be completed by 2020… and is expected to be part of that “Holy Cow! Tokyo is awesome!” thing when it hosts the world during the summer Olympics and Paralympics.

Though to be honest, it only appears as though the site will be up and running through the testing phase only by 2020.

The hydrogen plant is the work of Toshiba Energy Systems & Solutions Corp., Tohoku Electric Power Company, Iwatani Corp., and the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization.

Fuel is considered to be more precious than human life in the dystopian future.
Unlike the dystopian futures of Mad Max and Nazi Germany winning WWII, the plan here is to create a brighter, greener future NOW… and surely placing the station in Fukushima is a way for all involved to try and get the prefecture back into the news as something more than a radioactive wasteland. Which it isn’t.

Just some of it. And even then, not so much.

Steam Punk in a doomed dessert:

Did you know that there were hydrogen gas explosions during the Fukushima near-meltdown at the Dai-ichi facility in 2011?

Yeah man… those explosions at the Dai-ichi plant were all hydrogen based. For you folks who would like an understandable read on how things went down at Dai-ichi in 2011, you can read all about HERE. It's Part 1 of 7, and is a timeline plus explanation.

In the green time, get read for more hydrogen-based fuel vehicles in your future.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Photo at the top by David Cristian on Unsplash
PPS: For fun, you can listen to The Rolling StonesJumping Jack Flash:

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