All of us who have faith in good old Yankee Ingenuity not to mention the American can-do spirit have no doubt figured we'd somehow slip past the triple threat of runaway energy prices, sharp economic decline and accelerating climate change we are now under as a nation if only we'd start focusing more on the future.
It's not emotional, but quite sensible, to think that a country that put a man — men, actually, 12 of them — on the moon less than 10 years after making it a national priority should be able to engineer its way out of the hole we've managed to dig for ourselves over the past 30-odd years.
Those decades have seen our addiction to carbon-heavy oil, including the foreign stuff that also weakens us economically, bottom us out even as the evidence of climate change caused by burning carbon-based fuel became irrefutable.
Over the same time, for even more complex geopolitical and economic reasons, we wound up shifting a huge amount of our industrial capacity overseas and became more and more a “service economy” hell-bent not on engineering advances but how best to market and sell everything from hamburgers to complex security instruments with unfathomable monikers like “derivatives.”
Meanwhile, what were 30 years ago second- or third-world countries are now rapidly turning into industrial powerhouses whose thirst for energy is seemingly unslakable and whose leaders could decide by fiat who gets what they are producing — or not — down the road.
No wonder I was cheered to learn as we were going to press with this issue that the very type of innovation that will put the U.S. fully back on the map was announced by two major manufacturers serving the trucking industry.
Delphi Corp. and Peterbilt Motors Co. have reported they've demonstrated how a Delphi solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) auxiliary power unit (APU) can power a truck's “hotel” loads. Their testing showed the Delphi SOFC provided power for a Peterbilt Model 386's electrical system and air conditioning and maintained the truck's batteries — all while the truck's diesel engine was off.
According to Peterbilt, the demo, held in June, “leveraged development supported by the U.S. Dept. of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and the Office of Fossil Energy's Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) program.” Shades of the space program, I'd say, with the federal government helping spur innovation by the private sector.
The two companies pointed out the SOFC technology “directly addresses increasingly stringent anti-idling legislation and other proposals addressing commercial truck emissions, noise and fuel consumption.”
The SOFC converts chemical energy in conventional fuels directly into useful electrical power without combustion, said Delphi. A SOFC operates quietly and at a higher efficiency level than traditional internal combustion engines and it is compact in size, stated a news release. “By limiting idling time and running a SOFC instead of the main engine, emissions are reduced, noise is nearly eliminated, and operators realize significant fuel savings.”
What's more, this new technology will be able to use a variety of fuels, including natural gas, diesel, biodiesel, propane, gasoline, and coal-derived fuel.
Clearly, APU designers will benefit most immediately from this development. From there, it will be beneficial to fleet owners and everyone who breathes the air. Not to mention all those who will be employed in the further development, manufacture and, yes, marketing, of this technology.