Is Hydrogen A Safe Automobile Fuel?

Hydrogen is the potential green fuel of the future but there are some serious safety concerns about its use in automobiles.

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In view of the growing concern over environmental pollution caused by automobile exhausts and continuously depleting petroleum based energy resources, the need to identify and develop alternate environment friendly automotive fuels is on the rise. Researchers across the globe are working on alternatives such as electric cars, hybrids and use of ethanol, natural gas, propane and off course hydrogen.

Hydrogen is being explored aggressively as potential green fuel for the future generations of the car. It is clean, energetic and virtually inexhaustible. However, there are serious safety concerns associated with its burning in cars. In order to reap the benefits of hydrogen in automobiles applications and to create a better image for consumers, technological advances need to be made.

Hydrogen is a fuel and is volatile like most liquid fuels. If an ignition source is available to a proper air fuel mixture, it possesses a tendency to burn along with release of energy. There are two aspects that have raised safety concerns about hydrogen usage in the past. One is the Hindenburg disaster and the other is Hydrogen bomb.

Hindenburg was a hydrogen powered German passenger airship that was destroyed during landing in 1937.However; research indicates that main cause for this incident was not hydrogen combustion. Rather an electric spark due to static charge had caused the explosion. Hydrogen bomb explosion, on the other hand, requires both high temperature and pressure conditions which are unlikely to occur in vehicular applications of hydrogen.

Hydrogen possesses low ignition energycompared to gasoline. The flammable explosive range of hydrogen (4 to 74%) is also wider compared to gasoline (1.4 t0 7.6%). Thus the likelihood of spontaneous combustion of hydrogen under wide range of air fuel mixture conditions is high.

Another safety hazard associated with hydrogen is its low viscosity and thus a greater leakage tendency. Hydrogen is colorless, odorless and its leakage cannot be easily detected. This poses a serious threat as fire preventive and recovery measures cannot be implemented promptly.

The boiling point of hydrogen is -253 degree Celsius. Thus, in some of the applications, hydrogen is stored as a cryogenic liquid. Due to such low storage temperature, contact with liquid or expanding gas may cause irritation and frostbite.

Hydrogen is nontoxic unlike gasoline and diesel fuels and therefore it is not harmful for humans and other living organisms. If spilled it either reacts with oxygen to form water or evaporates to the upper atmosphere within no time. In contrast to this, spills of petroleum based fuels causes a significant damage to environment and natural habitats of animals and plants. Additionally, this takes tremendous cleanup efforts.

If 1.4 % of gasoline is present in the air, it is sufficient to cause a spontaneous combustion. On the other hand, the minimum concentration of hydrogen for combustion to take place is 4 %. Thus gasoline becomes volatile at concentration four times lower than hydrogen. Moreover, hydrogen has a lesser tendency for local congregation and escapes to upper atmosphere almost instantaneously.

Hydrogen is less flammable compared to gasoline. The self ignition temperature of hydrogen (932 degree F) is much higher than that of gasoline (536 degree F) making it less likely to auto ignite. Hydrogen possesses less radiant energy compared to gasoline which means that energy concentration near the flame is less compared to hydrogen.

Hydrogen is expected to be a promising vehicular fuel going forward. Nonetheless, there is some safety threat associated with it. In order to make its use a real success, the potential safety hazards need to be removed through technological development. Also, a positive image of hydrogen fuel needs to be portrayed to enhance its consumer acceptability.

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Wastes Recycling: Pros, Cons and Future Trends

Recycling of waste materials ensures sustainability by saving raw materials and energy resources devoted to making our day to day consumables. Benefits in energy savings and environmental conservation make recycling a hot subject; however, there are some downsides as well.

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Recycling is a key concept of modern times in view of continuously depleting energy resources and incessantly accumulating environmental wastes. It promises the conservation of our natural resources thus making our future cleaner and more sustainable. Although it does not replace the need to conserve natural resources by being prudent, it helps significantly to reduce the burden on earth by curbing the use of new energy and material resources.

How Recycling Works

Industries attempt to use recycling processes that demand less energy than manufacturing a new product from raw materials. Facilities called materials recovery centers also help confine costs by doing some of the work for consumers and manufacturers. Once a container of recyclable materials has been delivered to the center, either by a resident or a commercial waste hauler, the recovery center carries out the following steps:

  • Sorting—non recyclable from recyclable materials and hazardous from non hazardous materials
  • Separating—types of paper, plastics, glass, and metals, such as brown glass from green glass bottles
  • Treatment—sending non recyclable materials to a final disposal site, such as an incinerator or a landfill
  • Recovery—sending materials to a business that uses them as raw material, such as steel sent to automakers

The steps listed here usually consume less energy than the steps needed to make a product from new raw materials. For many recycled materials, the sorting, processing, and transportation use less energy than the following steps needed for making new raw materials: (1) exploration, (2) extraction, (3) transportation, (4) processing, and (5) waste treatment.

Types of Recycling

There are two types of recycling; primary and secondary. Primary recycling, also called closed-loop recycling, turns recycled materials into new products of the same type. For example, used aluminum beverage cans are recycled into new beverage cans. Secondary recycling or down cycling, on the other hand, recycles materials into new and different products. For example, used plastic milk jugs can be used for making outdoor furniture.

Neither type of recycling would succeed if the cost of recycling a material exceeds the costs of making the product out of new raw materials. Even if the difference in costs is small between a recycled product and a new product, recycling helps reducing the overall expenses by reducing the amount of waste that must be incinerated, put in a landfill, or otherwise treated.

Benefits of Recycling

Recycling supports energy conservation and environmental sustainability in a number of ways:

  • Recycling enables substantial energy savings by converting wastes into resources; obviously, it takes less energy to manufacture a recycled product.
  • Recycling saves precious natural resources by converting wastes into products; for example, recycled paper products facilitate conservation of trees.
  • By reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and consequent carbon dioxide emissions, recycled products help combat global warming. In addition, recycling of wastes rather than landfill storage ensures fewer methane emissions.
  • Recycling converts wastes that would have otherwise ended up in landfills or incinerators, into useful resources.
  • Recycling reduces air, water and ground pollution; wastes stored in landfills may have toxic leakages to the environment.
  • The development of the recycling industry can create new jobs; the industry requires workers for collecting recyclables and for plants that purchase and process recycling materials and convert them into final goods.

Recycling and Sustainability

The recycling of waste materials is intimately linked with the idea of sustainability. Recycling can be done by an individual at home or by a massive factory. The simple action of putting wastes into different recycling bins helps remind people of the amounts of waste they produce and might provoke them to think of ways to reduce it and make their future more sustainable.

Recycling facilitates sustainability in two primary ways. First, people conserve natural resources by recycling items that industries use as raw materials. This decreases the impact that industry puts on the environment by extracting new natural resources. Additionally, recycling lessens the amount of wastes that accumulate in our surroundings as a result of our day to day activities.

Limitations of Recycling

Recycling can save energy and money only if it meets two requirements. First, a sufficient amount of material must go into the recycling process to make recycling efficient with respect to both energy and cost. Large operations usually cost less per unit, in energy and in money, than small processes. The need for very high efficiency in order to make recycling worthwhile has caused some people to criticize curbside recycling programs.

Future of Recycling

Recycling does not promise to solve all environmental problems. To achieve sustainability, people must do more than recycle to conserve natural resources. But recycling certainly helps lessen pollution, waste, and natural resource depletion, even if it alone cannot fix these problems. Recycling technology continues to grow, and entrepreneurs have invented new uses for wastes while the recycling industry has found ways to make recycling less expensive and more streamlined.

Electricity Savings with Eco- Friendly Smart Energy Grids

Smart energy grids reduce electricity wastage by a two-way communication with consumers. Also, they are friendlier towards cleaner energy resources.

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In Oct. 2009, President Barack Obama announced a huge grant of 3.4 billion dollars for investment in building smart energy grids for United States. The fundamental objectives were to trim electricity bills, to reduce blackouts and to carry power generated by alternative energy resources such as wind or solar energy. Smart energy grids monitor the electricity consumption via a computerized feedback system. In this way, they are able to minimize the losses that occur in conventional energy grids.

Conventional Energy Grids

An energy grid also called power grid comprises a large distribution network that carries electricity from producers to consumers. Conventional energy grids have been in use for many years. Electricity is generated at a power plant; hydroelectric type or a coal-fired plant, and distributed via above ground or, in some countries, underground distribution lines.

The final consumers draw electricity off the grid and pay the amount for the power units they take. Although, the conventional grid system has been convenient for customers, it accompanies wastage of energy.

Drawbacks of Conventional Energy Grids

A specific feature of conventional energy grids is that they distribute energy in a one-way fashion. Even though, customers are charged for the electricity they take, a certain amount of energy is wasted away when people do not turn off or unplug the electric appliances when not in use.

Additionally, coal-fired power plants present at the other end of conventional grids are responsible for generating alarming amounts of obnoxious emissions to the atmosphere. Even if they are equipped with emission- reduction devices such as scrubbers, the damage to the environment is not fully eliminated. Hydroelectric power plants are also blamed for affecting riverside ecosystems by releasing hot process water into the environment.

Benefits of Smart Energy Grids

Smart energy grids improve on conventional distribution of energy in two primary ways:

  • Smart energy grids can be designed to allow a two-way type of electricity flow. In this manner, these grids can eliminate or at least minimize the wastage of electricity and the consumers have to pay for what they use rather than what they take.
  • Smart energy grids promise to facilitate alternative energy resources that do not cause environmental pollution associated with dams and coal burning. Moreover, large power plants and thousands of miles of power lines can be eliminated by introducing smart energy grids.

How Smart Energy Grids Work

A smart energy grid consists of two main components: a power generation unit and a computerized system for monitoring electricity consumption. The computerized monitoring system keeps track of locations and times of the highest usage of electricity and can redirect a certain amount of electricity from low- consumption areas to high- consumption areas. In this way, energy from locations where it is in access returns back to the system and wastage is minimized.

A further enhancement to smart energy distribution systems is smart home appliances. These home appliances can sense their own peak usage times and can communicate with smart energy grids to indicate a lesser or greater need for electricity. This two-way feedback system between smart energy distribution system and smart consumer ensures electricity regulation in a more responsible way and ensures minimum energy wastage.

Future of Smart Energy Grids

Due to the promising benefits of smart energy grids in terms of energy savings and environmental protection, many countries such as United sates has already incorporated it in its energy program. Similarly, countries like China, Australia and many European countries are investing into this promising technology.

Thermal Pollution: A Lesser Known Environmental Evil

Combustion of fuels for electricity generation and vehicle propulsion is a key source of thermal pollution, harming aquatic life and causing global warming.

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It is a well-admitted fact that burning of fossil fuels in power plants, industrial furnaces and vehicle engines causes air pollution. However, a lesser known impact linked with these power generation processes is thermal pollution. Thermal pollution refers to the addition of large amounts of waste heat to the environment; the causes of thermal pollution are almost the same as those causing air pollution.

Causes of Thermal Pollution

From motor vehicles to most of the electricity produced at power plants, the primary form of energy involved is heat. The device that converts heat into other useful forms of energy is called a heat engine. A common example of a heat engine is a car engine in which heat energy is released from oil burning converting into mechanical energy or motion.

Like any real-world process, combustion of fuels and subsequent conversion of heat into other energy forms are imperfect. The inherent inefficiency of energy conversion processes results in heat losses to the environment. The heat addition to the environment poses serious threats to humans, animals and plants.

Even though nuclear power plants do not cause air pollution, they are a conspicuous source of thermal pollution. Nuclear power plants are usually built near large water reservoirs such as lakes, rivers or oceans due to requirement for cooling water. Although the water used for cooling purposes in plant condensers is recycled before returning to the source, its temperature remains significantly high and may have severe impacts.

Effects of Thermal Pollution

The residual heat released by power plants adds to the environment and impacts its inhabitants harshly. Since hot water holds relatively less oxygen; many species in these habitats face difficulty in survival.

Water heating due to thermal pollution alters marine ecology to a great extent; hotter water favors some species while it is harmful to others. In a similar way, during nuclear plant startup, shutdown for repair and maintenance and then sudden startup creates abrupt temperature changes in water contained in lakes. These thermal shocks can be lethal for certain aquatic species.

Like other species, aquatic animals and plants have evolved with biological systems that can function best within a certain temperature range. The sudden discharge of heated water to lakes, rivers and oceans causes damage to the habitats of aquatic organisms by affecting their metabolic functions; the oxygen dissolving ability of hot water decreases and thus, as the water temperature rises significantly, it disrupts the food web by killing fish and other heat-sensitive living organisms.

Most animals living in water are cold-blooded by nature and cannot maintain their body temperatures; therefore, a temperature rise in their natural surroundings has serious implications upon their biological functions. For instance, thermal shocks of mild intensity can result in reproductive disorders among fish, thereby affecting the biodiversity of aquatic ecosystems.

In addition to thermal water pollution, cooling towers used in power plants release heat directly into the atmosphere, which raises the air temperature drastically, thus contributing to global warming .

How to Control Thermal Pollution

The problem of thermal pollution is unavoidable. It can be reduced, however. Engineers can make efforts to ensure minimum heat losses by improving thermal efficiencies of heat engines. Nonetheless, the best solution is to reduce consumption of fossil fuels and to limit day-to-day energy usage. The development of alternative energy resources such as solar power, wind energy and hydropower can also be beneficial.

 

Can Nuclear Power Plants Generate Cheap Electricity?

Many energy experts view nuclear power as potential alternative to conventional fuels. Can it contest fossil fuels in terms of cost?

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Since its very inception during 1950s, nuclear power has remained a host of controversies. In addition to safety concerns arising from Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents, the costs of commercially produced nuclear electricity has also been a point of debate among energy analysts. While independence from fossil fuels has been the fundamental motive for nuclear power, the cost of nuclear electricity has to be competitive with that produced from conventional energy resources.

Here are a few aspects linked with economic viability of nuclear power plants compared to fossil fuel power plants.

High Nuclear Electricity Costs Due to Plant Safety Concerns

World’s first commercial nuclear power plant opened at Calder Hall (current Sellafield) in Cumbria, England in 1956. A few years later, when nuclear electricity entered global commercial production, the cost to build and operate nuclear power plants was relatively low, thus the electricity produced by nuclear power was cheaper. However, the situation changed radically as a consequence of catastrophic accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

During 1980s or so, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission imposed additional safety measures in under construction plants leading to higher construction and operating costs than those forecasted at the commencement of the projects. As a consequence, the electricity generated by many nuclear plants in 1980s and early 1990s was relatively expensive due to unforeseen cost overruns.

High Building Costs of Nuclear Power Plants

In comparison to electric power plants powered by fossil fuels, nuclear power plants are complex and therefore more expensive to build. Moreover, the regulatory process by which plant construction permits are obtained is complicated and adds to the cost.  Slow permitting process results in plant construction to fall well behind schedule; the obvious consequence is cost overruns, which are ultimately borne by the utility and its consumers.

High Decommissioning Costs of Nuclear Power Plants

When nuclear power plants are no longer useable, they are decommissioned so that they are not hazardous to public health. This happens with nuclear power plants only and does not apply to fossil fuelled power plants; the decommissioning costs are collected from consumers as part of the electricity bills during the operating period of the plant. The decommissioning costs represent almost 10 to 15 percent of the total capital expenditures, according to IAEA.

Nuclear Power in a Deregulated Market

In countries like United States, nuclear power industry has relied on government intervention and support in the form of subsidies for over fifty years. In an interview to Subsidy Watch, Doug Kuplow, founder of Earth Track and an expert on government intervention in the energy sector says,

“All operating nuclear power plants in the U.S. were built with substantial public subsidies. These included large subsidies to research and development, plant construction, uranium enrichment, and waste management.”

In a deregulated market, where competition reigns and consumer have the choice to select cheaper options, nuclear power may not compete the electricity produced by coal or natural gas. While low operating costs of nuclear power plants make them attractive, the technical and safety problems combined with additional fuel and labor costs in aged plants may increase the overall cost of electricity, often resulting in plant closure.

While opponents of nuclear power underscore the associated commercial and safety woes, there are experts that argue otherwise.

France Produces Cheap Nuclear Electricity

In response to the criticism against costly nuclear electricity, proponents of nuclear power usually point towards France, which obtains almost three quarter of its electricity from nuclear power. The electricity generated by French nuclear power plants is 27 percent less expensive compared to that generated from coal. However, the lower cost of nuclear power is mainly attributed to heavy subsidies to nuclear industry as well as government funding in research and development, radioactive waste disposal, and insurance coverage against plant accidents.

Global Status of Nuclear Power

Despite worries over high cost of nuclear power, global community has shown considerable interest in harnessing nuclear energy for electricity generation. Currently there are 444 nuclear power reactors in operation in 30 countries of the world, with nuclear power contributing around 11 percent of global electricity generation. Over 60 nuclear reactors are under construction and around 150 are in the planning phase.

Nuclear Power versus Natural Gas

Majority of energy experts foresee natural gas as the cheapest fuel of the future compared to coal or uranium; the higher costs of gas production are compensated by low construction costs of gas-fuelled power plants. Nonetheless, another group of analysts argue that the limited natural gas reserves and requirement of building additional pipelines may cause natural gas to be more expensive than uranium.

Cheap Nuclear Power

Nuclear power plants are more capital intensive compared to other large-scale power plants. Safety concerns arising form incidents like Chernobyl have increased the plant construction and operation costs to a further extent. On the other hand, countries like France, Japan, China, South Korea. Sweden and Bulgaria fulfill a considerable proportion of their electricity needs through nuclear power. Nuclear power can be available at cheaper rates; however, this requires significant research and development breakthroughs.

The Immortals: Defeating the Inevitable

Death is Probably the Most Profound Reality of Our Lives. During Recent Times, We have Defeated Several Fatal Diseases. But Can We Counter the Challenge of Death; Can Humankind Achieve Immortality?

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AROUND 200 BC, Qin Shi Huang, a Chinese emperor, assigned a servant named Xu Fudong with an immensely tedious task. His assignment was to search the “Elixir of Life” that could grant the emperor an eternal life. So the servant set sail eastward with thousands of young boys and girls, never to set foot on the Chinese soil again.

Legend says that the crew never returned as they were seeking for an impossible mission and reappearance as a failure meant nothing but execution at the hands of the emperor. Legend also says that these men and women accompanying Fudong settled in what we today know as Japan.

What happened to the emperor? Well, the same as what happens to every mortal— he died— ironically, at the age of 50 years only. Qin Shi Huang, best known for building the Great Wall and later destined to be the founder of Qin dynasty as well as the first emperor of a unified China, was not the only one fanatical about immortality. As you will see later in this article, humans of the third millennium are quite zealous about the idea of defeating the inescapable anticlimax called death.

Though the medieval science — replace that with pseudoscience in the twenty-first century— of alchemy is often thought to be aimed at turning ordinary metals into gold, another clandestine goal of the mysterious endeavor was to discover the elixir of life, a remarkable potion that would stop the ageing process and grant eternal youth.

But stopping the ageing process does not imply immortality. Immortality means living forever. Can we eliminate the fearsome onslaught of death from our existences? Can we even slow the ageing process? Is immortality a realistic goal?

Though humans are the only creatures obsessed with immortality, scientists have identified certain other living organisms having seemingly infinite lifespans.

The Immortal Species

It is evident from scientific research that compared to humans and animals, certain plant and fungus species have extremely long life spans. For instance, a tree belonging to a certain species of bristlecone pines found in California has been claimed to be more than five thousand years old — the oldest known living organism on earth.

In the animal kingdom, tortoises are known for the longevity of their lives. A tortoise living in India’s Alipore zoo set a record that won’t soon be broken — it survived for 250 years. Though this number is more than twice any age modern humans have ever attained, it is a naught compared to the pine tree of California.

In addition to their many biological differences, plants age differently compared to animals. As animals age, their individual cells wear out and die, their metabolism ceases to exist, and they no longer perform their biological functions like division and creation of new cells.

On the other hand, when certain plant species lose their effective cells due to ageing, their remaining cells get extra effective. For instance, the plant develops an ability to pump water higher into the trunk — that is why you find ancient trees so tall. For such plants, most likely reasons for death would be diseases, insect attacks, or storms, but rarely a natural death. However, this unique ability pertains to only a few special plant species; others die on annual basis, leaving seeds for the next spring.

Another way trees are different from animals is that they lead two lives: one above ground and the other below. Whereas trunks and leaves can live a span of 40 to 140 years, their roots— the underground life— can be as old as 80,000 years. Likewise, vast fungus colonies that live underground have been thought to be many tens of thousands of years old.

Anomalous tendencies towards aging are also revealing in some members of the animal kingdom. Biologists have found certain jellyfish species that can reverse their aging, and actually disassemble their bodies back into their immature form so they can start growing all over again. Well, that is an idea closer to incarnation rather than immortality but still a smart capability.

Though there are no known animals or humans to have entered the “immortal” league of old trees, biologists have debunked the secret of long-living plants. In reality, it is not the actual plant itself that stays alive for thousands of years, but its natural clone. In case of long-lived trees, a shoot grows into a new tree, remains connected to the old tree, and the old tree dies.

Though the new tree is genetically identical, is it really the same individual? Scientists tend to stick with strict biological definitions of immortality, and in this case, that plant is considered immortal.

As a matter of fact, these so-called immortal trees are cheating at immortality. Despite the apparent longevity of their ages, they can die due to storms; insect attack, or worse still, humans can flip them down using their state-of-the-art machinery. Thus they are not immortal; though they may claim to be amortals — dying through accidents but not due to ageing.

We certainly haven’t discovered any individual organisms that are millions of years old. Immortality doesn’t just mean living for a couple thousand years; it means living forever. Let us now look at death from a technology perspective.

A Technical Issue

Through the course of human history, death has been accepted as an unavoidable reality. Various religious dogmas have sanctified death as a metaphysical experience. While Abrahamic religions treat death as a transition to an afterlife, Hinduism promotes the idea of multiple lives. Thus death has been typically acknowledged as a normalcy, opening a way to reincarnation and subsequent entry into heaven or hell.

As a consequence, until quite recent times, the real causes of human death were deemed of little significance. However, in the twenty-first century, we are able to ascribe any human death to a set of medical conditions. A few examples of these conditions include heart failure, lungs cancer, brain hemorrhage etc. Being familiar with the precise causes of death, its persona is now changing from a metaphysical experience to a physical or technical issue.

By the same token, when people die in road accidents or plane crashes, we set commissions to find out the causes of the catastrophe. So often we end up with the conclusion that there were some technical failures behind the accident, that it could and should have been evaded, and we resolve to avoid such happenings in future.

If death is a technical problem, it should have a technical solution. Just like we make schemes to improve on road accidents and plane crashes, can we prepare remedial action plans for tackling medical conditions that lead to ageing or even death? In fact, we have already made some attempts in this realm.

For instance, if the heart stops pumping, we can revive it with medicines and electric shocks. In the worst case, we can even implant a new heart. Heart disease is the leading cause of premature deaths worldwide, followed by cancer and other chronic medical ailments.

Another leading cause of death in old people is ageing. Many old people, when they die, are free of any medical ailments; their body systems are functioning as normal. For such deaths, the underlying technical issue is ageing or gradual deterioration of biological systems.

Today, about two-thirds of all deaths are from old age. The scientific name for ageing is senescence and it can occur in two ways: in the first type, old cells of the organism lose the ability to divide and create new cells. Thus as worn out cells die, they are not replaced by new cells. It is analogous to a fuse slowly burning down over its lifetime.

The second type of aging happens to the whole organism. It means the whole body is unable to keep itself alive. And with cells dying and not being replaced, things only get worse. Eventually, the whole system gets out of order and even otherwise healthy people develop chronic diseases and ultimately die.

The exact reasons behind ageing are still being studied. There are many concurrent theories. One of them suggests that cells are not able to divide and create new cells due to imperfections in DNA replication. This is typically associated with free radicals — highly reactive substances that can damage DNA and cells, leading to cancer, cardiovascular problems and diabetes. Another viewpoint is that oxygen itself rusts or oxidizes the body tissues.

Looking at statistics on life expectancies over last hundred years, it seems we have done a fairly good job at tackling the technical problems behind ageing. Until very recently, our average life span was around 45 years. Today, we can claim a world average of more than 70 years. Our next target could be hundred years, but there are some fallacies to be rectified.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the global life expectancy was less than 40 years, primarily because people died early due to malnutrition, incurable diseases, violence etc. Today, we have nearly eliminated famines, pandemics, and wars; so people can live on to approach their natural age. Even a century ago, those who survived hunger, ailments, and violence lived up to eighty years. As a matter of fact, we have not defeated ageing; we have just reduced the likelihood of premature deaths.

So we have understood and tackled some of the technical problems behind premature deaths and we are still studying ageing. But how far can this endeavor take us? Though contemporary doctors are already treating these diseases as technical problems, can they overcome them? Can we defeat the death-related technical issues by investing time and money in researching cancer, germs, genetics and nanotechnology? After say fifty years, will we able to claim an average life expectancy of more than 100 years. Possibly; but a number as big as 500 years is probably out of our league.

A Bunch of Immortalists

In 1964, a physics teacher named Robert Ettinger proposed the idea of freezing a body so that it could be revived later by advanced technologies. This unique but still impractical idea is called cryonic preservation. Since then, a couple hundred people have been cryonically preserved.

The first person to be frozen in this way was James Bedford on January 12, 1967. Since then, dozens of cryonics organizations and societies have been established around the U.S. Today, the biggest cryonics organization is the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, where Bedford is still frozen. Alcor has nearly 100 frozen patients at its headquarters in Arizona, awaiting their highly unlikely reincarnation.

On September 18, 2013 Google ventured into a unique enterprise. Along with Arthur D. Levinson, an American businessman, Google founded a company called Calico (California Life Company). The major objective of this organization is to tackle ageing, and consequently increasing human lifespans. Calico works through a multidisciplinary team of experts from medicine, drug development, molecular biology, genetics, and computational biology.

By dint of the rapid development of fields such as genetic engineering, regenerative medicine, and nanotechnology, some experts suggest that humans might overcome death by 2200. Some devotees of immortality even maintain that anyone possessing a healthy body and a wealthy bank account in 2050 will have a solemn chance for being immortal.

These immortalists propose that just like preventive car maintenance schemes, every ten years or so you will walk into a clinic and receive a revival treatment that will not only cure illnesses, but will also regenerate decaying tissues, and upgrade brains, hearts and other body limbs. Before the next treatment is due, doctors will have already invented a surplus of new medicines, upgrades, and gadgets to augment your effective lifespan.

Is Immortality a Realistic Goal?

Regardless of whether humans achieve or fail to achieve immortality, the notion will provoke numerous what ifs in human psychology, society, and economy.

Irrespective of our religious idiosyncrasies, almost all of us follow some form of ethics in our daily lives. A large part of these ethical commitments stems from fear of death. Immortality or absence of death falsifies incarnation and judgment against sins, and hence there remains no strong reason for religious piety or social righteousness — end result could be a societal fiasco.

Immortal or rather amortal humans would be the most anxious people in history. We mortals take risks with our lives on daily basis, because we know they are going to end someday. So we do many daring things like going on hikes in the Himalayas, or for surfing over precarious ocean tides. Being amortals, we will be hesitant in taking even small chances like crossing the street or trying a new type of food; we will be way too skeptical about our surroundings.

Amortal professionals will not retire at the age of sixty. Today, we learn a profession in teens and twenties and then spend the rest of our life in that line of work. Though we still learn a few tricks of business in forties and fifties, but the last decade of our career is usually a downhill, waiting for retirement. What will be the retirement age for an amortal? And if your boss will not retire, how will your professional growth occur? And where will the new graduates be employed?

In the domain of national and international politics, the results might be even creepier; especially in the non-democratic countries, where a ruler is expected to rule until death. So if the monarch will not die, how will the crown prince be crowned? There could be a political anarchy.

Although average life expectancy has doubled over the last hundred years, it would be overambitious to deduce that we can double it again to 150 in the coming century. Any hopes of eternal youth in the twenty-first century could lead to a bitter disappointment; it is not easy to live knowing that you are going to die, but it could be far more frustrating to believe in immortality and be proven wrong.

Death is Inevitable

Fear of death is the most dreaded sensation shared by all humans. From ancient emperors to modern scientists, many have tried their hands on immortality. In fact, the pursuit is still ongoing. But death is mandatory as it ensures the natural balance of life.

No matter how much efforts we make, we cannot achieve immortality. Immortality means living forever, a life without death. Even if we achieve an unlimited life expectancy— a body without expiry date — we will still be amortals, not immortal. We can still die in a natural catastrophe or an accident.

Immortality or amortality are merely crazy dreams. Death is inevitable.

Weather Modding: Taming the Skies

Bad Weather Can Ruin Our Best Moments. Can We Control the Capricious Weather? Or Should We Adjust Our Own Calendar? 

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ON 8 JULY, 2008, with over 15,000 performers and a vast quantity of fireworks, the stage was set for a spectacular opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. Nonetheless, on top of overseeing the arrangements on the ground, the authorities were doomed to handle the threatening skies as well. With the whole world tuned in to the event, the portentous clouds lurking over the firmament could easily spoil the show. Contrary to prevalent apprehensions, the rain was averted and the ceremony went fabulously well.

Why did it not rain? Perhaps nature changed its mind. However, the common perception is that the Chinese tamed the weather; they fired 1,100 chemical rockets into the sky, intercepting the uninvited clouds and causing them to rain before they reached the capital city. It might seem like a science fiction, but humans have claimed to influence weather for many decades.

Can we really mod the weather according to our wishes? If yes, should we do it? Can we use this technology to possibly reverse climate change due to global warming? Are there any unforeseen hazards? An answer to these questions requires an understanding of the increasingly fickle state called weather.

The Capricious Weather

As we step out of house every morning, we usually look towards the sky and remark one of the few familiar atmospheric words: sunny, cloudy, rainy, foggy and occasionally snowy. These banal expressions describe our weather. Weather is the state of atmosphere at any particular point in time. As a matter of fact, it takes a number of other scientific terms to define weather including temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure and few others.

Ordinary mortals observe weather in terms of the impact it might have on their lives. In most of the places weather can change from minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, week-to-week. If we take the average of weather over time and space, it is called climate. While weather is a short-term atmospheric state, a climate is the weather pattern of a certain region over longer periods. For easy reference, climate is what you expect such as hot summer and weather is what you get, a thunderstorm, for example.

Because our earth is round and not flat, the sun’s rays do not fall evenly upon land and oceans. The solar radiation falls directly over equator so countries located near the equator have warmer climates. On the other hand, the polar regions are at such an angle that Sun’s rays fall skewed, causing colder temperatures. These differences in temperatures between the poles and the equator create convective currents of air and water that distribute heat energy of the Sun across the planet, originating various weather patterns or climates.

Weather plays a critical role in our daily lives. Whether they are Olympic events or our day-to-day activities, human civilization remains at the mercy of tricky swings of weather. Our biggest cities and most impressive engineering projects could be wiped out in a matter of hours by extreme storm, often resulting in irretrievable financial and irreversible human losses.

The significance of weather in human lives makes it a subject of concern, and accentuates the human desire for harnessing this natural force. Nonetheless, weather is a complex atmospheric system which at times can be impulsively chaotic. There are numerous parameters that may influence the final outcome; some of these parameters were unknown to scientists until quite recently.

In mid-October 1987, a mighty storm struck the United Kingdom causing massive devastation across the country. This turmoil was in contrast to the available weather forecast. Since then the forecasters avoid a single definitive forecast; with the aid of computer models, they can start with multiple subtly different variants formulating various forecasts. Consequently, they are able to provide fairly closer, rather than strictly exact, information about imminent weather. For instance they can reliably predict the chances of rain on a certain day.

Humans have already done a fairly reasonable job at understanding and predicting weather. With the aid of supercomputers, contemporary meteorologists have developed complex models to forecast weather with a reasonable accuracy. However, because of the chaotic nature of the weather, any attempt to predict weather more than five days would be fairly doubtful, while more than ten days will be actually futile.

Even with the state of the art technology at the aid of weather specialists, our weather forecasts are subject to error. Moreover, media is often perpetuating hysterical news about likely hurricanes or splashing exaggerated headlines about hot summer waves.

Weather forecasts help us to prepare better and to adjust our schedules accordingly. However, humans of the third millennium are interested in moving a step further: instead of reading weather forecast on the internet and revise their agendas accordingly, they want to adjust weather according to their plan. Before judging on the wisdom of messing up with powerful natural cycles, let us first peruse how far we have gone in this domain hitherto.

Cloud Seeding and Beyond

The genesis of anthropogenic weather modification goes back to 1940s when a pair of scientists from General Electric Co. was hiking Mount Washington— probably the stormiest mountain on earth. Taking advantage from the freezing chill of the hike, the curious duo experimented with super-cooled clouds to stimulate the growth of ice crystals. Subsequent experiments in New York enabled the two researchers to induce the first snowstorm in a laboratory. In 1948, they got a patent for this technique, now called cloud seeding.

As apparent from the name, cloud seeding involves seeding or shooting of certain substances on clouds to make it rain. For this purpose, microscopic particles of silver dioxide are shot into clouds using either land based generators or aircrafts. Silver iodide is known to concentrate moisture thus clearing the way for an artificial rain and snow.

The invention of cloud seeding had exposed the mysteries of rain and snow that had baffled earlier scientists. A few decades later, the US military brought the technique of cloud seeding to the battlefield. During the Vietnam War (1967-1972), $3 million per annum were expended on weather modifications designed to attract monsoon downpours and to block the enemy supply routes with unpassable mud. This operation was nick-named as Operation Popeye.

Apart from war, the United States has also deployed weather modding for peaceful purposes. Quite recently, cloud seeding projects are being used to increase water production in draught-stricken California, where there is a dire need for drinking water and for crops irrigation.

Likewise, impeding rain to safeguard Beijing Olympics was not the first Chinese attempt at cloud seeding. In fact, Chinese research into weather control dates back to as early as 1958. Today the Chinese government runs a separate Weather Modification Department entrusted with the discrete goal of controlling weather conditions. Every year, the department launches thousands of specially designed rockets and artillery shells into the air with the aim of manipulating weather in their favor.

China has invested heavily in cloud seeding technology, and rightly so. With a population approaching 1.4 billion, China requires vast amounts of water. Effective cloud seeding can produce rains for farmers, fight draughts, and clear away the obnoxious smog so ubiquitous in numerous Chinese metropolises. The Chinese ambitions are high and the Ministry of Finance aims to create more than 60 billion cubic meters of additional rain every year by 2020.

Following the footsteps of China and the United States, countries like Russia and India have also started investing in weather modification. In 2015, the draught-stricken Indian state of Maharashtra spent $4.5 million on cloud seeding. A year later, the Russian government allocated $1.3 million to stop rainfall on International Workers’ Day.

In addition to governmental agencies, private companies have also shown interest in weather modification technology. The largest such company is Weather Modification Inc. , a US based enterprise that offers services ranging from weather forecasting to practical cloud seeding. Operating worldwide, this company claims that its technology is fairly reliable.

Though cloud seeding has been the major weather modification technique, a number of alternative methods have been proposed. Some of them suggest using lasers to suck lightning out of thunderstorms while others involve oil slicks to calm down ocean’s surface presumably abating hurricanes. There are also plans to use seeding to dump nitrogen into the sea, in an attempt to weaken hurricanes.

Some experts agree that cloud seeding could make sense, at least in theory. However, methods being tried need extensive research before graduating to viable weather modification technologies. Meanwhile, an extensive debate on the pros and cons of cloud seeding and other weather modification techniques is ongoing.

A Raging Debate

It has become a tradition in Beijing to seed the clouds with bullets of silver iodide on special occasions such as the National day. But is it the cloud seeding that averts rain or could it be a heavenly afterthought. While Chinese are exceptionally optimistic over the efficacy of their cannon shots on the clouds, opinion in other parts of the world is clearly divided.

In 2003, the United States National Academy of Sciences declared that thirty years of studies had failed to provide any conclusive evidence that weather modification actually works. On the contrary, the American Meteorological Society opines that some studies on cloud seeding show a 10 percent increase in rain volume.

There are various schools of thought about weather modification technology. One group — many of them respectable scientists and engineers — believe that humans have the potential to engineer and control the atmosphere. They are certain that technologies like cloud seeding can bring life to deserts, control rainfall, and even manipulate weather to counter the perils of global warming.

An alternative viewpoint is that speaking of grand plans to modify global weather to our favor is great to speak in science fiction but implementing such plans in real world would be fraught with incredible dangers. According to this ideology, we still lack a comprehensive understanding of complex weather systems. While we can predict rain with reasonable accuracy, we still do not know where the showers will fall.

The global weather is a single unified system. Playing with one part might result in favorable outcomes in one region; however, probabilities of unpredictable circumstances in another part of the system cannot be negated. Climatic prosperity of one nation could mean a complete disaster for a neighboring country. What if the rain induced by one country showers in a neighboring land; who owns that water? Such questions might seem stupid but have the potential to flare up heated arguments between states.

The United States has already experimented with cloud seeding for impairing the enemy in Vietnam. Likewise, there could be new forms of remote battles called Climate Wars. The odds of a terrorist organization getting hold of a country’s climate control program are also conceivable.

Cloud seeding technology is expensive and can only be commercialized until its effectiveness is decisively proven. While the proponents of the technology claim that cloud seeding could help abate air pollution, an alternative view is that the root causes of air pollution should be nipped rather than expending millions of dollars on eradicating its symptoms.

While suppressing rain could save your day on an important event such as an Olympic ceremony, it could mean loss of crops to farmers. In addition, despite reassurances from the cloud seeding companies, concerns associated with the toxicity of silver iodide remain alive for humans, livestock and fish in aquatic habitats.

Let Us Adjust Our Calendar

Did cloud seeding abate rainfall during Beijing Olympics? Frankly, we do not know. And we will never know. The efficacy of weather modification technologies is still dubious. Even if we have effective ways to influence climate, we are not fully familiar with the intricacies of the global weather systems. Thus messing up with a powerful natural force will be worse than a foolhardy.

Rather than trying to impose your own plans, let us read today’s weather forecast, and adjust our calendar.