Friday, 1 June 2012

Welcome to the 13th century

The locomotive of the future
I've had this story on the peg for a couple of days and now that I've read it, I'm amazed at its awesomeness in terms of sheer stupidity.  Apparently, some nitwits have come up with the idea that the wave of the future is to pull trains with steam locomotives running on "green" "biocoal".

What is biocoal?  Let MSNBC enlighten us:
The biocoal is based on a so-called torrefaction process pioneered at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. To make it, woody material — in this case trees — are heated in the absence of oxygen. The resulting flaky matter is then rammed together under high pressure to create coal-like bricks.
In other words, it's charcoal.

I was gobstruck by this.  First off, as an archaeologist, I've seen the effects of a charcoal economy and it isn't pretty.  Trying to power even a pre-industrial society on the stuff will strip the woodlands bare in a few decades, but on a modern scale?  It isn't possible.  

And that isn't the stupid part.  This is: The locomotive these nimrods are going to use to test their fuel on is an oil burner, so they have to rip up a vintage piece of technology and convert it to burn solid fuel.

Excuse me, but if you're so keen on testing charcoal as a fuel, then why not ship a few tons to Yorkshire where there are any number of coal-burning steam trains still running on heritage lines that you could use–or you could if the drivers didn't give you an earful of why it's a daft idea.


Cthel said...

I'm assuming they've got some kind of justification for not just burning the "biocoal" in a conventional thermoelectric power plant and powering the train via electrical distribution?

Surely someone must have done a basic comparison of the thermal efficiency of a steam locomotive and a modern power station, right?

I'm forgetting that rational thought has no place in the glorious new "green" society, aren't I?

jayessell said...


There should be a meme or a Rage-Comic-Face to represent "has anyone done the math?"

I'll create one right now!


You're welcome.

eon said...

I'm somewhere between "are they kidding?" and "holy freaking (insert name of appropriate deity here)!"

First of all, as you state, their "biocoal" is plain charcoal, and not a particularly good grade of the stuff at that. It would not pass U.S. commercial grade standards even for making BBQ briquets, let alone chemical or clinical grade for applications like filters. Which means it will make bituminous "soft" coal look clean-burning by comparison.

Secondly, are these dimbulbs aware of just how much "conversion" is necessary to turn any oil-burning engine into a charcoal or coal-burner? It needs an entirely different fuel-feed system, and once you've ripped out the tankage, injectors, etc., you have a powerplant that cannot be run on anything but charcoal or other solid fuel (exactly what other kinds are usable depends on your feed system, thermal requirements, & etc.).

Even a "blau gas" conversion, as was used in Germany and other countries during WW2, would be more intelligent than this.

Once more our environmentalist "enlightened elite'" prove that the operative word in 'environmentalist" is mental.



J. T. K. said...

We all understand that the point of this exercise is the opposite of efficiency, logic, rational effort to a productive end. The point of this is to destroy, by inches, human prosperity and life. At least Jainism is more honest than environmentalism.

Anyway, I thought burning carbon in any form was more evil than raping your own daughter. Oh well, making an omelette, and all that.

Neil A Russell said...

All this time I thought the greenies would be thrilled that diesel electric locomotives are hybrids.

Of course they don't like anything that works.

The talk of charcoal, or burning wood for that matter, reminds me of the stupid "small is beautiful" agenda of Barry Commoner et al some 40 years ago.

I suppose the plan was to have the government issue each subject of the Gaian Realm a tree with the admonition of "burn it wisely, it has to last"

eon said...


"But how can you have money when you don't actually produce anything?"

"Since we adopted leaves as currency we have all become immensely rich. However, it now takes three deciduous forests to buy one ship's peanut. So, to reduce inflation and essentially revalue the leaf, we've decided to burn down all the forests."

-Douglas Adams, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy

Which is what they'll have to do to make this work, in terms of supply vs. demand.

I am now convinced. Adams was right. At least the deep-ecos are the direct descendant of Golgafrinchum telephone sanitizers, marketing people, and hairdressers.

(With apologies to anyone in those professions today. Yes, even those in marketing.)



Ironmistress said...

Hmm. Wonder if Finland will again rise as the world #1 tar producer like in the late 19th century? Pine makes excellent charcoal and yields enormous amounts of tar as well.

The next step is, of course, charcoal-operated blast furnaces for ironmaking. The Chinese will clap their big, hairy, hands.

Ironmistress said...

On trains: In Finland, the trains are operated on electricity.

Created by hydroelectric power.

VR (the State Railroad) explicitly purchases only electricity created by hyrdoelectric power for its engines. I would myself go just as well with nuclear electricity - they both are good and clean methods of producing electricity.

Americans should really go for all-out electrification instead of steam engines.

eon said...


Our deep-ecos over here hate hydro power and nuclear power even worse than they hate IC engines. They tear down hydro dams to "make rivers wild again" (musn't oppress fish, you know!), and have used the courts to prevent any new nuclear plants from being built in this country since 1979.

(Here in Ohio, in 1989 they used serial lawsuits to force American Electric Power to convert the half-finished Davis-Besse nuclear plant to... coal. Yes, they consider coal less "harmful" than nuclear. DB, by the way, has since been closed by, you guessed it, the EPA.)

They will not permit anything but Holy Wind and Holy Sun. As for this charcoal conversion business, my guess is that once it's done, they will suddenly discover how "dirty" it is, and demand that all railroads be done away with.

And since they consider horse-or-oxen-drawn wagons as "enslaving animals", we'd all better get on to our roadwork. Our Enlightened Environ(mental) Overlords will demand bearers for their palanquins, and they'll be veryunhappy with us if we don't hop to it.