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Peter McManners

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Beyond the 787 Dreamliner 21 January 2013

The grounding of the 787 Dreamliner is a blow to Boeing but not a surprise. A new model, using novel manufacturing techniques and new technologies such as electric systems to replace hydraulics, will always have teething problems. I am sure Boeing will get to the bottom of the cause and the 787 Dreamliner will return to the skies. This shows that to design and build an aircraft that departs from the current tested parameters is risky. It is going to get riskier still for the aviation industry as people demand that emissions from aviation are reduced.

This picture, purporting to be the Boeing 797, shows a blended wing aircraft which many people think will be the future of fast efficient air travel. It is expected that such aircraft can be a massive 50% more fuel-efficient than the conventional tube with wings design. They can be stiffer, lighter and have better aerodynamics. An aircraft like the Boeing 797 would make the current airline fleets obsolete in a world of rising fuel costs. The engineering of such a design is understood so there are no technical barriers but with such a radical design there may be teething problems. There may also be passenger acceptance issues as people get used to not having a window seat but nothing that cannot be overcome.

This image is from an article in the magazine Popular Science a decade ago and widely circulated on the internet as a hoax, but like all good hoaxes has more than a grain of truth. Blended wing aircraft can and have been built and would make conventional aircraft obsolete, including the 787 Dreamliner. It would be commercial suicide for Boeing to trumpet this next stage in the evolution of aircraft until it has built and sold the 1,000 planes in its order book. Boeing will not be building blended wind aircraft any time soon ‒ unless we demand they should. If we decided to tax aviation fuel in line with ground transportation, we could bring forward this next generation of aircraft.

I hope that the technicians at Boeing find and solve the problems with the Dreamliner but I hope the senior corporate management authorise the design of a blended wing passenger aircraft, not as large as the Boeing 797 concept but of similar size to the Dreamliner. Commercially, they will not want to take this path but that is what the world needs.

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Australia Cooking on Coal 12 January 2013

Australia is burning as record temperatures scorch the country. I wonder if this will be enough to put a bushfire through Australian coal policy.

Australia's highest recorded temperature is 50.7C, set in January 1960 in South Australia. The record for the hottest average day across the country was set last Monday, at 40.3C, exceeding a 40-year-old record. Wildfires are raging across New South Wales and Tasmania. For next Monday Australia's Bureau of Meteorology forecast temperatures over 52C – so high that it has had to add a new colour to the top of its scale, an incandescent purple.

This is a country with huge reserves of coal which it burns to generate electricity and exports, particularly to China. The coal industry defends itself in forthright Aussi style with mining magnate Clive Palmer accusing the Australian Greens and Queensland environmental campaigners of "treason" in conspiring with US powers to destroy the nation's coal industry. This is also a country blessed with one of the largest solar energy capacity per head of population on the planet. Australia could close down its coal industry and get all the energy its needs from solar, not just solar power stations but houses with air conditioning running from solar panels on the roof and a whole range of innovative methods to gather the Aussi rays. This includes a huge commercial opportunity in the potential market for ‘liquid sunshine’ as I wrote in my book Adapt and Thrive: The Sustainable Revolution:

Australia has huge deserts, technical expertise and investment capital. It is a great country, but under the Howard premiership (1996-2007) it has risked undermining its standing in the world by not engaging with the world’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions. I believe this is very short-sighted. If the world turned against fossil fuels, then the economic barrier that prevents us from solving the challenge of fuel from the desert would be removed. I believe that it would be in Australia’s long-term interests to switch policy and push hard to eliminate fossil fuels. Australia should act first at home and close down its coal mining industry in order to have the credibility to then support world efforts to close down the market for fossil fuels. In this way, Australia could become much more sustainable and establish a lucrative market for ‘liquid sunshine’ from Australia’s vast desert interior. The world would have enormous respect for Australia if it could put short-term economic considerations aside to pursue such a strategy.

The case for closing down the world coal industry is strong on environmental grounds. For many countries this would be hard; for Australia it is feasible and sensible to stop cooking on coal but short-termism and vested interest will intervene. Aussis don’t like being lectured by outsiders but I am an insider born in Hobart, Tasmania with every right to speak out. Wake up Australia, pull your thumb out of your bum and stop the Barbeque whilst you still can.

Read more: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/cia-threatens-australian-coal-industry-palmer-20120320-1vhi7.html#ixzz2Hkilo7SU


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