Driven to ‘Ecstasy’

fumesBurning fossil fuels costs the United States about $120 billion a year in health costs, mostly because of thousands of premature deaths from air pollution, the National Academy of Sciences reported in a study issued Monday.

The damages are caused almost equally by coal and oil, according to the study which was ordered by Congress.  They found nearly 20,000 people die prematurely each year from polluted air.(1)

This follows a 2007 study in the UK  by the University of Edinburgh and Swedish researchers which measured the effects of diesel exhaust on heart and blood vessel functions in surroundings which mimicked a busy street.

Dr Andrew Lucking, lead researcher, reported; “This study shows that when a person is exposed to relatively high levels of diesel exhaust for a short time, the blood is more likely to clot.  This could lead to a blocked vessel resulting in heart attack or stroke.

Fine carbon particles largely generated by diesel exhausts have previously been shown to damage the lungs of children, with those living near main roads at double the risk of developing asthma”.

Research suggests the toll of air pollution on health may lead to 24,000 premature deaths a year in the UK.(2)

This is in addition to approximately 3,360 road deaths in the UK per year. The total number of road casualties fell by 4 per cent between 2006 and 2007 to approximately 248,000 in Great Britain.  This compares with an annual average of approximately 320,000 for the years 1994-98.(3)

However, in the States, with traffic levels greater, these figures are much higher with 40,000 direct fatalities occurring as a result of an accident on the road. (4)

The table below shows road fatalities including major risk factor related deaths in the U.S. since 1982:

Total fatalities
Alcohol related fatalities
Year
Number
Number
Percent
1982
43,945
26,173
60
1983
42,589
24,635
58
1984
44,257
24,762
56
1985
43,825
23,167
53
1986
46,087
25,017
54
1987
46,390
24,094
52
1988
47,087
23,833
51
1989
45,582
22,424
49
1990
44,599
22,587
51
1991
41,508
20,159
49
1992
39,250
18,290
47
1993
40,150
17,908
45
1994
40,716
17,308
43
1995
41,817
17,732
42
1996
42,065
17,749
42
1997
42,013
16,711
40
1998
41,501
16,673
40
1999
41,717
16,572
40
2000
41,945
17,380
41
2001
42,196
17,400
41
2002
43,005
17,524
41
2003
42,643
17,013
40
2004
42,518
16,919
39
2005
43,443
16,885
39
2006
42,532
15,829
37
2007
41,059
15,387
37

The results show that although alcohol related involvement has dropped, the amount of fatalities has remained fairly constant over the years.

Road traffic injuries remain an important public health problem. This is confirmed when global analysis is included.

Worldwide, more than 3,000 people are dying on the roads every day according  to The Global status report on road safety assessment of the road safety situation in 178 countries using data drawn from a standardized survey.(6)

children crossingApproximately 1.3 million people die each year on the world’s roads, and between 20 and 50 million are injured or disabled every year.  Children, pedestrians, cyclists and the elderly are among the most vulnerable of road users.

In fact, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers of motorized two-wheelers and their passengers account for almost half of global road traffic deaths. (7)

These road fatalities are the equivalent of 15 passenger Airbus A320 ‘s crashing every day with no survivors. That is over 50,000 people injured every day if the lowest estimates are used.

Now compare these numbers to figures relating to the drug called MDMA (3-4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) more commonly known as Ecstasy.  It is a synthetic chemical that can be derived from an essential oil of the sassafras tree.

First developed as an appetite suppressant in 1914, MDMA was used as a psychotherapeutic tool and started to become available on the street in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.  In1985, Ecstasy was made illegal.

It is classified as a “Schedule 1” controlled substance along with other narcotics like heroin, cocaine and LSD. Penalties for possession, delivery, and manufacturing of the drug can include fines as high as $100,000 and up to 99 years or life in prison, depending on the amount seized.(8)

Are these punishments justified?

Data from studies vary on the long term health effects.  However, according to the biggest review (2009) ever undertaken by the UK Advisory Council, it causes slight memory difficulties and mild depression.(9)

More substantial evidence from the 2004 Reitox National reports suggest that deaths involving Ecstasy are rare in most EU countries, especially deaths involving ecstasy alone.(10)

In 2003, several countries reported Ecstasy-associated deaths: Austria (one death involving Ecstasy only), Czech Republic (one death probably due to an MDMA overdose), France (eight cases associated with Ecstasy), Germany (two cases associated with Ecstasy alone and eight involving Ecstasy in combination with other drugs – with corresponding figures of 8 and 11 in 2002), Portugal (detected in 2 % of drug-related deaths) and the United Kingdom Ecstasy was ‘mentioned’ on 49 death certificates in 2000, 76 in 2001 and 75 in 2002.

The Netherlands reported seven deaths due to acute psychostimulant intoxication, although the substance involved was not reported.(11)

In the U.S.A,  relatively few deaths have occurred. In 1998, there were about 9 deaths possibly connected with Ecstasy.  It seems these deaths can be attributed to drinking too much or too little water. (12)

Currently, the therapeutic potential of MDMA is being tested in several ongoing studies, some sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).  Studies in the U.S., Switzerland, and Israel are evaluating the efficacy of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for treating those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety related to cancer.

In interviews, patients and researchers from the South Carolina PTSD study report tendencies for some participants to have reduced disease severity after MDMA psychotherapy. MAPS reported statistically significant results. (13)

Millions of people in the U.S. are affected with PTSD; the reductions in symptoms in this study of MDMA assisted
psychotherapy were greater than in studies of medicines currently available.  Instead of just suppressing symptoms of PTSD, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy can, in some cases, effectively cure PTSD.(14)

What has PTSD to do with auto use?

crash Apparently, over one percent of the American population is involved in a serious (causing personal injury) motor vehicle accident (MVA) each year and a majority will experience at least a minor MVA by the age of 30.

MVA’s are considered the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the general population and car accidents are the number one trauma for men and the second most frequent trauma for women, according to a new book that examines updated research on PTSD among car accident victims. (15)

With so many car accident victims, it does raise the question (when comparing overall health statistics of Ecstasy and auto usage) how come driving a vehicle does not warrant a prohibitive ban in public when the ratio of deaths is so disproportionate?

Many, many people are suffering from auto related events, yet driving a car is legal.  A substance that is linked to relatively few deaths and has minor long term after effects, is illegal.  What is even more confounding is that many innocent third parties are suffering ill-fated consequences due to auto usage.

This phenomenon is not new.  It has systematically occurred over many years – only the victims differ.

Two issues need to be addressed: (a) people  cannot be trusted behind the wheel of an auto and (b) the present energy source that fuels the vehicle is not a healthy option.

What are the alternatives and can/will they be implemented?

Firstly, it has to be appreciated the vastness of the auto industry and the dependence society has upon it.

At the start of the twentieth century there were only about 8,000 cars in the United States and possibly not more than 25,000 worldwide in 1910. (16)

Today, there are roughly 800 million cars in the world.  According to the Wall Street Journal, there could be 1 billion cars on the road by 2020.  Forrester Research puts the number at 1.2 billion, according to Reuters.(17)

The number of car manufacturers that have existed worldwide is estimated at between 3,000 to 4,000.  More than 50% of these were in the United States.

In 2008, 8.681 million motor vehicles were manufactured in the United States, the third largest in the world after Japan and China. ((18)

However, roughly half of the U.S.A’s fifty one light vehicle plants are projected to permanently close in the coming years with the loss of another 200,000 jobs in the sector, on top of the 560,000 jobs lost this decade. As a result, in 2009, China became the largest automobile market in the world.

In the U.K. the auto industry still employs about 800,000 people but just 180,000 are in manufacturing jobs and another 106,000 are components makers.

Ford, the current market leader, has just 13,000 production workers.

The U.K. is home to 2,000 motor parts makers — 19 of the world’s top 20 firms — and is increasingly part of the European auto industry. While components companies are suffering from the global recession, exports by firms such as GKN and Pilkington total £5 billion a year (about $7.5 billion).

What about fuel?

According to the U.S. energy information service agency, approximately 28% of all U.S. energy is consumed in the transportation sector.

Of this use, approximately 96% is in the form of petrolumen, 2.6 natural gas and less than 1% is biomass or other fuels. (19)

Oil is a non renewable energy source.  The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) says in a new report that conventional oil production is likely to peak before 2030, with a significant risk of a peak before 2020.

The report points out that oil resources are becoming increasingly hard to find, and argues that major new discoveries will only delay the peak by a matter of days or weeks.

For example, assuming that the 7.3 million new car owners in 2010 each drive 5,000 miles a year and they achieve 40 miles per gallon, the result would be an additional 45.6 million barrels of crude demand, equivalent to 125,000 bbl/day. In other words, new drivers will devour 25-30% of a recently promised Saudi production increase in a single year. (20)

In the time it takes most people to read this sentence, the world will have used up (forever) about 8,000 barrels of oil – 336,000 gallons; at 1000 barrels per second. (21)

This shortage will have an economical effect. “In the next few years the supply (of oil) will tighten and this will lead to higher prices,” says David Bowden, executive director of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas-U.S.A (ASPO-USA) in Denver.

‘We will likely see $4-a-gallon gasoline more probable in the years ahead’, peak-oil analysts say. (22)

What about the cost of owning a car?

A new car is second only to a home as the most expensive purchase many consumers make.  According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, the average price of a new car sold in the United States is $28,400. (23)

Overall, there were an estimated 250,851,833 registered passenger vehicles in the United States, according to a 2006 DOT study. (24)

Obviously, a large amount of money is involved in the auto industry.

However, for most people, paying cash to buy a new car isn’t a possibility.  This means that they are either going to be leasing the car, or buying the car by financing it.  If they are buying, then they are probably financing it through the dealership, a bank or credit union or an online financial institute. (25)

All these institutions charge interest.

But the cost of a car does not end there.

There are running costs to consider.  For example, in the UK, a 2003 BMW 323 2.5 Estate, driving 12,500 miles a year:

Annual Running Cost Amount
Road Tax £165
Petrol £1,340
Insurance £529
MOT £0
Servicing £193
Tolls and Congestion Charges £1,200
Parking £75
Cleaning and Valeting £260
Oil, brake fluid and antifreeze £85
Breakdown Cover £150
Wear, tyres and repairs £428
TOTAL £4,425

Add to these figure car depreciation. The standard for car depreciation is that all cars, in general, lose about 15 to 20 percent of their value each year.

The first year tends to be the steepest drop.  In fact, the moment a new car is driven off of the lot, depreciation sets in.

Why is this?

Initially, you pay a retail price for a new car: whatever amount the dealer is willing to agree to in order to sell you the vehicle. The moment you’re on the road, the car is instantly down to its wholesale price. In other words, whatever amount the dealer would be willing to pay for the car if you made the decision to sell it back to him right away. This depreciation is typically thousands of dollars. On top of that, the money you spent on taxes and other licensing fees is gone, too.(26)

So with all these costs and losses, how important to society are car sales?

Sales of new and used cars, as well as parts and service, are the single largest source of sales tax revenue for almost every state, county and local government, ahead of gasoline sales, restaurants and department stores.  Alaska, Delaware, New Hampshire, Oregon and Montana do not collect sales tax.

In Europe, the auto industry is key to Great Britain’s balance of payments particularly as the financial services industry, the nation’s biggest source of revenues, falters in the global recession. While 80 percent of cars purchased in the U.K. are imported, at least three-quarters of cars produced in the U.K. are sold abroad. Vehicles account for 11 percent of the total value of U.K. exports, worth £25 billion a year (or about $37.5 billion). (27)

Traffic in Los Angeles

Traffic in Los Angeles

In the U.S., more motor vehicles are sold in California than in any other state; in the second quarter, nearly 15.5% of all sales taxes there, or $193 million, came from the automotive and transportation sector, compared with about $135 million from restaurants and hotels, according to Hdl Cos., which compiles sales-tax data for government agencies.

Yet because so few cars have been sold this year, the Golden State’s second-quarter automotive sales-tax receipts were down substantially — more than $30 million short in the second quarter alone from a year earlier — contributing to the huge budget shortfall that has led Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to propose a sales tax hike and spending cuts.(28)

It is a crucial source of revenue for the city, which relies heavily on taxes from automobile sales to keep afloat. Of the city’s $20-million annual budget, about $5 million comes from the auto center, said the city’s director of finance, Ronald Nault.

Many of the dealerships in the auto center, although still in business, are seeing severe sales declines, spelling further reductions in sales taxes.

“It has definitely affected us,” said Nault, adding that collections from the auto center were on pace to be off 20% for the year. With industry wide vehicle sales falling even more sharply in recent months, the revenue shortfall could be substantially greater, forcing Nault to consider capital-spending cuts, a freeze on salary increases, reductions in travel and, perhaps for the first time in the city’s history, layoffs.

What about the car manufacturers?  How are they faring at the moment?

For most of the 20th century, General Motors was the biggest company in the most important industry in the world. It not only led in automotive innovations, but helped define the new breed of massive, bureaucratic multinational corporations that shaped the post-war economy. It was the world’s largest car maker from 1931 to 2008, when it was surpassed by Toyota.

More recently it has been bailed out by the government and other parties.

The federal government holds nearly 61 percent of the new company, with the Canadian government, a health care trust for the United Auto Workers union, and bondholders owning the balance.

Through the present financial down turn GM is currently losing about $1 billion of cash per month, according to analyst estimates. (29) Thus Mr. Obama will most likely come under pressure to sell the government’s 60 percent stake in the “new G.M.”  His own auto task force has warned him that the exit strategy could be messy: the faster the government sells its stake to private investors, the less it is likely to recover its investment of more than $50 billion in the company.

Also troubled is Toyota.  In its forecast, Toyota lowered the number of vehicles it expects to sell globally this calendar year to 8.96 million, down 4 percent from last year. Earlier this year, Toyota had projected worldwide sales of 9.5 million vehicles.

Toyota said it expects an operating loss of 150 billion yen ($1.66 billion) for the fiscal year ending in March, compared with an operating profit of 2.27 trillion yen ($25.2 billion) a year earlier.

How does all this affect the government ?

The U.S. and U.K. governments are also in the business of buying and supplying military vehicles for its armed forces who are engaged in war. However, unlike the public, it does not pay for them out of its own pocket. It uses taxes incurred from the public. When these taxes are diminished, as in the current meltdown, the government still has to find the funds to pay for the ongoing wars and to keep its military fully equipped.

When sufficient income is not forthcoming, it borrows from the bank.  The banks charge  interest on this borrowed money.  The borrowed money is known as budget deficit or public debt.

The Congressional Budget Office forecast a record $1.8 trillion deficit for the fiscal year that ends September 30 under Obama’s budget proposal — or 13.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

The budget experts projected the deficit would then ebb some to $1.4 trillion for 2010 — or 9.6 percent of GDP.

Obama’s budget outline to Congress last month included a forecast of almost $7 trillion in deficits through 2019.

In the U.K., Government borrowing reached a record high of £77.3bn in the first six months of the fiscal year – double the deficit for the same period last year, official data showed today.

So a fair bit of interest to pay off.

Where do they get the money?

Well, a considerable chunk is derived from fuel tax.

Fuel taxes in the United States vary by state.  For the first quarter of 2009, the mean state gasoline tax is 27.2 cents per U.S. gallon, plus 18.4 cents per U.S. gallon federal tax, making the total 45.6 cents per U.S. gallon (12.0 ¢/L).  For diesel, the mean state tax is 26.6 cents per U.S. gallon plus an additional 24.4 cents per U.S. gallon federal tax, making the total 50.8 cents U.S. per gallon (13.4 ¢/L).

From 2007-10-01, the main road fuel (petrol and diesel) duty rate in the U.K. was £0.5035 per litre (£2.2890/imperial gal or£1.9059/U.S. gal).  The rate for biodiesel and bioethanol was £0.3035/L (£1.3797/imperial gal or £1.1489/U.S. gal).

In the UK, Value Added Tax (VAT), 15% from 2008-12-01 to 2009-12-31, is charged on the price of the fuel and on the duty.  At a pump price of 90.0p/litre (typical for petrol in mid December 2008), this would put the combined tax at 62.09p/litre, or approximately $3.49 per U.S. gallon.  Thus without tax, the retail price would be 27.91p per litre, making a combined tax rate of 222%. (30)

In April, 2009, the combined tax fuel duty rose again, bringing the total tax paid at the pumps to 71 pence in every pound. (31)

When fuel tax goes into a central government tax pot, it’s not necessarily allocated back out to motoring.  Therefore fuel tax can be spent on anything, including banking bailouts. (32)

Will taxes be affected by oil declines?

If prices rise as a result of scarcity it could provide an increased source of tax revenue.

However, due to the detrimental affects of gasoline on the environment, new fuel technologies are being advanced.  One such is hydrogen fuel, whose industry has been given government research funding.

The first major application of hydrogen related fuel cells was by NASA in the space shuttle program, and they were also utilized to power the Gemini missions.  An advantage of hydrogen fuel cells is that they produce water as a by-product and do not produce any hazardous chemicals.(33)

A collection of automobile manufacturers including Daimler, Ford Motor Company, GM, Honda and Toyota have signed a letter of understanding designed to get zero-carbon, hydrogen-powered cars on the road in volume by 2015.

The new alliance of auto manufacturers appears  to help address one of the main barriers to adoption of hydrogen-fueled vehicles: the absence of a refueling network to support the vehicles.

“To ensure a successful market introduction of electric vehicles with fuel cells, a hydrogen infrastructure has to be built up with sufficient density,” Daimler said in a statement. “The network is required by 2015 and should be built up from metropolitan areas via corridors into area-wide coverage.”(34)

The cars, which are fueled with hydrogen gas, operate by combining the hydrogen with oxygen to produce electricity, which drives the engine. Water vapor is the car’s only emission.

plane

Recent results have been encouraging for proponents of hydrogen fuel technologies. The Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL’s) Ion Tiger, a hydrogen-powered fuel cell unmanned air vehicle (UAV), has flown 23 hours and 17 minutes, setting an unofficial flight endurance record for a fuel-cell powered flight. (35)

In early 2008, Chevy launched a test fleet of hydrogen-powered Equinox Fuel Cell vehicles. This fleet hit the streets of New York City, Washington, D.C., and Southern California. (36)

Ongoing tests of The Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell electric vehicles have passed 1 million miles of gasoline and tailpipe pollution-free driving by homemakers, accountants, computer-game designers and others taking the vehicles every day in real-world conditions.

Stephen Herring, laboratory fellow and technical director of the INL High Temperature Electrolysis team, recently announced that the latest fuel cell modification has set a new mark in endurance. The group’s Integrated Laboratory Scale experiment has now operated continuously for 2,583 hours at higher efficiencies than previously attained. 37)

However, one major draw back at the moment is expense.  Hydrogen as an energy source is currently expensive to produce.  Vehicle fuel cells are 100 times more expensive per kilowatt output than the conventional internal combustion engine.

This is due to the costs of liquefying the hydrogen to make it storable.  The efficiency of hydrogen fuel cells depends largely upon how much power is taken from it.  In general, the more power that is taken out of the cell, the lower the efficiency.  However, companies like Toyota and Ballard Power Systems are working at downsizing these costs. (38)

Are hydrogen powered vehicles energy efficient?

An accounting of the energy utilized during a thermodynamic process, known as an energy balance, can be applied to automotive fuels. With today’s technology, the manufacture of hydrogen via steam reforming can be accomplished with a thermal efficiency of 75 to 80 percent.  Electric vehicles are typically 3 to 4 times as efficient as hydrogen powered vehicles. (39)

OK, hydrogen may be costly but it will be clean resulting in a reduction in premature deaths from air pollution.  But that still leaves the fact there are millions being injured and killed in road accidents. What ever fuel a car uses, it isn’t going to change these statistics.

What about alternatives for these victims?

One option is autonomous vehicles.

We already have unmanned surveillance drones flying in war zones, but how close are we to unmanned terrestrial vehicles?

Very close.  The technology is already out there and it has been backed by big corporate finance as well as military expense as they strive for unmanned operational vehicles for war zone.

autonomous car

Lockheed Martin autonomous car

Lockheed Martin’s robotic car can literally drive itself.  Such fully autonomous vehicles may one day change the way we drive or revolutionize national defense.

Without any human intervention, Lockheed Martin’s fully autonomous vehicle can negotiate busy streets, make its way around obstacles, traffic circles and make other complex maneuvers.

Like a true robot of science fiction, autonomous vehicles can perceive and think. They can determine the safest route in a complex environment, taking into account people and other vehicles in the way.

In short, autonomous vehicles demonstrate intelligent behavior through mission planning software and on-board sensors in the absence of a driver or even a remote-controlled operator.

Toyota have also produced an electrical self driving car; (see video).

How would this benefit society?

According to Michael E. Arth, (a candidate for Florida Governor in 2009), if driverless cars were introduced, we could replace most of the world’s 800 million gasoline powered vehicles with about 100 million private and shared-use driverless vehicles.  In 2007, 70 million new cars were produced, so all of the world’s vehicles could be replaced by driverless cars within a short period. (40)  If these cars were powered by alternative environmentally friendly fuel, then many lives will be saved.

Arth also states that:

1. More than 90% of the time, cars are parked somewhere, taking up space, and costing money and resources. By trading private vehicles for driverless public taxis and shuttles, we could theoretically reduce the number of vehicles by 80% or more and pass the financial and environmental savings onto everyone.

2. Of the horrific 30 million annual casualties from motor vehicle accidents, 95% are caused by human error.  As the trend for safer vehicles continues, it will eventually be illegal to let a human (or at least an un-enhanced human) have total control over a vehicle. This will help ensure that all vehicles will eventually be self-driving.(41)

There you have it.

The technology is there, the reasoning is there, clean efficient fuel is close to being adopted but how about driverless cars?

They will save millions of lives and injuries by taking human error/drink driving out of the equation, but at what cost to the government?

While it costs the U.S.A $ billions in health care costs for victims, how does this compare with income it receives in sales tax/fuel tax?

The government has to balance its books, it has to pay for ongoing wars, and  keep up with its deficit interest repayments or else the banks may order foreclosure.

If autonomous cars are implemented into society and there is a 80% reduction in auto/fuel sales, then the income the government receives through tax will be drastically reduced.  It would also mean the end of the majority of auto companies with only those at the forefront of the new technology surviving.

Would this affect the industry in the U.S.A ?

With huge losses being incurred by companies like GM, then it may be helpful for the economy if they were to fold and cease to be subsidized by the public.

Meanwhile the public is continually inflicted with premature death along with post-traumatic stress disorder that, ironically, can be treated with a substance that is illegal – Ecstasy.

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Why not put Heroin in our Cornflakes?

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Your donation keeps us free of ads, and helps us continue to raise awareness on environmental, social and health issues.


Thank you

Ann Margrain

Founder, ‘Heroin and Cornflakes’ blog.

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N.B. the car accident picture was posed by actors.

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Latest hydrogen fuel news………

Solving Hydrogen Storage Limit to Power Green Cars

Released: 10/23/2009 2:00 PM EDT
Source: University of Massachusetts Amherst

Hydrogen fuel, because its only byproduct is steam, should be the ultimate in green alternatives to fossil fuels, but it hasn’t delivered on its promise yet because of one enormous stumbling block, storage. Now a team of chemical engineers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has developed a computational model that shows that carbon nanotubes may offer a surprising solution. Results are presented in the current online issue of the journal, Applied Physics Letters

.“If this works as we expect, it’s perhaps no longer science fiction to hope for a briefcase-sized hydrogen battery to run a bus or car,” says UMass Amherst chemical engineering professor Dimitrios Maroudas. “Hydrogen storage has been a huge problem in the energy field for the past 10 years because no one has been able to demonstrate a truly viable storage medium. We’ve shown that it’s possible to achieve hydrogen storage capacity up to 8 percent by weight using carbon nanotubes. This is an outstanding level, higher by 1 percent than the 2010 United States Department of Energy target for on-board hydrogen storage systems,” Maroudas adds. “The method we propose may lead to breaking the bottleneck.”

The UMass Amherst computational model strongly lends itself to verification in laboratory experiments, say Maroudas and colleagues, and it provides ample testable hypotheses for future experimental research. “People had been losing faith, but I think our predictions show that hydrogen should be back on the table and in a most promising way. We come up with modeling predictions for technologically relevant problems every day, but this cute model is special,” he notes.

Specifically, Maroudas, his graduate student Andre Muniz and their collaborator M. Meyyappan, chief scientist for exploration technology at the Center for Nanotechnology at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., show that proper arrangement of carbon nanotubes can overcome hydrogen transport limitations in nanotube bundles. It should also prevent ineffective and nonuniform hydrogenation, which is caused by nanotube swelling due to chemisorption of hydrogen atoms on the nanotube walls.

If one were to think of carbon nanotube bundles as something like a toothbrush, one strategy that Maroudas and colleagues recommend for holding hydrogen atoms most efficiently is that the brush arrangement should not be too dense. If it is, when the tubules swell they’ll block efficient passage and diffusion of the hydrogen, Maroudas explains. In addition to an optimal bundle density, further improvement can be achieved by optimizing the individual nanotube configurations to limit their swelling upon hydrogenation.

Following this approach should result in one hydrogen atom being able to chemisorb onto — form a chemical bond with — each carbon atom of the nanotubes, leading to 100 percent (atomically) storage capacity, he adds. This chemisorbed hydrogen, bound to the surface, can then be easily released by applying heat.

Maroudas says, “We propose recipes that will be very easy for others to try, by which carbon nanotubes can be arranged to accomplish practically 100 percent storage atomically, which is nearly 8 percent by weight. You can’t get any greener than hydrogen as fuel, and if the experiments we envision lead to new technology that’s economically viable, that’s as good as it gets.” This work was supported by a National Science Foundation grant and a Fulbright/CAPES scholarship to Muniz.

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Pollution ‘increases miscarriage risk’

High levels of industry and traffic pollution could increase the risk of miscarriage according to the latest research.

Experts in Brazil studied the effects of diesel exhaust particles and found a link between exposure and failed pregnancies.

While the study was carried out in South America, researchers believe the same effect could be seen in other cities worldwide.

In January, the European Commission announced it was prosecuting the UK for breaking air pollution laws after it failed to sufficiently reduce levels of particles known as PM10s, which are mainly caused by industry and traffic.

More than 20 British cities were found to have dangerous levels of the particles between 2005 and 2007. The Government has now asked the Commission for extra time to bring down levels of particles.

It is estimated that air pollution contributes to between 12,000 and 24,000 premature deaths in the country each year.

Dr Paulo Marcelo Perin, from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, announced results looking at the effect of diesel exhaust particles, including PM10s, on embryos in mice.

He found diesel disrupted the development of cells, which can trigger a miscarriage, and the effect was apparent even at low levels of exposure.

Dr Perin said: “Our latest study found that air pollution significantly decreased the cell population (of embryos). When you have a decrease in cell mass you compromise embryo viability.

“Because diesel is a major component of air pollution we can assume most of the effect is from diesel.”

His aim was to confirm previous research which found higher pregnancy loss among women undergoing IVF exposed to poor quality air.

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