The Anonymous Widower

The Importance Of Libraries For Research

I went to a fund-raising event for Book Aid at the British Library on Monday evening.

The main purpose was to raise funds for the library in Mosul, which has been wrecked by IS.

The event made me think, about the number of times in the 1960s and 1970s, I used libraries for research.

  • My undergraduate thesis was about analogue computing and I used information about how Lord Kelvin and his elder brother; James, were developing and using mechanical analogue computers in the late 1800s, that I had found in the Liverpool University library.
  • A few years later, whilst working for ICI, I found that by properly searching Chemical Abstracts in their library, I could find the solution to difficult problems. Nowadays, you’d use the Internet!
  • When I developed Artemis, I needed methods to improve the performance of the software. Some I developed myself, but one particular algoithm used for linking datasets together was found in a paper, written in the 1960s in IBM’s library. In those days, getting the maximum performance from not very powerful computers was more difficult and the algorithm was important.
  • These days, with everything on the Internet I use libraries less. Although, I regularly visit Hackney’s Records Office near to where I live, to browse old images, reference books and maps.

Do we all underestimate the part books, play in our lives?

June 23, 2019 Posted by | Computing, World | , , , , | Leave a comment

North West Hydrogen Alliance focuses On Low-Carbon Transportation

The title of this post is the same as that of this article on Gasworld.

This is an extract.

A study is currently underway to look at the feasibility of using hydrogen produced at chemical company INOVYN’s Runcorn site to power buses on the street of Liverpool.

It was also recently announced the Liverpool City Region will become the first area in the North of England to trial hydrogen buses following a £6.4m government funding bid, with a new refuelling station at BOC’s hydrogen plant in St Helens.

INOVYN is owned by INEOS, so are they getting involved with hydrogen?

I knew that site well in the late 1960s, when I worked there in the chlorine cell rooms, that made hydrogen and chlorine by electroysing brine.

Life goes round in circles.

I heard some in those days, say hydrogen was a bit of a problem! Now it’s a valuable resource.

But I always remember a senior engineer, saying the only waster products that should come out of a chemical plant was pure water.

May 24, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , | Leave a comment

Hydrogen For Hydrogen-Powered Trains And Other Vehicles

I have received e-mails worrying about how hydrogen-powered trains and other vehicles, like buses and trucks, will get the fuel they need.

Production Of Hydrogen

There are two major methods of producing large quantities of hydrogen.

Steam Reforming Of Natural Gas

Steam reforming is used to convert natural gas into hydrogen by using high temperature and pressure steam in the presence of a nickel catalyst.

This section in Wikipedia is entitled Industrial Reforming, says this.

Steam reforming of natural gas is the most common method of producing commercial bulk hydrogen at about 95% of the world production of 500 billion m3 in 1998. Hydrogen is used in the industrial synthesis of ammonia and other chemicals. At high temperatures (700 – 1100 °C) and in the presence of a metal-based catalyst (nickel), steam reacts with methane to yield carbon monoxide and hydrogen.

It gives this chemical equation for the reaction.

CH4 + H2O ⇌ CO + 3 H2

I have two questions about steam reforming.

  • How much fossil fuel energy is needed to create the high temperatures and pressures to make the process work?
  • What happens to the carbon monoxide (CO)? Is it burnt to provide heat, thus producing more carbon dioxide (CO2)?

I therefor question the use of steam reforming to produce hydrogen for vehicles, especially, as a system might be required  to be installed in a train, bus or freight depot.

The only time, where steam reforming could be used, is where an existing refinery producing large quantities of hydrogen by the process is close the point of use.

Electrolysis Of Water Or Brine

It is fifty years, since I worked in the chlorine-cell rooms of ICI’s Castner-Kellner chemical complex at Runcorn.

The process used was the Castner-Kellner Process and this is the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry.

The Castner–Kellner process is a method of electrolysis on an aqueous alkali chloride solution (usually sodium chloride solution) to produce the corresponding alkali hydroxide, invented by American Hamilton Castner and Austrian Karl Kellner in the 1890s.

Brine from Cheshire’s extensive salt deposits is electrolysed using a graphite anode and a mercury cathode to produce chlorine, hydrogen, sodium hydroxide and sodium metal.

Large amounts of electricity are needed, but the biggest problem is the poisonous mercury used in the process.

My work incidentally concerned measuring the mercury in the air of the plant.

Since the 1960s, the technology has moved on, and ICI’s successor INEOS, still produces large quantities of chlorine at Runcorn using electrolysis.

More environmentally-friendly processes such as membrane cell electrolysis are now available, which produce chlorine, hydrogen and sodium hydroxide.

In the 1960s, the production of chlorine and hydrogen was a 24/7 process and I would suspect that INEOS have a good deal to use electricity from wind and other sources in the middle of the night.

The Future Of Hydrogen

Hydrogen is a clean fuel, that when it burns to produce heat or is used in a fuel cell to produce electricity, only produces steam or water.

There is also a lot of research going into hydrogen fuel-cells, hydrogen storage and batteries, and some of this will lead to innovative use of hydrogen as a fuel.

As an example, there is a growing market for fuel-cell forklifts. The first one was built in 1960, so fifty years from idea to fulfilment seems about right.

How many other applications of hydrogen will be commonplace in ten years?

  • City buses
  • Local delivery vans for companies like Royal Mail and UPS.
  • Taxis
  • Refuse trucks

I also think, some surprising applications will emerge driven by the need to clean up the air in polluted cities.

Ideally, these applications will need a hydrogen filling station at the depot.

Modern electrolysis technologies should lead to the development of  simple cells, for the electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen and oxygen.

Powered by renewable energy sources or nuclear, this technology could be used to create zero-carbon hydrogen at the point of use.

Diesel Or Hydrogen?

The diesel engine in a New Routemaster bus is a Cummins diesel with these characteristics.

  • 4.5 litre
  • 138 kW
  • 400 Kg

So how much would a 150 kW fuel-cell weigh?

A Ballard FCveloCity-HD, which is capable of producing 100 kW, weighs around 300 Kg.

I feel that as hydrogen and battery technology improves, that more and more city vehicles will be hydrogen-powered.

Hyundai Launch A Hydrogen-Powered Truck

This page on the Hyundai web site is entitled Hyundai Motor Presents First Look At Truck With Fuel Cell Powertrain.

It will be launched this year and looks impressive. Other articles say they have tied up with a Swiss fuel-cell manufacturer called H2 Power and aim to sell a thousand hydrogen-powered trucks in Switzerland.




January 14, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , , , | 3 Comments

Engineers Will Be Engineers

Coming back from Ipswich last night, as the train sped through Stratford, I was reminded of a story from the time I worked for ICI at Welyn Garden City in the 1960s.

In those days staff travelled up to the major plant at Wilton on Teesside quite regularly. One of my tales is detailed here.

Usually, staff travelled from Stevenage, as the fast trains didn’t stop at Welwyn Garden City.

One day, the train staff announced on a trip down, that the train would not be stopping at Stevenage for some reason and passengers would have to alight at Kings Cross and get a train back.

There was quite an ICI contingent on the train, and one was a railway enthusiast, who knew the speeds and distances of the line.

He calculated that if the communication cord was pulled so many seconds after the train crossed the Digswell Viaduct, the train would coast safely into Welwyn Garden City station.

The plan worked perfectly and anybody who wanted to, disembarked safely at the station.

British Railways were not amused!

January 2, 2014 Posted by | Transport | , | Leave a comment

The British Secret In The Velodrome – Round Wheels

The French are getting a bit uppity about the British bikes in the velodrome.

The British have joked that they use round wheels and the French have swallowed the story, hook, line and sinker.  Read about it here in the Standard.

But I doubt, that the story is very far from the truth. Even your car from humble run-arounds upwards, has its wheels properly balanced, at manufacture and when new tyres are fitted. We’ve all been in cars, where there has been vibration because of out-of-balance wheels.

So I suspect that British cycling has borrowed from Formula One and other industries that spin things fast, and developed extremely accurate roundness and balance sensing for bicycle wheels. So they run straighter and truer than the best the French can do!

I didn’t do the work myself, but forty years ago, I worked in a department at Plastics Division of ICI, that did a lot of calculations in this area, to try to stop vibrations in chemical vessels. So the theory is nothing new.

It is the application of technology to bicycles, helmets and other things, that have given the British the edge. I doubt that cycling is the only sport to have benefited either!

August 7, 2012 Posted by | Sport | , , , , | 3 Comments

A Vulcan Story

Whether this story is true, I do not know, but I heard it from a retired RAF officer many years ago. The Avro Vulcan was one of Britain’s three V-bombers; Vulcan, Valiant and Victor, which were designed for Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

In a way, the Vulcan was unique in that it was instantly recognisable because of its delta wing. The shape also had the advantage that it didn’t have a very good radar signature.

I was told that at the height of the Cold War, the United States was worried that a sneaky Russian bomber might get through to bomb the cities of the East Coast.

So the RAF said, that they would stage a surprise attack.  A Vulcan was chosen and got through the radar defences unseen.

I think it is true to say, that in those days, there was a lot of rivalry between the RAF and USAF, and any story that showed up the others was distributed with glee.

There is now a Vulcan, XH558, in flying condition and it makes a wonderful sight in the air. But don’t forget your ear-plugs!

I must add one personal reminiscence here about the Victor.  When Handley Page folded in 1970, they were still converting some of the remaining Victors to the tanker role. These planes had to be ferried to Woodford near Manchester for the work to continue.  The job was entrusted to Handley Page’s test pilot, who after this job would not have a job with the company. Most were in need of a bit of repair, but he’d found one, on which he could retract the undercarriage and get a lot of power out of the tired engines. I was working at ICI in Welwyn Garden City at the time, and a colleague, who had used to work at Handley Page, said that there was going to be a low-level flypast over Hatfield Airfield and we were probably in the flight-path.

We were and at lunchtime, we saw this Victor pass overhead at probably the minimum allowable height of 500 feet.

It was a sight to be remembered.

June 21, 2012 Posted by | World | , | 6 Comments

NHS Waiting Times

There was a report yesterday that said that some NHS Trusts are imposing a minimum and maximum waiting time for some operations and treatment to save money.

If they are they, they are breaking the First Law of Scheduling, which is you maximise your efficiency by agreeing dates between both parties as soon as you can.

I first came across this, when I worked in the Research Department of ICI at Runcorn.  We had a small workshop that would make equipment you needed.  Everybody used to put a delivery date of ASAP on everything, even if they didn’t want it for a month or so. The outcome was that nothing got delivered in a reasonable time.

The situation couldn’t go on and the manager of the workshop decided that no work would be accepted without an agreed delivery date.

The outcome was harmony and everybody was happy. One interesting side effect of this method, was that when the workshop could see a high peak of future work, they would sub-contract some jobs to an external firm.

I  must admit that I stole this technique when I wrote the task scheduler for Artemis, but of course this was a legitimate steal and it made the task scheduler very good.

Some NHS Trusts do use this agreeing of appointments method.  Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge do and I’ve negotiated a suitable date and time on the phone several times.

I know too of a farmer, who needed a hip replacement and got the operation done at one of the quietest times in the farming year and a slack time for Ipswich Hospital.

Now most of us have e-mail or can use SMS, surely this negotiation can be an almost painless and automatic process.

It oviously won’t work for emergencies, but say you need something like a hip replacement, a mutually convenient date is best for all parties and in my view will probably add a few percentage points to hospital capacity.

How many NHS Trusts still manage appointments and waiting lists on a non-scientific basis.

July 30, 2011 Posted by | Health, News | , , , | 1 Comment

Industrial Swearing

With all this talk about swearing, brought out by Wayne Rooney, I must repeat this story, which I heard when I worked at ICI in the early 1970s.

ICI had employed their first female instrument engineer.  She didn’t suffer any sexism, but she did feel that when she was working with an electrician or fitter on a chemical plant, there was a certain coolness between them.

One day, whilst she was working with an electrician installing an instrument, she dropped something heavy on her foot and did what most of us would do.  She swore loudly and very industrially.

The electrician then put his arm round her and said, “Does that mean we can all swear now, madam?”

April 8, 2011 Posted by | Business, World | | Leave a comment

Health and Safety

Health and Safety is in the news today, with the government announcing a review by Lord Young.

Strangely, all the Health and Safety training that I got at ICI in Runcorn in the late 1960s, is kicking in to help me protect myself from my weak left side. You have to assess threats in just the way you walked around chemical plants with noxious substances like HF dust all over the place. I still remember the charming and sensible Charlie Akers, who showed me over the BCF plant at Rocksavage Works and still follow his rules on climbing ladders and metal stairs. But Rocksavage in those far-off days had an impeccable safety record and it was all down to everybody working to a sensible philosophy not hard and fast silly rules dreamed up by bureaucrats.

Thank you, Charlie!

Lord Young’s investigation needs to have input from people like you, who are at the sharp end and get hurt when accidents happen.

June 14, 2010 Posted by | Business, News | , | 1 Comment