Saturday, 22 November 2014

World's first "truly green" forklift unveiled

A collaboration between Honda and Briggs Equipment, Britain's largest forklift dealer, with Government financial backing, has produced the world's first "truly green" engine emissions that will not only save lives and misery from pulmonary and other killer diseases caused by NOx and other toxins but help the world to achieve its targets on global warming. The motive power project is unique for two reasons; a converted Yale forklift uses lithium-ion battery technology (80v) charged by a hydrogen fuel cell and secondly it uses hydrogen generated from solar power via an on site electrolyser rather than a conventional natural gas process. The project, developed at Honda's UK Swindon plant, is also innovative in that all this technology fits in a standard DIN size battery compartment.

Hydrogen fuel cells have been powering forklifts for a few years now and are especially finding favour among American big forklift fleet users. Their key advantage over lead-acid batteries is the longevity of the fuel cell, typically 10 years, their quick charging over a few minutes, compared with eight hours or more for lead-acid, the abolition of costly batteries and storage/changeover facilities in multi-shift operations, and no drop off with truck performance towards the end of shift as there is no voltage droop. Maintenance is also 1.5 times lower and the performance more or less on a par with other motive power fuels. One big drawback, however, was the pollution aspect, because while clean at the point of use it was not clean at the point of hydrogen production owing to the use of fossil fuels to make the hydrogen.

A Briggs spokesperson confirmed to this writer that this remarkable project is aimed at replacing lead-acid batteries, though diesel engines can be converted but the technology is only suitable for delivery vans owing to space constraints. Richard Close, Briggs Equipment CEO, said: "The project has proved what can be achieved. The challenge is now to extend this as widely as possible."

Although rightly hailed as a breakthrough as a proving ground for future development in emission-free forklift technology it is recognized that in its current form this process would not be viable for small fleets and would need the benefit of scale and further efficiencies to make it universally realistic. So what size forklift fleet is required to make this technology viable, this writer asked Briggs. The response was non committal on size but a spokesperson said: "If high purity hydrogen is available then all that is required is a suitable compressor to make the gas available for the fuel cell. We think that the first large scale commercial use will be at a big distribution centre, probably with some government grant assistance to get the project going." Nevertheless, said Briggs, "cost reduction will come with volume and that is linked to the availability of fuel."

This development may not be confined to industrial trucks. So far the project consortium has focused on creating a whole system from solar as its source to hydrogen as the output fuel to run vehicles -- converted vans running normal duty patterns -- as well as forklifts operating on site. The consortium intends to investigate hydrogen as a means to provide power to Honda's manufacturing plant in the future. If that process were extended to factories world-wide it would be one giant step for mankind in the struggle to clean up the planet. Meanwhile, Honda, Briggs and the British Government have earned a small but well-deserved bow.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Europe pays price for Ukraine's lousy governance

Getting others to pay for one's own sins has long and commonly been part of human nature but succeeding in palming off the sinful bill at national level is much more difficult and rarer. The latest example of a successful master stroke in financial chutzpah is the Ukraine's long-running refusal to pay Russia for gas that goes back over 18 months. It now owes Russia about $3 billion for unpaid gas that it says it has no money to pay owing to the money spent on the war against secessionists in the south-east. It may not have the money but the country owed $1.5 billion up to March this year before any hostilities broke out and so one must look for the real reasons for such insouciance. As explained in my blog, How to Contain Crimea's logistics threats, the Ukraine's economy is an unholy mess deeply mired in corruption and largely in the thrall of plutocratic oligarchs.That is the real reason for non payment and unless the Ukraine takes good governance to heart at all levels the canker within its society will continue to fester.

Russia, to its credit, has offered a new gas deal by cutting the gas price by $100 per thousand cubic metres to $378 by the end of this year and $365 in the first quarter of 2015, provided the $3 billion has been paid off first and that there should be an element of future payments in advance. The $100 price cut is according to a formula contained in the gas supply agreement dating back several years. The Ukraine reportedly said that at first it could not pay and would, if necessary, steal the gas from the pipeline that runs through its territory on its way to Europe. The Russian response, understandably, was a threat to cut off all supplies. Given that such action would seriously affect European consumers of Russian gas, sending prices soaring at a time when Europe is flirting with deflation, the EU felt over a barrel and so has now agreed to pay for the Ukraine's financial delinquency with some help from the IMF. The crisis has been averted, the Ukrainians will no longer risk death from the cold and in the circumstances Russia's deal has been generous and shown much forbearance towards a serious debt welcher.

But what are the bail out figures and implications for the rest of the EU struggling with sputtering economies burdened with dangerously high youth unemployment and a banking system under great strain? The EU will act as guarantor for Ukraine's gas purchases and helping to meet outstanding debts. The total package is worth $4.6 billion, with money coming from both the EU and the IMF. "Unprecedented levels of EU aid will be disbursed in a timely manner and the IMF has reassured the Ukraine that it can use all their financial means at its disposal to pay for gas," the European Commission said. The EU is also considering a further loan of 2 billion Euro. Doubtless much more will be needed to pay for the huge war damage costs.

The trouble with blackmail is that the blackmailer often comes back for more but if the victim (Europe) can reverse the role by resorting to its own threats then the unpleasantness is likely to come to an abrupt end. The EU should now impose its own conditions by pledging not to allow any moves to advance the Ukraine's interests in closer union with Europe until after the Ukraine has drastically overhauled its economy primarily through dint of good governance in politics and economics, and paid off any debts it may owe.

Much of the tragic trouble the Ukraine now faces in its south-eastern provinces, where there has been an overwhelming vote in favour of independence at local referendums in May, could have been avoided if there had been good governance in politics and economics that benefited all. It is to be hoped that the Ukraine will remain one united country rather than lose a region said to be worth one third of the country's GDP. Together they would be stronger and more prosperous. The Ukraine should also seek to improve trade relations with Russia. Trade, after all, is the handmaiden of prosperity and prosperity is the surest guarantor of peace.