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The Hydrogen Economy: A Sonata Written For An Imaginary Instrument & Needing 4 Arms To Play

The Hydrogen Economy: A Sonata Written For An Imaginary Instrument & Needing 4 Arms To Play

Air High quality

Revealed on October 22nd, 2018 |
by Michael Barnard

October 22nd, 2018 by Michael Barnard 

Cowl for The Hydrogen Sonata

Elon Musk loves the Tradition novels of Iain M. Banks, as do many others, together with Mark Zuckerberg. His extremely cheap, disruptive orbital rockets in SpaceX land on automated barges named after the famously quirkily self-named AI-controlled spaceships present in Banks’ novels. Simply Learn the Directions plies the waters of the Pacific catching rockets launched from Vandenberg. Of Course I Nonetheless Love You rides the swells of the Atlantic to pluck spaceships from the air after launches from Cape Canaveral. A Shortfall of Gravitas will be a part of Of Course I Nonetheless Love You off the east coast of the USA to permit duets of retrieval. Musk’s Neuralink man-machine interface startup has named its future product the neural lace, yet one more Banks-ism. He enthuses in interviews about Banks’ post-scarcity utopian anarchy, when he isn’t worrying about AI not being the principally benevolent keepers of an idle humanity as they’re within the Tradition novels.

Not one of the three Tradition ships celebrated by SpaceX seem in Iain M. Banks’ final novel within the collection, The Hydrogen Sonata, however are in earlier works, together with the e-book Zuckerberg needs everybody to learn, The Participant of Video games. There’s in all probability a great cause for that, and never the morbid thought that Banks sadly died of gallbladder most cancers a yr after the ebook was revealed in 2012.

The sonata in query is probably the most troublesome instrumental piece of music ever written by composers among the many Tradition’s 33 trillion pan-galactic residents in its tens-of-thousands years lengthy existence. It was written for a string and acoustic instrument, the Antagonistic Undecagonstring, which didn’t exist when the sonata was written. Together with not present, the Antagonistic Undecagonstring additionally required the human participant to develop an additional set of arms to be able to carry out the piece. It was a thought experiment by the composer and the ensuing music when truly carried out was disagreeable to take heed to. A recurring theme of the novel is that a key character, a really gifted string musician, has made it her life’s work to efficiently play the composition however retains virtually dropping the Antagonistic Undecagonstring that one of many Tradition’s ships had made for her, after which ruing that she hadn’t succeeded.

Musk’s viewpoint on hydrogen is well-known and sometimes cited:

“And then they’ll say certain technologies like fuel cell … oh god … fuel cell is so bullshit. Except in a rocket.”

Elon Musk on Twitter speaking about The Tradition Novels

It’s fairly attainable that Musk has learn the ebook, sighed ruefully himself on the allegory and moved on. He’s stated he’s learn all of them, in any case. He’s impressed by the know-how and quirky humorousness, however isn’t sometimes given to referencing allegorical and allusive parts of literature. And whereas it’s science fiction, Banks’ Tradition collection — like Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy or The Handmaid’s Story, or Gibson’s dystopic Sprawl trilogy — must be learn as literature. As with Atwood, Banks had an in depth profession publishing pure literary fiction as properly, beginning with the just about impenetrable The Wasp Manufacturing unit in 1984, his equal of Atwood’s Surfacing of 1972, and his science-fiction novels have been knowledgeable strongly by deeper and extra allusive themes than the style typically explores.

Hydrogen’s many failings as a gasoline for transportation haven’t stopped the weird suspects from selling it, particularly in mild of the current IPCC report on the numerous worth of attaining 1.5 as an alternative of two levels of warming.

Rendering of a hydrogen passenger jet idea by Shabtai Hirshberg, a toy and backyard shed designer.

Maybe most outstanding is Kanye whereas in Trump’s Oval Workplace. It’s telling that Kanye’s pitch of a hydrogen-powered Air Pressure One which doesn’t exist was the least unhinged facet of that occasion. It, in any case, was a computer-graphic rendering idea by a designer with no expertise in aviation or power.

Australia’s formal Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel AO FAA FTSE, gushed about Japan’s meant hydrogen financial system and its benefits given the IPCC report after a fact-finding mission, whereas the federal government he works for rejected the IPCC findings, particularly relating to coal. Maybe it’s related that Finkel is greatest referred to as a neuroscientist, though his earliest coaching was as an electrical engineer, a mindset he seems to have left behind for extra cerebral musings.

To not be overlooked, Rob Cockerill, International Managing Editor of gasworld, dedicated to industrial fuel merchandise, celebrated the IPCC story with a loving tribute to the fourth annual Nationwide Hydrogen & Gasoline Cell Day within the US. Within the spirit of sniffing an excessive amount of hydrogen, he proclaims that the by-product of pure fuel by way of steam reformation goes to interrupt the domination of fossil fuels.

Cowl of The Hydrogen Financial system by Jeremy Rifkin

However let’s discover the allegorical similarities between The Hydrogen Financial system and The Hydrogen Sonata. Think about, if you’ll a hydrogen financial system, setting apart your pragmatic optimism for the longer term for a second.

The hydrogen gasoline cell has a remarkably lengthy historical past for one thing which continues to show ineffective for powering automobiles successfully. In 1839, the primary gasoline cell was constructed by Sir William Robert Grove, a Welsh decide, inventor, and physicist. It produced too little electrical energy to be helpful, a recurring theme, however was thought to have potential for some distant future when know-how superior.

The comparability to Banks’ novel is apt. The piece of music was written within the distant previous and the instrument required didn’t exist, and wasn’t truly constructed till hundreds of years had handed.

Quick forwarding to 1959, we discover a 20 horsepower — what a quaint unit of measurement — tractor with a fuel-cell as its supply of energy, created by Harry Karl Ihrig, an engineer for the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Firm. It’s in a museum and thought of part of historical past, though one other firm tried and did not convey one to market with farm-produced hydrogen as its gasoline in 2011.

The metaphor holds. Hydrogen as a motive supply for transportation continues to be a distinct segment obsession explored in odd domains, and belongs extra in a museum of know-how than in a working car, just like the sonata in query, arguably being tried by one individual within the galaxy on an instrument made for her by a man-made intelligence in an obscure gesture of excellent or unwell will.

However what of the 4 arms? Keep in mind, the sonata is performed upon the Antagonistic Undecagonstring, an instrument which didn’t exist when the music was written, and requires a single human to have 4 arms and arms. Additional, the participant steps into the instrument then balances it on some extent with the participant’s legs as the 2 further items of a tripod. Ungainly, awkward, and liable to fall over.

So true of hydrogen as a gasoline for automobiles as nicely. There isn’t a business distribution system for hydrogen to shoppers, simply industrial deliveries to a comparatively small variety of companies. Constructing shopper hydrogen stations is hideously costly, wasteful of power, and liable to catastrophic failure. Whereas individuals wouldn’t require 4 arms, they might have to be very cautious with their two palms as they match the coupling collectively in order that the extremely slippery fuel didn’t escape, then wait as unnatural pressures are created and recreated between pump and automotive.

However what of unpleasantness? The Hydrogen Sonata when truly carried out was, like most atonal avante-garde music, actively hostile to most listeners’ ears. Like consuming Vegemite, having fun with it was akin to struggling Stockholm Syndrome, an all-too-human response to trauma and enforced proximity.

So too hydrogen automobiles. Whereas battery electrical automobiles deplete the drag strips and more and more win races and excite bystanders, hydrogen automobiles lose races. There’s just one hydrogen entrant in Components Scholar nowadays, and long-standing hydrogen automotive engineers rue their decade-long efforts. Whereas electrical bikes shut in on the lap occasions of the Isle of Mann, hydrogen bikes don’t exist besides within the fever goals of Honda engineers. Whereas the fabled Pikes Peak annual hill climb sees data fall to completely electrical automobiles, hydrogen automobiles aren’t climbing the mountain in any respect. Whereas there at the moment are a number of battery electrical race collection and the previous CEO of Formulation One, Bernie Ecclestone, is recommending that F1 go electric-only, nobody is advocating for hydrogen as a glamorous and enjoyable supply of energy for racing. Nobody is posting movies of Toyota Mirais leaving different automobiles within the mud. Nobody is enthusing about their Mirai being full each morning once they get into it and about by no means having to go to a fuel station. Nobody is delighted that the identical hydrogen that fuels their toasters, TVs, and iPhones additionally powers their automobiles, as a result of hydrogen doesn’t energy something in any residence besides these of Bond villains. Hydrogen merely extends the unpleasantness of fuel stations and sluggish automobiles. And just like the sonata, the sound of Toyota’s Mirai features a high-pressure pump kicking in often at an annoying frequency, in contrast to the silent pleasures of battery electrical automobiles.

The ending of The Hydrogen Sonata is becoming. The protagonist doesn’t ascend to the Chic with the remainder of her civilization, abandons her Antagonistic Undecagonstring by no means having succeeded in enjoying the piece of music absolutely and properly, and as an alternative seeks to return a set of reminiscences to their rightful proprietor.

The hydrogen financial system will probably be comparable. It is going to be deserted, for probably the most half. It won’t energy any automobiles under the size of huge freight vans in a couple of years, and certain not these 18-wheelers both. The fueling stations will probably be deserted. The automobiles will probably be relegated to museums. And the lovers and obsessives will look backward as an alternative of ahead, ruing the lack of their goals, maybe discovering one other quixotic quest to concentrate on as an alternative.

Writer’s notice: all the books referenced besides The Hydrogen Financial system are properly value studying and re-reading.

Different references:

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Tags: Elon Musk, Iain M. Banks, jeremy rifkin, Kanye, Margaret Atwood, Mark Zuckerberg, SpaceX

Concerning the Writer

Michael Barnard is a C-level know-how and technique advisor who works with startups, present companies and buyers to determine alternatives for vital backside line progress within the reworking low-carbon financial system. He’s editor of The Future is Electrical, a Medium publication. He commonly publishes analyses of low-carbon know-how and coverage in websites together with Newsweek, Slate, Forbes, Huffington Publish, Quartz, CleanTechnica and RenewEconomy, with a few of his work included in textbooks. Third-party articles on his analyses and interviews have been revealed in dozens of stories websites globally and have reached #1 on Reddit Science. A lot of his work originates on, the place Mike has been a Prime Author yearly since 2012. He is obtainable for consulting engagements, talking engagements and Board positions.

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