George Today

Actually, he\’s quite fun today. Airships. Sure, I\’ll get behind that, however, one teenise technical detail he\’s missed:

A new generation of solar panels relies on gallium and indium, whose global supplies appear close to exhaustion.

Erm, no. Not even close. Both are extracted as by products from other mining processes. Both require only the addition of a capture circuit to those existent processes. We most certainly don\’t have capture circuits on all of the plants that could support them.

Now these are rough numbers, pulled from memery. But there are some 35 Bayer Process plants around the workd. These are the plants that take in Bauxite and spit out Alumina (aluminium oxide). Gallium can be captured from this process: but, while I\’m not certain of the number, I\’m almost certain that less than ten of the plants have such capture circuits.

There\’s also all of the red mud (the waste from this process) of the past 50 years or so of the global aluminium business lying around in ponds that can be processed to extract gallium should anyone want to do so.

And no, no one at all goes mining for Gallium (or indeed Indium) so to claim that supplies are near exhaustion is, umm, a little odd.

Update. This file.  Global reserves of gallium are some 1 million tonnes. Global production is around 100 tonnes.

Meaning that we\’ve got some 10,000 years\’ supply  just in the rocks we know about.

Close to exhaustion that ain\’t.

18 thoughts on “George Today”

  1. I saw something a while ago about a German zeppelin manufacturer that is hoping to bring airships back into use. If I remember correctly they are particularly useful for moving super heavy industrial equipment that is not necessarily time critical. Say for example if you wanted to move some mining equipment from the middle of the Congo then poor transport links might make road use impractical and the weight of the equipment could be difficult for planes so you send in an airship.

    Now that I think about it Airships could be useful in moving the sort of wide loads that if transported on motorways require police escorts and the road to be closed.

  2. “global supplies appear close to exhaustion” is a Faith-statement. It’s unseemly to examine its truth-value for any particular example.

  3. What a maroon.

    Claims about how airships would be environmentally friendly always ignore the energy required to produce such vast quantities of lifting gas.

    Everyone seems to think that the Hindenberg was the only airship that ever crashed, and it crashed because it burned. This ignores the long list of airships which crashed before the Hindenberg, most of which did not catch fire. These vast vessels are fiendishly difficult to control, and are more-or-less completely at the mercy of a number of different weather conditions.

    The number of airships which have failed from the 101 problems other than fire to which airships are subject, is vast. The number of airships which have been relaitvely technically successful and relatively trouble-free is tiny – the fingers of one hand would suffice to name them off.

    The age of airships encompassed barely-more than a decade in the 1920s and 30s – even the incredibly-crude technologies of 1930s aircraft were enough to render them both technically and economically obsolete. The passage of 80 years has not improved them. They may have advantages in a miniscule number of specialized applications, but suggesting them as viable means of mass passenger transport is pure fantasy.

    llater,

    llamas

  4. PS – the largest airships ever built – the hydrogen-filled Hindenberg & Graf Zeppelin – had a disposable lift of ~ 100,000# and therefore a realistic payload of perhaps 80,000#.

    Helium has ~90% of the lifting capacity as hydrogen, so a helium-filled airship would have a payload derated in like proportion.

    For comparison-

    The US military’s big cargo lifter, the C5 Galaxy, is routinely configured to a payload in excess of 200,000# and is rated for a maximum payload of almost 300,000#. There’s more than 100 of these in active service.

    The US military’s ‘standard’ cargo lifter, the C17 Globemaster, is rourtinely configured to a payload in excess of 130,000# and is rated for a maximum payload of almost 175,000#. There’s more than 150 of them in active service.

    And – if you absolutely, positively have to lift more – one of the specialized Antonov super-heavy-lift aircraft can be configured to carry a paylaod in excess of 400,000#.

    Now – what the hell use is an airship, again?

    llater,

    llamas

  5. It’s been noted before but bears repeating: given that a) most of us have knowledge in, at best, a limited area of technical expertise and b) every time a mainstream, non-specialist journalist writes an article covering that area of expertise, glaring errors are immediately apparent to us, it follows that c) almost everything written by mainstream, non-specialist journalists is complete and utter bollocks, except we can’t tell because usually it is out of our area of expertise.

  6. “The number of airships which have been relaitvely technically successful and relatively trouble-free is tiny – the fingers of one hand would suffice to name them off.”

    Eh? When my uncle was running an airship company in the 1990s, his airships were trouble-free most of the time [and the “not trouble free”-ness wasn’t catastrophic failure but the usual ‘need to check/fix things before taking off’ issue that also affects airliners] .

    “even the incredibly-crude technologies of 1930s aircraft were enough to render them both technically and economically obsolete”

    Hardly – the helium embargo and bad PR from the Hindenburg (so you either have US airships which aren’t as good, British ones which are shockingly bad, or German ones that you fear will immolate you), and the start of WWII (long-distance leisure/business travel dies; the Germans can’t use airships in war because they’re full of hydrogen, the British can’t use theirs because they’re rubbish, and the Americans aren’t playing) were clearly what derailed airships.

    I’m not suggesting that they’re a particularly sensible technology now, but to claim they were defeated in the marketplace in the 1930s is simply nonsense.

  7. “almost everything written by mainstream, non-specialist journalists is complete and utter bollocks”: on subjects I know about, no journalist ever gets the detail right, but rather superior journalists sometimes get the gist right.

  8. Llamas, the big cargo lifters that you refer to need very long runways to be able to land or take off, so isn’t there a potential niche for airships to transport cargo to places with poor accessibility?

    The German company that I recalled earlier was probably Cargolifter AG, whom I have now discovered went bust back in 2002. Although their business model was evidently inadequate the idea itself doesn’t seem crazy.

  9. John B wrote:

    ‘Eh? When my uncle was running an airship company in the 1990s, his airships were trouble-free most of the time.’

    How big were they? (Hint – I know the answer) And these were almost-certainly semi-rigid airships. My bad. I should have written ‘the number of dirigible airships . . .’ Dirigible airships do not scale well. A 150 or 200 foot semi-rigid that’s only required to lift its pilots, a couple of hours of fuel, and whatever advertising is painted on the side, can be quite successfully operated, and they are. But the promise here is for effective heavy-lifters and/or passenger craft – which have to be the 1000-foot monsters of yore, and they have to be dirigibles. You can’t make a semi-rigid with a disposable lift of 100,000#, and you can’t control its bouyancy even if you could build the envelope. And you can’t hang heavy weights from it.

    John B then wrote:

    ‘Hardly – the helium embargo and bad PR from the Hindenburg (so you either have US airships which aren’t as good, British ones which are shockingly bad, or German ones that you fear will immolate you), and the start of WWII (long-distance leisure/business travel dies; the Germans can’t use airships in war because they’re full of hydrogen, the British can’t use theirs because they’re rubbish, and the Americans aren’t playing) were clearly what derailed airships.’

    The British stopped building airships in 1930. The war came 10 years later. Hard to see how one connects to the other. But they stopped because R101 went down – although its sister ship R100 was quite successful and might well have operated as successfully as the Zeppelins if she had been allowed to continue.

    The US never really built a dirigible airship – they either got them from Zeppelin or copied them – so I don’t quite understand how the US stopped developing something that they never really started developing? But it should be noted that WW2 was really the impetus for the US developing the semi-rigid airship – the ‘blimp’ – which is the technlogy used in many of the airships you see today. But this technology is very, very hard to apply to either a heavy lifter or a passenger craft – as described above.

    The Germans built airships, and continued to fly them even after the Hindenberg, as matter of national pride. Most of the Zeppelin services ran at a loss. The Hindenberg, begun in 1931, was not finished until 1935 because of money woes – if the NSDAP had not bailed Zeppelin out to be their propaganda tool, Hindenberg would never have flown at all. They could never compete with the liners on price, and the Constellation and the DCs were in development already when Hindenberg went down. Even though LZ130 was close to completion, she only flew a few times before she was scrapped for her aluminum content – anyone could see which way the wind was blowing.

    As I said, the age of the airship passed because they were overtaken by heavier-than-air technology. WW2 had little to do with it – the airships were all done long before war broke out, long before Munich even.

    llater,

    llamas

  10. Just a note to mention the US airship program and the efforts of their engineers in Akron, Ohio.

    http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/ac-usn22/z-types/zrs4.htm

    I always understood that the project failed because these airships were designed to act as aircraft carriers, to extend the range of biplanes covering the west coast. The biplanes were prone to getting lost in the fogbound conditions off California, so the program was abandoned. But they were rather spectacular, and I think one of the massive hangars remains open to visitors in Akron, which is the only excuse I can think of for going there.

  11. I was, and remain, fascinated by the concept of miltary aircraft being launched and retrieved by enormous wire coathangers and elastic bands, sticking out from an outsize airborne gasbag.
    It just struck me as a perfect metaphor for the UK Minister of Defence.

  12. All the large rigid airships were lost in peacetime disasters (Shenandoah, ZR2, Akron, Macon) bar the Los Angeles, and that one was nearly lost to just a gust of wind. To claim the US program was technologically backward (“never really started”) is nonsense. Some of the US craft used flying trapezes to launch and land aircraft in mid air – no one else was doing that.

    I’m also concerned about the claim that the Germans couldn’t get US Helium. Clearly it was beyond their capabilities to produce their own! The reality was that Helium was expensive to produce and there was comparatively little demand worldwide. The US embargo gave the Germans a choice, create their own helium plant at a high cost or redesign the ship to use hydrogen. The German’s made the cheap decision. I’d have thought a supposed Socialist would recognise that morality tale rather than resort to the usual xenophobia.

  13. “The US military’s ’standard’ cargo lifter, the C17 Globemaster, is rourtinely configured to a payload in excess of 130,000# and is rated for a maximum payload of almost 175,000#. There’s more than 150 of them in active service.”

    And there’s a massive shortage of them. If Equatorial Guinea needed half a dozen to move mining equipment, it’s not like they could rent them for the weekend.

  14. Although I agree that we are not running out of gallium (any more than we are running out of oil), we might be running out of _cheap_ gallium (just as we are running out of _cheap_ oil). As the report notes

    “The foregoing estimates apply to total gallium content; only a small percentage of this metal in bauxite and zinc ores is economically recoverable.”

    Tim adds: As it happens I’ve just paid for and received the results of some research I commissioned on the subject of what you can get out of that bauxite. As a rough guide we’re currently taking only 20-25% of the gallium out that we could do even at current prices.

  15. Dear TDK,
    Your claim that the Germans could have produced Helium if it were economic is deeply unsound. Helium isn’t made, it is captured and refined from natural gas. Only a few gas fields in the world contain helium, and the only one in operation in those days was in the Texas Panhandle. The ‘socialists’ aren’t being xenophobic here, you are making massive assumptions in favour of your preference for market-driven explanations for what are actually natural and political factors.

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