Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Airship Transportation Boom Emerging

Slowly but surely, folks are waking up to the transport potential of airships.  The race is now on to produce large lifters able to handle point to point shipping.  This entails the ability to hover and lift a container into the bottom of the hull.  This not a big trick for aircraft containers, but I think that we will figure out now to load even shipping containers.

Once you are operating at that size the additional capital cost is not particularly significant.

What is important is how large modern materials will allow us to get.  Bigger is better because the lifting hardware becomes a smaller fraction of the total payload.  And as indicated, these craft will be operating point to point as much as possible.

This story also pays attention to the produce argument that I made months ago and for the same reason.  Produce deteriorates through each cycle of handling, yet must still be delivered in a cost effective manner.

Here produce can be loaded directly into air containers on the farm itself after been handled once or twice.  The farm can be in Spain or Africa or Russia or California.  It then immediately travels directly to the customer’s locale at eighty miles per hour or one hundred and fifty kilometers per hour.  In Europe this will be a ten hour flight or so in most cases and from Africa to Europe it can surely be done in a couple of days.

No vibration will be applied to the produce at all and it will receive its roughest handling at its destination only hours from the field itself.  This means tree ripened bananas, papayas, and mangos are immediately possible.

It is clear that anything that justifies air freight today can likely be shipped by airship.

Simply put, if it can survive been short haul trucked, air freighted and truck distributed for a total of plausibly twenty four hours, it can surely handle a twenty hour airship ride and swift distribution at destination.

The big question now is how big will we actually be able to build airships?  Key to this will be if we can construct a cross sectional unit able to lift a hundred ton shipping container?  That may simply be beyond what we want or need to do but try to imagine a mile long string of rail containers been moved this way.

It is a bit much but it asks the right question which is whether that is feasible at all.  Carrying one such will be possible with today’s knowledge but carrying four may be pushing it all.

Yet this is what we really want to do.  It eliminates a very expensive handling interface between rail and air transport.

The real message here is that the airship transportation revolution is underway with a vengeance as everyone now understands the real advantages.  And yes, there will be airship cruise lines visiting the Serengeti and many other neat places.  In fact it sounds like a neat way to visit lots of neat places without experiencing the sweat and smells of getting there.

Blimps could replace aircraft in freight transport, say scientists
Helium-powered ships could be carrying freight – and even passengers – in as little as a decade's time
Juliette Jowit, the Guardian - Published under license by, BusinessGreen01 Jul 2010

Fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers and other foreign luxuries could be part of a global revolution by carrying cargo around the world in airships instead of planes, one of the UK's leading scientists has predicted.

The government's former chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir David King, now director of the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, told a conference that massive helium balloons – or blimps – would replace aircraft as a key part of the global trade network as a way of cutting global warming emissions.

Despite languishing in sci-fi B-movies for most of the last 70 years, King said several major air and defence companies, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin, were working on designs, and the US defence department had recently made a large grant to help develop the technology.

As a result, the helium-powered ships could be carrying freight – and even passengers – in as little as a decade's time, King told the Guardian.

"There are an awful lot of people we talk to who say this is going to happen, " said King. "This is something I believe is going to happen."

King was speaking this week at the World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment in Oxford, which has made transport a major focus of debate about global efforts to cut the greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, which are a major contributor to global warming and climate change. In Europe 22 per cent of greenhouse gases are from transport, compared with 28 from heat and electricity, 21 per cent from industry and construction and nine per cent each from agriculture and homes, according to the European Environment Agency.

Emerging support for blimps is one of the more colourful developments in a more general trend towards looking beyond the most obvious solutions for reducing pollution as major economies such as the UK struggle to meet pledges to de-carbonise their economies over the next few decades.

Airships would be too slow for some high-speed airfreight, and would not be needed to carry the majority of cargo for which much slower ships are suitable. But with a speed of 125kph (78mph), and much lower fuel costs, plus a carrying capacity potentially many times that of a standard Boeing 747 plane, blimps could in future carry much of current air freight.

A recent report on mobility by the Smith School, for example, quoted an estimate by one developer, UK-owned SkyCat, that it could carry twice the weight of strawberries from Spain to the UK of a standard cargo plane, with a 90 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, much of which is from avoiding the huge fuel burn a jet engine uses to take off.

Other benefits included the possibility that airships would not need to use airports if they were fitted with "lifts" to pick up and land cargo. This in turn would reduce the need for trucking goods to and from transport hubs, and allow less well-connected areas, perhaps in inland Africa, to take part in international trade, said King. For the same reasons the blimps could also be used to reach devastated areas in need of humanitarian aid, he said.

The essential idea of airships – that they are buoyed by being lighter than air – can be traced back to the use of air lanterns in the third century BC. The technology began to come of age when the Frenchmen Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes made the first flight in a balloon in 1783. By the 1920s airships were making regular trips across the Atlantic, and in 1929 a graf zeppelin circumnavigated the planet in just over 21 days.

The craze for blimps came to an abrupt halt after the death of many people when the Hindenburg caught fire in New Jersey, US. However research and development "languished but never halted", said the Smith School report.
This article first appeared at the Guardian
BusinessGreen.com is part of the Guardian Environment Network

1 comment:

Darrell Campbell said...

Please see:


more airship stuff...enjoy!