Hydrogen Junkies

Malachy Browne gets to grips with an environmentally friendly motorbike

The ENV (Emissions Neutral Vehicle) is probably among the most important breakthroughs for fuel-cell alternatives to traditional combustion-engine vehicles. The aesthetics, aerodynamics and performance of this bike dispel the myth that environmentally-friendly vehicles automatically infer a trade-off with speed and fun. Although the current prototype of the ENV reaches a top speed of 80kph, future models will have improved power-to-weight ratios and, therefore, higher speeds.

The ENV is powered by the energy released from hydrogen reacting with air in a fuel cell about the size of a briefcase. A five-ounce canister of hydrogen, costing about $4 (€3.17), powers the bike for 160km. The cell completely detaches from the bike and can be used to power any suitably configured appliance, from a motorboat to a small domestic property. The ENV weighs roughly 80kg, makes as much noise as a home computer and is virtually non-polluting. It has no gears, yet is reportedly "as quick and responsive as a mountain bike".ENV

However, the ENV is not without its drawbacks. Hydrogen is extremely volatile, as the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 so spectacularly demonstrated, and requires a reinforced, hermetically-sealed casing, lest the ENV launch its driver to Timbuktu at the first pothole. The present model takes five to 10 minutes to refuel but, more importantly, hydrogen as a fuel is not yet commercially available in most countries – only California has an operational network of refuelling stations.

However, both the US and Japan expect to have several 'hydrogen highways' in place by 2010 and Iceland is developing a 'hydrogen economy' to convert the country's plentiful geothermal energy into a stockpile of hydrogen energy. Dr John Breen of the Catalysis Research Group in Queens University Belfast believes that hydrogen is "the ideal energy carrier" and should be simlarly used in Ireland to store irregularly produced outputs of wind and wave energy. At a recent symposium on alternative fuel technology, at which the ENV featured, the basis for a European programme on hydrogen and fuel cells was set and a public-private budget of €6bn-€7bn was allocated. The programme will develop vehicles and the infrastructure necessary to support hydrogen technologies.

More www.envbike.com; www.ul.ie/~cer; www.fuelcells.org


Googles gadgets

Google has extended its myriad services to Desktop Gadgets. Anything from stock-watchers to multiplayer computer games, weather forecasts to music TV can be accessed from your desktop at a mouse-click. Desktop Gadgets also downloads an inobtrusive panel that neatly displays itself above the PC clock to deliver news feeds, email alerts and other streams as configured by the user.NASA TV
Taking one particular gadget, Nasa TV illustrates the benefits of space exploration by explaining the significance of information captured by spacecraft and what this tells us about our solar system, the Milky Way and beyond. Sports feeds deliver the results as they happen. Seek the Good News and ‘Bible Verse of the Day' shall find.
More: desktop.google.com


Peripheral power
The rear view
Improve your eye-hand coordination 10-fold with this simple gizmo, the personal rear-view mirror. Affix to your PC, play computer games the working-day long and marvel at your enhanced peripheral vision: the merest flicker in your rearview-mirror triggers a reflexive Alt-Tab back to those delightful reports. Particularly useful for employees seated in exposed desk-spaces – but let's face it, your boss put you there for a reason.
Of equal use to the paranoids, narcissists and stalkers among staff. Suitable for Kris Kindle, though a gift-certificate for the local psychiatrist may be more beneficial.
More: Retails for £5 at www.gizmoandwidget.com