Monthly Archives: July 2013

Global warming takes a 15 year rest

I have long thought that global climate change was chaotic, rather than steadily warming. Global temperatures show self-similar (fractal) variation with time and long-term cycles; they also show strange attractors generally states including ice ages and El Niño events. These are sudden rests of the global temperature pattern, classic symptoms of chaos. The standard models of global warming is does not predict El Niño and other chaotic events, and thus are fundamentally wrong. The models assume that a steady amount of sun heat reaches the earth, while a decreasing amount leaves, held in by increasing amounts of man-produced CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere. These models are “tweaked” to match the observed temperature to the CO2 content of the atmosphere from 1930 to about 2004. In the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” Al Gore uses these models to predict massive arctic melting leading to a 20 foot rise in sea levels by 2100. To the embarrassment of Al Gore, and the relief of everyone else, though COconcentrations continue to rise, global warming took a 15 year break starting shortly before the movie came out, and the sea level is, more-or-less where it was except for temporary changes during periodic El Niño cycles.

Global temperature variation Fifteen years and four El Niño cycles, with little obvious change. Most models predict .25°C/decade.

Fifteen years of global temperature variation to June 2013; 4 El Niños but no sign of a long-term change.

Hans von Storch, a German expert on global warming, told the German newspaper, der Spiegel: “We’re facing a puzzle. Recent CO2 emissions have actually risen even more steeply than we feared. As a result, according to most climate models, we should have seen temperatures rise by around 0.25 degrees Celsius (0.45 degrees Fahrenheit) over the past 10 years. That hasn’t happened. [Further], according to the models, the Mediterranean region will grow drier all year round. At the moment, however, there is actually more rain there in the fall months than there used to be. We will need to observe further developments closely in the coming years.”

Aside from the lack of warming for the last 15 years, von Storch mentions that there has been no increase in severe weather. You might find that surprising given the news reports; still it’s so. Storms are caused by temperature and humidity differences, and these have not changed. (Click here to see why tornadoes lift stuff up).

At this point, I should mention that the majority of global warming experts do not see a problem with the 15 year pause. Global temperatures have been rising unsteadily since 1900, and even von Storch expects this trend to continue — sooner or later. I do see a problem, though, highlighted by the various chaotic changes that are left out of the models. A source of the chaos, and a fundamental problem with the models could be with how they treat the effects of water vapor. When uncondensed, water vapor acts as a very strong thermal blanket; it allows the sun’s light in, but prevents the heat energy from radiating out. CObehaves the same way, but weaker (there’s less of it).

More water vapor enters the air as the planet warms, and this should amplify the CO2 -caused run-away heating except for one thing. Every now and again, the water vapor condenses into clouds, and then (sometimes) falls as rain or show. Clouds and snow reflect the incoming sunlight, and this leads to global cooling. Rain and snow drive water vapor from the air, and this leads to accelerated global cooling. To the extent that clouds are chaotic, and out of man’s control, the global climate should be chaotic too. So far, no one has a very good global model for cloud formation, or for rain and snowfall, but it’s well accepted that these phenomena are chaotic and self-similar (each part of a cloud looks like the whole). Clouds may also admit “the butterfly effect” where a butterfly in China can cause a hurricane in New Jersey if it flaps at the right time.

For those wishing to examine the longer-range view, here’s a thermal history of central England since 1659, Oliver Cromwell’s time. At this scale, each peak is an El Niño. There is a lot of chaotic noise, but you can also notice either a 280 year periodicity (lat peak around 1720), or a 100 year temperature rise beginning about 1900.

Global warming; Central England Since 1659; From

It is not clear that the cycle is human-caused,but my hope is that it is. My sense is that the last 100 years of global warming has been a good thing; for agriculture and trade it’s far better than an ice age. If we caused it with our  CO2, we could continue to use CO2 to just balance the natural tendency toward another ice age. If it’s chaotic, as I suspect, such optimism is probably misplaced. It is very hard to get a chaotic system out of its behavior. The evidence that we’ve never moved an El Niño out of its normal period of every 3 to 7 years (expect another this year or next). If so, we should expect another ice age within the next few centuries.

Global temperatures measured from the antarctic ice showing stable, cyclic chaos and self-similarity.

Global temperatures measured from the antarctic ice showing 4 Ice ages.

Just as clouds cool the earth, you can cool your building too by painting the roof white. If you are interested in more weather-related posts, here’s why the sky is blue on earth, and why the sky on Mars is yellow.

Robert E. Buxbaum July 27, 2013 (mostly my business makes hydrogen generators and I consult on hydrogen).

chemistry and dentistry joke

What do you get when you dissolve all your rear teeth in water.



An eight molar solution.


Is funny because ….. most adults have eight molars (four on the bottom, four on the top); and there is a measure of solution concentration called molarity; an eight molar solution is one that contains 8 formula weights of solute per liter of solution.

For a chemistry joke about dissolving bears, go here; for a chemist v chemical engineer joke, here; for my latest quantum joke, here; and for an architecture joke, here. On a more serious note, if you’d like to see how we do simple electroplating, see the previous post.


R.E.Buxbaum, July 24, 2013

Simple electroplating of noble metals

Electro-coating gold onto a Pd tube by dissolving an iron wire.

Electro-coating gold onto at Pd-coated tube by dissolving an iron wire at REB Research.

Here’s a simple trick for electroplating noble metals: gold, silver, copper, platinum. I learned this trick at Brooklyn Technical High School some years ago, and I still use it at REB Research as part of our process to make hydrogen permeation barriers, and sulfur tolerant permeation membranes.  It’s best used to coat reasonably inactive, small objects,  e.g. to coat copper on a nickel or silver on a penny for a science fair.

As a first step, you make a dilute acidic solution of the desired noble metal. Dissolve a gram or so of copper sulphate, silver nitrate, or gold chloride per 250 ml of water. Make sure the solution is acidic using pH paper, add acid if needed aiming for a pH of 3 to 4. Place some solution into a test tube or beaker of a size that will hold the object you want to coat. As a next step, attach an iron or steel wire to the object, I typically use bailing wire from the hardware store wrapped several times about the top of the object, and run the length of the object; see figure. Place the object into your solution and wait for 5 to 30 minutes. Coating works without the need for any other electric source or any current control.

The iron wire creates the electricity used in electroplating the noble metal. Iron has a higher electro-motive potential than hydrogen and hydrogen has a higher potential than the noble metals. In acid solution, the iron wire dissolves but (it’s hoped) the substrate does not. Each iron atom gives up two electrons, becoming Fe++. Some of these electrons go on to reduce hydrogen ions making H2 (2H+ 2e –> H2), but most should go to reduce the noble metal ions in the solution to form a coat of metallic gold, silver, or copper on both the wire and the object. See an example of how I do calculations regarding voltage, electron number, and Gibbs free energy.

Transferring electrons requires you have good electrical contact between the wire and the object. Most of the noble metal coats the object, not the wire since the object is bigger, typically. Thanks to my teachers at Brooklyn Technical High School for teaching me. For a uniform coat, it helps to run the wire down parallel to the entire length of tube; I think this is a capacitance, field effect. For a larger object, you may want several wires if you are plating a larger object. For a thicker coat, I found you are best off making many thin coats and heating them. This reduces tension forces in the coat, I think.

The picture shows a step in the process we use making our sulfur-resistant hydrogen permeation membranes (buy them here), used, e.g. to concentrate impurities in a hydrogen stream for improved gas chromatography. The next step is to dissolve the gold or copper into the palladium.

Go here for a great periodic table cup from REB Research, or for the rest of our REB Research products. I occasionally make silver-coated pennies for schoolchildren, but otherwise use this technology only for in-house production.

R.E. Buxbaum, July 20, 2013.

yet another quantum joke

Why do you get more energy from a steak than from the same amount of hamburger?


Hamburger is steak in the ground state.


Is funny because….. it’s a pun on the word ground. Hamburger is ground-up meat, of course, but the reference to a ground state also relates to a basic discovery of quantum mechanics (QM): that all things exist in quantized energy states. The lowest of these is called the ground state, and you get less energy out of a process if you start with things at this ground state. Lasers, as an example, get their energy by electrons being made to drop to their ground state at the same time; you can’t get any energy from a laser if the electrons start in the ground state.

The total energy of a thing can be thought of as having a kinetic and a potential energy part. The potential energy is usually higher the more an item moves from its ideal (lowest potential point). The kinetic energies of though tends to get lower when more space is available because, from Heisenberg uncertainty, ∆l•∆v=h. That is, the more space there is, the less uncertainty of speed, and thus the less kinetic energy other things being equal. The ground energy state is the lowest sum of potential and kinetic energy, and thus all things occupy a cloud of some size, even at the ground state. Without this size, the world would cease to exist. Atoms would radiate energy, and shrink until they vanished.

In grad school, I got into understanding thermodynamics, transport phenomena, and quantum mechanics, particularly involving hydrogen. This lead to my hydrogen production and purification inventions, what my company sells.

Click here for a quantum cartoon on waves and particles, an old Heisenberg joke, or a joke about how many quantum mechanicians it takes to change a lightbulb.

R. E. Buxbaum, July 16, 2013. I once claimed that the unseen process that maintains existence could be called God; this did not go well with the religious.


Crime: US vs UK and Canada

The US has a lot of guns and a lot of murders compared to England, Canada, and most of Europe. This is something Piers Morgan likes to point out to Americans who then struggle to defend the wisdom of gun ownership and the 2nd Amendment: “How do you justify 4.8 murders/year per 100,000 population when there are only 1.6/year per 100,000 in Canada, 1.2/year per 100,000 in the UK, and 1.0/year per 100,000 in Australia — countries with few murders and tough anti-gun laws?,” he asks. What Piers doesn’t mention, is that these anti-gun countries have far higher contact crime (assault) rates than the US, see below.

Contact Crime Per Country

Contact crime rates for 17 industrialized countries. From the Dutch Ministry of Justice. Click here for details about the survey and a breakdown of crimes.

The differences narrow somewhat when considering most violent crimes, but we still have far fewer than Canada and the UK. Canada has 963/year per 100,000 “most violent crimes,” while the US has 420/year per 100,000. “Most violent crimes” here are counted as: “murder and non-negligent manslaughter,” “forcible rape,” “robbery,” and “aggravated assault” (FBI values). England and Wales classify crimes somewhat differently, but have about two times the US rate, 775/year per 100,000, if “most violent crimes” are defined as: “violence against the person, with injury,” “most serious sexual crime,” and “robbery.”

It is possible that the presence of guns protects Americans from general crime while making murder more common, but it’s also possible that gun ownership is a murder deterrent too. Our murder rate is 1/5 that of Mexico, 1/4 that of Brazil, and 1/3 that of Russia; all countries with strong anti-gun laws but a violent populous. Perhaps the US (Texan) penchant for guns is what keeps Mexican gangs on their, gun-control side of the border. Then again, it’s possible that guns neither increase nor decrease murder rates, so that changing our laws would not have any major effect. Switzerland (a country with famously high gun ownership) has far fewer murders than the US and about 1/2 the rate of the UK: 0.7 murders/ year per 100,000. Japan, a country with low gun ownership has hardly any crime of any sort — not even littering. As in the zen buddhist joke, change comes from within.

Homicide rate per country

Homicide rate per country

One major theory for US violence was that drugs and poverty were the causes. Remove these by stricter anti-drug laws and government welfare, and the violent crime would go away. Sorry to say, it has not happened; worse yet, murder rates are highest in cities like Detroit where welfare is a way of life, and where a fairly high fraction of the population is in prison for drugs.

I suspect that our welfare payments have hurt Detroit as much as they’ve helped, and that Detroit’s higher living wage, has made it hard for people to find honest work. Stiff drug penalties have not helped Detroit either, and may contribute to making crimes more violent. As Thomas More pointed out in the 1500s, if you are going to prison for many years for a small crime, you’re more likely to use force to avoid risk capture. Perhaps penalties would work better if they were smaller.

Charity can help a city, i think, and so can good architecture. I’m on the board of two charities that try to do positive things, and I plant trees in Detroit (sometimes).

R. E. Buxbaum, July 10, 2013. To make money, I sell hydrogen generators: stuff I invented, mostly.

Escher Architecture – joke?

Caption will say where this is from.

Robert  Leighton, from the New Yorker,

Is funny because …. there’s an Escher-like impossible structure and a dirty word (ass, tee hee). Besides that, this joke highlights a fundamental conflict between the architect and the client (customer): what is good architecture?

Typically the customer whats a home or office that “looks nice”, “doesn’t cost too much”, and “works,” perhaps as an advertisement for the company. Often the architect wants to make a statement for him/herself, or wants to produce a work of art. Left to their own, architects can produce expensive monuments that no one can live in.

A wonderful (horrible) case concerns The Cooper Union, my alma mater, and more-or-less the only free college in America. The Cooper Union was founded by an inventive mechanic, Peter Cooper, see my biography, who invented jello, and rolled steel, laid the transatlantic cable, founded AT&T, and managed to give free education to a century and a half of students. The trustees of the school tore down the old, serviceable building, sold the land, and built a $270,000,000 dollar monstrosity. Hailed by the New York Times as great architecture, it bankrupted the school, and is unusable for the sort of hands-on education that Peter Cooper devised.

In hopes of attracting a rich donor, Cooper Union borrowed $175 million to erect this grotesque building for its engineering department. No donor materialized, and, as a result, the school’s 155-year-old policy of free tuition has vaporized.

In hopes of attracting a rich donor, Cooper Union sold its engineering building and borrowed $175 million to erect this replacement. No donor materialized, and, with it, a 155-year-old policy of free tuition.

Here’s a surrealist jokean engineer joke, and a thought on control engineering. Here too is a  sculpture I put on top of my building; the eyes follow you.

R.E. Buxbaum, July 8, 2013; I do consulting on hydrogen, and my company makes hydrogen products.

Control engineer joke

What made the control engineer go crazy?


He got positive feedback.

Is funny because …… it’s a double entente, where both meanings are true: (1) control engineers very rarely get compliments (positive feedback); the aim of control is perfection, something that’s unachievable for a dynamic system (and generally similar to near perfection: the slope at a maximum is zero). Also (2) systems go unstable if the control feedback is positive. This can happen if the controller was set backwards, but more usually happens when the response is too fast or too extreme. Positive feedback pushes a system further to error and the process either blows up, or (more commonly) goes wildly chaotic, oscillating between two or more “strange attractor” states.

It seems to me that hypnosis, control-freak love, and cult behaviors are the result of intentionally produced positive feedback. Palsies, economic cycles, and global warming are more likely the result of unintentional positive feedback. In each case, the behavior is oscillatory chaotic.

The  normal state of Engineering is lack of feedback. Perhaps this is good because messed up feedback leads to worse results. From xykd.

Our brains give little reliable feedback on how well they work, but that may be better than strong, immediate feedback, as that could lead to bipolar instability. From xkcd. For more on this idea, see Science and Sanity, by Alfred Korzbski (mini youtube)

Control engineers tend to be male (85%), married (80%), happy people (at least they claim to be happy). Perhaps they know that near-perfection is close enough for a complex system in a dynamic world, or that one is about as happy as believes ones-self to be. It also helps that control engineer salaries are about $95,000/ year with excellent benefits and low employment turnover.

Here’s a chemical engineer joke I made up, and an older engineering joke. If you like, I’ll be happy to consult with you on the behavior of your processes.

By Dr. Robert E. Buxbaum, July 4, 2013

Thermodynamics of hydrogen generation

Perhaps the simplest way to make hydrogen is by electrolysis: you run some current through water with a little sulfuric acid or KOH added, and for every two electrons transferred, you get a molecule of hydrogen from one electrode and half a molecule of oxygen from the other.

2 OH- –> 2e- + 1/2 O2 +H2O

2H2O + 2e- –>  H2 + 2OH-

The ratio between amps, seconds and mols of electrons (or hydrogen) is called the Faraday constant, F = 96500; 96500 amp-seconds transfers a mol of electrons. For hydrogen production, you need 2 mols of electrons for each mol of hydrogen, n= 2, so

it = 2F where and i is the current in amps, and t is the time in seconds and n is the number electrons per molecule of desired product. For hydrogen, t = 96500*2/i; in general, t = Fn/i.

96500 is a large number, and it takes a fair amount of time to make any substantial amount of hydrogen by electrolysis. At 1 amp, it takes 96500*2 = 193000 seconds, 2 days, to generate one mol of hydrogen (that’s 2 grams Hor 22.4 liters, enough to fill a garment bag). We can reduce the time by using a higher current, but there are limits. At 25 amps, the maximum current of you can carry with house wiring it takes 2.14 hours to generate 2 grams. (You’ll have to rectify your electricity to DC or you’ll get a nasty H2 /O2 mix called Brown’s gas, While normal H2 isn’t that dangerous, Browns gas is a mix of H2 and O2 and is quite explosive. Here’s an essay I wrote on separating Browns gas).

Electrolysis takes a fair amount of electric energy too; the minimum energy needed to make hydrogen at a given temperature and pressure is called the reversible energy, or the Gibbs free energy ∆G of the reaction. ∆G = ∆H -T∆S, that is, ∆G equals the heat of hydrogen production ∆H – minus an entropy effect, T∆S. Since energy is the product of voltage current and time, Vit = ∆G, where ∆G is the Gibbs free energy measured in Joules and V,i, and t are measured Volts, Amps, and seconds respectively.

Since it = nF, we can rewrite the relationship as: V =∆G/nF for a process that has no every losses, the reversible process. This is the form found in most thermodynamics textbooks; the value of V calculated this way is the minimum voltage to generate hydrogen, and the maximum voltage you could get in a fuel cell putting water back together.

To calculate this voltage, and the power requirements to make hydrogen, we use the Gibbs free energy for water formation found in Wikipedia, copied below (in my day, we used the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics or a table in out P-chem book). You’ll notice that there are two different values for ∆G depending on whether the water is a gas or a liquid, and you’ll notice a small zero at the upper right (∆G°). This shows that the values are for an imaginary standard state: 0°C and 1 atm pressure. You can’t get 1 atm steam at 0°C, it’s an extrapolation; room temperature behavior is pretty similar (i.e: there’s a non- negligible correction that I’ll leave to a reader to send as a comment.)

Liquid H2O formation ∆G° = -237.14
Gaseous H2O formation ∆G° = -228.61

The reversible voltage for creating liquid water in a reversible fuel cell is found to be -237,140/(2 x 96,500) = -1.23V. We find that 1.23 Volts is about the minimum voltage you need to do electrolysis at 0°C because you need liquid water to carry the current; -1.18 V is about the maximum voltage you can get in a fuel cell because they operate at higher temperature with oxygen pressures significantly below 1 atm. (typically). The minus sign is kept for accounting; it differentiates the power out case (fuel cells) from power in (electrolysis).

Most electrolysis is done at voltages above about 1.48 V. Just as fuel cells always give off heat (they are exothermic), electrolysis will absorb heat if run reversibly. That is, electrolysis can act as a refrigerator if run reversibly, but it is not a very good refrigerator (the refrigerator ability is tied up in the entropy term mentioned above). To do electrolysis at fast rates, people give up on refrigeration and provide all the energy needed in the electricity. In this case, ∆H = nFV’ where ∆H is the enthalpy of water formation, and V’ is this higher voltage for electrolysis. Based on the enthalpy of liquid water formation,  −285.8 kJ/mol we find V’ = 1.48 V at zero degrees. At this voltage no net heat is given off or absorbed. The figure below shows that you can use less voltage, but not if you want to make hydrogen fast:

Electrolyzer performance; C-Pt catalyst on a thin, nafion membrane

Electrolyzer performance; C-Pt catalyst on a thin, nafion membrane

If you figure out the energy that this voltage and amperage represents (shown below) you’re likely to come to a conclusion I came to several years ago: that it’s far better to generate large amounts of hydrogen chemically, ideally from membrane reactors like my company makes.

The electric power to make each 2 grams of hydrogen at 1.5 volts is 1.5 V x 193000 Amp-s = 289,500 J = .080 kWh’s, or 0.9¢ at current rates, but filling a car takes 20 kg, or 10,000 times as much. That’s 800 kW-hr, or $90 at current rates. The electricity is twice as expensive as current gasoline and the infrastructure cost is staggering too: a station that fuels ten cars per hour would require 8 MW, far more power than any normal distributor could provide.

By contrast, methanol costs about 2/3 as much as gasoline, and it’s easy to deliver many giga-joules of methanol energy to a gas station by truck. Our company’s membrane reactor hydrogen generators would convert methanol-water to hydrogen efficiently by the reaction CH3OH + H2O –> 3H2 + CO2. This is not to say that electrolysis isn’t worthwhile for lower demand applications: see, e.g.: gas chromatography, and electric generator cooling. Here’s how membrane reactors work.

R. E. Buxbaum July 1, 2013; Those who want to show off, should post the temperature and pressure corrections to my calculations for the reversible voltage of typical fuel cells and electrolysis.