From Derrick Stevens 

There has been a lot of publicity recently concerning the use of hydrogen as a ’clean’ fuel. Three hydrogen-fuelled London buses which cost £1 million each are covered in slogans proclaiming the fact that they emit only water in their exhaust, and no less a  profound thinker than George W Bush looks forward to the time when all cars run on hydrogen. There are even plans to build a hydrogen-fuelled power plant in Scotland. 

 It is undeniable that no other alternative to fossil fuels is as environmentally friendly as hydrogen. An article in the July issue of Chemistry World (p17), describing the production of large alkanes from plant-derived carbohydrates, also makes the point that current biofuels such as ethanol, yield only 1.1 units of energy for each unit consumed in fermentation and distillation. 

 I would very much like to see the result of similar calculations in the case of hydrogen, if only because the man in the street could be forgiven for thinking that there is a freely available and virtually unlimited supply of the stuff.    

In fact very considerable amounts of electricity must be consumed not only in the electrolysis of water, but also in the subsequent liquefaction procedure and provision of storage facilities. So where is all this electricity to come from?  Silly me, from the hydrogen-fuelled power plants of course! 

 If the overall picture does indeed indicate that there are serious questions about the use of hydrogen as a fuel, I feel that the RSC should use its position to publicise the matter as widely and effectively as possible. 

D Stevens CChem FRSC,
Amersham, UK 


From Clive Delmonte 

Terry Mitchell (Chemistry World, July 2005, p30) summarises the present situation in the Bologna process regarding each cycle (ie, degree level) in which each cycle ’is described by generic descriptors. based on learning outcomes and competences’. 

I may have missed it somewhere, but, at first degree level, it seems crucial to me to define what the science and engineering first degree is for, that is, to define its purpose. Is it, for example, to prepare science graduates as professional researchers, or for work in an industrial manufacturing context, or as part of an informed preparation for life in a complex world, etc? 

Particularly at BSc level, I recall my own two first degrees in science and in engineering, some years ago now, when it was evident that both were intended to fit graduates solely for a research career even though some 90 per cent of BSc graduates did not go into research. 

The general population of the countries covered by the Bologna process does have a valid interest in participating in discussion of the purpose of first level science and engineering degrees, a discussion whose outcome should not be determined, perhaps solely, or even principally, by the university sector. 

Can Mitchell be invited to define for us the purpose of first cycle science and engineering qualifications within the Bologna process ? 

On another matter, reading John Dowding’s letter entitled Moonpower  in the July 2005 edition of Chemistry World (p28), brings to mind another, less obvious benefit of wave power. Here in Norfolk we suffer severely from coastal erosion, and, only recently, some ?100 million was spent on East Anglian sea defences. 

On the leeward side of wave power generators, the so-called ’ducks’, the sea is notably calm with its wave energy removed so that coastal erosion would be largely eliminated. Moreover, within the calm waters, a wind farm can still be built, and more cheaply in these pacified waters than in the open sea. 

In these islands we have a huge coastline, much of it unused by larger shipping, and could benefit from an extensive, intermittently linked line of ducks. 

The UK might benefit from a thorough cost-benefit analysis of energy alternatives, still not yet put in hand, including the use of our idle shipyards to build the ducks in economically depressed areas, savings on coastal erosion defences, and an energy output versus energy input analysis of nuclear power station construction, its demolition, security costs and waste disposal. 

C Delmonte CChem FRSC
Norfolk, UK 


From John Young 

I believe global warming is a fact and so is the increase of carbon dioxide, but am I the only one who cannot see an obvious connection?  Can someone tell me why carbon dioxide is called a greenhouse gas?

A greenhouse only works because it is made of glass so that radiant heat enters through the glass but warmed air cannot escape. There is no glass in the upper atmosphere. Any carbon dioxide there will transmit infra-red fairly readily as it comes towards the earth: it absorbs at 4.3 micro-m and at 15.0 micro-m but not elsewhere in the 1-40 micro-m range. It will surely behave as a similarly not very effective absorber for infra-red leaving the earth’s atmosphere so how can it be a greenhouse gas?

J H Young CChem FRSC
Stafford, UK 


From Stephen Cohen 

Nenad Raos’s humorous portrayal of the problems in getting accurate chemical information out (Chemistry World, June 2005, p72) in what the EU calls a ’lesser used language’   hit home. We chemists who natively speak the current ’mother of all scientific languages’ forget that we must also impart our knowledge to those who don’t understand English. This can only hope to improve the standing of chemistry the world over. 

Another official lesser used language in Europe is Yiddish, which had a rich chemical literature for the first half of the 20th century, but sharply declined in usage after the Holocaust.   

Most Yiddish science books, largely popularisations for the layman, were published in Poland, the former Soviet Union, and the US, though a Yiddish translation of Aaron Bernstein’s influential Naturwissenschaftliche Volksb?cher appeared in London around 1910. 

Getting the word out about the value and opportunities of chemistry should not be limited to those who speak English and other languages traditionally involved in scientific research (eg, French, German, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese). Let us actively assist people in promotion of science in their native tongue, and I hope to see more articles about chemistry usage in a variety of languages in Chemistry World. 

S M Cohen CChem MRSC
East Windsor, New Jersey, US 


From Rich Chandler

Peter Dryburgh (Chemistry World, July 2005, p29) states he’s seen no articles verifying the connection between global warming and human activity.

The IPCC (International panel on climate change) has considered a multitude of studies. The consensus amongst climatologists is so overwhelming there is not a debate to be had over the science. Only some journalists in a misguided pursuit of balance still manage to find a few sceptics. I don’t know why - we wouldn’t expect a member of the Flat Earth Society to be invited for a discussion about the rotation of the Earth!  

He then asserts the ’debate’ has been abandoned to pressure groups, political opportunists and bandwagon jumpers. The most respected scientific groups in the world issued a statement before the G8 summit, and the more politicians who realise action is needed the better. 

I supported moves to remove lead from petrol, and to ban CFCs, in both cases based on scientific understanding, and so if that makes me a bandwagon jumper then I’m proud to be one, I just hope five billion others will join me for the sake of future generations. 

The debate to be had is; how do we reduce this huge impact of human activity. Chemistry World should not give space for such denial views which have no credible support, only from lobbyists like Exxon (Esso) whose petrol I have deliberately avoided buying for reason of their dishonesty.

R Chandler CChem MRSC, 
Caldicot, Gwent, UK 


From Norman Groocock 

I have to confess to a wry smile when folk pontificate about the effect of enhanced carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere.   

When I was a student half a century ago we were told that we were at the end of the current interglacial period and that any day soon we could wake up one morning to find mile thick glaciers creeping towards the front door.   

Now seemingly it might be the rising sea level or perhaps desert sands doing the same thing. If both these theories are correct, perhaps some clever chap could tell us just how much atmospheric carbon dioxide we need to keep the glaciers at bay - or has the interglacial period already ended but we haven’t noticed because we have burnt all that coal and oil. There’s a thought. 

N Groocock MRSC
Bakewell, UK 


From Edmund Potter

I was struck by your editorial (Chemistry World, June 2005, p2) covering the ongoing debate on nuclear power and its future role in the UK.  

As it happened, the Sydney Morning Herald had a comparable article (13 June) on the Australian context, following suggestions from two of our leading politicians that nuclear power deserved some debate here. 

However, even the replacement of our sole (aged) reactor in the south-western outskirts of Sydney with a new one purely for medical use has incensed Green activists, through whom Australia still recalls being one of the few nations that allowed atmospheric nuclear testing decades ago before it all went underground.  

E Potter CChem FRSC
Kariong, NSW, Australia