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Monday, June 30, 2008


Today, I continue to borrow excerpts from the hydrogen chapter of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth (, and relate a story about the Hindenburg.

You’ve all seen blimps, such as the Goodyear or Snoopy MetLife above major sporting events. Every so often, one docks at Lakehurst, New Jersey, where one of the most famous disasters of all time took place, but these modern day dirigibles all today use helium.

At 7:25PM on May 6, 1937, the German Hindenburg, three times longer than a Boeing 747, on its 63rd flight after 3,000 hours of reliable service, attempted to land at Lakehurst, and burst into flames, in 34 fiery seconds killing 36 people and sending the future of hydrogen into jeopardy. Sabotage? Perhaps, as Hitler was beginning his rampage. Weather? Thunderstorms had delayed the arrival by 12 hours already, and it was getting dark. Pilot error? Indications are that Captain Max Prust, in a hurry, might have made too tight a turn, maybe causing a fabric cell holding hydrogen to leak. Addison Bains, a long-time member of HTAP, has made a retirement career of proving that hydrogen was not the reason for the accident, it was the paint, he said. But the weight of scanty evidence is that there probably was a hydrogen leak, and the gas was sparked by an electrical charge.

In any case, these lighter than air crafts no longer use hydrogen. Will the public eventually forget the Hindenburg? Probably not. But should this disaster prevent the use of hydrogen for fuel? The Atomic Bomb led to fission power, now 17% of all electricity produced. Well, maybe that was not too good an example, but, with care and proper design, hydrogen can become a safe fuel for the future.

The price of oil stayed just above $140/barrel today.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


If Peak Oil and Global Warming combine to clobber Planet Earth and Humanity, two things will happen: a global depression and discomfort to our wellbeing. The affect on our economy, of course, will also significantly impact our lifestyle, but the true fear is if the Venus Syndrome occurs to terminate Homo Sapien life. You can go to Chapter 5 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth ( to read the gory details.

Regarding the economy, early signs show that we are already in something on the order of a recession, and Hawaii will be hurt more than almost everywhere else. Why? Because our economy is dependent on tourism, and the cost of jet fuel will very negatively affect these revenues. If China and Korea can send a sufficient number of visitors because of improvements in visa requirements, we might luck out at only a 20% drop. I fear, though, that 50% potential. Around the world, the shadow of bad economic times loom.

Chapter 5 in SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity ( provides a glimpse of these signs. Until 1971 gold generally sold for less than $50/troy ounce. Gold is now up to $923/toz, and there seems to be some correlation between high gold prices and a really poor economy. In 1980, just after the second energy crisis, gold shot up to $875/toz. Of course, $875/toz is equivalent to a price today of $2300/toz, so it has been a lot worse. Gold has gone up 11.3% from a year ago, but platinum has jumped by 34.7% and silver by 19.1%.

Ominously, oil yesterday hit $142.99/barrel and ended at $140.21, both ALL TIME HIGHS. Our stock market reacted by the DOW dropping 460 points on Thursday and Friday. Oil has leaped up 46.1% from a year ago.

Let’s look at comparisons of other exchanges and commodities with a year ago:

Dow Jones -14.46%
Shanghai -42.85%
Paris -21.67%
Hong Kong -20.75%
Singapore -14.71%
Tokyo -11.52%

But Chevron has increased in value by 4.5%, Costco by 0.5% and Wal-Mart by 8.8%. United Airlines is down 30.1%, Boyd Gaming 21.7%, Royal Caribbean 20% and McDonald’s 2.4%.

Foreign Exchange Currency per U.S. Dollars:

Euro +14.8%
Japanese Yen +13.2%
Singapore Dollar +11.4%
Chinese Yuan + 9.9%
Russian Ruble + 9.1%
British Pound 0
Hong Kong Dollar 0

Food increases:

Corn 65.6%
Soybeans 31.9%
Wheat 1.2%
Orange Juice -24.3%

What do these all mean? I don’t know, I'm an engineer, not an economist. We’ll see where we are in a year.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Wow, as of this writing, the price of oil skipped past $142/barrel. That is, again, an all-time high. On this note, stepping back in time a quarter century, I enter my post of today, which is an almost whimsical view on hydrogen from Chapter 2 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth (

Paraphrasing Robert Cowen, science editor for the Christian Science Monitor:

o Huckster phrases abound.

o At an American Chemical Society meeting, Gabor Somarjai and his colleagues from the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory announced the use of iron oxide (rust, not expensive platinum) as a breakthrough for the sun powered electrolysis production of hydrogen. However, Bruce Parkinson of the Solar Energy Research Institute said that Somarjai was making a big deal out of nothing, for the efficiency was 0.05%.

o Soon thereafter, John Bockris of Texas A&M held a press conference reporting on efficiencies exceeding 10% to produce hydrogen at a cost equivalent of $1/gallon gasoline. Chemical and Engineering News, however, reacted sharply, and the A&M public relations office responded that there were, of course, uncertainties and engineering difficulties between dream and reality.

All this occurred in 1983.

Where are we today? Well, Honda said it would market a hydrogen fuel cell hybrid car this coming year. But I'm still wondering if methanol might serve as the better bridge to our energy future.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


But, did settle at $139.30/bbl. Why the record jump? Chakib Khelil, president of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, predicted that oil prices could rise to between $150 and $170 a bbl this summer. He did say that the price, though, won't hit $200/bbl, and should decline later this year.

OPEC consists of 12 countries with the following production quota (barrels/day):


Saudi Arabia---------------8943 (will produce 9500 In June and 9700 in July)
Iraq----------------------------(??) (but produced 2500 in May)
United Arab Emirates---2567
Algeria -----------------------1357


Indonesia quit OPEC a couple of months ago. Membership has been offered to Bolivia, Sudan, Syria and Brazil.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Yesterday, was a fun digression (unless you actually were one of those with the tomato salmonella ailment) away from energy and the environment. Today, I repeat my first blog summarizing all 12 chapters from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth ( and SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity (, with some minor updates.
From SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth:
PREAMBLE: Not only has petroleum shot past $100/barrel, the current price is nearing $120/barrel (of course, oil almost hit $140/bbl and seems comfortable in the $135/bbbl range). You might recall in the 70’s when the first and second energy crises catapulted $3/barrel oil all the way up to $12/barrel. At the time of the 1973 crisis we were importing about a third of our oil needs…today, we are in the range of two-thirds. So, we decided to replace gasoline with ethanol. Hmm, the World Bank just reported that global food prices have risen 83% in the last three years, and the primary cause was our decision to convert corn into ethanol, plus surging oil. So what is the SIMPLE SOLUTION? Come to the book signing…read the book.
Tax Black Energy: You Will Pay for Global Warming: Coal is the worst fossil fuel for global warming. Incredibly, today, coal is the fastest growing energy source. China uses more coal than the U.S., European Union and Japan combined. Each week or so, a new coal power plant is commissioned in China that would satisfy all the households in Dallas or San Diego. And India is right behind China. In 2030, India is expected to pass the population of China. The USA is scheduled to build a 500 MW coal-fired power plant (to supply electricity to 500,000 homes) ONLY each month for the next 22 years. How, then, can we reduce the use of coal and other fossil fuels? Find a way to invoke a 10 cents / carbon dioxide investment credit (also known as a tax) program. Who will pay this penalty? Ultimately, you, the consumer, of course. We don’t, yet, because we don’t value our environment enough. This the fatal flaw of our society: we don’t do anything much until it is too late.
The World is Already Suffering from $7/Gallon Gasoline (No, make that $11/gallon!): Even at $4/gallon, gasoline is a bargain in the USA. That is only because our government is kind and does not tax this fuel enough. (Gasoline in Germany is already more than $11/gallon, and other European countries are not much lower.) The U.S. Department of Energy in one year allocates about a billion dollars to sustainable energy research. We daily spend that amount on gasoline. A simple solution would be to add just $1/gallon to the pump price, call it the smart investment incentive, and apply this fund to develop sustainable fuels for humanity. Some relative costs per gallon:
Gasoline in USA -------------------------$ 3.50 (Now above $4/gallon)
Gasoline in Hong Kong -------------------$ 7.50 (Europe now above $10/gallon)
Scope Mouthwash ---------------------$ 15.00
Gallon of Beer in Restaurant -----------$ 20.00
Evian (naïve backwards) ---------------$21.00
Brake Fluid (mostly oil) ----------------$34.00
Johnny Walker Black Label Scotch ----$160.00
Channel #5 Perfume ---------------------$4000.00
Computer printer ink --------------------$5000.00
Yes, petroleum shot past $110/barrel, but that is only $2.62/gallon. Energy is expensive, but cheap. (A convenient rule of thumb is that $126/barrel = $3/gallon.)
Green Energy Would Be Cost Competitive…If Polluters Were Charged for Dumping Carbon Dioxide into Your Atmosphere: Electricity from coal and nuclear sources costs about 3 to 4 cents / kWh to produce. Under ideal conditions, wind power and geothermal energy electricity is in the range of 4 to 6 cents/kWh. Solar photovoltaic electricity is today more than 20 cents/kWh, and even with the latest Nanosolar thin film development, will exceed 10 cents/kWh, although utility scale facilities show promise. Electricity in Hawaii averages higher than 25 cents/kWh. The Nation is about 10cents/kWh. But there is no charge for polluting the air with carbon dioxide. A 10 cents / pound carbon dioxide tax would make even solar photovoltaic electricity competitive with coal/nuclear power. Well, actually, nuclear power would then become the cheapest, but that is another issue.
The Answer for Biofuels: Methanol, Not Ethanol, Stupid! The national policy is to produce ethanol from corn. This has doubled the price of corn and tripled the price of wheat. The World Bank has reported that the global food prices have risen 83% during the past three years, and blamed corn ethanol, plus the soaring price of petroleum. Farmers are happy, and their lobbyists will spend $80 million this year to insure for the next $300 billion farm subsidy bill.Ah, but they’re thinking, and the next phase will be to ferment the fibrous part of plants to produce more ethanol. However, given biomass, it is cheaper and more convenient to gasify and catalyze this cellulose into methanol. There are other clean liquid fuels, of course, but methanol is the simplest of them all, and that should translate into better economics. Plus, methanol is the only biofuel capable of being directly processed by a fuel cell, the possible next generation automobile “engine.” The direct methanol fuel cell iPod will soon replace one powered by a battery.Our Nation will soon be faced with two types of White Elephants: corn to ethanol facilities, where the feedstock will be too expensive, and biomass to ethanol fermentation factories, which taxpayers will continue to subsidize in some way. Within the decade, they will not be able to compete with biomass to methanol processes.
Hydrogen is the Silver Bullet for Sustainability: Hydrogen is the simplest molecule and the most abundant element in our Universe. It can be burned to cook food, where water vapor is the by-product. Processed in a fuel cell, electricity can be produced. The future of aviation could be hydrogen powered, for this is the lightest fuel. The sun fuses hydrogen to provide energy to Planet Earth. Yes, nuclear fusion is solar energy. But hydrogen is expensive and the infrastructure will take a generation or two or more to develop. If Peak Oil and Global Warming is as serious a problem as feared, one solution would be to make hydrogen free by, say, the Year 2020, and provide funds to industry to build the infrastructure and make available the fuel. Otherwise, given business as usual, it will take a century to get there, maybe. As such, methanol might well be an ideal bridge to a future hydrogen economy, for the business system is largely already in place, and, amazingly enough, one gallon of methanol has more hydrogen than one gallon of liquid hydrogen. Thus,“Silver Bullet” might well be the operative term when today applied to hydrogen, for that metaphor has negative connotations. Hydrogen seems fated to eventually prevail, but not very soon.
Hawaii Can Lead the Coming Blue Revolution: One thousand meters below the surface of the ocean is deep cold water at 4 degrees Celsius, which can be combined with the warmer surface water to produce electricity through ocean thermal energy conversion. The resultant effluent is also rich in nutrients to fertilize marine biomass plantations and support next generation fisheries. The Blue Revolution is the concept to produce sustainable energy, food, materials and habitats from the riches of the sea. In the process it is possible that global warming can be remediated and the formation of hurricanes prevented. Hawaii is ideally located to lead the effort.
Global Warming: Would You Believe if our World Temperature Rises to 900 °F?The increasing carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is projected to raise the atmospheric temperature a few degrees. However, there is another Greenhouse Gas, methane, the major component of natural gas, which can be found in the frozen tundra and bottom of the ocean encased in ice. It is reported that there could be twice the amount of energy in these marine methane hydrates than all the known coal, oil and natural gas. Gas and ice rise to the surface if jostled. Worse, one molecule of methane is at least 20 times worse than a molecule of carbon dioxide in the warming of Earth.Under a worst case scenario, could Planet Earth be transformed to Planet Venus, which is at a temperature of 900 °F? Sudden increases in atmospheric temperatures have been experienced in the geologic history of Planet Earth, supposedly caused by higher methane concentrations. Could we be triggering this effect through global warming? So what is the simple solution?
If a Mega Tsunami Destroys Seattle, Can Hawaii be Blamed? Should there be a major earthquake in the bottom of the ocean, the highest tsunami possible is only about 10 meters. However, if a good portion of an island falls into the sea quickly and deeply enough, a mega tsunami of 100 meters and higher can be generated. The Nuuanu Landslide of about a million years ago could well have caused a mega tsunami. Looking from Kaneohe towards the Koolaus, that magnificent scene represents the inside of the crater that remained after the other half fell into the ocean. The remnants can still be seen in the deep sea.Hawaii is known to have had the greatest number (17) of such events. Can the Northeast side of the Big Island (which would include Hilo, unfortunately) fall into the sea to cause a mega tsunami six hours later in Seattle? Probably not, but…maybe.
From SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:
PREAMBLE: Book 1 of the SIMPLE SOLUTIONS series focused on energy and the environment. Book 2, for Humanity, provides simple, but extreme, solutions for crime, war, eternal life, education, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and religion, concluding with a suggestion on where might be the place to live. These thoughts are shared to stimulate discussions about what is real and what might be attainable.
Three Strikes and You’re Dead: This Could be the Simple Solution to Crime: Have you had a car stolen by a criminal who has been convicted 47 times? There are “three strikes and you’re out” laws gaining in popularity, but that only results in your taxes paying for more prisons to keep the condemned in air conditioned comfort. What if we had a three strikes and you’re dead law? The crime rate will almost surely drop, the judiciary and enforcement agencies will largely become unnecessary and the money saved can go towards education and human welfare. Unfortunately, there will then be fewer lawyers (sorry, had to add this, as most of my advisors seem to be lawyers). Anyway, don’t get too carried away, as society is humane.
Make Democracies, Not War! Professor Rudy Rummel of the University of Hawaii conducted a comprehensive study and found that, over the past 200 years, no two democracies have ever waged a major war. President George Bush’s plan to democratize the Middle East might well be a reasonable solution to wars.
Are We Ready for Eternal Life? Scientists have found the aging gene and are tinkering with immobilizing it or reversing the process. A more immediate option, though, might be to clone yourself, store your memory in a computer (which should become available within the decade) and place your memory into a younger, better looking and smarter new you. We are closer to these prospects than you might think. Society is resisting, as human cloning seems to be universally disparaged.
We have a Terrible K-12 Educational System…So Live with It! American students are generally below the world average in math, science, analysis, geography and whatever is worth measuring. Our teachers are not paid well for their responsibility. Is this terrible? Perhaps, but this is what we, apparently, want. Your elected officials—meaning, of course, you and other voters—determine spending priorities. You get what you deserve! However, why, then, is the USA the #1 world power? Is there a method to our madness? Probably, for we spend more for higher education than any other country. Seventeen of the best twenty universities are in the United States. Something like the top 5% to 10% of our society is said to be mostly responsible for creativity, progress and ultimate success. We do a terrific job of insuring for this continued dominance through an exceptional university system. Keep complaining about our poor school system, but you can now do it with less anguish and guilt.
What if Aliens have been Trying to Phone Earth? Our solar system is only about 5 billion years old, but the Universe has been around for at least 12 billion years. What if life occurred in some of the billions and billions of galaxies out there, and some life forms are sending signals to us with the cure for cancer, solution to universal peace and the like? NASA is today prohibited by Congress to conduct research on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Is this smart? Why not divert only ten percent the cost of one space shuttle flight (which is around $1 billion) each year to conduct a comprehensive search? Sometimes you need to try something extraordinary to attain the monumental.
The End of Religion? All religions agree on one or more, but usually different, God; but none can prove an afterlife. Can this basic immorality—promising something without proof—serve to undermine one of mankind’s greatest social inventions? As there is no rational reason for pure faith, our educational system surely must by now have sufficiently edified us? Nope! Around 90% of Americans believe in God and an afterlife. This figure is closer to 10% for those in France, Israel and Japan. And why do only 5% of National Science Academy biological scientists believe in an afterlife? How can intelligent Homo Sapiens think so differently? Some say that 9/11 would not have happened if the Muslim terrorists did not believe in an afterlife. Can there be a golden evolution for religion? Can a society continue to progress without religion? Given time—maybe a millennium—most probably.
Where is the Best Place to Live? Hawaii! Why? Read the book.
The price of oil has dipped today just below $135/barrel.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


In general, I have been methodically traipsing through SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth (, but, now and then, when an interesting story surfaces related to any of my chapters, I jump into the future. I could have leaped on the latest report indicating that 92% of Americans believe in God, but, showing some mature restraint, my posting today is related to Chapter 2 in SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity ( on Eternal Life.

How does the Salmonella bacterium get into tomatoes? Here we have an air-tight fruit posing as a vegetable that is actually shiny. I can understand E. coli on lettuce and spinach, as shoddy washing can leave some of that germ on the leaf. Well, the root cause of all these outbreaks originates from crapping animals. Whether it is a pack of wild boars stepping into cow pies, then going on to feed at a spinach farm, leaving some of the cow manure sticking to a few leaves, or an infected rat (or deer or virtually any animal) urinating into a creek to cause leptospiroris, so that no one dares drink from a bubbling brook anymore, the problem can be tracked to bacteria.

By the way, you have a hundred trillion bacteria in your body (more than the number of personal cells), but most are there to keep you going. If you haven’t read my books, you might be surprised to learn that there is more mass in bacteria, viruses and arachaea (yes, this is new, and was only recently discovered in the ocean—kind of like dark matter, but real) than all the living macro systems (fish, trees, you, me).

Thankfully, maybe only one person has died from this latest contagion, and he already was suffering from cancer. As of today, more than 600 individuals from 33 states have been infected by salmonella from tomato, making this Salmonella Saintpaul episode the largest on record. You probably were not even aware that 510 were treated in 2002 and 561 suffered from this illness in 2004. In fact, there have been 13 such salmonella/tomato attacks since 1990.

The Center for Disease Control rule of thumb is that for every reported case, 30 more are not. So there could well be 20,000 sick people out there from this strain. How do you know if you contract this illness? From 6 to 72 hours after eating this tainted food, you could suffer from abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, chills, and fever, usually lasting a day or two. Who knows if you had the 36 hour flu or salmonella poisoning, for rarely does anyone go through clinical screening for this ailment.

So how does a gleaming tomato give you salmonella? Simple, for the process of picking and packing can damage the skin, and any contaminant coming from ranch runoff, or, in general, animal waste sources, can thus enter this fruit. Of course, if you cook it, like in spaghetti sauce, you’re okay, even if you use E. coli hamburger. Temperature can make a big difference. Alcohol kills this bacterium, but make sure it is ethanol if you plan to eat the tomato.

What about eggs and salmonella? Well, another strain, Salmonella enteriditis, is found in about 1 in 20,000 eggs. Yes, “in.” If you eat a raw egg a day for 57 years, you reach that ratio. Cooking kills this microbe. What about those blood spots or ropey strands? Nah, they’re both okay to eat.

The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was a 1978 movie costing $100,000. There have been three sequels, and only one actor has appeared in all of them, Costa Dillon. These are spoofs of The Birds, Jaws, etc. Why am I reporting all this? You might someday find yourself on a TV quiz show. And a fourth sequel is now being made, with, maybe, Jim Carrey. Anyway, you can almost surely expect another attack of the salmonella tomatoes in the future.
Oil today seems stable at just under $137/barrel.

Monday, June 23, 2008

SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Peak Oil and Global Warming

The 19June08 issue of The Economist very well captured the state of energy and global warming today, with vague hints on future directions. Some consensus, though, appears to now be forming about the current situation and potential pathways:

1. The global economy is unsustainable and possibly headed towards collapse.

2. Peak Oil plus surging demand will continue to increase the price of petroleum.

3. Global Warming will result in a Carbon Tax.

4. It will take improvements in energy efficiency and a range of sustainable energy resources to minimize the coming pain, and nuclear power will no doubt be included.

The problem is that society suffers from a fatal flaw: we can't seem to make smart decisions until it is too late. Thus, we will agonize, then suffer, but, somehow, again recover. Is there a better way?

We should have done something after the first energy crisis in 1973, but did not even do anything much after the second energy crisis in 1979. Part of the problem is that Ronal Reagan decimated the American solar program when he became president in 1982, and the world followed suit. Understandably, too, there was no need for panic, as gasoline (in 2005 dollars) cost about $2/gallon in 1950, jumped to $3/gallon in 1980, but dropped to $1.30 in 1998. (Go to SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth-- details on this paragraph and much of the following.)

Thus, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change came at the worst time possible when oil prices were nearing an all-time LOW. Again, in 2005 dollars, oil cost $18.76/barrel in 1972, $89.48/bbl in 1980, $14.38/bbl in 1980...and is now somewhere over the rainbow in the range of $135/bbl, in 2008 dollars. The fact that China and India were excused made it easy for the incoming George W. Bush administration to also opt out in 2000. No matter how conscientious you want to be, reducing carbon dioxide became a joke when those countries conforming to those environmental rules began to lose investments and jobs, made all the more hilarious when just the additional coal power plants of China, the U.S. and India dwarfed all the carbon dioxide savings accrued by the 182 parties who signed and took steps. By the way, India and China did ratify the protocol. It's just that they don't have to follow the strictures

In 2006 came the 600-page Stern report commissioned by British Chancellor Gordon Brown. The solution was simple: annually invest 1% of the World Gross Domestic Product to stabilize greenhouse gas concentration over the next 50 years to prevent a global recession. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said we might need to invest as much as 3% of the GDP by 2030 to limit long-term global warming. This is serious money, as a household in the UK with a weekly income of $700/month would be taxed an additional $91/month (or $3 per day) for this program.

Then on June 6 of this year, the International Energy Agency indicated that the world would need to spend $45 trillion by 2050 just to meet the target of a 50% cut in emissions suggested by the G8 nations, where the atmospheric temperature would still probably increase by a little more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The 2008 U.S. Federal budget is $2.66 trillion, so we are talking really big money, and not even getting close to solving the problem.

International study groups can suggest all they want, but someone has to make a decision. The G8 nations next meet from July 7-9 in Japan, where the main theme is the environment. Will there finally be a firm resolution to Peak Oil and Global Warming? No! No! No! No! No!
Our leaders will dialogue and express sincere concerns, but we might need to wait until 2012 when those heads of countries meet in the United States, when someone like, perhaps, Barack Obama, will be in his 4th year of presidency. It will take all that time, anyway, to gain some consensus and arrive at a workable plan. But actual decisions will be made only if the world is by then in the midst of depression, where, maybe millions have succumbed to a particularly hot summer, and oil rests at $250/barrel. But, then, isn't that a bit too late?

So what is the SIMPLE SOLUTION? Read SIMPLE SOLUTIONS (http://SimpleSolutionsBook1 and The first action step I took was reported in my first HuffPost ( of May 29, 2008, entitled, "Well, Barack, We Have a Problem." But what was I thinking when I only suggested a trillion dollar solution.

Petroleum ended up today at $136.67/barrel, even though Saudi Arabia promised to produce more oil.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Early in the 80's, I drafted the original version of what later became the Matsunaga Hydrogen Act. The following is excerpted from Chapter 3 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth (

During the mid to later ‘80’s, there was considerable interaction with the Congress on passing the Matsunaga hydrogen bill. We published “The Hawaii Hydrogen from Renewable Energy Program,” in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy in 1988, to further establish Hawaii’s credibility in this field.284 But something was missing regarding lobbying for passage of Sparky’s legislation. We needed industry. However, there was none.

So I helped convene a trigger mechanism when in 1989 at the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, I participated in forming the National Hydrogen Association. I served for two separate terms on the NHA Board, and can give considerable credit to their staff for their able and continued interfacing with the Congress and White House. Jeff Serfass, with Debbi Smith, has steadfastly guided the organization. The fact that this was an industry organization of a “future” option provided that important factor called credibility. Without the NHA there probably wouldn’t be a hydrogen budget today.

Unfortunately, Matsunaga passed away on April 15, 1990, and on his deathbed, Congressman Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), who was appointed to take Sparky’s seat, promised to carry the torch into the future. The Matsunaga Hydrogen Act was finally enacted and signed on November 15, 1990 by Republican president, George Bush, in the continued spirit of bipartisanship. However, it was fortuitous that Bush and Matsunaga were acquaintances, as they were freshmen congressmen in 1963, and this Democrat now and then was invited for formal dinners to the Republican White House. The energy bill enacted by the U.S. Congress in 2005, when Republicans ran the Congress, again refers to the hydrogen portion as the Spark M. Matsunaga Act of 2005.

As hydrogen had to be a 25-year plan, the strategy we developed when the bill was first drafted in 1980 was to insure for bipartisan support As Congress and the White House change political flags every so many years, we needed both parties to be vested. In the early years of funding, for example, Congressman George Brown (D-California) and Congressman Robert Walker (R-Pennsylvania) were both instrumental and necessary to initiate action in the House and cheerlead the White House. In hindsight, we were short-sighted in only embarking on a 25 year plan, for nearly 30 years have transpired since my days in the Senate Russell and Hart Buildings, and another quarter century, at least, will be required. With muted hope, I now call it a 55-Year Plan for Sustainable Hydrogen.

A second feature had to do with the legislation creating a citizen advisory group, something never really before tried in energy. The Act instructed the Secretary of Energy to form the Hydrogen Technical Advisory Panel (HTAP) to guide the Secretary and his staff. Plus, HTAP was commanded to report, in parallel, to Congress. No other energy entity—not in fossil, not nuclear, not solar—had this embedded activist organization as part of the administrative and legislative superstructure. I served for ten years on that Panel, and in lean years when renewable energy funding was down (because oil prices were relatively low), from the mid-90’s onwards, the hydrogen budget kept growing.

Moving into the future in regards to the budget and HTAP, the 2005 energy bill restored the panel, and added fuel cell to the title. The hydrogen budget that year was twice that of the solar budget. In 2006, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, to meet congressional requirements, reconformed HTAP into the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee (HTAC), naming twenty-five members, only Alan Lloyd, who was elected chairman, being a carryover from past HTAPs, but Robert Walker, former congressman, also now officially sits with that group. So does J. Craig Venter. Interestingly enough, in the 2007 Full Senate Appropriations Committee write-up on Energy and Water, “the Committee notes that virtually every program except Hydrogen Research and Development suffers a reduction from the fiscal year 2007.”17 That is, the White House had reduced the request for ALL renewable energy program for fiscal 2008, but maintained the hydrogen portion. The Senate Appropriations Committee expanded the USDOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy budget by nearly $500 million over President Bush’s, and further, augmented the $213 million hydrogen budget by an additional $15 million.

Friday, June 20, 2008


“I’ve never seen our lack of strategic depth be where it is today.”

General Richard Cody, Army Vice Chief of Staff
TIME, April 14, 2008

Let me see now, there is no USSR cold war threat. China spends $45/citizen for defense, while we invest about $2700/person on national security. Iran and North Korea are not global menaces. There are probably less than 100,000 terrorists, with a small fraction of them worthy of our concern. There will be no dangerous enemy on the horizon for generations to come, if ever. It was on this note that I submitted my first HuffPost on May 29, 2008 entitled, “Well, Barack, We have a Problem…”

How significant is national security in our Federal budget? Our fiscal 2008 discretionary funding is $941.4 billion. Defense and related accounts amount to $553.8 billion, but a supplemental sum of $306.6 billion needs to added for our Global War on Terror and related needs. Thus, this year, we will spend $859.9 billion on WAR, much more than double what the Federal Government will expend on everything else! The Department of Energy will get $23.9 billion, of which about a $1 billion will be for renewable energy development, and the Environmental Protection Agency will spend $7.5 billion.

Is General Cody, maybe, exaggerating the truth? Actually, probably no, but not for a reason you might expect. With defense taking up so much of the national budget, you would think that we should be well covered to defend ourselves. Well, our troop strength in the Middle East is about 191,000. Divided by our population of 304 million, this gives a ratio of 0.0006. In 1945, we had 16 million mobilized with a population of 140 million. The ratio then was 0.1143. In other words, if you divide .0006 into .1143, this would mean that we should be able to increase our total troop strength in this world hot spot by a factor of close to 200.

That comparison is almost meaningless, of course, for we have three million in uniform and reserve. But this makes you wonder what the concern is with only 6% of our available military actually in the Middle East, having had a period longer than World War II to make strategic adjustments. On an equal ratio basis with 1945, we should be able to mobilize 35 million, and points out that about 109 million are fit for military service in our country. Now that would really jack up the defense budget. But, certainly, for what?

All these numbers and analyses are interesting, maybe, but the whole point is, why are we spending so much money on national security? Is there a better way to gain the peace? We can talk about the military-industrial complex and their hammerlock over the White House and Congress. That’s formidable. But perhaps the nature of world politics is such that it is time to mind our own business and invest in our national infrastructure and personnel. Maybe also do something about Peak Oil and Global Warming. Our presidential candidates talk about change, and our defense budget is a good place to start, providing the financial resources to actually do some real good.
The price of oil this weekend settled at $135/barrel.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Well, a lot more oil money is given to Republican candidates, who therefore display their loyalty by voting against the environment. A good example is Republican Congressman and Whip Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), who, on June 5, 2008, displayed on his web page the following:


ANWR Exploration ----------97% supported -----78% opposed
Oil shale exploration -------90% supported ------86% opposed
Offshore exploration --------81% supported ------83% opposed

He was merely pointing out that Republicans have been trying to develop homegrown energy reserves while Democrats were the ones responsible for our current energy predicament. Of course, it is no surprise that the League of Conservation Voters, a nonpartisan environmental group, gave him the lowest possible score, zero, seven of the past eight congressional sessions.

Last week in the U.S. Senate, Democrats could not muster the votes to overcome a Republican filibuster on a plan for a windfall profits tax on the oil industry. The week before that Republican Senators killed the climate change mitigation bill. I loved Senator Bernard Sanders’ quoted response: “The American people must be wondering what in God’s name is going on in their nation’s capital.” Sanders is an Independent from Vermont.

When I worked in the U.S. Senate, President Jimmy Carter had a progressive solar energy program. But that was mostly because we were in the depths of the second energy crisis and there were such things as gasoline lines. I was still there when Ronald Reagan became president and decimated the national solar program. I went on to become director of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute in the mid-80’s when there were very little Federal funds for renewable energy research. Hub Hubbard, director of the then Solar Energy Research Institute (now National Renewable Energy Laboratory), and I had an inside joke of not getting much funding, but were nevertheless increasing our market share to keep surviving. SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth, shown in the box on the right, goes into the politics of renewable energy.

Mind you, the only Democratic president since then, Bill Clinton, did not do very much for sustainable resources. In fact, somewhat influenced by the aura of global warming, his administration gave their full blessing for increasing natural gas use over coal for electricity production. So what happened? The U.S. in seven years added more gas-fired electric generation capability than the entire capacity of Europe. So what happened? The price of natural gas tripled, and it is said that not only did American consumers end up paying a lot more for energy, but we also exacerbated our carbon footprint. We have not been very smart in our energy planning, which can be expected, for we still don’t have any national energy policy (see my HuffPost of June 2, 2008).

The Congressional Insiders Poll reported on June 7, 2008 showed that 95% of Democrats and 26% of Republicans agreed with the following statement: “Do you think it’s been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Earth is warming because of man-made pollution?” Go to for details.

John McCain on June 18, 2008, called for the construction of 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030, drilling for oil in the coastal zone and, again, a summer waiver of the Federal gasoline tax. Barack Obama disagrees on all the above and has continued to emphasize conservation, mass transit and wind, solar and green energy. McCain co-sponsored the climate change mitigation legislation in the Senate, so Obama will not be able to make this major Republican-Democrat difference an issue. But the evidence is overwhelming that Republicans love fossil.

How are these inclinations affecting their electability? In a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll of June 4-5, 2008, voters nationwide were asked, “Which of the following issues will be MOST important to you when you decide how to vote for the president? The results were: the economy (42%), war in Iraq (24%), health care (12%), terrorism (11%), illegal immigration (8%) and other (1%). Peak Oil and Global Warming, thus, combined, rate less than 1%, and did not even make the list.

A Los Angeles Times / Bloomberg Poll of May 1-8, 2008, essentially asked this same question and the environment got 4%. No mention of gasoline or energy. Thus, are Republican/Democratic platforms on energy and the environment irrelevant?

Actually, no, as the Pew Research Center survey of May 21-25, 2008 showed that registered voters thought energy (77%) and the environment (62%) were important issues. Why this remarkable discrepancy among polls? Mainly, the other surveys asked what was the one MOST important issue.

Gasoline sells for more than $10/gallon in Europe (in the $11/gallon range in Germany), so even $5/gallon in the U.S. should be a blessing. Well truckers will begin to rebel and the matter of energy as a problem will grow through the summer, especially if Morgan Stanley is correct that oil will hit $150/barrel by Independence Day.

So what is the conclusion? A wild card in this upcoming election is that McCain and Obama are at polar opposites on the matter of energy. The issue of fossil / nuclear energy versus green energy could well be the uniquely different determining factor in November.
Oil today settled at around $132/barrel.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


The story continues from Chapter 2 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth (

The original hydrogen economy was invented by plants 3 billion years ago when they used sunlight to combine carbon dioxide and water through photosynthesis to produce hydrogen, which was a necessary ingredient to manufacture carbohydrates, disposing oxygen as a waste product. These early life forms used manganese-oxygen clusters to split water, and still do. Bacteria utilizes iron and nickel for the same purpose, and one of the projects with which I am currently involved hopes to increase the efficiency through genetic engineering to produce hydrogen from sunlight or dark reactions.

But let’s jump to 1968 when John O’M Bockris began to play a role in the modern history of hydrogen. The following is a summary of what he related to me by e-mail on April 10, 2006, which also can be found in his Energy Options (1985):

Late ‘60’s: In Stockholm, he heard at a dinner conversation that a Nazi scientist, Frans Lawaczeck, who it is said, was influenced by Jules Verne, as early as 1907 advocated electrolyzing water and getting the electricity back through fuel cells, or by burning the gas, all pollution free.

Early ‘70’s: While a consultant for General Motors, he was asked to lead a “brain stormer” discussion on the future sources of energy. As hydrogen kept coming up, he said, "It would seem we are in for a Hydrogen Society." Neil Triner, a technician in the group said: "It will be a Hydrogen Economy." No one asked, then, what was meant. Then in 1972, Bockris and John Appleby wrote: "The Hydrogen Economy—an Ultimate Economy?" No doubt that John Bockris is the Father of the Hydrogen Economy. He published a note, the first proposition for the general use of hydrogen as a medium of energy in a refereed publication, the Environmental Journal. He said that he later learned that the idea had been mentioned in a lecture at Cambridge in 1923 by J.B.S. Haldane. Bockris obtained his PhD from Imperial College. Haldane himself said that liquid hydrogen would give three times more heat per pound than gasoline, providing an early stimulus for hydrogen as an aviation fuel.
The price of oil settled at $136/barrel today.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


The following was excerpted from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth (

In the beginning, there was the Big Bang, and now, there are more hydrogen atoms--90%-- in the Universe than any other element. Historically:

o 1766: British scientist Henry Cavendish first discovered hydrogen by reacting zinc metal with hydrochloric acid. He later found out that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen. Cavendish attended, but never graduated from Cambridge. Through inheritances, he became the single largest holder of bank stock in London. Thirty years after hydrogen, he calculated the mean density of Earth to be 5.448. The current estimate is 5.5.

o 1788: French chemist Antoine Lavoisier named, from hydro and genes, hydrogen, meaning born of water.

o 1800: English scientists William Nicholson and Sir Anthony Carlisle applied an electric current to water to produce hydrogen and oxygen, in a process that later was termed electrolysis.

o 1839: Swiss chemist Christian Friedrich Schoinbein invented the fuel cell, combining hydrogen and oxygen gases to produce water and an electric current.

o 1839: English scientist and judge, Sir William Grove, created a gas battery, and, perhaps, unfairly, claimed the title of “Father of the Fuel Cell.”

o 1874: English author Jules Verne in Mysterious Island used hydrogen as a fuel, and, to quote one of the characters, Cyrus Harding, a Northerner escaping the South during the Civil War: “Water will be the coal of the future.”

o 1920’s: German engineer Rudolf Erren used hydrogen to power the international combustion engines of trucks and submarines, and British scientist J.B.S. Haldane introduced the concept of hydrogen from wind power in his paper, “Science and the Future.”

o 1937: German dirigible, the Hindenburg, inflated with hydrogen gas, erupted into flames in New Jersey. There were ten earlier successful trans-Atlantic flights.

o 1958: NASA uses liquid hydrogen for rocket propulsion.

o 1959: English Scientist Francis Bacon built the first practical fuel cell.

o 1960’s: John O’Sullivan, then with the Army’s Nuclear-Powered Energy Depot, developed a portable nuclear reactor that could split water into hydrogen and oxygen in the field. John went on to chair the U.S. Secretary of Energy’s Hydrogen Technical Advisory Panel in the 90’s.

o 1972: South African/American scientist John O’M Bockris coins the term, “hydrogen economy.”
The price of oil seems to settling in the $134/barrel range today.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Today, we begin a series of postings about hydrogen. This excerpt comes from Chapter 3 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth (
A silver bullet is a metaphor identifying that particular device or mechanism to cure a major problem. In folklore, this was the only means to kill a witch or a werewolf. The Lone Ranger used these bullets, although silver is not only a poor material for such use, but expensive. But witches, werewolves and the Lone Ranger are fiction. In modern medicine, drugs such as penicillin are sometimes ascribed this term. There is sometimes a negative connotation attached, which might well also apply to hydrogen for decades to come.

Can hydrogen be that silver bullet for energy? Hydrogen is expensive, and so is silver, which, cost $1.293/toz in 1793, and pretty much remained at or below that price until 1966, nearly two centuries later. One toz = 1.097 ounce (oz) = 31103.5 carats. In 1979 silver rose to $22/toz, then dropped to $6/toz, and today rests at $17/toz. In comparison, gold now sells for $882 and Platinum $2047...per toz.
They say that inflation is foreshadowed by sudden jumps in the price of precious metal.

Anyway, a silver bullet is a lot cheaper than one made of gold or platinum, the latter, today, necessary for fuel cells. Maybe the analogy of hydrogen with silver might not, then, be all that bad.

My notion of hydrogen as a cure-all for our energy problems I trace back to the middle 1970’s when studies I directed came to a conclusion that Hawaii, and, therefore the World, needed to find solutions for ground and air transport. Our analysis showed that methanol from biomass was clearly the most promising option, then, for vehicular travel, and that twice the amount of this fuel could be produced if cost effective hydrogen were available to add to the conversion process. Secondly, the technically ideal solution for aviation was the hydrogen jetliner.
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe and is fused by our Sun and all the stars to provide energy. Hydrogen is, indeed, versatile, and can be fed into a fuel cell to produce electricity and burned in a gas range to cook food, all the while, if the temperature is well controlled, only produce water as a byproduct. Most importantly, now (then, this was not really known to be a concern) no carbon dioxide is generated, and therefore, no global warming. Hydrogen must be destined to ultimately be that silver bullet, and key to all this could well be by making hydrogen FREE…otherwise, it might never happen. Far-fetched, but an interesting point of discussion yet to come.
The price of oil closed today at $134.48/barrel.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Some of you suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia, a fear of Friday the 13th, which was yesterday. Buildings sometimes skip that floor and people tend to be a bit more careful that day. Almost a billion dollars is said to be lost to business on this day and the British Medical Journal reported that there is a significant increase in traffic accidents.

You can probably blame the Bible, for Eve offered that fateful apple to Adam, Christ was crucified and Noah’s Great Flood began, all on Friday the 13th. Judas Iscariot was the 13th guest at the Last Supper. This will be the only Friday the 13th in 2008, but three are coming in 2009. Anyway, nothing much happened to Peak Oil and Global Warming this most superstitious of days yesterday.

As Christianity is not popular in the Middle East or Asia, they don't bother worrying over this day over there. However, the number 4 is considered to be bad luck in Japan, so don’t give any presents of four pieces. Why? Because the number 4 is pronounced shi, which is also the word for death. Superstitions are generally based on such things.

Tomorrow is Father’s Day in the U.S., and is celebrated world wide throughout the calendar year. Our first Father’s Day occurred almost exactly a century ago, on July 5 in 1908 in Fairmont, West Virginia to commemorate a coal mining tragedy.

President Woodrow Wilson was instrumental in making this day popular, but it was President Lyndon Johnson who made this a Sunday “holiday,” officially recognized by President Richard Nixon in 1972 on the third Sunday in June.

With Mother’s Day, these remembrances keep business in business. Sons and daughters spend $30 billion each year to honor their parents. This is more than thirty times what the U.S. Department of Energy annually sets aside for renewable energy research. Hmm, maybe one year we should apply all the money spent on these two celebrations towards saving Mother Earth and prolonging the life of Father Time, also known as Peak Oil.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Chapter 2 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth ( provides the following details.

Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev in 1964 classified future civilizations. We are today Type Zero, about 0.0135x10 16 (sorry, not sure how to place superscripts--this is 10 to the 16th power) Watts:


o I: Harness all the power on a single planet 10 to the 16th
o II: From a single star (like our Sun) 10 26
o III: from a single galaxy (like our Milky Way) 10 36

Relative to current and future power:

AVERAGE POWER WATTS (to that power)

o Human cell (1 picoW) 10 -12
o Quartz wristwatch (1 microW) 10 -6
o Human brain 3x10 1
o 100 Watt light bulb 1x10 2
o Human body 1x10 2
o From the Sun on Earth / square meter 1.4x10 3
o Automobile (average) 1.2x10 5
o Aircraft carrier 1.9x10 8
o From the Sun on Earth per square km 1.4x10 9
o Nuclear power plant 3x10 9
o Three Gorges hydroelectric facility 18x10 9
o United States electrical consumption 424x10 9
o World electrical consumption 1700x10 9
o Total used in U.S. (all energy) 3300x10 9
o For global photosynthetic production 5000x10 9
o Total used in the World (all energy) 13,500x10 9
o Energy flux from interior of Earth 44,000x10 9
o Heat released by hurricane 100,000x10 9
o Heat received by Earth from the Sun 174x10 15
o Heat emitted by the Sun 386x10 24
o Heat emitted by the Milky Way Galaxy 5x10 36
o Gamma Ray burst 1x10 45
o Heat from the entire Universe 1x10 56

So, while we might worry about a Gamma Ray blast from space—sometimes created when a star collapses—which can cause severe damage from as far away as five times our Milky Way diameter (remember, it takes light 100,000 years just to travel from one end of our Milky Way to the other), if we are in the pathway, just think about someday engineering the collapse of a nearby star just to extract the energy? These bursts actually occur about daily, and could well be 500 times/day. I’ll let the science fiction writers handle them, and black holes, too.

The price of oil closed at $134.86/barrel ($3.21/gallon) for the week. Someone is still making almost $1/gallon at current gasoline prices.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Hawaii tourism will significantly suffer from the current oil price escalation. Perhaps the time has come to expand our ecotourism opportunities. For more than twenty years now I have tried to interest the State and investors about Hawaiian Onsens. The following is excerpted from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth (

One of my earliest entrepreneurial pursuits was initiated during this period of the 1980’s when I was serving on the board of the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii. This was a time when the Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology (HOST) Park was created adjacent to the ocean thermal energy conversion research facility at Keahole Point on the West Side of the Island of Hawaii. So I spearheaded a campaign to give equal time to geothermal power on the East Side and proposed a Geothermal Utilization and Environmental Science and Technology (GUEST) Park. The “environmentalists” and residents of the Puna region actually supported the concept, but the lack of geothermal effluents, orchestrated by them, closed down the facility.

I thus shifted my interest to starting a new business: Hawaiian Onsens. With Donald Okahara, who ran the largest engineering consultant office on the Big Island, Ronald Kunimitsu, a principal for an architectural firm in Honolulu, and Harry Olsen, a campus geologist, we formed The Pacific Geo-Spa Group to provide services to developers who had an interest in building an onsen (natural spa) in Hawaii.

What about the foul smelling hydrogen sulfide. Well, on trips to New Zealand, I learned that this odor actually attracted tourists to the resort town of Rotorua. The stench, by my standards, was horrific. But, apparently, sulfur is said to be of medicinal value, plus, there were these psychological benefits. I’ve been to a wide variety of these natural spas throughout the world, and every one came with gradations of this aroma.

In Japan, 100 million regularly visit their thermal springs, and so do Europeans to Bath and Baden-Baden. Many of them vacation in Hawaii, so what better than another eco-tourist adventure? In fact, with a volcano that has been continually erupting for more than twenty years (I was actually golfing at the Volcano Golf Course about a quarter century ago when, on the tenth hole, there was a shuddering of the ground, followed by a visible fountain of lava no more than a couple of miles away—this was the beginning of this Kilauea eruption), Hawaii then, and till today, has nothing resembling a geo-spa. Our team would provide local knowledge, scientific evidence of potential hot spots, fusion designs blending East and West and the right contacts for environmental approval and political support. An early supporter, State Senator Richard Matsuura, was instrumental in passing legislation (S.B. No. 3285 in 1990) exempting geothermal fluids below 150 degrees F from environmental restrictions and water drilling constraints.

Harry Olsen, the Spark Matsunaga Fellow in Renewable Energy Engineering, directed the Hawaii geothermal drilling program at that time. He had the capability to use slim hole drilling equipment to prospect for the ideal sites.

In the 1980’s, Jim Woodruff and I presented a paper at one of the geothermal conferences in Hawaii on “Geothermal Spas: A New Business Opportunity in Hawaii,” which helped solidify the foundation for development. In December of 1988, Grant Thornton produced a study for Hawaii on health spas and reported the concept to be highly promising.

In addition to various locations around the island of Hawaii, we found an ideal beachfront property next to the Makena Prince Hotel on Maui. The hotel then was owned by Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, dubbed the richest man in the world. However, I regularly, in those days, stayed at the Seiyo Ginza (in Tokyo) owned by his half brother, Seiji Tsutsumi. So I struck up a conversation with Seiji’s people to consider developing the first onsen resort in Hawaii. Those talks never materialized, and today, poet and businessman Seiji, now in his 80’s, has largely become irrelevant, and Yoshiaki, lord of Seibu, has been scandalized and might well end up in jail. Morgan Stanley supposedly bid $19 billion for Seibu, so a lot of dollars are being tossed around.

In the 1990’s, Seiji Naya, a former campus colleague, became director of the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Taking on the role of university partner to assist in economic development, I drafted white papers, met with potential developers from Japan he recommended, toured them around potential geo-spa sites and, at one, point, actually helped trigger a project to build a spa at a golf course. Alas, even this never happened. However, on my world travels I now and then stopped off at onsens throughout the world to further gain experience and continue to build contacts. I vividly recall spending a night at one along the slopes of Mt. Unzen on Kyushu in Japan, snow falling, a glass of hot sake in hand, just soaking. A few weeks later, there was an eruption, wiping out this onsen. Pompeii…Unzen…that is a concern for geo-spas in Hawaii.

But while the opportunity remains, the Pacific Geo-Spa Group is dormant. I still visit onsens when possible, and now and then talk to interested developers. This is an idea whose time came a long time ago but lacked the right person to lead the way.
Oil ended today just below $137/barrel.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


The price of oil appears to be rising to $137/barrel today.

This is Part Two regarding biofuels. Part One compared ethanol with methanol. This earlier analysis summarily dismissed biodiesel as far too inefficient and miniscule to even be considered for attention.

I've spent most of my professional life in academia. However, my early years were devoted to biomass engineering in industry, and, over time, I also gained broad experience from three years as a Special Assistant in the U.S. Senate, helping start several companies and serving on the board of Hawaii Biotech during its important transition period. For about a third of century I have in various capacities been involved in a wide range of processes to convert biomass into a liquid fuel. I've chaired a range of bio-energy conferences and for the specific field of methanol from biomass, assisted in securing funds in the neighborhood of $25 million to conduct experiments and participate in economic assessments of this option.

You can refer to the biomass section of Chapter 2 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth ( for the details, but by all common, economic and scientific sense, the simplest of alcohols, methanol, should be the sustainable fuel of choice over ethanol. I was thrilled when Nobel Laureate George Olah published Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy. All the science and future speculation you wish to know can be found in this book about this alternative.

Thus, after a lifetime of research and pontification, I recently called my own bluff and drafted a letter to several colleagues to interest them in establishing a biomass to methanol holding company, to be called BioMethanol International. If a partnership is formed, we would seek the advice and active partnership of individuals and organizations throughout the world. If anyone more enterprising can be influenced to start his own company using the following strategy, great, as the whole point of this article is to get this field going.

In the following "hypothetical" letter, A, could well be an experienced venture capitalist operating out of Manhattan, NYC, and B might be Dr. Methanol, himself, perhaps a former professor at MIT who once ran the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) biomass gasification program. C and D are university faculty members. E could be a consultant with the Department of Energy and F a high level official of NREL. In principle, we've been talking about taking this step for over a long, long time, so while these alphabets represent real people who are all aware of the contents, nothing official has happened, yet. So, here is that open letter to my readership:

Dear A, B, C, D, E and F:

Ethanol and biodiesel are slowly sinking as biofuel options, but the Farm Lobby will insure that, if we decide to form a methanol producing enterprise, we will have a few years to refine the effort. As far as I can determine, there is no group obviously on the horizon spearheading a similar venture. E mentioned to me that the bio-energy planning session held in Honolulu in May did not even consider this pathway. While F indicated to me a few months ago that NREL was hoping to start discussions about expanding the national biomass program, it appears that USDOE headquarters will be sticking to their current policy of purposefully excluding methanol. All this is mostly good, for the lack of competition is an almost necessary requirement for us to proceed.

Shockingly, I haven't seen even one overview paper treating the topic: okay, ethanol and biodiesel are dead, so, what else is there? British Petroleum seems to be stuck on fermentation for higher carbon biofuels a very slow and inefficient process, and Shell is dabbling in cellulosic ethanol (if you have fiber, it is easier and cheaper to produce methanol), hydrogen and marine algae for diesel. If there are other teams around the world at our stage or beyond already proceeding, who are they? Maybe we can link with one of them.

The timing is ideal, then, to quickly form a holding company to pursue this methanol from biomass initiative. I would like to suggest the following ten step strategy:
1. Select a company name. We can always change it to suit our needs, so, for now, it shall be BioMethanol, International. If anyone has a better idea, let us know.

2. A, you are the only financial guy on our team, so you can be President. I'm writing this, so I'll make myself chairman of the board. B, do you want to be chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee? C and D, you're teaching, but you can serve on B's committee if you wish. If you can suggest anything more relevant, we'd like to hear from you. E, as you're still consulting for the USDOE, we need to keep you on an informal advisory capacity. Anyone know others who might serve on either the company board or the scientific committee?

3. This should be simple boiler-plate formality for you, so, A, can you send us your version of the articles of incorporation and any financial details, including a strategy for angel financing.

4. We need to begin the process of adjusting congressional language to qualify methanol for the existing and future tax incentives. I'll look into this.

5. C and D, if you wish to participate, can you review the state of knowledge? Gasification systems, catalysts, whatever. You're all busy, so something simple would be satisfactory. If any developmental pathway looks especially promising, let's co-op the technology by asking them to join our partnership, but this has to be after we look credible enough. We should also, later, add a process for converting marine macroalgae to methanol. The moisture content could be a problem. Japan is ahead of us in this area, so I'll inquire.

6. We need to already interact with Barack Obama's people to insure that in the transition they will better appreciate the need to find another pathway to liquid fuels, and methanol, more specifically, should be in their vocabulary. Discussions must be held with the staff of our congressional delegates. We can discuss how this initiative might unfold, but, E, can you figure out who our government contact should be? As of this moment, there is no individual allowed to even think methanol. This person has to be important in 2009, if she exists.

7. There might well be an oil company or equivalent interested in bankrolling this effort. We should explore around, for they have tens of billions available for their future. Under any circumstances, we will someday soon need a major player involved.

8. What our holding company will do will be to sign up the most promising technologies, meld them into an operational system and commercialize the process. Of course, considerable research will still be necessary to fill in the gaps and otherwise enhance the above, so C and D can handle those plans as necessary.

9. I'm completely open to anything, but my sense is that we will create the best possible biomass to methanol concept, including at least a pilot plant operation, and hope some larger company buys us out in five years. A more successful version of the Maui biogasifier project, one that produces real methanol, needs to become operational within five years for a sum of, say, $25 million to $50 million.

10. The toughest part of our challenge will be to secure funding. Well, actually, the more difficult requirement will be to convince anyone of importance that methanol makes more sense than ethanol. We need to discuss these matters at our next stage of activity. While most of this can be accomplished electronically, it would be ideal if a critical mass of us can meet for a day within a few months, either in Honolulu or Denver.

I have attached two articles delving into methanol, and, in particular, the direct methanol fuel cell, for this liquid is the only biofuel capable of being fed to a fuel cell without reformation. I think the DMFC for vehicles will be the breakthrough technology to smooth the way for methanol in a decade. Who knows, we might end up becoming the holding company for this thrust instead, for the DMFC for portable electronics is already close at hand to replace batteries.

This is heresy, but my interest is not in necessarily making a pile of money. The more important objective is to initiate the development for what many of us believe to be the most sensible biofuel: methanol. I look forward to your comments.

Aloha. Pat
P.S. Anyone reading this wishing additional information is encouraged to communicate with me at

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


The price of oil today remains just above $131/barrel.

Ethanol and biodiesel are dead, long live methanol! Methanol is the simplest alcohol, with one carbon atom; ethanol has two. Thus, given biomass, it should be cheaper to produce methanol than ethanol. Surely enough, in a comprehensive assessment Stone & Webster performed for the U.S. Department of Energy two decades ago, with the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute as an associate, this fact was confirmed.

However, methanol has a few flaws. First, if drunk, you can go blind. But, who drinks gasoline? Second, there was a time when methanol was used as the feedstock to produce MTBE as a gasoline additive. MTBE is carcinogenic. Methanol is not, just don’t drink it. Methanol can dissolve certain plastics and embrittle some metals. So change the plastic and metals to avoid this problem.

Methanol has only half the energy content per gallon of gasoline. Ethanol is two-thirds the intensity of gasoline. However, a fuel cell powered vehicle is at least twice the efficiency of an internal combustion engine, so the tank storage problem would be solved with a direct methanol fuel cell. The DMFC for portable electronics is said to soon replace batteries, so the technology is real. Methanol is the only biofuel capable of being directly fed to a fuel cell. Ethanol and gasoline need to first be passed through an expensive reformer.

Plus, and this is difficult to accept, but true: one gallon of methanol has more hydrogen than one gallon of liquid hydrogen. Thus, the infrastructure is already largely in place for a methanol economy. George Olah in his book, Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy, provides all the science and speculation you need.

So why is our country and rest of world enamored over ethanol and biodiesel? In two words, the Farm Lobby. They came up with a politically brilliant scheme to use corn as an answer to imported oil. By so doing, the price of farm commodities recently doubled and more. Farmers are ecstatic! The poor around the world are suffering.

Global food riots occurred, so the Farm Lobby thought, oh, no problem, we’ll now, more and more, begin to convert the cellulose into ethanol, for, after all, those tax incentives are already in place. Well, if you have biomass and want a biofuel, you either hydrolyze and ferment it to produce ethanol, or gasify and catalyze it to make methanol. But the current mentality is stuck in an ethanol mode. Before farmers and their partners build fermented ethanol from biomass factories, they need to totally re-think the long term and just change the congressional language to say: ethanol, biodiesel and other renewable biofuels. Methanol does not even need to be mentioned. Otherwise, they will be creating a second herd of white elephants.

With all this logic, won’t methanol soon displace ethanol? No. Why? The farm lobby is so dominant that they will continue to insure for the continued use of ethanol for another decade because those facilities are already built, and they don't want them to suddenly become obsolete. Okay, fair enough, let those plants profitably phase out. But don’t compound the problem by adding that second elephant herd.

I might add that there has been a sudden surge of interest in biofuels from algae. Certainly, as algae can be from two to ten times more efficient in converting sunlight into biomass than any terrestrial crop; grown in the ocean where there is no irrigation problem (and Peak Freshwater looms on the horizon); if fed the cold water effluent from the ocean thermal energy conversion process there will not be a need fertilizers (farm fertilizers are manufactured from fossil fuels); and with genetic engineering, who knows where this option can go--this has been my dream for a third of a century. However, the eventual costs are unknown. Yes, do the R&D, but don't expect a magic solution within a decade. Biomethanol is real and immediately available for commercial prospecting.

As no one I know is commercially jumping unto the methanol bandwagon, I will tomorrow publish a hypothetical letter to colleagues to inspire some enterprise. The strategies, then, become available to the readers of the Huffington Post. Also, too, perhaps some partnerships can be stimulated to come up to a better solution than ethanol and biodiesel. Let’s do more than share ideas. Let’s take action!

Monday, June 9, 2008


I have already talked about how bad ethanol and biodiesel are and how attractive biomethanol might be. Tomorrow, I will suggest a commercial pathway for this biofuel. The following is extracted from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth (

There are, of course, other esoteric (biofuel) options to consider. In personal conversation with Michael Antal, who is the Coral Industries Distinguished Professor at the University of Hawaii, and, possibly, the only university researcher today who has a chair in biofuels production, he continues to believe that supercritical water technology he developed has the best chance for producing hydrogen or methanol. He has also used the process in collaboration with Lee Lynd of Dartmouth to produce ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass. Several of Professor Antal’s post-doctoral students from Japan have fashioned careers in supercritical water gasification. General Atomics Corporation at one time attempted to advance the concept, but the VERENA pilot plant in Germany conducted the most advanced work in the gasification of biomass in supercritical water. Cost factors, however, ended this effort.

If, because of scientific developments, such as the successful application of the genome table, enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation can be significantly improved, there is also the potential for microbial conversion of biomass to methanol. There are bacteria known as methanotrophs capable of converting cellulose to this alcohol. Considerable R&D, however, still needs to be undertaken. As marine biomass has far too much moisture for gasification, this genetic engineering development could also be an ideal means to produce methanol by fermentation.

There is yet another fuel, dimethyl ether (DME), the simplest ether, obtained by dehydrating methanol, for possible transport use, as DME is more calorific than methanol and already used today as a replacement of CFCs in spray cans. DME has a higher cetane rating (55-60) than diesel fuel (40-55), but is a gas at room temperature and pressure.

The most promising future biomass is marine algae. We will re-visit this option in Chapter 4 on the Blue Revolution, but to quote a colleague, Jaw Kai Wang, from personal notes (gallons oil / year / acre):

o Corn 18
o Soybean 48
o Sunflower 102
o Palm oil 635
o Marine algae 10,000

Thus, the most productive biomass is algae. Efficiencies of greater than 10% have been shown in the laboratory, and one way to help the environment while making a profit is to bubble fossil fuel power plant stack gases into an algae raceway so that carbon, sulfur and nitrogen oxides can be reduced, while producing a marketable product. I was involved with several such projects beginning in the 70’s, and the prospects are now improved with genetic engineering and the future possibility of a carbon tax.
Then, there is the open ocean. Chapter 4 on the Blue Revolution will detail this potential, but, to summarize the promise: the ocean is essentially free, there is no need to irrigate, OTEC upwelling can provide free fertilizer and the total cycle can be free of fossil fuel.

Finally, J. Craig Venter remarked to me that he could cut fermentative biofuel costs by a third or more through his efforts. The field welcomes the use of the genome table, although he will need to contend with the range of biomass controversies.
Oil dropped just below $135/barrel today. Saudi Arabia is considering expanding production, but there continue to be rumours that the confirmed resource base in the Middle East is perhaps only 50% of the supposed known amount.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


The past few days have been ominous and depressing with regarding Peak Oil and Global Warming. First, let me adjust three items from my previous posting:

1. The headline indicated $46 trillion recommended for climate change. We only need $45 trillion, according to the International Energy Agency. This study was the headline article of The Huntington Post Green Section on June 7 ( Remember, now, the entire defense budget of the entire world was $1.2 trillion this past year. So how can you find $45 trillion? Well, most of the expenditures are expected ones, as for anticipated nuclear powerplants and such.

2. I said that on Friday (June 6) that the Dow Jones had dropped by more than 400 points. Not so bad, as the decline was only 395 points. But, will the feared recession transition into the big D?

3. The weekend price of oil actually settled at $138.54/barrel.

But that was not all:




So what do these developments mean? First, there are cherished and traditional organizations not only unconvinced about global warming, but are further reinforcing their contention that this is mostly a liberal and academic conspiracy. Charles Krauthammer's editorial of 30May08 in National Review Online ( well captures the agnostic view on this matter.

Second, the combined hammer of Peak Oil and Global Warming is finally beginning to affect the global economy, as stock markets are beginning to react and unemployment rates are rising.

Third, the reasonably cautious International Energy Agency suggesting $45 trillion (not billion, trillion) to do something about climate change is sobering, as the total annual world defense budget is only $1.2 trillion. That's bad enough, but decision-makers are not even close to agreeing on any societal response. Well, on to Hokkaido later this year for the G8 nations, where the focus is supposedly on the environment. Don't hold your breath, as Obama does not appear until next year.

Friday, June 6, 2008


Yikes, Peak Oil and Global Warming are happening, at least in print.

1. The stock market dropped more than 400 points today.

2. The price of oil surged past $138/barrel today and Wall Street is predicting $150/bbl by Independence Day.

3. The International Energy Agency reported on the need for $45 trillion to combat global warming.


Thursday, June 5, 2008


The Huffington Post is a free internet newspaper allowing for immediate feedback. You can view and comment on the following article by going to:

Type in my name (Patrick Takahashi) in the upper right box and click on SEARCH. Then, click on the article you wish to read.

There is now a green section, which was launched on June 4:

My article made the front page in this charter issue. There are now 86 comments. Somehow, I think, this medium can play an important role in finding simple solutions for Peak Oil and Global Warming....and maybe wars, crime the afterlife and whatever.



There is no national energy policy because there is no public will for one. Sure, blame Congress or President Bush or the oil companies, but we are the problem. We, meaning you, me and others. Part of the reason for our relative insouciance is that life remains okay.

For example, European gasoline prices can be almost triple ours. France is just below $10/gallon, Norway just above and Germany is already up to $11.50. As would be expected, protests are growing. Soon, there could be major demonstrations, if not uncontrolled rioting. You can, of course, move to Venezuela. Simple Solutions for Planet Earth listed gasoline at 12 cents / gallon last year. Today, gasoline still costs 12 cents / gallon there. But do you really want to relocate to that part of the world just for gasoline?

By the way, ten years ago, the price of crude oil was $11.91/barrel, less than one-tenth the cost today. Has something monumental occurred? Ah... yes, although my response should have been more hysterical.

When you come down to it, we have our priorities all wrong, and do nothing about righting this nonsense. For example, each NASA space shot is said to cost about a billion dollars. This is more than the annual Department of Energy renewable energy budget.

B-2 Stealth bomber sells for one billion dollars... no, make that $2 billion, including all development costs. A B-2 weighs 2.3 million troy ounces, which, if made of pure gold, would then have a value of, yes, about $2 billion. Of course, it won't fly, but want more?

The U.S. Navy will outlay $160 million/year to man each Nimitz class aircraft carrier, and when the George Bush is christened (no joke, but named for POTUS #41, H.W.) this year, there will be ten of them. The President George W. Bush solar energy budget request is about half what it will cost to operate one nuclear carrier! And we have ten of them... with no major enemy today, and none clearly on the horizon for the next generation or more.

The American public readily accepts this absurdity. Where are the priorities? What can you do about this? You can start by reading those two Simple Solutions books.

The world needs to spend not billions, but trillions, of dollars over the next few years to minimize the crunch of Peak Oil and Global Warming (PO/GW). Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz has a new book entitled, The Three Trillion Dollar War, reporting on the true cost of the Middle East war. The PO/GW 10% solution recommended to POTUS #44 in my May 29th post only provided the global federal government investment. Most of the actual outlay will need to come from industry. But, without the force of law or appropriate spur from government, we have seen that corporations are loath to move into unexplored investment areas, as, for example, sustainable resources, or the remediation of global warming.

So with crude oil settling in the range of $126/barrel (which is exactly $3/gallon), are we now, finally, soon to get a national energy policy? No. Two presidential candidates (John McCain and Hillary Clinton) have actually proposed eliminating the 18.4¢/gallon (24.4¢/gal for diesel) tax during the three summer months to win some votes. Barack Obama said it was a gimmick and Thomas Friedman of The New York Times entitled his editorial: "Dumb as We Wanna Be." Friedman said, in reference to McCain and Clinton, "the unifying idea is so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away."

What's the reality? First of all, if this tax is dropped for the summer, the consumer would be saving 5% -- 5% -- on their gas bill. This should be a non-issue! Gasoline increases this amount each week, sometimes, if not more.

How much money are we talking about? Actually, something in the range of $10 billion. Wow, that's a lot. The U.S. Department of Energy spent less than this amount for renewable energy R&D,cumulative, over the past decade.

Well, Exxon, during this past quarter, made a profit of $10.9 billion, which Wall Street found disappointing. Chevron's profits only amounted to $5.2 billion, the second best quarter in their 132 year history. (How long has oil been around, anyway? Well Chevron first struck oil in California in 1876. Drake drilled for his Pennsylvania petroleum in 1859.) Remember, these profits are only for January, February and March of 2008.

Cutting the gas tax is going in the wrong direction. We need to add a dollar/gallon and apply this revenue to developing sustainable options. That would provide about $150 billion each year, which would be just the complement to the 10% solution suggested in my "Well, Barack, We Have A Problem..." National energy policy? Why bother? A dollar/gallon investment tax on gasoline, the 10% solution and a 10 cents / pound carbon dioxide tax are all we need. Carbon tax? Stay tuned.
Patrick Takahashi is a retired professor of engineering and director emeritus of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute at the University of Hawaii. He helped draft original legislation on hydrogen, ocean energy and wind power when he worked for the U.S. Senate more than a quarter century ago.

Go to for comments.

Looks like oil is going up again, for at the time of this posting, it was close to $128/barrel.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


In 1995 the world had about 5,000 megawatts of wind power, about the equal of five large coal or standard nuclear power plants. By 2006, the capacity jumped to 70,000 MW, and is today at around 100,000 MW. Germany is #1 with 23,000 MW, the U.S. #2 and approaching 20,000 MW with Spain #3 at more than 15,000 MW. North Dakota supposedly has potential for close to 140,000 MW, Texas 136,000 MW and Kansas about 120,000 MW.

On May 12, the U.S. Department of Energy issued a detailed analysis stating that wind power, currently at 1%, could provide up to 20 percent of the nation's electric power by 2030. Amazingly, this renewable option accounted for 35 percent of the new electricity generating capacity added nationally last year. Thus, wind power has most definitely captured the imagination of the investment public. Why? Because it is financially competitive.

A simple motivation is profit. Lester Brown reports that farmers with no investment on their part, can annually gain revenues of up to $5,000 per acre on land that would provide a corn crop worth $120 or beef at $15. This land can still be used to grow corn and ranch cattle.

Coal and nuclear powerplants produce electricity for around 3 cents/kWh, although there are some looming fuel cost, storage and carbon problems that could well double that price, especially for coal. Geothermal electricity is also in this range, and all three are baseload, that is, they are available most of the time. Wind and solar power plants are intermittent, and that is a major handicap, suggesting that some storage complement must be included into the cost equation. Wind power is at about 5 cents/kWh, but will probably continue to be assisted by a 1.8 cents/kWh production credit, making this renewable option quite competitive with these more conventional options. Utility solar thermal plants are around 10 cents/kWh and solar photovoltaics still more than 20 cents/kWh.

Wind electricity is cleaner than the more conventional forms relative to global warming (grams carbon dioxide per KWh):

o Coal fired power plant 667

o Natural gas fired power plant 400

o Coal fired power plant with carbon capture 200

o PV station 30

o Nuclear fired-power plant 25

o Wind power 11

Regarding wind power in general, it turns out that, theoretically, the smaller the number of blades, the more efficient the rotor. One bladed (counterweighted) windmills have been built, but they have been unstable. Thus, a WECS with two blades (one propeller across the hub) should be best. However, for stability and start-up purposes, three-bladed systems seem to be prevailing.

A good wind site is the key. If two same-sized wind energy conversion systems (WECS) are used at 10 miles per hour and 20 MPH locations, the output at the latter will be 8 times higher because power varies with the cube of the velocity: 20 divided by 10 equals 2, which has to be cubed to obtain 8. Unfortunately, there tends to be more turbulence at some higher velocity locations, so the rules of thumbs are: DON’T install one at home (the average wind speed will almost certainly be too low) on a whim and be very careful around mountains.

The future looks outstanding for wind power. In time, sites like Antarctica can be considered, for Australia’s Mawson base averages, reportedly, 11 m/s (24.8 MPH), but speeds up to 69.5 m/s (155 MPH) have been measured. Can a system be developed to survive these conditions?

High altitude concepts have been advanced, using moored kites and other devices in the upper atmosphere. The jet stream 5 to 10 miles up has winds at 300 MPH. The potential!
Oil today ended at $122/barrel.