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Friday, September 2, 2011


11March2011 could well be remembered as the day that ruined Japan.  The Great Tohoku Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Cataclysm monumentally changed the future of the nation.  As this article noted, I happened to fly into Narita Airport on 12March2011 and spent the next month at the periphery of the aftermath.

Japan will recover if they can overcome their current energy quandary.  That will be a huge challenge because they appear to be abandoning nuclear fission power, have minimal solar, wind and biomass opportunities, and, even though there are onsens (natural spas) throughout the country, their geothermal resource is not of particular high quality.  They can import more oil, coal and other fossil fuels, but is that a solution?  If global climate warming is real, there will someday soon be a severe carbon tax.

Let us, for now, ignore the truly exotic options:  marine methane hydrates, power from space, hot-dry rock geothermal and conventional fusion.  What else is there?

Well, I can think of two possibilities:  the ocean and heavy ion fusion.  As a team from the Tokyo University of Science was visiting Hawaii, I produced for them a two hour seminar yesterday on the Manoa Campus.  Above, the participants.  In particular, note that the middle painting on the wall is that of a former director of the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics, Charles Helsley.  The program I prepared included:

  Patrick Takahashi    "The Blue Revolution is the Optimal Solution for Japan"

  Henry Curtis:            The Environmental Implications of Energy

  Panos Prevedouros:  On Public Politics and Academia

  Charles Helsley:       Heavy Ion Fusion

Chuck (above), President of Fusion Power Corporation, and I made powerpoint presentations, and they will be provided in my blogs this weekend. Henry (first person on the left on audience photo, Life of the Land) and Panos (upper right individual in that photo, Civil Engineering Professor who was a mayoral candidate two years ago) provided personal comments on their experience dealing with the general public.

According to Professors Yoshio Tanaka and Masanori Sakamoto (they are seated next to Henry Curtis), the purpose of their trip was to learn from the USA what Japan can do to overcome their current problems.  We seem to have similar weaknesses in that, while research funds are provided to universities and companies are able to find financing for conventional projects, there is a huge gap to overcome in the process of commercializing academic research results.  Japan has less difficulty because much of their technological research is conducted by the companies themselves focused on market products.

Both countries (and rest of the world), though, just don't know what to do about sustainable energy.  A cell phone or automobile only costs from a hundred bucks to a few tens of thousands of dollars.  An ocean thermal energy conversion facility (below, design of Lockheed Martin) of any size will cost billions.  There is no working business model for innovations at this scale. 

The situation is compounded by huge risks, for who knows what will be the price of oil tomorrow or in a decade when a major new energy project is commercialized.  A crushing example can be found in 1998 (see above figure), when the price of oil dropped to an all-time low, even lower in real dollars than in 1973 at the time just before the first energy crisis.  When oil zoomed up to $147/barrel in July of 2008, it promptly crashed below $40/barrel in five months. The Chicago Mercantile Index has petroleum at $94/barrel in December of 2019.  With Peak Oil looming, rational thinking, you would imagine, should provide high incentive to invest as much as possible on renewable energy, for who believes that the cost will be so relatively cheap that far in the future.  However, the fickleness of uncontrolled oil prices only makes it that much more impossible to develop any kind of prospectus for billion dollar sustainable energy investments.

In any case, return Saturday and Sunday for the PowerPoint presentations on the Blue Revolution for Japan and the Promise of Heavy Ion Fusion (HIF).  As almost surely you don't know anything about this second option, let me whet your appetite by mentioning that, for only $50 billion, Chuck Helsley "promises" sufficient electricity in tens years to replace all the current nuclear powerplants in Japan.   I'm not sure if I was exaggerating that possible reality, but a second attractive feature is that electricity might well only be a by-product, for this process is designed to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to produce the equivalent of petroleum at this staggering production scale.  Keep in mind that $50 billion is less than 5% the real cost of our annual defense budget.  Whoever succeeds in successfully commercializing heavy ion fusion will not only solve the global heating problem, but, perhaps, control the world.

Bad day on Wall Street, as the Dow Jones Industrials fell 253 to 11,240, with world markets also all dropping, and even worse in Europe.  Gold leaped $57/toz to $1882, while, as would be expected, oil prices dipped, the Brent Spot at $113/barrel and the WTI Cushing at $86/barrel.

In the West Pacific, Tropical Storm Talas at 50 MPH is about to strike the deep ocean water laboratory at Kochi, then roll over Shikoku Island.  In the Gulf of Mexico, Tropical Storm Lee at 45 MPH will spend several days soaking Louisiana, with the eye aimed for New Orleans.  As predicted yesterday, Hurricane Katia appears not to be strengthening as earlier expected, for the probable track was, to some degree, cooled by Hurricane Irene.  The latest models show Katia missing the USA:


1 comment:

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