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Saturday, March 4, 2017

FAILURE: The Story of My Life

I have had more spectacular failures than anyone I personally know.  However, my survival and general satisfaction with life is symptomatic of why there are more than 1800 famous quotes on failure, where they mostly seem to say that this is just one step towards ultimate success.  As Teddy Roosevelt said, It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.

A few more Brainy Quotes:

I was not particularly athletic growing up, but my childhood was okay.  Never failed a class.  I don't particularly remember any horrific early failure so let me start when I decided to go to college.  My first choice was the California Institute of Technology.  I was accepted, but their scholarship offer was unattractive.

So I went to Stanford instead.  I might actually have flunked out at CalTech, for friends much smarter than me barely graduated or transferred elsewhere.  But if I made it, my future would have been pigeon-holed into something fundamentally scientific, retarding my proclivity to Save Planet Earth and Humanity.  Thus, failure can sometimes guide you towards a more rewarding life.  So, anyway, as my classmates mostly joined the Peace Corps, I went home to help the flagging sugar industry.

My career was spent mostly on renewable energy, such as biomass. Bad start, for C. Brewer went bankrupt and the whole sugar industry followed.  I still partially blame myself for this downfall.

After gaining a PhD in biochemical engineering, on I went to the University of Hawaii, and my first real assignment was as reservoir engineer for the Hawaii Geothermal Project.  While HGP-A was a success, and was the hottest geothermal well in  the world in the mid-70's, Judge David Ezra essentially sided with the Hawaiians, marijuana growers, environmentalist and other protesters, limiting the potential for this technology.

Although 38 MW of this electricity are being generated, the rated potential should be well in the several hundred MWs.  In the 80's studies were conducted to connect the Big Island to Oahu with a deep sea electric cable, and 500 MWs were mentioned as the potential.  A third of century later, there is no discussion of this future.  Failure?  Guess so.

Noting the waste of all that hot water, I actually formed a company, Pacific Geo-Spa Group, with local architectural and engineering firms, to utilize the effluents from a geopark,  I visited a half dozen onsens throughout Japan and New Zealand, brought interested Japanese investors to Hawaii and got strong support from Seiji Naya, who ran the Hawaii Department of Business and Economic Development.  We wanted to develop Hawaiian Onsens for resorts, golf courses and other enterprises.  Today, nothing built, with no interest exhibited.  How many failures am I up to now?  They'll be more.

In the 70's I worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on inertial laser fusion, for my PhD dissertation involved building a tunable laser before one could be bought.  As of today, the National Ignition Facility has spent $3.5 billion and has failed to reach net positive.  ITER in France, a magnetic fusion experiment has a $20 billion budget, and is in worse shape.  As our Sun and all the stars use fusion to produce energy, I still think that this is the pathway to longterm cleaner energy sustainability.  Yet, I again failed.

As the past few postings have been on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, I reported that my proposal to detect extrasolar planets was declined by NASA.  However, the field prevailed and as of today has found 3856 exoplanets.  Yet, the greater challenge of SETI is to receive and interpret signals from advanced civilizations surely scattered throughout the Universe.  As of today, no success.

Which leads me to my three years with the U.S. Senate around 1980.  I drafted the original hydrogen bill that became the Matsunaga Hydrogen Act, and this bit of legislation went on to create a budget in the  late 90's larger than solar energy.  However, my sense today is that the Hydrogen Economy is a century away.  As usual I misread the reality, but, with a few breakthroughs, who knows.

So I recalculated to search for a more effective biofuel option and found out that one gallon of methanol (the simplest alcohol--easily producible by gasifying biomass and using a catalyst, converting the resultant gases into this fuel) has 1.4 times more accessible hydrogen than one gallon of liquid hydrogen, which is ten times the cost of methanol.  Turns out that methanol is the only liquid which can be directly utilized by a fuel cell without a reformer.  The Direct Methanol Fuel Cell then was the solution.  Read this 8 year old Huffington Post article I published on this concept.  I talked to the Department of Energy, fossil fuel industry, a variety of conferences, anybody....   One of my greater failures.

A second bill I shepherded through Congress was the Hard Minerals Act to develop manganese nodules and rare earths from the sea bottom.  My Institute at the University of Hawaii became, with the University of Mississippi, the Department of Interior's Marine Minerals Technology Centers.  However, no minerals are currently being extracted from the sea.

One of my greatest accomplishments was to hire the team that brought to the University of Hawaii the Marine Byproducts Engineering Center.  We became the national center to produce nutraceuticals, biopigments, and all the high value microbio-commodities  from the ocean.  Today, no MarBEC and no new exotic pharmaceutical firm.  Cyanotech remains alive, but they came early at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority.

Regarding the sea around us, while in Congress, I drafted the first ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) bill.  Hawaii became the international center for this development, and the team I hired while at the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research to carry on this task succeeded on a $25 million effort, funded by the U.S. and Japan, to gain net positive (or close enough) with an open cycle OTEC power plant at the Natural Laboratory of Hawaii Authority in 1992.  Today, there is no commercial OTEC electricity is being generated.

However, OTEC stimulated related activities:
The only common thread to the above is that they all failed, or more accurately, I hope, awaiting the proper moment to succeed.

I should add that I also:
Global warming is being called a hoax by President Donald Trump and he has advocated increasing the defense budget.  I should send him my very first HuffPo on give his staff a good laugh.

I've been in education just about all my life, from pre-school till today, when I still have an office at the University of Hawaii.  My research attempts have already been tossed into the failure bin. In SIMPLE SOLUTION for Humanities, I had a whole chapter on education entitled Teaching Rainbows.  As an engineer you would think I would press for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).  However, if you bother to read that chapter, I instead argued for four more R's to 'Reading, 'Riting and 'Rithmatic: Rigor, Respect, Relevance and Relationship.  These seven R's are far more important than science and technology.  Clearly, I've failed to convince anyone, so let me leave this at that.

I've also, I guess, failed in the most consequential factor regarding my life and eternity:  I do not believe in God and the Afterlife.  Eighty percent of Americans think there is an Afterlife.  Of course, they could be wrong, but if they are, they won't know about it.  At least in this life they are psychologically confident and, thus, more comfortable about death than I am.  Some religions try to convince you to take a stand on this key question, and make threats like you won't be allowed into Heaven if you don't have faith.  As Doris Day sang, Que Sera Sera.

I've thought about why I've consistently failed:
  • I'm way ahead of my time and should be more realistic.
  • I did not follow through to the conclusion by prematurely passing on leadership to someone else so I could initiate something new.
  • These were pretty dumb things to do anyway.
  • etc.
You would think that by now I would have learned a lesson not to reach too far into the future.  My latest effort to shift the Blue Evolution into the Blue Revolution, for example, seems to have hit a wall.  As companies and governments just don't have the imagination, nor funds, to attempt such a risky endeavor, my efforts over the past decade have been to find an enlightened billionaire seeking a lifetime legacy.  There is hope, but this could well be my final major failure.  Well, there is that Afterlife thing.

Does this mean that this blog site entitled Simple Solutions for Planet Earth and Humanity has doomed both Planet Earth and Humanity?  Nah, someone will read this posting and get that aha inspiration.  Others will appreciate what I'm advocating, venture forth, succeed, get rich and maybe even save Planet Earth and Humanity.  Maybe these failures are actually seeds I have planted, and society will someday benefit in ways I can't myself envision.  I can also dream on, at least for a few short years more.

That ocean storm heading for Madagascar now has a name, Tropical Cyclone Enawo:


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You wrote a article for the huffington post awhile ago, and wondered, as I have why Nagasaki and Hiroshima were seemingly safe so quickly with so few reported cancers. I finally found a theory that explains that. The fallout missed the city and went in the suburbs. The cancers there did go up.

BTW that was the most obnoxious eCAPTCHA I have ever experienced.