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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

BREAKING NEWS: The Latest Developments in the Future of Energy

I have almost been negligent in reporting on solar, energy wind power, biomass, the Blue Revolution, etc.  This is primarily because King Hubbert was wrong.  Not only was Peak Oil NOT reached in 1970, but in 2018 the USA will produce more oil than ever before (which was i1970).


The result is that petroleum prices have been less than half what they were a few years ago:

In fact, oil went up to $145/barrel in 2008, and is today in the low $50's.  Worse, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has the future price of petroleum at $51.60/barrel in December of 2026.  To be more specific, the price of oil could well be unchanged for the next 9 years.  Combined with the reality that people just cannot perceive the tiny annual rise of sea level and average temperatures, and, with a U.S. White House disbelieving in any notion of global climate warming, you have the current situation today where the focus in the country is not on the future, but energy and profits today. 

So in the title above I used CNN's tactic in flashing BREAKING NEWS to gain your attention.  The fact of the matter is that, while on the one hand, nothing much is happening in green energy, on the other, solar and wind projects are continuing to be supported around the world?  Why?  For one,  renewable energy is cheaper than new coal and nuclear power plants.  


For those with poor graphic interpretive skills, what the above says is that geothermal energy in 2020 will be the cheapest and wind farms on land slightly better than natural gas.  Coal and nuclear options will cost twice that of geothermal.  Compound these facts with the historic metastability of natural gas prices, now being environmentally challenged by serious fracking problems, renewable energy electricity now doesn't anymore elicit BREAKING NEWS.  This, of course, is good news.  However, don't expect any immediate reduction of carbon dioxide because the rise of the renewables will take time to make a difference.  In fact, the percent of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will this year be the highest in 800,000 years.


Keep in mind, though, that only about 40% of the energy consumed goes toward electricity generation.  Transportation is currently mostly run on gasoline and jet fuel.  While electric cars are making inroads, biofuels are suffering.  Why?  Many of these renewable options can only compete with gasoline when petroleum is $100 /barrel and more.  Ethanol from corn was a social disaster and ethanol from corn stalk/husk and other biomass forms has turned out to be a challenge.

Electric vehicles are making inroads, but lithium will be the final battery.  That is the limit shown on the Table of Chemical Elements.  There might be liquid electrolytes and nanotechnology developments to come, but the fact of the matter is that compared to batteries, fuel cells, on a weight/volume basis, will take a car at least twice as far, and probably further. 

Why not then use fuel cells?  Toyota, partnering with BMW, is trying with their Mirai.  Honda, Kia and Hyundai are right behind.  But there are detractors.  Elon Musk of Tesla has said that fuel cell cars are:

   ...incredibly dumb, extremely silly, mind-bogglingly stupid, and most succinctly, bullshit.

On my recent visit to Japan, I consulted with probably the pre-eminent professorial authority on this subject, and in kinder words, he pretty much agreed with Musk.  I wrote the Hydrogen Act in 1980 which became law and once chaired the U.S. Department of Energy's Hydrogen Technical Advisory Panel.  I have long been a cheerleader for the Hydrogen Society, but I agree that hydrogen cars today are not ready for prime time.  Someday, perhaps, but there is no infrastructure and this gaseous fuel will be far too expensive for a long time to come.  Here is Part 1 on my HuffPo on this option.  Part 2.  Part 3.

But, then, I had a Part 5.  I have long been saying that the ideal pathway to ground transport is the direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC).  Here is a second article from the Huffington Post.  First, because methanol is much cheaper than hydrogen.  Second, that methanol is the only liquid that can be utilized by a fuel cell without reforming.  Third, that the current infrastructure can largely be adapted.  And fourth, that all the patents for the lithium are owned by the Japanese, and the field of direct methanol cells is wide open.  Why?  Because the Farm Lobby prevented the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct any research on this topic.  Ironically, the world pretty much followed the lead of the U.S. by rushing into ethanol.  

Want to become rich and famous?  The bridge to a cold-fusion powered car will be the direct methanol fuel cell.  Toshiba at one point did have a DMFC for electronic applications.  While biofuels will have problems competing today, a decade of swift development could position more powerful DMFCs for transport commercialization.  When the price of petroleum skyrockets again, as it will, we can then be ready for the next opportunity.

As wallowing as biofuels might be today, there is almost nothing happening with next generation aviation, another of my postings in The Huffington Post.  As hydrogen provides maximum energy with minimum weight, this is the ideal fuel for future jetliners.  When jet fuel is consumed, you have carbon dioxide and other gases.  When hydrogen is used, the waste product is water.  Plus, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe.  It will take 25 years to commercialize hydrogen aviation, so now is the time to get started.  Rinaldo Brutoco is trying with his faster dirigible called the H2Clipper.

All stars, of course, fuse HYDROGEN, to provide energy.  Thus, there is something symbolically sublime about Element One in the Chemical Table.  I have spent my whole professional life on the applications of hydrogen:  
  • at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on laser fusion 
  • supporting cold fusion R&D at the University of Hawaii, and a variation, low energy nuclear reactors, seem now to be a possible pathway
  • writing the first Congressional legislation to develop the hydrogen jetliner
I don't have any BREAKING NEWS for hydrogen.  This evolution will take time, but surely, those obvious signs from the Big Bang must be a clue for Humanity.

Then, of course, there is now the Hydrogen Bomb threat of North Korea.  And, their missiles are said to be capable of reaching Hawaii.  Hawaii will on Friday resume nuclear attack warning siren tests.


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