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Saturday, July 21, 2018


Day 80 of the Lower Puna Eruption, and the news story of the day has to do with a drop in Big Island hotel occupancy.  Apparently, the main reason is not the danger of exploding lava nor natural air pollution, but the fact that Volcanoes National Park, the biggest tourist attraction Hawaii, continues to be closed, plus, there are no convenient view sites to see flowing lava.  Except for, of course, those lava boat tours for $250, and helicopter rides for $200-$500.


Today, I begin a series that could lead to my next book, for Six Hours to Seattle is undergoing a re-assessment and delay.  I've long felt that the Blue Revolution showed the most promise as the next frontier for economic development and environmental enhancement.  But how does this pathway compare with other exploits, such as deep space exploration, the hydrogen economy and nuclear fusion?

Fortunately enough, I have had personal experience in all the above.  I can imagine why adventuresome billionaires fancy space.  My first dalliance when I joined the University of Hawaii in the 1970's was with the NASA Ames Research Center on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.  I actually worked with Carl Sagan.  I'll return to this effort, but first, here is something new from Forbes:
Fans of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen, Richard Branson and the privatization of space should celebrate. Two new books just came out that document the 21st-century private space race.
While the mystery of space will forever inspire inquisitive minds, I virtually lost interest in this subject after the Cold War ended.  Why?  The Apollo Project to the Moon was driven by politics.  Forty years ago the program cost $25.4 billion, which would be an inflation adjusted $163 billion today.  Here, a comparison of the largest Federal expenditures:

Was Apollo worth it?  Absolutely.  We had to beat the Soviet Union to the Moon and this challenge essentially bankrupted our adversary, ending the Cold War.  Apollo saved Humanity from destroying itself.

But the end of the Cold War made expensive hardware projects in space obsolete.  There is no reason to return to the Moon and there is no need to colonize Mars today.  In a century, perhaps, and someday we must and will.  But not now.  The first major tragedy killing a few people will end any attempts by billionaires to spend money on this premature activity.

This does not mean we totally ignore the rest of the Universe.  The odds are reasonable that there are advanced intelligent civilizations out there, and chances are they are sending us messages.  As detection is one percent of sending people into space, an advanced SETI enterprise would make a lot of sense

So what is the next frontier?  Well, our present nuclear technology features fission, the equivalent of an Atomic Bomb using uranium/plutonium.  The thought of a Thorium-powered car I find intriguing, for eight grams can run a vehicle for 100 years.  I've had discussions with Kirk Sorenson.

Fusion energy (the equivalent of a Hydrogen Bomb) for controlled power will someday happen on Planet Earth.  If our Sun and all the stars use this process to produce energy, surely, that must be an obvious clue for us.  So also in the 70's, off I went to work for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on laser fusion.

My PhD was building a tunable laser, and I worked under Edward Teller, who had then come to Hawaii, telling us we should put windmills at the top of the Koolaus.  That did not go well for the Father of the Hydrogen Bomb.  After two assignments I felt then that the laser to accomplish this task had not yet been invented and laser fusion was beyond my professional lifetime, so I abandoned the field.

The other fusion option is to use a large donut shell to magnetically confine plasma at 100 million degrees C, and I thought that was even more ridiculous.  However the most advanced facility currently is abuilding close to Provence in France called ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, pronounced EAT-er).  The actual experiments themselves will not begin until 2035, and electricity will not be generated.  The original cost estimate was $5 billion, which is now up to $25 billion, and no one who knows anything expects that to be the final full cost.
What about Cold Fusion?  What is meant by cold?  Well, much cooler than 100 million C, and, perhaps even as low as room temperature.

Just about three decades ago I hired Bor Yann Liaw to work on this potential in Hawaii.  Well, nothing much came of this option, but in my heart, I still think there is something here. 

In the mid-90's I was part of a group in the Renaissance Project to advance cold fusion as the replacement for batteries.  This is where a thinking billionaire might want to build a legacy. 

Also back in the '70's I led a study suggesting that a hydrogen jetliner was the future of tourism in Hawaii.  Whether the motivation was global warming problems or running out of oil, we thought that the lightest fuel available held the key to our future.  After all, hydrogen is this element, which is also 75% of normal matter in the Universe.  This gas is fused by stars to produce energy, and when combusted here on Planet Earth, you get energy and water.  How could this not be the future of Humanity?  

So I joined U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga in DC in 1979 and drafted the hydrogen bill that became known as the Matsunaga Act.  The Hawaii Natural Energy Institute at the University of Hawaii in the 80's became a national hydrogen research and education center of the U.S. Department of Energy.  In the 90's I chaired the Secretary of Energy's Hydrogen Technical Advisory Panel, and we produce The Green Hydrogen Report that established the national budget for a decade.  There were a couple of  years when hydrogen expenditures exceeded that of solar technologies.

A decade ago I began reporting for The Huffington Post and wrote a series of articles on the potential of the Hydrogen Economy.  Over the years I shifted from cheerleader to cautionary supporter.  Then, more recently, at a hydrogen conference at Kyushu University, Toyota and Honda representatives told me that they have established a 20-year program for hydrogen-powered cars using fuel cells.  They think this is the technology that will replace batteries.  The lithium battery is the last battery, and improvements will be made using nanotechnology and such, but they are probably right.   In any case, I wished them well.

Each of the above alternatives has huge potential for Humanity.  However, I believe which one has the best nearer term success potential?  To me, the Blue Revolution is this next Economic and Environmental Frontier.  To follow, then, my best hope for a monumental breakthrough for Humanity and Planet Earth.


1 comment:

Jim Baird said...

Here's to the Blue Revolution, Pat