Environmental Meetup Group Seattle

I ran across this while searching for something else in Google. In Seattle, there is a meetup group to discuss future sustainability and the environment.

Given the topic of this blog I felt it appropriate to post here. At least people in the Seattle area might want to check this out.

Category: Future

New High Efficiency Solar Cell

Spectrolab, a Boeing subsidiary, have developed a new multi-junction solar cell that has demonstrated an efficiency of 40.7% using concentrated sunlight.

The multi-junction solar cell is similar to space based solar cells used on satellites but is based upon metamorphic semiconductors. These are dissimilar semiconductor materials combined.

In solar cells, efficiency is limited by the ability of a semi-conductor junction to utilize only one wavelength of light efficiently. This is based upon the semi-conductor junctions band gap, an energy barrier that requires a specific amount of energy to cause an electron to jump over.

The shorter the wavelength of light, the more energy each photons pack. A typical mono-crystalline silicon solar cell will have a band gap of around 1.1 volts. This corresponds to a wavelength of around 1200 nm, near infrared, just below visible light.

Any photon with a wavelength longer than this will not be able to cause an electron to jump the energy band gap and produce a current in a solar cell. Any wavelength shorter than this will not be utilized efficiently, only the energy corresponding to 1200 nm, 1.1 electron volts, will be utilized, the rest will be wasted as heat. A conventional mono-junction solar cell can only utilize a narrow slice of the light spectrum efficiently.

A solution to this problem is to create a multi-junction solar cell, a stack of junctions each of which can capture a portion of the spectrum with high efficiency. This is the approach used in the new Spectrolab solar cell. Other companies have produced multi-junction solar cells in the past, but they have been either too chemically unstable or too expensive for terrestrial applications.

The 40.7% efficiency demonstrated by the Spectrolab solar cell is the highest I have seen. The companies press release implies these cells will be suitable for terrestrial applications and lend themselves to high volume manufacturing but they do not address the issues of cost or long term stability, either of which could be show stoppers.

If both of these issues are addressed in this new solar cell, then this will represent a major breakthrough in photovoltiac solar energy and will allow it to find applications that are presently cost prohibitive.

Category: Future

Alternate Energy Sources

Browsing the web looking at developments in energy, particularly renewable sources, I ran across something being utilized in China called DME, which is short for Dimethyl Ether.

It is a water soluble gas that can be used as a substitute for liquefied natural gas, gasoline, or diesel. It can be made from natural gas, coal, or biomass. The first two wouldn’t buy any net gains in terms of the environment, but the last might if it actually yielded more energy than it took to grow the biomass in the first place but I haven’t found any good references.

If anyone has any good sources of information regarding this please do send me a note with that information (just comment to this post).

I felt the need to mention this article, “New Energy Source Wrings Power From Black Home Spin“, published on Science Daily, not because it is a source of energy we could harness, but because the physics of it have me completely confused.

Here’s my conundrum, theory has it that a black hole is an object so dense that it’s gravity is too strong for even light to escape, light being not just visible light but any electro-magnetic radiation.

But this article asserts that a black hole has a magnetic field, and that in spinning, the magnetic field lines spin with it imparting energy to surrounding gas.

Now a couple of things I don’t get about this theory. The first is that magnetic fields are a component of electro-magnetic force, which in turn is light, which isn’t supposed to be able to escape from a black hole, but here we have these magnetic field lines escaping.

The second thing, at least in some black hole theories, matter has collapsed to a point, and if that is the case how is a magnetic field generated?

Wind energy, this is an area that has a lot of promise if morons don’t ruin it. I hear claims of noise pollution, I’ve ridden horses in fields where these giant wind turbines were turning and I could hear nothing from them.

There are people that find them aesthetically unpleasing, I wonder how aesthetically pleasing people find those large nuclear power plant cooling towers, or for that matter how aesthetically pleasing they are going to find radioactive waste? Cancer has to have a lot of aesthetic appeal right?

There are people who are concerned that they kill birds and bats. I am sure bats serve some ecological purpose, especially those that eat insects, but I strongly suspect their population is limited by food supply rather than windmill deaths. The deaths of both birds and bats is unfortunate, but I think it pales compared to the environmental damage done by every alternative presently available to us.

All energy sources available to us today have some environmental consequence. Arguably all energy sources we will ever have will come with environmental consequences. We can not eliminate those consequences entirely, but we can minimize them and that is what we should be doing.

Even if we brought controlled hydrogen fusion online, we would still have thermal pollution (heat) because no source of energy is 100% efficient and neither is the transportation or utilization of that energy, and the waste shows up as heat.

We will always be balancing our needs against environmental risks, and we have to consider that too much damage to the environment will make life miserable to impossible for us.

A clean and unlimited energy source, essentially what controlled hydrogen fusion represents, would allow us to recycle many materials which are not economical to recycle today, correct human induced problems on a large scale, and eliminate pollution caused by producing energy through less clean methods.

Coal for sustainable energy? Are these guys on drugs? This is from the World Coal Institute. Who else would even suggest such an absurd concept? How can something that is limited in supply, extremely damaging to the environment to extract and utilize, be a “sustainable” source of energy?

U.S. Sustainable Energy Corp is an interesting company. Their mission statement says, among other things, ” Produce 100% of it’s energy needs using biofuels derived from soybeans and corn (not biodiesel or ethanol).”, but does not elaborate on exactly how they intend to do that. I would like to know more about this company but their website seems lacking in real information content.

I have mixed feelings about opening up more of the Gulf of Mexico to oil drilling. In the near term we need to meet our energy needs, but I am concerned these efforts will detract from long term efforts to move towards truly sustainable energy sources. In my view, what we should be doing is making an aggressive national effort, on the scale of Apollo or the Manhattan Project, to bring controlled nuclear fusion online as soon as possible. We could do this if we made the national effort. China is making the effort. What is it going to mean for us if they bring this source online and we’re still drilling for oil? I don’t think it will be good.

To be honest, I don’t believe we have any real shortage of fossil fuels, just a shortage contrived and promoted by the oil industry to extract as much money as possible. I’ve elaborated on why I believed this in the past. The Russians, who have long since embraced the abiogenic theory of oil production, have succeeded briefly at becoming the worlds largest oil producer and took a back seat to Saudi Arabia only because of the Russian governments clamp down on Yukos, the second largest Russian oil producer.

Their huge production has been made possible by drilling through granite capstone to find oil pooled under these capstones, biotic theory says no oil should exist there.

What we lack is not hydrocarbons to burn, it’s atmosphere to react with the hydrocarbons. First is the problem of carbon dioxide causing global warming. If we use technologies such as carbon sequestration to stop the build up of carbon dioxide in the air, then we are still depleting the oxygen, and with the carbon dioxide sequestered, plants can’t turn it back into hydrocarbons and oxygen. In case anybody is unaware of this, humans breath oxygen, we require it to live.

A word about the proposed hydrogen economy. Hydrogen is only a source of energy if it’s used in controlled nuclear fusion. The hydrogen economy envisioned by our illustrious leader is only using hydrogen as an energy storage medium. We would need to produce hydrogen either by splitting it off of natural gas, which is cheap but produces carbon dioxide and natural gas is not a renewable resource, or by electrolyzing water which requires some other energy source.

If we were to bring controlled nuclear fusion online, the current candidate technologies for fusing hydrogen, are physically too large and heavy to use in transportation applications such as automobiles, trucks, planes, and even trains. It might be usable in aircraft carrier sized ships. Unless some future technology allows hydrogen to be fused on a smaller scale, we will need some intermediate storage medium in order to utilize this energy for transportation. They hydrogen economy being proposed could be useful in that scenario, but unless a clean primary source of energy is available, it is only adding inefficiency to the fossil fuel consumption and making the energy problem worse not better.

Category: Future

Chinese Fusion Reactor Progress


The new Chinese research tokamak fusion reactor in Heifi produced a plasma towards the end of September. They didn’t elaborate much beyond that so I don’t know how meaningful this is. A neon sign also produces plasma.

I had heard earlier that a test of the superconductive magnets was also a success. In my view that is actually a more substantial development because previous research reactors have used copper wire electromagnets and because of their resistance they rapidly heat up limiting operation to about a minute before they overheat.

A minutes operation doesn’t allow testing critical devices like the diverter which removes helium “ash” from the plasma. Because helium is heavier, it tends to move towards the outside of the plasma where it can be skimmed off by a diverter. The diverter is critical to the long term operation of the reactor, how it will respond to the constant bombardment of very energetic ions needs to be evaluated. That requires operation for longer periods of time. That’s what superconductive magnets can provide. Because they have no electrical resistance, they do not heat up.

There were non-trivial obstacles to overcome. Superconductors, at least high temperature superconductors that can be economically cooled, tend to be made from brittle ceramics not easily formed into wire which can be wound into coils. Superconductors lose their superconductivity when they are subject to a magnetic field exceeding some critical value. The value of magnetic fields required to contain a plasma at the temperatures required for fusion to occur can be in the order of eight to fifteen Teslas, until recently these fields were not achievable with superconductors.

Given the obstacles, I view the successful operation of the superconductive magnets as actually much more significant than the generation of a plasma. However, it is good to know that progress is continuing. Here are a link to the only article I can find (Associated Press article):

An Associated Press article on the Discovery Channel website

Category: Future

Sustainable Future

Energy

We have two major issues and a lot of minor issues when it comes to achieving a sustainable economy. An economy that provides for our needs without destroying our environment requires substantial changes in the way that we provide for our energy and food needs.

Peak Oil is bunk. I’ve stated this before. There are plenty of hydrocarbons present in the earth such that, if we had infinite atmosphere we could burn them for centuries to come to supply our energy needs.

Planets tend to have higher percentages of volatiles the farther away they are from the sun. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, primarily hydrogen, helium. As you get farther in planets tend to be made more of heavier elements. The size of the planet is also a factor since lighter planets like Mars don’t have enough gravity to hang on to their volatiles well, particularly hydrogen.

But Earth and Venus, similar planets in many ways. Venus is only about 85% of the earths mass, and consequently has slightly less mass and thus gravity. It is also closer to the sun which means it should have lost more of it’s volatiles. Yet, Venus has an atmosphere 100 times thicker than earth made primarily of carbon dioxide. There were enough hydrocarbons on Venus to create this atmosphere. Earth should, and probably does have even more.

We don’t have infinite atmosphere, that’s the real problem with a fossil fuel energy economy. That and the fact that fossil fuel energy production can only be scaled so far economically and that isn’t far enough to do a lot of the things we could do and need to be able to do.

The limiting factor in terms of deriving energy by burning hydrocarbons is not lack of fuel, it’s lack of atmosphere. We are already seeing the effects on our weather. We can’t afford to continue burning fossil fuels for energy. The oil companies know this and created “Peak Oil” to try to squeeze every penny they can out of their existing investments before a change in our energy source becomes mandatory.

Running out of atmosphere isn’t the only problem with burning fossil fuels for energy. Combustion is inevitably not complete and a lot of very toxic products of partial combustion result. The hydrocarbons fuels have other elements in them also, sulfur, radium, mercury, arsenic, and putting these things into our atmosphere is unhealthy to say the least.

Another problem with fossil fuels is that they can not scale economically as an energy source to levels that would allow us to do things that would provide a good standard of living for all of humanity.

Food Production

The other problem that we have is that our current methods of producing food has been very damaging to the environment. We clear forest to make farm land, then we use poor practices, lack of crop rotation, over watering, that render the land non-productive in a short time, so we cut down or burn down more forest.

We use artificial fertilizers to try to maintain the productivity of the soil, then we over water and wash all of those nutrients into rivers which ultimately flow out into the ocean, causing huge algae blooms near the surface cutting off sunlight from reaching deeper levels, resulting in oxygen depletion deeper and killing every living thing. Huge plumes of dead zones now radiate from major river deltas.

We shoot our livestock full of hormones and antibiotics. The antibiotics enter the environment and cause resistant bacteria to develop so that we can no longer efficiently combat human bacterial infections. The hormones are affecting other life forms, causing feminization of fish threatening some species.

We use pesticides that cause harm to many other lifeforms beyond the insects they were meant to control.

In addition to fertilizers being washed into the rivers, animal manure also is entering the water and adding to the pollution problems.

These are the two major issues. We have many other issues that are also of a large scope.

Water

We are depleting aquifers faster than they can be replenished by nature. The CO2 we are putting into the atmosphere is changing the rain, snow, and snow melt patterns creating further problems. Inefficient and wasteful watering practices are large consumers of water. If we had unlimited energy, this wouldn’t be a problem, because we could desalinate as much water as we need. But we presently do not have unlimited energy at our disposal.

We could make much more efficient use of the water we have however. Switch farming to drip irrigation, this would also reduce the need for fertilizers because it is over watering that is leaching minerals from the soil and drip irrigation prevents that mineral loss.

Waste

Waste of various sorts is a problem, house hold garbage, industrial chemicals, nuclear waste, what do we do with it? Virtually every element in our waste stream could find a use, but we find it less expensive to mine and extract new materials rather than re-use the old. Energy is a part of this equation also, adequate economical energy would enable us to recycle many things we presently can’t because it is not economically feasible.

Genetic Degredation

Modern Technology has allowed many people with serious genetic defects to live and reproduce that otherwise would not have. For the victims of these genetic problems this is great, but the result is that defective genes are becoming more prominent in the gene pool. I don’t know how we can fix this in a humane manner, at least not with the technology we have now. Perhaps some day we will have the technology to manipulate DNA at will and can just fix these defects, but at present this is an issue.

The Biggest Problem

The biggest problem however isn’t any of these, it’s our inability to get along with one another and cooperate to achieve the greatest good. I truly believe all of the material problems are ultimately addressable, if we could cooperate towards that ends, it is our inability to cooperate with each other that causes me the most concern.

Category: Future

Maglev Wind Generation

An article in Renewable Energy Access describes a new maglev wind turbine technology in China. This technology allows electricity generation in winds of half the velocity of ordinary wind turbines allowing many more hours of useful operation in areas with low wind velocities.

Category: Future

Fake Oil Shortage

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I apologize for the lack of recent postings. Since my daughter left home about a month ago I’ve been pretty non-functional.

Heard something on the radio tonight that I thought worth relating.

A caller to the Coast To Coast AM radio show, formerly the Art Bell show, who claimed to be a former employee of Chevron Oil and basically was responsible for running the blenders in the western United States basically affirmed what I’ve believed all along, the oil shortage is fake.

Before I go on I do want to say that this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t conserve oil, we should and we must, not because the oil is about to run out, but because the environment is being severely damaged as a result of the burning of hydrocarbons.

The atmosphere is now approaching 400 parts per million carbon dioxide. The polar ice is melting, ocean currents are slowing. Without the mixing of surface and deep waters that result from the currents, eventually the oxygen levels will drop to near zero and anaerobic bacteria will flourish. Bacteria that derives it’s energy by processing sulfur chemicals and releases hydrogen sulfide as a byproduct.

There is evidence that several mass extinctions in the past have been caused by this phenomena. Hydrogen sulfide is extremely toxic to all animal and plant species.

We need to stop putting carbon dioxide into the air before this becomes unstoppable, if it has not already, otherwise we are going to become extinct. And the process won’t be fun, this is one of the gases that gives farts their wonderful odor, but at far lower concentrations than this process could result in.

So imagine breathing a super-fart continuously 24×7 which gets increasingly worse until our bodies can’t cope and we die. Well, if it doesn’t kill off the plants and animals we eat and starve us to death first.

But that said; the caller told us about how Chevron would control the output of the blenders to keep the supply tight and the prices high. He told us about this recent discovery of a super giant field in the Gulf of Mexico, possibly the largest oil field ever, well, they’ve known about it for 12-14 years. Even the CEO of Chevron has stated that they never have had any trouble obtaining oil for their refineries.

Anybody paying attention would have noticed the price of gasoline drop just before an election when the republican party is in control, and rise just before election when the democrats are in control. They’ve been manipulating supply and price all along.

He also stated that they know that the abiotic theory of oil production is correct, the hydrocarbons rise up from the “molten” as he calls it, deep earth. A field left idle will recover in about fifty years. And he said, until recently we didn’t have the technology to tap that deep oil, now we do.

Well, I knew this, that’s what allowed the Russians to become the worlds second largest oil producer, for a brief time the largest, because their geologists knew about this theory and looked for oil where the theory predicted it should be, under basalt or granite cap stones. It is more expensive to produce because you have to drill through that rock to get at it, but it’s there.

Category: Future

Abundant Energy / Untraconductors

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Maybe it’s just me but my BS detector is going clang-clang-clang when I read about either of the following two topics.

The first is a supposed device for creating electricity from zero point or vacuum energy created by a company called Magnetic Power Inc. And then another company, Room Temperature Superconductors Inc, claims to have invented a polymer, specifically a form of polypropylene, that conducts electricity 100,000 times better than copper, at room temperature.

I’ve seen so many of these miracle technologies arise over the years but no product is ever produced. You have to ask yourself why? Conspiracy theories would say because the oil companies and the power companies want to keep energy expensive. However, an alternate explanation is that no real technology of these natures ever existed and it is simply nothing more than a scam to bilk investors out of a few million in probably not so hard earned cash.

I want to see these things work, we could use an energy breakthrough or two, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Category: Future

Middle East… It Just Keeps Getting Better

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Iran’s announcement that they had no intention of discontinuing their nuclear program did not come as any big surprise to me today. They know it’s hard to get respect if you’re not in the nuclear club these days.

I think it may not be as terrible as people think. Look at Pakistan and India, they were constantly fighting over Kashmir. They were always at each others throats, firing machine guns at each other. But once both of them demonstrated that they were nuclear capable their ability to get along improved quite substantially.

I’ve conversed with some people in Iran over IRC in the past, and you know they didn’t come across at all like the media portrays them. They seemed fairly ordinary, they went skiing. The pictures you see on the media makes them look like a bunch of desert rats, but they’ve apparently got mountains and snow and ski resorts.

I really wish more people would attempt to have personal experiences with people in other countries and then ask your media why they are providing such a tainted picture of reality.

Category: Future

Post Apocalyptic World

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Scientific American online has a blog with an article entitled, “Doomsday: Not As Much Fun As You’d Think”. It’s interesting in that it points out the difficulties of rebuilding a destroyed civilization. Particularly, that the first generation would be too occupied with survival to teach the next generation to read. Once that chain of literacy was broken, written language would have to be re-invented.

The more I learn about our past, the more I am convinced that a previous advanced civilization existed, perhaps more advanced than our present civilization, and was wiped out by some disaster. In short, when it comes to post apocolyptic eras, we are presently living in one.

In 1910, Peter Freuchen, “married” a Greenlandic Eskimo and lived with them for some time. He later recounted his experiences in a book entitled, “The Book of the Eskimos”.

At the time the Eskimos did not have a system of writing. They did have an extremely explicit oral language which they used to pass down information from generation to generation. A village would have an individual called an angokok, the Eskimo equivalent of a shaman. The angokok had the job of memorizing and passing down this knowledge and interfacing with spirits on behalf of the village.

Peter Freuchen documents aspects of the stories they’ve passed down that date back some 30,000 years, and accurate descriptions of animals like the woolly mammoth and saber toothed tiger. These legends also documented a time when people traveled about in flying houses.

When Admiral Perry made his attempt to reach the geographical north pole (whether he did is still a subject of debate, many are doubtful that his account can be accurate), he took back to New York a couple of Eskimo guides that had accompanied him on part of the journey. When they returned, they referred to the early cars of the time as people moving about in rolling houses.

The similarity of the description of cars as rolling houses to the description of an earlier time when people moved about in flying houses suggests that they were describing some kind of flying vehicle.

Another aspect of this that intrigues me, at the time when people moved about in flying houses, the angokok’s also believed that words had great power. Things could be made to happen by speaking them, but words lost their power with use and so angokok’s would invent new words for everything so that they would again have power.

Ancient Indian Vedic texts describe vimanas which are flying machines. Some of these descriptions resemble airplanes, others more like a flying saucer.

I had seen photographs of old Mesopotamian batteries, or more correctly, cells. Clay-pot devices, not indicative of a very advanced technology. I had heard of ancient Egyptian batteries and had expected something quite the same.

Instead I saw something that was comparable to a modern flashlight cell. If you remember the lantern batteries that used to be longer than the current generation with two screw posts on top, internally they were comprised of four F cells. F cells resemble long D cells.

The Egyptian cell had a strong resemblance to the internal F cells in the older style lantern batteries. Like a modern day cell, it had a carbon positive electrode and a zinc negative electrode. I don’t know what they used for an electrolyte, but the top was sealed with a tar just as are modern cells.

The symmetry and precision of the electrodes was impressive suggesting that the ancient Egyptians possessed machining capabilities that were relatively advanced.

Similarities in the early Chinese written language and ancient Egyptian suggested a common precursor language.

Legends of Lemuria or Mu, and then later Atlantis, describe advanced ancient civilizations. Lemuria was not advanced technologically but spiritually or psychically, Atlantis was scientifically and technologically advanced. But both continents sank, or so goes the legends.

You find many different cultures with stories of prior advanced civilization, advanced either technologically or spiritually, followed by world-wide flood myths.

This suggests that we’re not the first, we’re living in a post apocolyptic era. Many suggest that the flood myths relates to floods caused by the melting of the last ice age, but such melting would have been less sudden.

I suspect a deep ocean impact event. That is, an asteroid impact somewhere over deep ocean displacing a huge amount of water into the atmosphere, and even past the atmosphere out into near space, initially much of it as vapor or supercritical water, which then is attracted back by gravity, condenses and rains out around the planet.

I am of the belief that not only did a previous civilization exist, but that it was global (at least) in scale, and both more technologically and spiritually advanced than we are today. Nearly all traces of this civilization save for some stories passed down via oral tradition and a handful of monuments so large and robust that they survived, were erased.

I believed this probably happened approximately 12000 BC, and that for the next 6000 or so years, all knowledge was passed orally and it wasn’t until about 6000 years later, when early Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, and Arabs had invented writing and recorded some of the oral stories in writing.

If this happened to mankind before, it can, and given enough time will, happen again. I think there are a couple of lessons in this. First, we should prepare for such an event so that some continuity of civilization can survive. In particular knowledge should be stored and encoded in such as way that a civilization having to re-invent written language again could understand it and make use of it. We should also establish self-sufficient colonies on the moon and later Mars. Colonies that are capable of living off the land.

Category: Future