May 2008

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Comments

The Wood

Scott,

You are touching on the concept of real time vs stored energy. You are looking at taking something out of the ground that has accumulated energy of centuries vs the real-time incident energy from our sun. It is relatively easy to stick a straw in the ground and extract significantly more joules of energy than the sun can provide.
For example:
According to Wikipedia, a solar panel in the continental US will provide:
19 to 56 W/m² = 19 to 56 J/sm²
and a litre of Diesel contains:
38.60 MJ/l = 38600000 J/l

So even for a solar panel that is 1 metre square, at it's most efficient, will have to be in direct sunlight for 7.9 days (689285 seconds) continuously to equal the power in a litre of diesel.
I know there are much more efficient methods of storing energy from the sun, but that is still a huge difference to make up. Unfortunately, it is still much cheaper to extract hydrocarbons from the ground than use solar. Now having said all that, I am in full support of alternative power sources, and I live in Alberta. I think we need to get fusion working properly, but more importantly is to diversify our energy sources.

G

Tell you what Scott:
1. You or people you know finance it
2. i will happily build it.

Seriously. I have run projects worth millions of £ and I am bored in my current employment. If you need someone to make it happen let me know. I may even be able to help with the investors and introduce you. I just hate dealing that side of things but I do enjoy the challenge of creating the thing from a practical point of view.


r763

The thing with wind power is to have enough distinct locations so that when the wind is not blowing in one area, there are other areas where it is. As an example, where I live, it may be calm, but 50 or 70 miles south of me, the wind may be blowing at 25 mph.

Wind power has to be looked at as a supplement, and if here in the US we could get even 25% of our power from wind, it would lessen our impact on the environment from burning coal and natural gas in traditional power plants.

Mr. Wampus

Of all the people responding to this post only Dan and few other "get" the significance of the burning salt water article.

People are saying the discovery is worthless because it takes more energy to run than it produces. So does oil. You are all correct, there is no such thing as perpetual motion. But the question is, could this discovery lead to a more effient way to store and transport energy than oil? We don't know yet but don't just dismiss it becuase it isn't a perpetual motion machine.

Seawater is MUCH more abundant and accessible than oil and if that can be used as a carrier of energy instead of oil, then what a game changer that would be! And again, IT DOESN'T HAVE TO CREATE MORE ENERGY THAN GOES INTO IT TO BE USEFUL, IT JUST HAS TO BE MORE EFFICIENT THAN FOSSIL FUELS TO CHANGE THE GAME!

That's the part we don't know yet: Does it have the potential to be more efficient than fossil fuels?

Think about this best case scenario: What if this process were refined to the point where it was 99% efficient? (a long shot I know) Meaning that for every 100 watts of energy put into converting salt water to heat, you got 99 watts of power back out. You could provide the lost 1% from other sources like solar or wind power or conventional power sources. Now, back down the efficiency to something more realistic, say 85% (who knows what it might turn out to be?). The only thing that matters is the comparison to the efficiency ratio of fossil fuels. It only needs to be close to the same efficiency to be worthwhile based on environmental and geo-political issues.

THAT is the point people are missing about the salt water trick. It might be a moot point anyway if the efficiency turns out to be laughably low. We'll see.

Andy Watt

"3. Establish straight forward escalating taxes on non-renewable ,green house gas emitting energy use. Let all of human ingenuity (free markets) find solutions instead of having government try and do something besides the one thing it is good at (extortion).
Simple taxes encourage solutions instead of gaming the system.
Incentives are a political pig trough that wastes resources the market should be allocating. Government should invest in research and let business handle development.
Escalating taxes mean long term investment will be made on the basis of competitive advantage for alternates that would cause riot and recession if implemented all at once."

I wish this was a good idea, but Disney-style cookie-cutter assumptions about how a free market can generate nothing but good are bad assumptions. The free market, especially in technology, does not always produce good results: just look at european mobile phone standards versus the american model (which is an unholy mess, although it came up with most of the good scientific ideas that underly nearly all the european systems!).

And the seawater burning is, I daresay, another just-about-there-but-hang-on-oops-forgot-to-factor-this-tiny-thing-in-it's-actually-worthless piece of scientific work a la cold fusion (as previously mentioned). However... nanotechnology and clever catalysts? Imagine if we could get net gain producing hydrogen, somehow... truly limitless energy in a form we know how to consume.

Stomper

Summarizing the first 50-something comments:

1. Oh, no! He can't violate the laws of thermodynamics! That would be perpetual motion, which can never happen! Only a complete tool would believe his claims! And if it is not perpetual motion (which it can't be), then it is worthless!

2. Um, wait. Nobody (including the allegedly shifty-looking inventor)claimed this process somehow produces more energy than it consumes. In fact, nobody even said this was a closed system. Moreover, even if it does consume more energy than it liberates (not the same as "produces"), this could still be pretty useful. If optimization of the process results in a cheaper/more efficient way to produce Hydrogen as a portable energy source, so that H2 could substitute for gasoline, then it would be a real achievement. Hydrogen burns more efficiently and more cleanly, plus burning H2 could provide fresh drinking water (which is still in short supply in many areas).

3. Alternate, passive fuel sources are only economically feasible when they are subsidized by the government -- at least, in the "current" market (get it?).

So, yeah, Scott, I agree with your summary, but I went into a bit more detail and made a pun.

--Stomper

dan

Ok I will dance with the rest, why, I dunno.

So I think your individual investor buying sterling engines is a great idea. You could offer windmills too if you found the right site. Just put the windmills to the north. One issue with the sterling engines is maintenance, but I suppose you could just build this in to the pay-out structure.

Storing the energy as hydrogen is fraught with problems. H is notoriously hard to store. It tends to leak out of anything you put it in. And combine with oxygen. And explode. Really you would probably be better off storing the mechanical energy in giant capacitors, or compressed air, or flywheels or something like that.

The RF guy is being compared to perpetual motion machine guys because of this: H2O has a specific amount of energy in the bonds that hold it together. H,O, and the other H, by themselves have a specific amount of energy that, in sum, is greater then that of H2O. When you burn H and O and H you get H2O + the excess energy that the H and the O had. To break them apart you need to add the same amount of energy that they loose when they burn. The equations must equal. So if you add energy to water via RF then you must be adding at least as much as you get from the H burning. If that were not true you would get free energy, aka perpetual motion. Also there are guaranteed to be inefficiencies in the system so you have to add more energy.

Also using RF energy to add energy to things up is well known, see any microwave oven, and am sure people have used it to separate H and O. Now it could be that this guy has found a more efficient way of doing this then the normal method of just running electricity. Or it may be some secondary chemical reaction, like it may be cheaper to liberate energy from the salt that would cascade in to the H2O reaction, so perhaps he is on to something, and it should be checked out. But I suspect that it is just some guy surprised that he could burn water and the media flipping out about it, as they are want to do.

Johnny Cab

Scott, thanks for pointing that out about the 'burning saltwater' thing! It was driving me crazy that all the 'scientists' commenting elsewhere were so pissed at the fellow's claims.

I never read anything about him claiming to be producing more energy than he was putting in; he was simply demonstrating a unique and previously unknown way of splitting H2O molecules, and one which *potentially* could be huge for desalination and/or hydrogen production (assuming of course it's more efficient than electrolysis or steam-cracking or whatever).

As you pointed out, the comparison ought to be to other fuels, not to a mythical 'over-unity' process or whatever.

At the same time, obviously coal, oil, and other fuels are 'over-unity' in that they have more potential energy in them than is required for extracting them (although the initial energy input obviously balances out an accordance with the conservation of energy principal). The energy inputs from dead plants (unless you consider the abiotic 'fossil' fuel theory possible) are stored as hydrocarbons, and these can be easily released with a catalyst and a chemical reaction (heat or fire source, and then burning).

Seems to me it *may* be possible that H2O could be split by some unknown process - maybe this RF method, perhaps with some proper catalyst - in a way that allows the HO gas to be combusted for a net energy gain, thus turning (salt)water into an actual fuel. However I'm no chemist and most scientists seem to regard this as an impossibility due to the bonding energy of H2O. But in any event this has nothing to do with the remarkable discovery of RF-cracking and many scientists seem to be missing that point.

Also, I love your idea about sort of time-sharing 'green' (i.e., sensible & renewable) energy capture devices, and I'm delighted that the fellow in India is already getting rich off of it!

Craig Steffen

Hi Scott,

Sorry, but no, your comparison is wrong this time.

The RF (radio-frequency) + water = energy isn't like oil or coal, it's like the perpetual motion machine. You're correct in that oil/coal is NOT the same as perpectual motion.

Oil:
put in energy in terms of drilling and refinement, and get out gasoline (and other stuff) that are good, high energy fuels. However, the important point here is that the energy expended to get the fuel DOES NOT put the energy INTO the fuel, it's just to get the oil out of the ground and make it into a state that's nicely usable.

RF/water/burning:
This isn't real, or rather, it's just a perpetual motion machine. Here's the relevant equation:

hydrogen + oxygen = energy + water

This can be run in either direction. Burn hydrogen, and you get heat plus water vapor (this is the hydrogen car). American spacecraft use this to generate electricity and water during their missions (other nations tend to use more solar panels).

You can also run the reaction backwards:

water + energy = hydrogen + oxygen

I believe this is the way the international space station generates its oxygen. They ship up water, and energy from the solar panels us used to get oxygen out of it. This is an easily done classroom demonstration; hook a battery to electrodes in water, and both electrodes will emit bubbles, one hydrogen, the other oxygen.

The critical difference between the Oil situation and the RF/burning water situation is the energy state of the reactants. The reason that the oil is a good fuel is that it contains Hydrogen-Carbon bonds, which are high energy. That is, an H-C molecule is a HIGHER energy state than the equivalent amount of Hydrogen and Carbon unbonded. However, water is a LOWER energy state than Hydrogen and Oxygen floating around.

So the RF/water thing is RF energy being put into the water, which jumps into a separated (higher energy) state, which then promptly burns, releasing the energy as light and dropping the Hydrogen and Oxygen back into a lower energy state (water).

So no, the RF/water/burning is just pretty perpetual motion.

Frylon

Robbed from wikipedia "Elemental hydrogen from solar, biological, or electrical sources costs more in energy to make than is obtained by burning it."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen#Production
He doesn't cite a source, and I'm far too lazy to look on my own.
Anyone know the efficiency (in %) of mechanical to hydrogen, and then hydrogen to electricity? Subtract that product from the efficiency of mechanical directly to electricity, and multiply the difference by the unit cost that the solar plant expects to get their new unit cost, and see if it's competitive. Also, spread out the additional fixed costs of the hydrogen hardware.

Damn I'm smart. I'm smart as hell. I wonder, am I a genius?

Ivan Pepelnjak

Your comparison of coal/gas and burning water is wrong. Coal is carbon that you spend some energy digging out of the earth, but then it engages in a chemical reaction (burning), where it releases the energy from a different source.

Breaking water into hydrogen and oxygen takes (assuming zero loss) exactly the same energy as the burning of the same hydrogen and oxygen resulting in water vapor generate. The salt water idea is thus in the best possible world a zero-sum game, but as any such process has losses, you actually lose energy.

But you're right, it might be a way of storing energy in hydrogen (similar to what they do today when they pump water during low demand periods into high-lying lakes to produce extra electricity when the demand is high).

Venkatdeep

Quote: The Indian government's initiative for renewable energy sounds progressive, yet it is my understanding that the production of electricity in India is unstable. I've heard there are vast areas where it shuts down daily for hours. Perhaps someone with more experience could comment.

Posted by: GLK

GLK...you're right. Though the initiative sounds good, the situation is'nt too good. A substantial part of the power requirement in India is met by Hydel power..and that is dependant on the the monsoons. Though the generation is increasing by the day, so is the requirement. Even in cities like Bangalore, where i live, power outages are common. Prior to the monsoons and secondary to dwindling water reservoirs the power cuts may be as much as 2-3hours a day. The rural areas and heartlands are worse..they have no power for more than 8-12 hours a day.
I do hope alternative energy comes in and SOON.

Cheers

E

Scott,

I don't know the science or the math, but it seems to me that this could be a huge opportunity. We're sending out a lot waves via wireless, radio / TV broadcasts, etc...

If we could pair the radio emissions we use anyway for communication / entertainment with a process for creating hydrogen, that would be extremely cool.

It's a stupid analogy, but this might be the energy equivalent of me using my credit card for reward points and paying it off every month. I get free stuff for doing what I would be doing anyway. That 2% adds up over time.

In that model, even a very small incremental gain could be a real win, because of the overlapping uses of the radio waves involved.

Not perpetual motion, but potentially very useful.

e4

You said: "It takes a lot of energy to drill for oil, transport it, and refine it into gasoline."

Not true, at least in a relative sense. You have to consider the energy return on energy invested (EROEI). In some cases you can get upwards of 100 barrels of oil out of the ground for every barrel's worth of energy expended. Add on refining, transport, etc. and you won't lose more than one order of magnitude. So let's call it 10:1.

That's why fossil fuels are so hard to replace. They're portable energy concentrate.

Barring an incredible new discovery, any chemical process is going to have a negative EROEI (physics and all that).

Biological processes (biofuels) are never going to match fossil fuels, because you simply can't grow enough crops in a single year to compensate for the thousands of years' worth of fossil fuels we burn every year (day?). Coal, petroleum and nat. gas are essentially a one-time endowment of a million years of ancient biofuel.

Wind and solar are harder to estimate, because while you can calculate the energy inputs (materials, manufacture, transport, etc.), the energy output depends on the weather, and the lifespan of the equipment. They generally will have a positive EROEI over their lifetimes, but nowhere near the return for fossil fuels.

scotty

Why do you have to store the energy? I never understand why that always enters the discussion. Energy comes from multiple sources now, why does everyone assume once we find the magical cure-all energy source everything else will be scrapped? Use the energy from the sun or wind or water when it's available. Get energy from coal or gas or oil or nuclear when it's not. Don't use batteries, they don't last long and their disposal is bad for the environment.

Scott - here's an idea - how about solar power shingles? They could be used to supply the energy needs of a single house when the sun is shining. If they create more energy than is being used, put it back on the grid for those who don't have solar power shingles. If they don't make enough, the local power plant makes up the difference. No storage mess to worry about, maybe a deduction on the energy bill from what you do use, and it's completely voluntary.

Heck, if you set up a system where a user can charge the power company a set fee per kw/hr (most likely less than what it costs the power company to make their own power) they put back on the system, people could make money through systems installed on their own property.

Crazycowbob

I rather like the idea of the sterling engines and windmills being privately owned, it'd be cool to own one and the profits that come from it!

As for the seawater guy, it looks like he's just come up with a novel way to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Unfortunately it doesn't really make an impact in the biggest issue facing a hydrogen economy. The problem with using hydrogen as fuel is that, while it is the most abundant element in the universe, here on earth it is almost all bonded to other elements, primarily oxygen or carbon. The problem with that is, even with this new method, it takes more power to make a cubic meter of hyrdogen than you could get by burning that cubic meter of hydrogen. The only way that we currently know of to turn hydrogen into a positive net energy source is fusion, which is still a work in progress...

james wilson

we have wind share in toronto. its a for-profit wind power co-operative.

http://www.windshare.ca/

Joe Pinegar

To get a real economic model out of generation, you need to consider the entire process. For example, coal and oil do not leap out of the ground, they have to be removed. The cost of removing them from the ground is part of the cost of the energy produced, along with the cost of operating the generating plant.

If, however, it were practical to harness wind energy or solar energy to extract hydrogen from sea water, then it might be economically viable to produce hydrogen. Given that the news reports were about reproducing the effect, I think it'll be a couple of years before the process is optimized enough to tell if it will be economically competitive with current hydrogen production methods. In the meantime, chill out folks.

Scott, what do you think the risk is for turning your "own a giant penis in the desert" business model into an internet investment scam?

GLK

The Indian government's initiative for renewable energy sounds progressive, yet it is my understanding that the production of electricity in India is unstable. I've heard there are vast areas where it shuts down daily for hours. Perhaps someone with more experience could comment.

Real Live Girl

There's a whole lot of desert around here, and it gets plenty of sun and wind. Soon I hope to be seeing panels, giant penises, and wind twirlies making me some money while driving around the Anza-Borrego or Mojave Deserts!

Sam Davis

In the case with India, there is still government subsidy, albeit indirect. Alternative sources of energy, particularly electricity, will begin to really take off when they become economically competitive with fossil fuels.

Global warming or not, China is adding about 1 new coal-burning electric plant per week to its power grid to meet hugely and constantly increasing demand. That pretty much mitigates anything we do in Western countries to reduce use of carbon fuels, until and unless economically competitive alternative fuel sources are developed. Government subsidies will not do the trick - unless Americans and other Westerners are ready to pay even higher taxes for billions in new corporate welfare.

Wind, wave generation of electricity, etc., will have a place in the energy future, but their place will be gained through market forces, not social engineering and rent seeking on behalf of a Darwinian cabal of special interest groups.

Coincidentally, the only true competitor to fossil fuels is nuclear power which is cleaner, cheaper, and readily available. Trouble is that, in the US, the same environmentalist activists who want to end fossil fuel use have also made it impossible to build new nuclear power facilities, despite the superb safety record. Japan relies almost totally on nuclear generation of electricity and (surprise) seems nowhere nearly as upset about fluctuating oil and fossil fuel prices as we do.

Environmentalism, according to Czech president Vaclav Klaus, is an ideology as opposed to scientific ecology, which is a science. Why? The former comes with a pre-determined agenda, with a permanent list of sins, that cannot be changed by data, persuasion or real world experience. The latter approaches things in a, well, scientific manner.

Time we began listening to the scientific ecologists.

Venkatdeep

On your update:
Scott,
Wind energy, sterling engines are inventions/innovations that have reached a certain stage of development where they MAY be commercially implemented.
About the hydrolysis with RF...maybe the hydrogen and oxygen can be stored in cylinders and used as fuel.
Also, it remains to be seen if the energy spent on breaking the bond and releasing hydrogen is lesser than energry generated. Thats all I can read from it. Given the tendancy for the media to feed bullshit...that innovation though sounds phenomenal and interestin must be viewed with some bit of skepticism as to its energy yeilding ability.
If we are using fossil fuels that would partly mean, YES its cheaper to drill, pump, purify, refine and use than a RF generator breaking water into its components.
Just my 2 cents.
Cheers

rita mae

Who cares if your comparison is wrong? I studied the charts in your link for the salt water study. Rustum Roy? Penn State chemist? Salt water -- Rustum? Coincidence?

Tulsi Tanti billionaire link? I checked out the diameter of the discs (red discs indicate individual's size of fortune being critiqued) and must say I would like to meet Barry Diller (NY) or John Fisher (CA). Their discs were HUGE.

Didn't see your name so...............

Scott, still love you but still too old to stalk you.

Rita Mae

Venkatdeep

Here we go again doing the monkey dance..

Scott,

The Suzlon site has nothing about individual investors buying a wind turbine(mayb I didn't look well enough!). But what I did find was that most of Suzlon's clients are large corporates like the Tata and Birla groups. They are generating a few MW of power with wind turbines. Besides, 200000 $$ is a lot of money for an individual to think of investing. And, its really difficult to think of spending 200000$$ on a giant fan or a giant penis replica on some god forsaken desert waiting for the money to breeze into your account!
Maybe if the technology gets cheaper,affordable and is proven to work I'll be ready to drop my skepticism about it. Oh...btw the average rate of interest for a commercial loan in India ranges between 12-15% Per Annum. If I were to go by what has been mentioned 30-40% returns ...I'd happily give up doing what i do for a living...so would a lot of people. Perhaps then retirement wouldn't be so hard. The retired could sit in their porch happily thinking of giant fans turnin in the desert pushing in the moolah to their accounts. Microsoft would stop making windows...they'd make fans instead!!
I love wind and solar power...they are probably the key to a better future. But the skepticism remains!
Hmmmm...perhaps I should invest into some Suzlon stocks...

Cheers

Dave T

I think this is the solution to all our Global Warming issues. If the icecaps melt, we're all worried about significant flooding along the coastlines of the world. Now we can just burn the excess!

It's a win-win!

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