TCS Daily

Fueling Energy News

By George A. Pieler - January 10, 2006 12:00 AM

Carbon-based energy sources are what's 'in' for 2006. These classic fossil fuels, which many thought were on their way out courtesy of the Kyoto Protocol, have made a truly stunning comeback: indeed they dominate energy news at the dawn of the New Year.

  • New Zealand has abandoned a planned carbon tax (tax on fossil fuels) on the ground that it was regressive, damaging to agriculture, and ineffective in cutting so-called greenhouse gas emissions. New Zealand's Minister for Climate Change Issues notes "Many of our current policies were developed in the 1990s. Since then, New Zealand's economy has boomed, petrol prices have risen and other factors...have changed our situation."

  • Russia cut off Ukraine's natural gas supply in the midst of stumbling negotiations aimed at raising Gazprom's prices to market-clearing levels. At least that's the Russian version. Gas prices have shot up as the security of supply Europe-wide is put in question.

  • In the US the Northeast's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has been thrown for a loop with Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's decision to withdraw from this regional scheme for mandatory cuts in utility emissions of carbon (meaning higher energy costs or strict limits on energy use, however implemented).

The civilized world was supposed to be weaning itself off fossil fuels and moving towards renewables, fuel cells, and off-the-grid self sufficiency, but instead relies on fossil fuels more than ever. The economic emergence of China contributed mightily to the run-up in energy costs in 2005, and future growth in the developing world will do the same. Further, the surge in gasoline prices in the U.S. demonstrated consumer demand is astonishingly inelastic, as drivers decided they wanted to keep driving after all.

One lesson is that artificial government support for carbon stretchers -- ethanol, mandatory fuel economy standards -- and carbon substitutes -- tax breaks and government purchase orders for synthetics, wind farms, and exotic fuels -- just reinforces our commitment to fossil fuels. Since the 70's, nuclear aside, every energy policy initiative has keyed off fossil fuels in trying to reduce the geopolitical, environmental, and economic costs of their use.

Is that a bad thing? No, at least not in the short run. No one knows if the future lies with super-efficient adaptation of known energy sources or advances in much-hyped innovations such as nanotechnology, fusion power and fuel cells. Yet today's headlines remind us that political manipulation of fossil fuel supplies in touchy parts of the globe -- and don't forget Hugo Chavez's Venezuela and the new Bolivia of Evo Morales -- is not good for the global economy.

Perhaps this year we will grasp the truth: true energy security comes from diversifying approaches, using objective research and sound science, not subsidies, rationing, and price manipulation. Some of these diversified options are being aired in Sydney, Australia this week as the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate gathers to sort through a carefully-reasoned menu of energy options the embrace economic growth.

The six nations of the Partnership -- the US, Japan, China, India, South Korea, Australia -- will discuss, inter alia, rapid transfer of clean energy technology to the fast-growing Asian economies, who are also the fastest-growing producers of greenhouse gases. The Partnership can succeed by focusing on cost-effective ways to improve energy efficiency, transferring proven energy-saving technologies, and maximizing economic efficiency.

Another option before the Partnership will surely be nuclear power. Recently US Senator John McCain visited Australia and urged Environment Minister Ian Campbell to support the US in boosting use of nuclear power as the classic clean energy source. Yet McCain's presence suggests a cautionary note: he has also embraced much of the neo-Kyoto agenda, specifically mandatory caps on CO2 emissions. In the Yukon last August the Senator noted melting frost and glaciers, and asked "how much damage will be done before we start taking concrete action?" What the world doesn't need is for the post-Kyoto agenda recently agreed in Montreal to be joined by an Asia-Pacific agenda that starts drifting towards the Kyoto mentality.

So the Partnership convening in Sydney must, first and foremost, heed the laws of economics and basic tenets of scientific inquiry. It is not scientific to draw sweeping conclusions from near-term changes in temperatures and melting patterns, and it is not rational to ignore the costs of arbitrary cuts in CO2 emissions. Rational, well-calibrated steps to help the world adapt to possible risks of climate disruption are what the Partnership needs to formulate.

George A. Pieler is a Senior Fellow with the Institute for Policy Innovation. The views expressed here are his own.



A New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy
A New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy

Over the past year many luminaries have made clarion calls for a concerted effort to solve the energy crisis. It is a crisis, with 300 million middle class Chinese determined to attain the unsustainable lifestyle we have sold them. Their thirst for oil is growing at 30% a year, and can do nothing but heat the earth and spark political conflict.

We have been heating the earth since the agricultural revolution with the positive result of providing 10,000 years of warm stability. But since the Industrial revolution we have been pushing the biosphere over the brink. Life forces have done this before -- during the snowball earth period ( Cryogenian Period ) in the Neoproterozoic toward the end of the Precambrian - but that life force was not sentient!

Thomas Freedman of the New York Times has called for a Manhattan Project for clean energy The New York Times> Search> Abstract. Richard Smalley, one of the fathers of nanotechnology, has made a similar plea
We are at the cusp in several technologies to fulfilling this clean energy dream. All that we need is the political leadership to shift our fiscal priorities.

I feel our resources should be focused in three promising technologies:

1. Nanotechnology: The exploitation of quantum effects is finally being seen in these new materials. Photovoltaics (PV) are at last going beyond silicon, with many companies promising near-term breakthroughs in efficiencies and lower cost. Even silicon is gaining new efficienies from nano-tech: Researchers develop technique to use dirty silicon, could pave way for cheaper solar energy
New work on diodes also has great implications for PV, LEDs and micro-electronics Nanotubes make perfect diodes (August 2005) - News - PhysicsWeb
And direct solar to hydrogen, I was told they have hit 10% efficiency and solved mass production problems: Hydrogen Solar home
And just coming out of the lab, this looks very strong, it brings full spectrum efficiencies to PVs: UB News Services-solar nano-dots

1a. Thermionics: The direct conversion of heat to electricity has been at best only 5% efficient. Now with quantum tunneling chips we are talking 80% of carnot efficiency. A good example is the proposed thermionic car design of Borealis. ( ) . The estimated well-to-wheel efficiency is over 50%. This compares to 13% for internal combustion and 27% for hydrogen fuel cells. This means a car that has a range of 1500 miles on one fill up. Rodney T. Cox, president of Borealis, has told me that he plans to have this car developed within two years. Boeing has already used his Chorus motor drives
on the nose gear of it's 767. (Boeing Demonstrates New Technology for Moving Airplanes on the Ground )
The Borealis thermocouple power chips (and cool chips) applied to all the waste heat in our economy would make our unsustainable lifestyle more than sustainable.
You may find an extensive discussion on thermo electric patents at: Nanalyze Forums - Direct conversion of heat to electricity੾

2. Biotechnology: Since his revolutionary work on the human genome project, Craig Venter has been finding thousands of previously unknown life forms in the sea and air. His goal is to use these creatures to develop the ultimate energy bug to produce hydrogen and or use of their photoreceptor genes for solar energy. Imagine a bioreactor in your home taking all your waste, adding some solar energy, and your electric and transportation needs are fulfilled.

3. Fusion: Here I am not talking about the big science ITER project taking thirty years, but the several small alternative plasma fusion efforts and maybe bubble fusion - Is bubble fusion back? (July 2005) - News - PhysicsWeb )

On the big science side I do have hopes for the LDX :

There are three companies pursuing hydrogen-boron plasma toroid fusion, Paul Koloc, Prometheus II, Eric Lerner, Focus Fusion and Clint Seward of Electron Power Systems . A resent DOD review of EPS technology reads as follows:

"MIT considers these plasmas a revolutionary breakthrough, with Delphi's
chief scientist and senior manager for advanced technology both agreeing
that EST/SPT physics are repeatable and theoretically explainable. MIT and
EPS have jointly authored numerous professional papers describing their
work. (Delphi is a $33B company, the spun off Delco Division of General
"Cost: no cost data available. The complexity of reliable mini-toroid
formation and acceleration with compact, relatively low-cost equipment
remains to be determined. Yet the fact that the EPS/MIT STTR work this
technology has attracted interest from Delphi is very significant, as the
automotive electronics industry is considered to be extremely demanding of
functionality per dollar and pound (e.g., mil-spec performance at
Wal-Mart-class 'commodity' prices)."

EPS, Electron Power Systems seems the strongest and most advanced, and I love the scalability, They propose applications as varied as home power generation@ .ooo5 cents/KWhr, cars, distributed power, airplanes, space propulsion , power storage and kinetic weapons.

It also provides a theoretic base for ball lighting : Ball Lightning Explained as a Stable Plasma Toroid
The theoretics are all there in peer reviewed papers. It does sound to good to be true however with names like MIT, Delphi, STTR grants, NIST grants , etc., popping up all over, I have to keep investigating.

Recent support has also come from one of the top lightning researcher in the world, Joe Dwyer at FIT, when he got his Y-ray and X-ray research published in the May issue of Scientific American,
Dwyer's paper:

and according to Clint Seward it supports his lightning models and fusion work at Electron Power Systems

Clint sent Joe and I his new paper on a lightning charge transport model of cloud to ground lightning (he did not want me to post it to the web yet). Joe was supportive and suggested some other papers to consider and Clint is now in re-write.

It may also explain Elves, blue jets, sprites and red sprites, plasmas that appear above thunder storms. After a little searching, this seemed to have the best hard numbers on the observations of sprites.

Dr. Mark A. Stanley's Dissertation

And may also explain the spiral twist of some fulgurites, hollow fused sand tubes found in sandy ground at lightning strikes.

lightning produces thermonuclear reaction
This new work By Dr.Kuzhevsky on neutrons in lightning: Russian Science New

The Queen of Hearts
I agree that our energy future lies with new technology. However, it is extremely important that the new technology mature into new PRODUCTS before it is introduced to the market and well before it is mandated by government.

Too much new technology has failed because our current day "Queens of Hearts" insist on a "sentence first, trial later" approach to market introduction. The California mandate for electric vehicles several years ago is a case in point: the technology was "not ready for prime time"; government failed to recognize that, ultimately, vehicles are selected for their utility, which the electric vehicles sorely lacked; and, finally, "the dogs wouldn't eat the dog food".

Real markets are composed of willing sellers and willing buyers. Managed markets attempt to influence the "willingness" of one or both with incentives or regulations. The right technology, matured into the right products, will achieve market share and in some cases market dominance. However, this can only happen when the product and the market are both ready. We ignore the many examples of this reality at our peril.

Energy Security and Sustainability
"Rational, well-calibrated steps to help the world adapt to possible risks of climate disruption..."

The "Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate" should focus primarily on ENERGY security and sustainability. By addressing the energy requirements of the partnership members, the threat of war will be reduced, the prospects for economic growth will be increased and the reduction of CO2 emissions will obtained. CO2 reductions is not the primary security IS. And energy security solutions will flatten/reduce the current CO2 run-up.

New technologies
Those technologies that prove to be cost efficient will be adopted without "help" from govt. Those that aren't shouldn't be.

Regardless, the evidence that anything man is doing is causing the earth to warm at all, much less catastrophically is slim to non-existent.

Manhattans and Markets
I have to largely agree with Firetoice and Mark the Great that markets are the biggest force in the trillion dollar PER YEAR(!) energy market. Even a Manhattan Project is small in comparison. Furthermore, and fortunately, those markets run on just that--markets! Thus, our recent (but not the first) run-up in energy prices is fueling sales of hybid cars, attic insulation, more efficient appliances. Check in with St. Amory the Lovins at RMI for a bunch more. Earthwatch also talks about energy efficiency in their more lucid moments.
Still, those fun things for a new Manhattan Project could also make big contributions. The sad news is that major innovation cycles are 17+ years, so they would be useful for the next energy crisis. Good luck, ericj.

Sustainable energy isthe only long term option.I've put several peak oil articles on my Blog.

A New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy
I don't think we can depend on our current or any future political leadership to do much regarding this problem.I think any significant change will be through the efforts of individuals.

New technologies
CTL(Coal to Liquid) has become profitable recently due to the current high cost of a barrel of oil.Wind Power is also producing electricity for less than natural gas fired plants in my area.Our country needs to break it's oil addiction.I have several peak oil articles on my BLOG if you are interested.

Where's the Project though?
Erichj - I love what you posted but I didn't see anything resembling the Manhatten Project. What you posted seemed more to me an update on the state of the arts WRT technological progress.

Said another way, what caught my eye was that you used the label "Manhattan Project" in your post subject, and I have been running around the internet posting my own views on a Manhattan Project Redux.

After reading your post, I was a little let down, not because your post was without significance, but because I thought for a moment I had discovered a kindred spirit with more technical knowledge than I. After reading your post, I suspect I am not as technologically informed as you and my posit seems to approach the subject more as layman's anecdote.

I will now post my article for your review. Please know I am an avowed conservative and capitalist and in peacetime I'm all for laissez faire methods. However, in this time of war, I don't feel myself drifting into the left-wing camp by suspending laissez faire for specific national defense purposes.

I would appreciate an honest reaction to the general idea below, I'm sure I have a few things technically wrong (I'm not a physicist) but I think my overall theme might pass muster in terms of getting things done:


In the early 1940's the US had a top secret program endeavoring to unlock nuclear fission, which resulted in the Manhattan Project and, as we all know, the atomic bomb.

Reducing this feat to simpler terms, in a time of conflict (WWII), the US looked for a way to reduce or eliminate its enemy's threat in very significant ways. In that era, and without the benefit of hindsight, one of the ways we elected to do that was by developing an awesome weapon which would level our enemy's infrastructure, demoralize his population, and thus meet the goal of enhanced security, and ultimately victory, for the American people.

Now that we similarly find ourselves in a world-wide conflict, it is reasonable we again look for the means to reduce or eliminate the enemy's threat. Given the war we're now in is asymmetrical, leveling entire cities really doesn't seem the most effective route to a proper solution, not that anyone has suggested that. While certainly such overkill isn't warranted at this time, we still have that very same need for reducing or eliminating the threat to our people. Of course, as the saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat.

The Manhattan project was an Herculean effort to exploit technology for use against our enemy. This is my tie-in to using that name with the "Redux" suffix. As I mentioned above, the 20/20 vision of hindsight shows us the effects were horrible and what might be classified as negative, although I would argue necessary, given the situation at hand. And let's not forget Pearl Harbor. But all that's in the past.

Of course there are detractors today saying we shouldn't have used the bomb in WWII, but even if their arguments were correct, the spirit of protecting our people and ending the war would remain a sterling example of the proper course of action for an administration in a time of crisis.

What I hereby suggest, then, is a repeat of the Manhattan Project exercise, only this time forged for positive outcomes, and "inflicted" so-to-speak here at home. What would this project consist of?

As you know, the current enemy's ranks are almost exclusively Mid-Eastern Islamic extremists. How do these organizations survive? I suspect off whatever scraps they can leverage out of their fellows and sympathizers in the region, a region which sits atop the "low-hanging fruit" of millions of barrels of easily accessible sweet crude oil. Reducing or eliminating this easy revenue stream to the terrorists' benefactors would force said benefactors to find other means of economic survival. These means must necessarily be more involved than simply pumping gunk out of the ground, and will take up a lot more of Arab "free time" when looked at across the population at-large. This in turn will to reduce their availability for jihad when weighed against keeping food on the table for the wife and kids. When the rank-and-file Arab is then approached by the religious fanatic for support, he will have both less to give and less inclination to do so.

Mimicking the Manhattan Project, we would exploit certain ways of reaching the desired outcome - reducing or eliminating the threat - through technology. But this time our Manhattan Project would not focus on a super-weapon - Lord knows we can already level any country on a whim and they wouldn't even see us coming on their radar. Instead we would focus on passively eliminating or reducing our own demand for their oil and thus cut off the easy revenue stream. The no-war-at-any-cost, America-is-the-problem Cindy Sheehan crowd will have nothing to protest against, and the environmental extremists will be reduced to stomping at the drawbridge with such a product proffered by the military-industrial complex. All while maintaining our legendary American values, projected power, and technological superiority.

Like the Manhattan Project, the answer comes out of further study of the elements, in this case Hydrogen. We already have basic ways of efficiently "burning" (or oxidizing, which is chemically almost identical) Hydrogen to get power, electricity being a big one. In fact, fuel cell "combustion" of Hydrogen is more like a battery system than a standard powerplant construct. We have ways of electrolyzing water to separate Hydrogen and Oxygen from each other. And recently someone figured out a means to safely deliver pressurized hydrogen to a wide customer base. Many of these discoveries simply evolved out of our Capitalist system with little or no gov't funding.

Why then the need for a government project, you might ask, vs. just letting the Laissez Faire advancement take place on its own? While the above advancements are progress in the right direction, there's currently no vanguard for this effort as a whole. Given the conflict at-hand, in my opinion we don't have time to wait if we want to have maximum effectiveness of this technological feat. By allowing the slow passage of time, the target region will be more able to adapt to such a change. This in turn is less likely to result in the imminent pre-occupation on the rank-and-file we wish to invoke by reducing the demand for, and thus the revenue stream from, their huge oil reserves, on which they now primarily depend. Without such a "revenue stream upset" done in conjunction with our on-going, full-court military and political press against the jihadists, its effect will be reduced.

So, in a short review here, we already have the basic Hydrogen technologies. I've tried to point out the time-sensitive component, as described in the previous paragraph. Let me then (finally) enumerate the project. Ironically, instead of occupying the region as in normal military fashion, we aim to preoccupy the region with the agent of change.

In this project the Defense Department, in concert with the Department of the Interior and DHS, et al, would first find out what roadblocks remain for us to eliminate our own need for fossil fuel at least as far as locomotion is concerned. Obviously we will need petroleum for other uses like plastics and such, however the biggest demand segment for Mid-Eastern fossil fuel is for powering vehicles, as far as I know. It could very well result that once full implementation is realized, we will be able to supply all our remaining domestic need for oil ou

doh!... post continued

Once those impediments are discovered we get together whatever "Skunk Works" type folks we need on the issues and solve them.

Meanwhile we meet with successful industry personnel, from refinery to service station level, and come up with a plan to "insure" the capital risks involved in supplanting our fossil fuel infrastructure with a Hydrogen-based infrastructure (sorta like FDIC but for infrastructure instead of bank accounts).

This economic initiative will float the cost of refineries machining up for safe, energy-efficient Hydrogen production. The refineries would continue to conduct normal fossil operations while the Hydrogen base is installed, tested, and tweaked. Perhaps in these facilities we can learn to burn bio-diesel and the like to run generators which, used for electrolysis, power the production of Hydrogen. There's also nuclear and solar power which can come to bear on reducing our use of fossil fuels for electrical needs, under which Hydrogen production must fall at this point. And, on that note, with the new discovery of things like "nanocrystals" for use in lighting, our electrical suppliers will soon be seeing significantly reduced demand across their grids as well.

Once certain milestones are met on the Hydrogen manufacturing side, the rest of the supply chain is out*****d, again with "insured" capital, all the while the chain still performs its fossil fuel supply logistics. My vision of this would be the installation of at least one safe Hydrogen "pump" at any service station that is geographically capable of providing the product. This will instill in consumers the feeling of main-streaming the technology - If they buy one of the cars they will have ample sites to refuel at.

Throughout the above processes, similarly "insured" capital has been used to bring fuel-cell based motor vehicle production lines to the point of readiness, to include their own supply chains. Again this is done by sitting down with industry personnel, in this case companies like Ford, GM, et al, and getting commitment on those fronts. While some automakers ARE already making strides in this area, Americans themselves are reacting with a Laissez Faire attitude towards these vehicles, what with the only current motivator being "Let's be Green" - by that I mean certainly price is not a motivator as the costs for any emerging technology are typically greater than the current technology. However if we can make it not only environmentally friendly but more importantly viewed as doing one's part in the War on Terror, I think we will get a much better response in terms of end users. Look at the "Buy War Bonds" campaign of WWII - that seemed to appeal to Americans.

Finally, as this project is coordinated to its intended outcome, the three branches of this new Hydrogen economy (fuel manufacturing, logistics, and consumer product) are brought to a place in time where our market can be flooded with the requisite products and supplies such that our demand for internal combustion fuels drops off sharply over a reduced amount of time.

Those in the private sector that participated in the project, and who are able to turn a profit from the new Hydrogen economy, are then expected to pay back, at zero interest, the up-front costs of procuring and installing the infrastructure, whatever be the case for that vendor. Arrangements can be made that is is done with as little pain as possible, I'm sure.

In the end we accomplish much - and in a distributed fashion. Instead of some massive Los Alamos-like base which we abandon after use (as with the Manhattan Project), we have invested the money in the very infrastructure that makes us prosper, with significant, if not complete, recompense back to us, the American taxpayer, in later years. For those segments of the experiment that fail (gas station X in market Y didn't do so well with its hydrogen sales, etc), we would effectively "lose" those tax dollars - that's the risk, but for the many more that succeed the bond money is paid back and the property lien released to the responsible private party. Look at the infrastructure and cash outlays for the Manhattan project - certainly no one, after WWII ended, or even today for that matter, could credibly have pronounced those funds as squandered.

As our project comes to fruition, the War on Terror continues, however with a major paradigm shift. As this technology propagates around the world, and it will, the Mid-East's grip on a coveted resource will transform into a grip on a resource much less in demand, and revenue streams throughout the region will plummet. This will cause the populous to scramble for other means of survival (let them make glass - they have a lot of sand, and they can use their fossil fuels to warm the ovens), and priorities within their culture will shift, moving non-productive things like Jihad down the list. What we will have accomplished would be what amounts to a military-style strike using passive capitalist means and economic outcomes. All without lifting a finger in anger, and cutting off those elsewhere in the world who would argue us as imperialists. Meanwhile, our own oil infrastructure participants are on board with the hydrogen economy and do not suffer the same fate as those in the same business in the Mid-East.

One last thought - I don't think I need to remind the reader of Iran's bully-pulpit position in the oil economy, either. Let's reduce these buffoons to size and relegate them to irrelevance. We are then less restrained on how we might end up dealing with them.


** Middle Eastern culture, which produce the Jihadists, has too much time on their hands because of the low-hanging fruit they simply pump out of the ground.

** We need to find a way to alter that, without killing the innocents in the region who just want to be like us, watching their kids grow up and such. Certainly we could just stand off and level the whole region, but that wouldn't be very humane.

** We can use our technology to passively change their priorities, all while helping ourselves, and lastly and least importantly, the environment. Not that the environmentalist whackos have any point, but to shut them up and send them off to eat Granola and look stupid.

** It's worthwhile to create a vanguard for this effort using taxpayer's money.

Your Manhattan Project
My post is the same plea, I've just listed the private and public companies that I feel have the best prospects to achieve our common goal.


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