We Can Solve Our Energy Problems By Learning How the World Really Works
We’ll Have More Nuclear and Oil Catastrophes … Unless We Find Better Ways to Produce Energy
Unless we find ways to produce energy in a less catastrophe-prone manner.
Alternative forms of energy are getting close to becoming economical. (And if alternative energy got the same level of subsidies as fossil fuels, it would be competitive).
And as I noted in July, decentralized forms of power energy would go along way towards solving our energy problems:
Popular Science points out in another article, a new alloy can convert heat directly into electricity:
A new alloy with unique properties can convert heat directly into electricity, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota. The alloy, a multiferroic composite of nickel, cobalt, manganese and tin, can be either non-magnetic and highly magnetic, depending on its temperature.
Multiferroic materials possess both magnetism and ferroelectricity, or a permanent electric polarization. Materials with both of these properties are very rare; check out this explainer from the National Institute of Standards and Technology if youre interested in the electron orbital arrangements that cause these phenomena.
One obvious use for this material would be in the exhaust pipes of vehicles. Several automakers are already working on heat transfer devices that can convert a cars hot exhaust into usable electricity; General Motors is using alloys called skutterudites, which are cobalt-arsenide materials doped with rare earths.
Rare earth magnets are already a necessity in many hybrid car batteries, so heat-capture devices made of the new multiferroic compound could be placed near the magnets.
The material could also be used in power plants or even ocean thermal energy generators, the researchers said.
Indeed, as I wrote in April:
Power can also be captured from excess heat energy. As Ive previously noted:
Heat can be used to generate electricity. This is true not only on the industrial scale, but even on the level of your home faucet. Indeed, inventors have already built home faucet kits which turn the unused heat from your hot water into electricity.
In hot climates, black thermal-electric mats could be installed on roofs to generate electricity.
Heat is a byproduct of other processes, and so nothing special needs to be done to create it. Just about every human activity and many natural processes create heat, so we just have to utilize it.
A dramatic example of wasted heat energy is the Oak Creek coal-fired power plant in Wisconsin. The two units at Oak Creek suck up two billion gallons of water from Lake Michigan each day, and pipe it back into lake 10-15 degrees warmer. All of that heat energy is wasted.
So a new alloy which directly converts heat into energy is exciting.
And as I noted last year:
Due to high oil prices, major breakthroughs in energy production are happening every day.
- A scientist has figured out how to make and store energy by splitting water with sunlight. He says: Youve made your house into a fuel station [and we can get] rid of all the grids [he's recently discovered an even cheaper way to do this]
- It has been discovered that alcohol made from donuts, grass and other abundant materials can run cars and all other engines [see below]
And as Ive written before, alcohol has more alternative energy applications than you might know:
Theres a secret history regarding alcohol that you wont hear on the six oclock news:
- Cars and everything else running on internal combustion engines can run on alcohol at least as well as they can run on gasoline. Indeed, engines were built back in 1870 that could run using either alcohol or gasolineAutoists Discuss Alcohol As Fuel; Great Future Ahead For Use In Commercial Wagons, Says Prof. Lucke. Tests With Motor Truck E.R. Hewitt Tells Engineers Of His Results With Gasoline And Alcohol In Same Engine
- Henry Ford said that alcohol was a cleaner, nicer, better fuel for automobiles than gasoline (James Brough, The Ford Dynasty: An American Story, p. 118, and cited in Ford The Men and the Machine, p. 365). The Model T Ford had a knob right on the dashboard to adjust the fuel-air mixture for either alcohol or gas
- Alcohol does not corrode or shorten the lifespan of modern cars, and an inexpensive adjustment to regular cars will make them run smoothly and inexpensively on alcohol
Moreover, those in the know actually are using alcohol as a fuel today. For example, there are many millions of cars being driven in Brazil that run on alcohol.
And many government and car fleets are actually required to be able to run on either alcohol or gas. The car companies simply forgot to tell the American consumer that these kind of cars are available. See this and this.
Indeed, as Ive previously noted, running equipment using alcohol should not increase food prices:
The leading proponents of alcohol as fuel are not talking about corn. Corn is a lousy crop for making alcohol, and there are many other crops that are much more efficient. Indeed, the leaders in this field promote growing a wide variety of crops (appropriate for whatever specific climate you live in), and many of the crops they suggest are also valuable food crops.
And you dont even need to use plants . . . you can make alcohol fuel out of rotten fruit, stale soft drinks or donuts.
Indeed, in a decidedly old-fashioned spin on the still and moonshine-making as livelihood during the Great Depression, engineer and alcohol production expert David Chu points out that we can create alcohol for our machines, mash to raise mushrooms, earthworms and fish, and CO2 for our garden all at the same time producing a livelihood for ourselves in the process:
We can also reduce energy loss.
Cut Energy Usage By Learning How The World Works
What about cutting energy usage? Many people think that reducing energy means huddling in caves shivering.
But there may be many ways to dramatically reduce our energy usage while increasing our quality of life.
By carrying out our basic activities – growing food, treating disease, etc. – in ways which use less energy (and are healthier).
Working With Nature
For example, recent research shows that virtually every food crop in the world has a symbiotic relation with fungi which makes it grow faster, builds resistance to disease, drought and toxics, and otherwise helps them be more efficient producers. The symbiotic fungi also help plants take up nutrients from the soil that plants can’t readily absorb.
Likewise, it is impossible to have healthy soil unless earthworms are present.
However, pesticides kill the fungi and earthworms, making the plants wimpy shadows of their former selves, susceptible to disease, drought and pollution, and rendering the soil sterile.
And – since pesticides kill the beneficial fungi and earthworms – it takes enormous quantities of artificial fertilizer, nutrients and other additives just to keep the plants alive.
So pesticides actually waste enormous amounts of energy.
Indeed, we don’t even need pesticides to kill most insects. We can kill them with fungi products which are safe for humans for pennies on the dollar.
Ancient Technique Rediscovered
When archeologists stumbled upon an ancient pit of “biochar” in the Amazon forest, they re-discovered another way to increase soil productivity and plant yield. Specifically, the Amazon soil is notoriously hard to grow crops in, because it dries into a hard mass of clay after trees are cut down.
But pre-Columbian natives burned food leftovers and plant materials, and then added that back into the soil. This greatly increases crop yield.
Because forest fires have replenished soil for millions of years, the use of biochar is just working with the way the things work in nature.
Giving Plants the Light They Like Increases Yield
And as I noted last month:
Dutch company PlantLab has figured out how to triple the yield of plants using only 10% of the water typically needed, using a method which doesnt require any pesticides:When grown outdoors plant photosynthesis is only about 9% efficient. With the correct balance of colored LED light, PlantLab has increased that efficiency to 12 or 15%, aiming for 18%. Double the efficiency means increased yield (or more likely equal yield with less energy). By keeping the plants in a contained system, PlantLab can also recycle evaporated water, which helps them grow crops using just one tenth the water as with traditional greenhouses. Because PlantLabs harvest is indoors, they dont have pests (and could quickly isolate rooms that somehow got contaminated) and they dont need pesticides. Finally, PlantLabs production facilities can be built almost anywhere: from the Sahara to the Artic, its all going to look the same indoors. So everyones food can be grown as local as possible. That means fresher food with less costs of transportation.
PlantLabs Gertjan Meeuws recently discussed some of the other benefits and results of their work on Southern California public radio (KPCC). He claims theyre able to increase crop yield by a factor of three so far.
By learning how the world works – and working with it, instead of fighting it – we can reduce our energy usage and live better lives.
View the original article at Washingtons Blog