Donal's picture

    It's Going To Be Complicated

    Gasoline is expensive, getting more expensive, and that threatens our wide-ranging American way of life, y'all. The conservative solution seems to be drill, baby, drill and frack, baby, frack and pipeline, baby, pipeline. Others are looking for the big technological breakthrough—the dilithium crystals that will keep the Starship America on its continuing mission.

    In his latest Technological Update, Tom Whipple feels that there are two possible sources of energy that might replace fossil fuels. The bad news is that one is hydrogen. The worse news is that the other is cold fusion. Whipple is being cautious in his writing, but he still gives LENR more credence than do most of us:

    The 800 lb. gorilla of course remains cold fusion. While little new has happened in the cold fusion story recently, scientists from around the world continue to report that Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) really do take place and can make heat. So far two companies say they have developed the technology to the point where they can safely make useful amounts of heat and are preparing to bring heat-making devices to market. Unfortunately, both of these companies, for what they say are proprietary reasons, have refused to let outside scientists examine their technology to verify that it can perform as claimed.

    Whipple is correct that LENR would be a game-changer. But have we really seen enough to call it viable? Over the past decade, Peak Oil types have dismissed the Hydrogen Hype and Fool Cells, but trucks, buses and automobiles with hydrogen fuel cells, such as the Honda FCX Clarity, are being manufactured and leased now, though probably at a loss. Hydrogen is a portable way of storing energy—if you can keep the hydrogen from leaking—but the problem has always been that the energy return on energy invested (EROEI) to make hydrogen didn't seem to make sense:

    The one announcement that seems to be of more than normal interest was made by the University of California, Berkeley where a team of chemists have come up with a catalyst that produces hydrogen from water without heat.

    That would be a game-changer. And as far as storage losses:

    To store useful quantities, such as would be necessary for a hydrogen-powered vehicle, expensive high pressure tanks are necessary. For this reason there is considerable research going on to find a way to store hydrogen inside the lattice work of metals. This is all rather exotic technology so it is hard to tell whether a commercially useful product will be available soon.

    Indeed. The Doomer doubts, but the Trekker in me wants to believe.

    In The Way is Shut, Do the Math has a more thorough evaluation of our ways out of the energy briarpatch:

    A few weeks back, I organized assessments of fossil fuel alternatives into a scoring matrix to provide—at a glance—a sense for the pluses and minuses of each option. We saw from this exercise that most alternatives are inferior replacements for fossil fuels in one way or another (although superior in terms of carbon dioxide emission). We also saw that transportation will be the hard part.

    I suspect that while substantial electricity can be generated, a widespread grid will be hard to maintain, as well. We're already seeing that in energy-poor Pakistan.

    ...A complex, interrelating series of considerations will steer us one way or another. My hunch is that human nature, political realities, economics (including economic hardship) combined with technical shortcomings of alternatives will get in the way of our shiny future. I would like to be convinced that this isn’t the case so I can stop worrying and go full-force on my experimental physics career, but the arguments for why things will be alright often strike me as narrow or simplistic. “It’s obvious: we’ll go to space where resources are unlimited.” ... “More sun hits the Earth in an hour than we use in a year: it’s obvious we’ll solve this problem.” ...

    Any argument/rebuttal that starts with “It’s simple,” or “It’s obvious,” or something along those lines is more likely to fall in the foolish camp than the wisdom camp. ... My “hunch” tells me that we work in an imperfect world full of irrational reactions, uneducated citizens, dysfunctional politics, competitive nation-states willing to wage war, ruthless extrapolation based on our fossil fuel bonanza, and simple, stupid inertia. ...

    That's an observation with which I can fully agree.



    Wind intermittent? Take a look at

    But that won’t matter until about 2023 when the US grid reaches 70% wind, because demand sources can load level until then.

    Check out how tight the 95% prediction confidence intervals are on this extrapolation:


    Actually the wind turbines I see in PA aren't turning at all. So I guess that isn't intermittent.

    Cold fusion has always been the energy of the future, and it always will be. Let's face facts, as a substitute for oil, it's a fantasy.

    As for hydrogen-powered cars, the fact that you're even mentioning it as a possibility means you don't understand it. Hydrogen is not an energy source. It's an energy carrier, like electricity.

    From my article: "Hydrogen is a portable way of storing energy ..."

    >Cold fusion has always been the energy of the future, and it always will be.


    The cold fusion has never been  the energy of the future it had been a debunked bad science until quite resent developments. Slowly LENR has gained creditability and now it got quite dramatic boost (last couple years). 


    >Whipple is correct that LENR would be a game-changer. But have we really seen enough to call it viable?


    ​Yes, we do. Other green-tech looks totally inferior comparatively with LENR; it has gained a substantial creditability in the last couple years. It is a bad news for one who has invested in "grassy tech" so the they try to down play it keeping "balanced" POV (as this article does). It is also true that even LENR based car is still far away but it is a certain deal, once we have a lot of money channelled in LENR research with many star-ups running for the prize, the direct LENR->electricity conversion will be an ultimate solution; even with current "just-heat" output LENR will find way to the car industry it just will take longer.


    Latest Comments