What is at Stake?
Energy cannot be destroyed and is not in short supply. All that exists
is made of it. We use energy by converting it into different forms. Doing
this in an ecologically responsible way, however, is critical for the survival
of human society and the terrestrial ecosystem as a whole.
Where are We Now?
Planning a course for the future requires recognition of the status quo to define a point of departure. Today's energy market is dominated by fossil fuel burning, the root cause of global warming. If not constrained, severe climate changes will correct human population growth through starvation, disease, and nuclear wars fought over dwindling resources.
Fossil fuels are chemically stable, allowing them to be transported safely and stored indefinitely until their energy is needed. This property, combined with their abundant availability, makes them attractive. Our transportation sector relies almost entirely on fossil fuels for this reason. But converting the chemical energy of fuels to mechanical work or electricity is inefficient, because heat engines can exploit only part of a fuel's energy release, having to reject the remainder as waste heat. By contrast, electrical power can be converted conveniently and with high efficiency into many other useful forms. It can be transmitted inexpensively over long distances and can be made available at the speed of light with the flick of a switch. Consumers in developed nations have come to rely more and more on electric power for lighting, refrigeration, temperature control, mechanical labor, entertainment, communication and other needs.
Electricity is often assumed to be clean and environmentally friendly. But today's electric power generating industry relies heavily on burning dirty fuels. As a result, electric utilities account for almost 40% of man-made atmospheric carbon dioxide and more than two thirds of atmospheric sulfur dioxide,* the source of acid rain. Electric power plants release more greenhouse gases than automobiles, trucks, trains and aircraft combined. Hence, nothing is gained by converting automobiles to electric propulsion, unless we wean the electric generators off their fossil fuel dependence. Meanwhile, the most eco-friendly vehicle is the hybrid electric car, using regenerative braking and consuming just a third as much fuel as the conventional road cruiser.
Worldwide annual energy consumption is the equivalent of 13 billion**
metric tons of coal. Approximately 12.7% of this, is consumed as
electric energy. This percentage is steadily increasing, so that electric
energy will likely remain the most user-friendly energy form in the foreseeable
future. The US generates 25% of the global production of electricity at
an average rate of 422 GW. Energy sources for US electric power generation
|SOURCE||AVE. PRODUCTION RATE||PERCENT|
|Fossil Fuels||293 GW||69.4 %|
|Nuclear Fission||83 GW||19.7 %|
|Hydroelectric||35 GW||8.3 %|
|Geothermal||3 GW||0.7 %|
|Wind||1.7 GW||0.4 %|
|Solar||1.1 GW||0.3 %|
|Other (biomass etc.)||5.2 GW||1.2 %|
The Ultimate Energy Source
Planning for a better energy future demands discovery and development of new energy conversion technologies. For this, we need to understand the hierarchy of energy forms in nature.
Our more readily accessible energy sources stem from power generated in the sun's interior by thermonuclear fusion processes. Energy, released as gamma radiation and high energy particles, filters outward from the sun's core to the surface, where it is radiated as x-rays and light in the ultraviolet, visible and infrared parts of the spectrum. Only a tiny fraction of this radiated energy is intercepted and absorbed by Earth, driving her weather and ecosystems. Green plants use sunlight for photosynthesizing carbohydrates, oils and other organic substances, which form the base for the nutrition of all living things. Coal and petroleum deposits are believed to stem from decaying vegetable and animal matter, deposited in oceans and swamps over periods of hundreds of millions of years. Thus, fossil fuels contain solar energy stored in chemical form. Renewable energy sources, such as wind, ocean currents, atmospheric electricity, biomass and hydroelectric power, also derive from nuclear processes in the sun. Only a few non-solar energy sources, such as gravitational, geothermal and nuclear energies, are presently accessible to human technology.
Ultimately all energy forms in the universe spring from the forces that hold space and matter together. These energies are referred to as binding energy, for lack of a better concept. Binding energy, Ebe, is negative energy and can be considered to have negative mass, according to Einstein's well-known mass-energy equivalence formula, mbe = - Ebe / c2.
Increasing the binding energy between atoms results in a more stable molecule and releases chemical energy. Increasing the binding energy between nucleons produces a more stable nucleus and releases nuclear energy. But bound energy is not just contained in matter, but to a larger extent in space itself. Modern physics acknowledges that matter interacts with the zero-point energy of space and vice versa.1 This is only possible if space consists of energy quanta, which we will call cosmions here. These are probably held together by electromagnetic binding energy. Cosmions may actually be electrons and positrons,2 or they may be much smaller.3When the binding energy in the vacuum space is increased, energy is released into the observable world, often as elementary particles appearing out of nothing. Understanding these binding energies would provide insight into the creative powers of the universe. The author has explored this concept in a recently published book.4
The externally observable mass of a bound particle is mp
= (Ep - Ebe) / c2, where Ep
is the particle's matter energy, and c is the speed of light. Hence,
the binding energy acts as a cloak, partially concealing the particle
from external view. This is true whether the particle is an atom,
a nucleon, or a cosmion. For cosmions, Ep = Ebe,
so that they are undetectable from our coarse-matter world, and the vacuum
space as a whole appears massless. The evolutionary process of continuous
cosmic creation operates from this infinite energy reservoir of space to
bring forth everything there is. This energy is available to us, if we
can learn to tap into this universal resource in a deliberate manner.
Where Can We Go from Here?
Even though basic research into the substructure of space is slowly becoming respectable, we cannot expect to extract zero-point energy in a deliberate and controlled manner for some time. Realistically then, we need to develop and clean up our conventional resources. Fossil fuel burning should be phased out and our oil and coal reserves used for the manufacture of plastics, paints, lubricants, pharmaceuticals and other products. Similarly, our nuclear fission reactors should be decommissioned, because they pose an unacceptable risk to our safety and environment.
Hydroelectric power generation from rivers is limited to a five-fold
expansion worldwide. In the US and Europe, approximately 80% of potential
sites are already being exploited, and no major new dams are planned. Easily
accessible geothermal sites are similarly limited. Production of renewable,
fuels from biomass also has obvious limits, because it competes with food
production on land and in the seas. Certain conventional energy sources,
however, can be greatly expanded. Examples are discussed hereunder.
Solar Photovoltaic Devices:
Photovoltaic solar panels are convenient, decentralized sources for
satisfying electric power needs in typical households. Total available
rooftop area in the US is around 10,000 km2. At 20% conversion
efficiency, residential photovoltaics can potentially generate a combined
peak power of 2,000 GW, over four times the electric power now generated
in the US. Commercial photovoltaic panels, based on crystalline silicon,
have 22% efficiency and cost $6 per watt of generating capacity. Their
high cost deters homeowners from investing in this technology. New, thin-film
CuInSe2 cells with 18% efficiency are being developed by Siemens
and other R&D groups, promising to bring this price down to an affordable
$1/W in the next decade. Advances in this technology alone can have a major
impact on solving the global energy crisis.
Controlled Thermonuclear Fusion:
This energy powers the sun, which in turn replenishes most of our terrestrial
energy sources. Nuclear fusion, fueled by deuterium from our oceans, could
provide humanity's energy needs for billions of years. In contrast to nuclear
fission, the process creates no long-lived radioactive wastes. The potential
returns from achieving sustainable, controlled thermonuclear fusion are
immense, and billions of dollars have justifiably been invested in magnetically
confined fusion and inertially confined fusion (laser pulse initiated)
schemes over the past 40 years. Technical problems are so difficult, however,
demonstration of a viable fusion reactor is still decades away. A major
breakthrough in this area could make all other energy supplies insignificant.
fusion, if confirmed, could be a safe alternative way of harnessing
nuclear fusion. The jury is still out on this, awaiting further developments.
Tornado in a Tent:
This scheme, proposed by the author, converts solar power to high-intensity
wind power to drive an efficient wind turbine. A large circular greenhouse
captures solar heat. Atmospheric air is pulled in from the circumference
and heated. Rising warm air is directed upward and inward along spiraling
ducts, to be released at the top of the conical structure, after forming
a stable vertical vortex and driving a suitably designed turbine. A 1.5
mile diameter structure placed in the desert, or on the ocean surface,
can generate as much electric power as Hoover Dam, at a much lower investment.
Several hundred such units could double US electric output.
Tidal Power and Ocean Currents:
Harnessing the ocean flow in and out of tidal basins can become another source of hydroelectric power. Tidal channels in the Bay of Fundy, where the ocean levels change by 10.8 m on an average day, have the potential of producing more than three times the combined output of Hoover Dam and Grand Coulee Dam. Tidal energy could also be harnessed from the vertical motion of large floating islands. A 14 mile square, floating airport off the coast of Los Angeles, with a water displacement of 5 billion tons, could generate more power than Hoover Dam.
Ocean currents can be a source of power as well. A simple 200 m diameter,
slowly rotating turbine (harmless to ocean life) immersed in the Gulf Stream,
can generate 200 MW of electricity.
Solar Power in Space:
By the year 2500, we will most likely control Earth's weather by selectively
adjusting the solar radiation input from space with giant orbiting mirrors
and screens, so as to reduce destructive weather phenomena and to enhance
productive uses of sun, rain, wind, river flow, ocean currents, agricultural
food production, etc. Surplus solar power, collected in space, could be
converted to microwaves and beamed down to receiving dishes on Earth.
Whether or not we learn to tap directly into the energy fabric of the universe's substructure, we do have a number of options for satisfying humanity's energy needs. Our energy future looks bright, if we can get our priorities straight, and if we can intelligently manage our human and natural resources.
1. T. H. Boyer, Random Electrodynamics: The Theory of Classical Electrodynamics with Classical Electromagnetic Zero-Point Radiation, Phys. Rev. D11 (1975) 790.
2. M. Simhony, Invitation to the Natural Physics of Matter, Space and Radiation, World Scientific Publishing Co. (Singapore 1994), ISBN 981-02-1649-1.
3. R. D. Pearson, Intelligence behind the Universe, Bathford Publishers (Bath, England 1990), ISBN 0-9478823-21-2.
4. D. Rothe, In Search of Truth and Freedom, Avila Books (Cardiff, Calif. 2000), ISBN 0-9677453-2-2.
Dr. Dietmar Rothe is a scientific consultant and professional engineer, who has made numerous contributions in Aerospace Research and High-Power Laser Development over a forty year period. He is also the author of a philosophical title, "In Search of Truth and Freedom" (www.avilabooks.com/Book.htm)
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