Sunday, November 30, 2008

Over Unity Electric Motors: The Future of Clean Energy or Bad Lab Work?

First gained mainstream press fame toward the end of the 1980’s as a possible engine for the zero-emission car. Are over unity electric motors the wave of the future or just a product of bad lab work?

By: Ringo Bones

During the second half of the 1980’s, a number of garage tinkers manage to gain press attention over their inventions based on an electric motor - most of them involving the esoteric concept of magnetic monopoles - that runs on “free energy”. Through a cycle of “repression” and PR raves – probably due to their set-ups failing to pass rigorous scientific peer review – free energy devices manage to survive till this day. Often marketed as “suppressed” technology via the Internet boasting that their particular “free energy” device has been actively kept out of the mainstream market by powerful Washington crude oil lobbyists. But do electrical motors like these fulfill the promise of free energy by claiming that once started initially by a lead acid battery, they would run forever without the need to draw additional power? Or just the latest marketing triumph of their “creators” savvy for on-line peddling of suppressed pseudoscience-based rip-offs.

After hunting high and low via the Internet and 1980’s era education / educator’s journals which our modest public library still manage to stock, the “science” behind over unity motors could be traced – in my point of view – to uncorrected misconceptions of electrical engineering students performing lab work. Lab work which, unfortunately, their instructors failed to vet them properly over the problems of “erroneous data” that could crop up during their lab experiments. The “erroneous data” collected by the Class of ’77 and onwards to which their electrical engineering laboratory professors failed to vet them. Is probably - make that the main - reason why an overwhelmingly high number of electrical engineers of impeccable competence still pursue their Quixotic quest of over unity free energy electric motors.

I mean first and foremost of all, an overwhelmingly high number of electrical engineering students – even till this day – lacked the full grasp of what constitutes true scientific experimentation, correct electrical voltage and current measurement procedures, decent documentation of acquired data, and its decent interpretation. Add to that the “perennial issue” of confusing average current readings with true RMS (root mean square) current readings. They – the electrical engineering professors and their lab students - should know by now that ordinary alternating current or AC meters lie like politicians desperate for votes. Plus, there is this something that electrical engineers knew since the time of Nikola Tesla called counter-EMF, which still mystifies most people. Even those professionally certified electrical engineers whose day jobs involve electrical engineering related work and design.

Put them all together and you suddenly realize how difficult it is – make that excruciatingly difficult – to measure power to an acceptably accurate degree. Especially when it involves “strange” non-sine wave waveforms of AC currents, power in- power out nonlinearities due to counter-EMF, sparking, noisy signal waveforms, harmonics due to inherently dirty AC currents, stray magnetic fields several times stronger than the norm, reactance, and other subtle esoteric hidden effects like stray cable capacitance.

The Laws of Thermodynamics since time immemorial still does not allow something for nothing, let alone allowing humanity to break-even when it comes to the “energy game”. This conservation of energy law tells us that there is no non-nuclear process known by which energy can either be created or destroyed. Unless we manage to create a technology allowing us to manipulate the entropy levels of a power generating system, then probably a truly clean and free energy – though it might involve very substantial start-up costs – generating system could become a reality.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Drill Here, Drill Now: Why Now?

Former president George H. W. Bush banned crude oil exploration in the continental US for a reason, now his son – the current US president – wants it repealed. Is it a misguided political rhetoric or the path to energy independence?

By: Ringo Bones

If it defies logic, it must be rhetoric, right? Yet as a platform for energy independence for America, the Republican Party had been very busy lately promoting their “Drill here, drill now” program in order to promote crude oil exploration on the continental US – especially on the still-pristine parts of the state of Alaska. If the Exxon Valdez disaster scared the higher-echelons of Capitol Hill to prompt them to ban US domestic crude oil exploration – i.e. drilling especially with President Bush, Senior’s blessing, then why restart drilling now?

The truth is many experts – as opposed to just environmental nut-jobs as the Republican Party will want you to believe – believe that the total crude oil that will be extracted via domestic exploration in the US will only last for 3 years given the current US crude oil consumption. They even have enough peer-reviewed scientific data to back this up. Sadder still, it will take 10 years to set up the new crude oil exploration / drilling infrastructure up and running in an economically sensible manner. Imagine that, it takes 10 years worth of work just to extract 3 years worth of crude oil.

To me at least, the US Government had reached this position of energy uncertainty because environmental lobbyists had never had a say in the American energy policy. If the green / renewable energy programs that started during the Carter Administration were allowed to continue when Pres. Reagan was at the helm, America’s energy would have been virtually crude oil-free by 1995. Operation Desert Storm could have been the last war America would be fighting in the name of securing a reliable supply of crude oil supply.

That’s why the longer we cling on to our crude oil based economic, transportation, and energy generating systems, the more expensive it will be to introduce renewable energy systems that are radically different from the energy generating systems they intend to replace. If the “business as usual” mentality continues of the powerful Capitol Hill crude oil lobbyists, then maybe we better start investing to the construction firm who made the Palm Jumeira in Dubai. Because of the resulting increase in construction contracts that will result of the inevitable sea level rise brought about by global warming due to excessive amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by crude oil-based fuel burning. Too bad poor countries would have to settle to sink because they won’t be able to afford such grandiose schemes to dam their shorelines.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Carbon Neutral Flash Mobs

As global warming relentlessly keeps on melting the Arctic’s ever shrinking permanent ice pack, should we be adopting a low carbon lifestyle like starting carbon neutral flash mobs?

By: Ringo Bones

Since the advent of the Internet, e-mails have grown from a simple electronic data analog of good old-fashioned mail to creating one of the latest forms of political expression-of-protest – namely flash mobs. Much maligned for initiating the infamous “Battle of Seattle” – i.e. the anti-globalization, anti-capitalism protests by anarchist and activist against the November 30, 1999 WTO Ministerial Conference in Seattle, Washington. Nicknamed “N30”, the protests are mainly concentrated outside the hotels and nearby streets of the Seattle Convention Center was famed for the first ever large-scale use of flash mobs to gather a large number of protestors. Thus causing flash mobs to become a veritable tour de force of political activism in the 21st Century.

Wikipedia defines flash mobs (probably one of their youngest word entries) as a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, do something unusual or notable. And then disperse as if nothing had happened. Flash mobs are usually organized with the help of the Internet or other digital communications networks. Even though the various originators of flash mobs during the second half of the 1990’s had openly expressed that they have no lofty social or political ambitions. Their goal is just to meet in a public place and perform a random, obscure, and generally absurd act just for the sheer “experiential heck” of it. But it doesn’t preclude flash mobs from being used as a positive social force, namely as a peaceful form of political activism.

The flash mob of the Battle of Seattle / N30 happened because of the major sticking point of everyone expressing disdain against unbridled capitalism that best thrives only in an environment of extreme economic disparity is the amount of damage it has continue to bear upon our environment. As a means to being true to “our cause”, it’s only logical to discuss about low-carbon or carbon neutral flash mobs. Especially to show support of the coming Alternatively Fuelled Vehicle Day slated for the 3rd of October 2008.

Even though the mechanics of a typical flash mob is to send large numbers of people to congregate at one particular spot at a certain time using the existing Internet infrastructure as a clarion call is relatively easy nowadays. And may get much easier in the future due to the continuously galloping pace of technological development. But organizing it successfully is another task entirely even though this can be the perfect platform to spread the message that the only form of energy that is truly free is energy conservation.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Call for a Global Biofuel Reform

Ever since the skyrocketing food prices of 2008 has lead to several widespread riots in various part of the world, can we still afford to develop biofuels as a more Earth-friendly alternative to crude oil-based fuels?

By: Vanessa Uy

After the governments of the world had been moved by former US vice President Al Gore in his “An Inconvenient Truth”, most of them did make efforts to start their various biofuel programs as a means to mitigate the effects of global warming. Sadly, all of the biofuel programs that they started - are in one way or another - been influenced by powerful agricultural lobbyists with vested interests. Thus the diversion of corn and other grains to fuel the rich man’s car that inevitably sent global food prices straight through the roof. Especially if it takes 22 pounds of corn just to produce a gallon of ethanol. But if we are to tackle the problem of uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions caused by our global crude oil addiction, is abandoning our still fledgling biofuel programs a wise – even a sensible – choice?

What if there is a way to obtain our biofuels from plants or parts of plants that we humans neither classify as food nor eat. For a number of years now, a process exists that enables us to obtain ethanol – similar to what we get from corn under our existing biofuel program – except this time its from inedible parts of plants like wood wastes, left over sugarcane pulp, even from prairie grass. It is called cellulosic ethanol, a process developed by Dr. Lonnie Ingram to extract ethanol or ethyl alcohol from cellulose or the stuff that makes up most of the bulk of the plant besides water.

Normally, yeast cultures used in the production of ethanol from sugar can’t produce ethanol from cellulose. By using a gene-spliced e coli (Escherichia coli) bacteria, Dr. Ingram managed to produce ethanol from any part of a plant that is made of cellulose that are previously just thrown away or burned in a bonfire. The use of specialized e coli bacteria is necessary because “wild” e coli bacteria only turn the sugar components of the cellulose structure into lactic acid. This cellulosic ethanol process has just been recently scaled up to evaluate its economic viability.

If the cellulosic ethanol process works - just imagine - waste pulp from sugarcane processing can now be turned into ethanol instead of just being burned. Biofuelled cars will get their fuel from previously untapped overgrown wild prairie grass instead of crops destined for the dining table. Or the end the need to grow plants that are a source of biofuel – like rapeseed plants - in fields that are primarily used for growing food crops. The proverbial rich man’s car will never again be in competition with his poorer brethren’s daily bread.

But the obstacle of this very promising way of getting our biofuels is politics. If bioethanol-fueled cars get their fuels from wild overgrown prairie grass instead of corn, the corn lobby would be up in arms due to lost sales. And since the corn lobby values more the rich man with his bioethanol-fuelled car than a poor peasant because of the rich man’s buying power and possibly better credit rating, this might lead into an unnecessary civil strife borne of resentment. Let’s just hope that the powers-that-be sees the bigger picture.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A World Beyond Crude Oil: The Future Looks Bright?

In the past century, it was public health and species extinction concerns that forced us to change existing incumbent energy generation and transport technologies. But at present, it seems we’re stuck with crude oil. Time to move on?

By: Ringo Bones

When it comes to why Industrialized nations opted from horse and buggies to gasoline powered internal combustion engine vehicles or what folks back then used to call horseless carriages once they became available was somewhat obscured by time. Was it the coolness of acquiring the latest novelty item? Or is it the most famous historically documented problem of late 19th Century New York City. Back then horse manure from the alarmingly high number of horse drawn carriages were not only making the city’s air hard to breathe, but causing a local cholera epidemic as it finds its way into the local groundwater. Thus was born the need for the then fledgling automobile industry and the start of America’s – and the rest of the world’s – love for the automobile. Fast-forward to the 21st Century, the problem now is the automobile / car with it’s crude oil sourced gasoline and diesel is slowly – but surely – destroying our environment for more than 50 years via greenhouse gas emissions.

Before a scientific paper was published in 1885 pertaining to how various products of commercial significance like lubricants and furnace oils could be distilled from crude oil, the whaling industry was busy getting rich by hunting whales to near-extinction for a couple of centuries or more. But as Edwin L. Drake devised a way to efficiently extract crude oil from the ground and making the Seneca Oil Company’s New York investors rich beyond their wildest dreams. The global whale population – then the only source of lubricating oil for machinery and furnace oils for domestic heating - were granted a somewhat uneasy reprieve till this day. And yet, the crude oil industry established by Drake more than a century ago is not only endangering our global environment, but also the political stability – not to mention the social equality - of the regions were it is found. Not to mention a disproportionately large number of young men and women who must suffer and die needlessly just to secure our steady crude oil supply. Given the negative impacts of these technologies to the environment and social stability, why are alternatives not being considered?

Remember what Al Gore said in “The Inconvenient Truth” about political will being an inexhaustible resource? The problem is that the United States, which supposedly everyone around the world expects to lead us out from our “unhealthy” dependence on crude oil, is busy practicing obstructionist politics to maintain the global industry incumbent on crude oil. Even the supposed alternatives like corn-derived ethanol only succeeded because it has political backing by the corn lobby. Even then, corn-derived ethanol puts back more carbon dioxide back into our atmosphere in its production compared to what will be removed by not using crude oil sourced fuels. Cellulosic ethanol technology exist to allow us to extract ethanol from prairie grass, yet it will never see the light of day because it has no Washington lobbyist supporting it. Even the “almost zero emission” hybrid cars with plug in proviso are seen by the Bush Administration as a fringe technology and comparing it to anti-gravity levitation devices instead of viable means of reducing America’s dependence of foreign oil. Given that viable solutions to end the planet’s dependence on crude oil are already tried and tested – albeit on a small scale – since the 1990’s, why the delay?

The reasons for not using transport and electricity generating technologies which doesn’t require crude oil sourced fuels - like renewables - is not on whether these technologies are commercially viable or fiscally feasible but more on political reasons. Given that the Bush Administration’s Neo-Conservatives has developed obstructionist politics down to a science, technologies like a bus that runs on tap water will never see the light of day. Even renewable energy systems that got millions of private equity funds invested in it – like solar photovoltaics and wind turbines don’t receive the political backing that they deserve. It seems like to these politicians, alternative / renewable energy systems are the work of the devil. Plus these Neo-Conservatives “is” the petroleum lobby. Just be thankful that they are not around back in February 1841 when the Amistad case was being argued on the US Supreme Court. Bush’s Neo-Conservatives could have easily make the Transatlantic slave trade last till this day, or create a “Whaling Lobby” on Capitol Hill making everyone living in colder climes use oil blubber to heat their homes. Maybe the 2008 US Presidential Election is high time for Americans concerned for the global environment, political stability, and security exercise their political will to make this a better world.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Does the Sun Power Everything?

Touted as the cleanest and only cost-free energy source, finding ways of getting our energy needs from the Sun can no longer be ignored. But is it stretching the truth a bit when we say that the sun powers everything around us?

By: Vanessa Uy

Currently it seems like every one is involved in the race to harness the energy that streams down on us from the Sun. Touted as the cleanest renewable energy which sends us light with no monetary costs whatsoever. It seems like harnessing the Sun’s radiant energy is the best thing for us since free money, but shouldn't we know more about our nearest star first before putting all of our energy security eggs in one solar basket?

Some might harbor the notion that the sun is renewable, actually it’s not. The Sun has been slowly dying for 5 billion years. And 5 billion years into the future, it will turn into a red giant star that would kill all forms of life on the Earth’s surface. But given the vast time scales – and we humans have only been around for less than a million years – it’s safe to say that the sun could be considered “renewable”. Who knows that a few centuries from now we could develop technologies that allow us to travel and colonize other Earth-like planets in other star systems, with the same ease as flying to a vacation spot 1,000 miles away like we currently do. Remember folks, our manned space program is there for humanity’s long-term survival. Our civilization could potentially outlive our Sun.
The ancient plants used the Sun’s radiant energy as they grow then later died hundreds of millions of years ago. Their (the plants and the ecosystem supported by it) long dead bodies are where our crude oil and coal comes from, hence the term fossil fuel. A mighty testament on how solar energy is stored and sequestered naturally, and these fossil fuels are still full of that solar energy made by the Sun countless of eons ago. The bad news is we are using it faster that nature can replenish back the supply. So we should find ways to extract power from the Sun directly.

Wind turbines, hydroelectric power, even wave power’s apparent renewable credentials are nothing more than the Sun powering our planetary weather and climactic system. Blowing air around that allows wind turbines to generate electricity. Our Sun heats up the water on the ocean’s surface evaporating it. Then sending water back to the mountains as rain that flows back to the rivers, whose flow is harnessed by hydroelectric plants before the water flows back to the sea, thus the cycle repeats again. Even the waves and sea currents that we are now learning to harness are ultimately powered by the Sun.
The radioactive elements we used to power our nuclear fission power plants can be traced back our Sun’s precursor which is several times its size. Given our current knowledge of Astrophysics, our Sun’s large precursor did not die quietly. It exploded into a supernova which during the several billionths of a second before blowing itself to bits, created of most of our planet’s supply of uranium. And because of this explosion, our Sun was eventually born. Even geothermal power owes its existence to the nuclear alchemy of a supernova explosion because our planet’s internal heat is nothing more than a natural nuclear fission reactor.

Given our current understanding of the Sun’s benefit to us – from the very distant past to the farthest recesses of our distant future – only leaves us with awe. And our current fascination in harnessing this cleanest source of energy that’s relatively free will only increase in quantity and sophistication as time goes on. The pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas were really on to something when they decided to pay homage to and worship the Sun. The Sun really did make everything possible.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Perpetual Motion Machines Versus the Laws of Thermodynamics

With the skyrocketing costs of fossil fuel derived energy, are power sources modeled after perpetual motion and free energy experiments a viable solution?

By: Vanessa Uy

Visualize this scenario; A young person – assuming already knowledgeable about the workings of electric motors, dynamos, and rechargeable batteries – suddenly gets a “eureka” moment during a tinkering sessions. He or she proposes “What if I connect an electric motor to drive a dynamo to recharge a rechargeable battery which supplies power to the motor, wouldn’t this set up run forever?” Sure enough, the set-up did ran for awhile due to the charge left on the rechargeable battery, but inevitably grinds to a halt. Undaunted by this set back, our young and curious “explorer” devises other set-ups based on perpetual motion and free energy concepts. Like a light bulb surrounded by photovoltaic cells which are wired to power the light bulb – which logically would make the light bulb shine forever. After frequent and fruitless attempts of other similar devices, our young experimenter finally calls it quits.

Assuming our young person is fortunate enough to afford higher education – specifically Physics – he or she will look back at her days of folly undertaking the fool’s errand of the fruitless search of free energy and perpetual motion. Especially after enrolling in a class that focuses on the Laws of Thermodynamics the bane of perpetual motion and free energy’s existence. But are these laws really stifling our attempts to gain independence from money-hungry – not to mention environmentally polluting - multi-national energy conglomerates, or is it like what the great scientist and visionary R. Buckminster Fuller used to say: “There is no shortage of energy, only a shortage of imagination.” Before proceeding further, lets examine the three Laws of Thermodynamics and how they serve as the proverbial “glass ceiling” when it comes to pursuing our dreams of free energy.

The First Law of Thermodynamics revolves around this concept of conservation of energy, which many see as an axiom without proof. It states that energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be transformed from one form to another like work or heat. Also that work input should equal to work output – or unity in 100% efficient engine. Since 100% efficient engines don’t exist, power input is always less than power output. In short you can’t get something from nothing. So overunity machines, machines whose power output is greater that the power input - violates this law.

But is the First Law really that ironclad? Fortunately there’s a loophole in the first law: If energy can’t be created, can it be recaptured and used over and over. Perhaps the motion, the heat and the light can be converted back into energy to perform the work over again. This assumption lies behind our young experimenter’s first set-up previously discussed, and so does the next set-up discussed previously. The explanation on why our motor-dynamo-rechargeable battery set-up and the light bulb surrounded by photovoltaic cells set-up is due to its violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics – also termed as the “zeroth” principle of thermodynamics – which states that heat can’t be completely converted (or recycled) completely back to work because some energy is irrecoverable as waste heat. Just as water won’t run uphill naturally or under its own accord, heat won’t run “uphill” by going from a cooler body to a hotter body or environment. It goes only the other way. Physicists’ back in the 19th Century who studied such phenomena labeled it as the “Second Law” only because it is discovered after the first law. The term “zeroth principle” is more apt because The Second Law of Thermodynamics’ overall influence supersedes the first, the laws governing energy and heat flow – or the tendency towards maximum entropy - really is the death knell of perpetual motion machines and to our hopes for getting free energy.

The Third Law of Thermodynamics states that this one-way flow of heat and energy – the tendency towards maximum entropy – never ends. This increased entropy or randomness of a system even extends right down to the atomic level. Even further if you include Max Planck’s principles of one quanta at a time energy flow.

The three Laws of Thermodynamics has even been concisely summarized as: 1) you can’t win – free energy and overunity are a no-no 2) you can’t break even – sorry no perpetual motion; and 3) you can’t get out of this game. Science fiction writer and visionary Arthur C. Clarke said a few years back that the Laws’ of Thermodynamics – especially the zeroth principle – are a good thing. This is so because if everything around us would spontaneously become hotter because heat and energy no longer follow their one-way flow, our planet will slowly warm up to the temperature of the planet Venus. He even added that free energy would be a crime against humanity given the catastrophic outcome.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gasoline from Plastic Wastes: How Soon?

As the security of our global food supply became increasingly threatened by climate change, not to mention our current hastily set-up and ill-conceived bio-fuel industry. Add to that the urgent need to clean up our environment, will fuels from plastic wastes solve this and our present pollution dilemma?

By: Vanessa Uy

Though the concept’s feasibility has been around since plastics were industrially manufactured from crude oil, converting our hydrocarbon-based plastic wastes into hydrocarbon-based fuels like gasoline and diesel never really catch-on for quite a while. The reason for this is mostly – if not the only reason - due to our heavily politicized way of running our current industry and economy. Let’s take a brief history lesson.

Before the establishment of OPEC in 1973, the West has been purchasing oil – mostly from the Gulf States – at one US dollar per barrel. A price that was mandated by the US government since that fateful day back in March 3, 1938, when crude oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia by an American oil company – Standard Oil. The intervening years after the establishment of OPEC, the reason for not scaling up to industrial scale the chemistry lab curiosity of converting disused plastics into gasoline is political – has become a favorite of conspiracy theorists. Do they offend the Oil / Petroleum Lobbyists? Not to mention the gasoline price rollback in the US back in 1995 finally destined disuse plastics sourced gasoline a mere lab curiosity. But is procrastinating the industrial application of this procedure really good for our environment’s long-term future, given our present skyrocketing crude oil prices? Not to mention our ever pressing need to protect our planet and feed our poor and hungry brethren which our present ill-conceived bio-fuel industry had created more problems than it intends to solve?

The latest incarnation of this process is the pet project of General Motors chemist Dr. Candice Wheeler. Called De-Polymerization Thermal Conversion Process, it converts crude oil sourced hydrocarbon polymers which makes up most of our existing plastics back into monomers i.e. hydrocarbon-based fuels. Since these plastics are created by the polymerization of crude oil sourced petrochemicals, logically, this chemical process can also be reversed to turn into hydrocarbon monomers which is very similar chemical structure – make that indistinguishable from - of the hydrocarbon fuels like gasoline and diesel now in current use. Though this latest version of De-Polymerization has the advantage of requiring less heat compared to the ones performed in the past. Which is good for two reasons, number one is less energy means savings in financial terms, number two is less energy means less greenhouse gas generated by the process – which is what is aimed for in the first place.

Though the plastic wastes must be sorted out first according to chemical structure since different kinds of plastics has a slightly different chemical structure. And more importantly, chlorine and other halide containing plastics like polyvinyl chloride or PVC should be processed separately because these plastics released toxic gases similar to that used in chemical warfare like phosgene.

Like hydrocarbon based bio-fuels, gasoline and / or diesel that’s derived from our plastic waste is a very attractive proposition and it’s not just about reducing our volume of solid waste that we generate. Gasoline and diesel that’s made from plastic wastes can mesh seamlessly with the industrial and economic incumbency (i.e. gasoline and diesel powered vehicles were here first, unjust starvation and global warming – though a product of our societal and political follies - came in later) with the existing technology already in use. Motor vehicle manufacturers are less likely to spend billions just to make their vehicles run on some newfangled environmentally friendly fuel whose supposed manufacturer can’t produce enough to meet demand. So that is the reason why gasoline and diesel compatible food crop derived bio-fuels are being widely mass-produced in a hurry because existing cars can run on them.

But there is a food crisis right now that demands a quick solution. To ease the demand on food, and of our conscience, we should derive our hydrocarbon fuels from sources other than food crops which the rest of our brethren needs. By deriving our fuels from a source that’s not being needed as food and also a source that if left unused threatens our planet. Then it’s the closest to a magic bullet solution to our problems yet.