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An Eco-Future is Possible

Climate Change Meets High Tech

by ROBERT HUNZIKER

Human-caused climate change may already be out of control, as suggested in recent reports by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), confirming that a “tipping point” may already have arrived (1) with warming of the Arctic and (2) with excessive levels of CO2 causing acidification in the ocean, thereby threatening the existence of both human and marine life.

Likewise, it is common knowledge that fossil fuel emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) cause these problems. This, therefore, prompts the question of what can be done about the cause of global warming. If nothing, then the nascent extinction event we are already experiencing may change the course of human history in a most calamitous manner.

Fortuitously, technology holds considerable promise to alleviate the climate change/global-warming problem. This article examines the status of a few key developments, among many, of current science and cutting-edge technologies with a point of view that the more exposure, the better the chance of successful advancement.

Nevertheless, timing remains an overriding concern because of the rapid unfolding of catastrophic climate change, as most technological breakthroughs take years-to-decades to fully develop. As well, political and economic considerations serve to slow the process. Furthermore, cultural cognition, i.e., perception of risks that cohere to self-defining values, has proven to be a serious stumbling block for acceptance of the risks of climate change, as value systems shape political conflict.

Nevertheless, serious scientists believe time is of essence more so than ever before. There are simply too many examples of real life, real time climate change threats to ignore the problem. For example, the world is losing its water towers as glaciers melt, ocean acidification is already threatening the existence of marine life, and the warming Arctic is causing unprecedented jet stream turbulence, bringing unpredictable and devastating weather systems all across the Northern Hemisphere, not to mention the clear-cut risk of a major, sudden, breakout of Arctic methane, which has the potential to “cook” the planet with surprising speed.

This article will discuss cutting edge technology that, if given strong political support, may serve to save the day. However, the risks of the rapidity of climate change remains a serious threat, which is, unfortunately, well ahead of the curve for solutions, e.g., ocean acidification is happening 10 times faster than ever before, throughout all history, and ten times anything is big!

Uppermost of utmost significance, this article will discuss the prospects for the world’s foremost achievement in fusion technology, the holy grail of energy, which if commercially practicable, will completely alter the world of energy for all time.

Sea Water Powered Ships

One solution to the fossil fuel conundrum is energy from water. Energy derived from the elements found in water has far-reaching potential. In that regard, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s Materials Science and Technology Division announced they have achieved ‘proof of concept’ for a new technology that may be a game changer.

The new process extracts carbon dioxide and hydrogen from seawater, which are processed in a catalytic converter to transform the elements into a liquid hydrocarbon fuel with 92% efficiency. This fuel can be used to power conventional engines already in use today. The catalytic device is described as an “innovative and proprietary NRL electronic cation exchange module or “E-CEM.”

Naval scientists demonstrated the novel concept on April 2, 2014 with a model airplane powered by fuel from seawater. “This is the first time technology of this nature has been demonstrated with the potential for transition, from the laboratory, to full-scale commercial implementation,” according to Naval research chemist Heather Willauer, Scale Model WWII Craft Takes Flight With Fuel From the Sea Concept, America’s Navy, Naval Research Laboratory Public Affairs, Story No. NNS14040704, Release Date: 4/7/2014.

Looking ahead into the future, the Navy predicts seawater fuel will cost $3-6 per gallon, and it could be available on a commercial scale within 10 years.

Solar

Enough sunlight hits the earth’s surface in one hour to power all humanity for one year.

That statement needs to be repeated as a headline of the New York Times on a daily basis for one year so that the concept of solar’s incredible reach and power will sink in with the public, and via osmosis, with the government.

Solar energy is experiencing remarkable technological breakthroughs that will likely lead to a world powered by solar energy at the expense of fossil fuels. And, it could be happening sooner rather than later. Similar to how the Internet grew exponentially, solar has the potential to do the same, and ‘state of art’ solar development(s) will likely propel solar onto a super growth cycle.

The costs of solar, for the first time, are on a Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE) competitive basis with conventional energy sources.

Not only have costs come into line, but also photovoltaic can be goosed up to perform much better than ever before. Current silicon-based solar cells only capture 40% of solar energy, but this is about to be corrected at MIT, where researchers are developing a new carbon solar cell that will capture all, or almost all, of the sun’s energy. This is another game changer for renewable energy that may soon come off the drawing boards.

As well, the intermittency of power with solar is a problem that is being solved as companies like Tesla and Bosch bring to market a new generation of battery storage systems to capture power generated by home and business solar systems. Thus, the “surging” of power typical of renewables is leveled off by a series of installations interconnected with battery storage systems, making solar a smooth operator, the same as conventional power generation systems in use today.

Solar is also making vast strides with industrial scale power, e.g., the Gemasolar plant in Seville, Spain recently set a record for nonstop electricity generation to 27,000 homes using its unique Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) facility in conjunction with molten salt storage of heat to operate 24/7, all solar.

Speaking of “all solar,” the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory is planning to build solar power modules (aka: solar satellites) in outer space and beam the energy back to Earth. Outer space solar will outperform land solar by miles because it can soak up the rays around the clock without weather interference.

And, speaking of outer space, the moon is a targeted destination for an 11,000-mile solar strip around the lunar equator to be constructed by Shimizu Corporation/Japan, which company plans to beam the energy back to Earth, similar to the U.S. Navy’s plan of solar satellite operations. Construction is scheduled to start in 2035.

When, and as, solar power conquers outer space, fossil fuel remains buried in the ground, carbon dioxide emissions abate, and global warming chills out.

Solar Airplane

Swiss entrepreneurs Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg have unveiled, as of April 9th, 2014, a “Solar Impulse 2” aircraft with a wingspan wider than that of a Boeing 747 that relies upon solar power, which is captured by massive photovoltaic modules.

The test flight for the plane commences in 2015, when it departs Switzerland to fly around the world in five days non-stop, storing the sun’s energy to stay in the air at night.

According to Piccard, “The point is to get people to pay attention to sustainability – and to think that maybe saving the world can be exciting and fun,” Helen Fields, Solar-Powered Plane Aims for Round-the-World Flight, Discover Magazine, April 9, 2014.

The Holy Grail of Energy – Fusion

Fusion is the holy grail of energy as it replicates the energy produced by the stars – no greenhouse gas emissions, no use of fossil or fissionable fuels, no risk of a nuclear accident, explosion or meltdown. Scientists worldwide have been laboring over this remarkable potentiality for years with many attempts to achieve sustainable fusion, close, but no cigar.

Fusion is a limitless and clean energy source just like our sun.

In that regard, it is believed that a scientific research company, which cannot be identified as of this writing, has already achieved a major milestone, which is sustained fusion.

Even though the scientific concept of recreating energy the same as the stars has been around since the 1950s, scientists have only been able to produce fusion reactions for fractions of a second; nobody, until now, has been able to sustain the fusion process. And, sustainability is what it is all about; it’s where the true value is found as an answer to the world’s energy requirements, the holy grail of energy.

It is possible (and, maybe factual) that the referenced scientific research company has accomplished sustainability of the fusion process. If so, it is a singular triumph that nobody else has ever accomplished, a masterstroke of science, a tour de force!

Supposedly, the company is currently working on a commercial prototype of its fusion process, which uses a naturally occurring molecule that is abundantly available as the fuel source for its fusion process.

Fusion is not at all like current fission nuclear reactors because there is no uranium, no plutonium, and no possibility of leaks or meltdowns. The only byproduct is harmless, inert helium gas.

Once the company has completed its commercial prototype power plant, using fusion to generate heat and steam to turn generators, which, in turn, produces electricity, the world will likely be at their doorstep. This harmless fusion process will bring safe, clean, green, efficient, and affordable electricity to the entire world, and life will never be quite the same. In fact, lifestyles will prosper like never before.

Furthermore, this company’s success will likely start a new worldwide economic revolution, bringing in its wake a renaissance for industry and commerce, equivalent to the impact of the invention of the first commercial steam engine using a piston by Thomas Newcomen in 1712. Thereafter, the world changed by leaps and bounds, as steam energy powered the industrial revolution. Likewise, fusion energy will power a new major economic revolution all across the planet as the industrial revolution is supplanted by the fusion revolution.

As it happens, it has taken all of 300 years for Newcomen’s steam engine to finally meet its natural source of power, fusion!

Singularly, technology has the potential to save the day for the planet, but the fact remains that time is the enemy. Already, the world’s scientists are seeing the early signs of a deadly outcome for life if fossil fuels are not replaced by renewable sources of energy on a massive scale, starting immediately.

First, Fossil fuels must be eliminated, and, over time, this is destined to happen as technological developments override, and crush, fossil fuel interests. Thereafter, sans fossil fuels, the world will be open to amazing endeavors of superb socio-economic development, carrying humankind to transcendent dimensions never before realized with wireless electricity (already in the prototype stage at MIT) supplied by fusion power (a small-scale prototype already exist) and self-drive electric automobiles (already in the prototype stage at Google) and liquid hydrogen-fueled airplanes (already in the prototype stage) and water-element powered ships (planned by the Navy) opening new vistas under clean, clear skies.

Postscript: “There is nothing like a dream to create the future. Utopia today, flesh and
blood tomorrow,” Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at roberthunziker@icloud.com.