Powered by TypePad

« The Race Card, With Bill Clinton As The Joker In The Deck | Main | The MinuteMan Gets Results! »

August 01, 2008



Help, I can't find the energy source supposedly driving this. Is it the sun?

Rick Ballard

Is it the sun?

Nah - 500 Gigawatt reactor. There are still some details that need to be worked out.


An anthropologist once claimed to me that the real coming thing was generating electricity through hot water/cold water inversion. He claimed the California coast would be perfect: deep water, powerful cold current going north, etc. The large structures needed would quickly pay for themselves and would be far enough off shore that you couldn't see them from land. Endless, cleanly generated supplies of electricity. Naturally, I know nothing about this, and wouldn't think and anthro guy would, either.

Until any of this comes true--converting salt water to fresh water--take a look at a globe. Is there any other place on earth with anything remotely like what America has--the Great Lakes system? Huge bodies of fresh water conveniently located and not far from the mammoth central river systems. OK, we have to share with Canada, but what's that? A couple hundred thousand people or something? :-)

The answer is: there is nothing remotely similar anywhere else on earth.


Where did you find that Rick? Obviously, if that is so, it is a Hell of a lot more efficient to use the power from the reactor directly instead of running it through several process decreasing the efficiency.


Rick's joshing, I think. Yeah, it's the sun.

Obviously this is a storage solution, not a generation. Solar has to improve in efficiency and cost.

Rick Ballard


Kidding - the abstract isn't quite as clear as mud and I'm not paying to read the article. "in situ from earth-abundant materials" is kinda humorous but not so much so that I would pay to read the punch line.


Yeah, the abstract was uninformative about the question. I think JB has cogent criticism and a great insight about the storage solution. It solves the nightime, cloudy day problems.


Pretty funny.

You guys don't have enough chemistry to even understand the abstract, but you know already why it can't work!


Skepticism is for clingers says Don we now ...

Rick Ballard

"but you know already why it can't work!"

I sincerely doubt that a remedial reading class would be of much benefit to you but they are available - perhaps you know someone of very modest intelligence who might agree to go with you and help you through the difficult areas?

"Muddy" does not mean "can't" - I would say that "even an idiot can discern that" but you present solid evidence of the untruth of that assertion.


Don, it would be pretty funny if anyone had said they 'know' it. No one did. We are trying to figure it out. So why don't you explain why it will work? How about cost and efficiency?


"perhaps you know someone of very modest intelligence who might agree to go with you"

I don't really "know" a lot of stupid people, but when I want to find one, this is the blog I come to!

Are you free Saturday night?


For one thing, if the power source is the sun, you are going to have to dedicate land area to it. Does the efficiency of this beat using real photosynthesis? How about cost? I'd guess phytoplankton are cheaper to sustain than all those unusual chemical elements in the mix with this new method. Got some ideas instead of just inchoate smirth?


Hmmm? Did I mean smirk or mirth?

M. Simon

There are two possible flies in this ointment.

Indium is not abundant.


It will be interesting to see if this can be manufactured at a reasonable cost.

Bill in AZ

Sorta on topic since it's Obamas next big thing:

It's all over the news that The One wants to tax oil company "windfall" profit and give us $1000 rebates. But this sentence is the kicker:
“This rebate will be enough to offset the increased cost of gas for a working family over the next four months,” Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery Friday at a town hall meeting in the crucial swing state of Florida.
So he is admitting that oil will quietly drop in 4 months - after the election - after being artificially inflated in order to sway the election.

It is stupid gaffes like this that sets Soros teeth on edge - Obama prolly already received his "WTF" text message from Soros over this.


Yup, BiAZ, energy is going to be the issue this year.

M. Simon


And after the 4 months are up the family of 4 will be taxed an extra $2,000 a year.

That will really help out the poor folks.

BTW I think Obama is getting desperate. And isn't this an admission that taxing oil companies extra will raise oil prices?

Rick Ballard

"Indium is not abundant."

Or cheap. It looks like it might be a bit of driver in the cost of PV film.


So he is admitting that oil will quietly drop in 4 months

No, it's just an incoherently phrased statement that it will offset roughly four months worth of gasoline expenses.

But it is tantamount to just sending every household $1000. That's on the order of $100B. And where does he think that money comes from? The "windfall profits" tax won't raise that much. So it will come from other taxes--in other words, it's just another form of income redistribution, also known as vote buying.


Obama represents a new direction in politics by trying to buy votes with taxpayer money. Yeaaahhh...


After all the hoopla about Exxon Mobil, it is helpful to remember that $36B in various sales, use and income taxes were above the line that finally yielded the stockholders of the company $11 B. This is a public company so go look it up dont take my word for it.

And the reward to stockholders? Since the annoucement of earnings the stock is down several points. The market reaction was disappointment since expectations ( there is that pesky expectations theory again ) where for a much better quarter.

So who decides who gets to make any profit at all, and if yes, how much is going to be allowed? This guy is in trouble if anyone remains in the McCain camp that can explain this socialist carp in plain English. I know Phil Gramm could have. Maybe Carly can get the point out.


Well, I don't know about Miami, but here's the stats for Ohio:

"For every hour of daylight Ohio averages 340 watthours of solar energy per square meter. Although the power level varies with time of day, season, weather and location it adds up to an impressive amount. Over the course of a year each square meter of Ohio receives approximately 1.4 megawatt
hours (MWh) of energy...

Residential annual energy use in Ohio is 4.5 MWh per person for electricity and 7.6 MWh for heat. Thus, it requires about
21.4 square meters (4.6 x 4.6 meters) of solar electric and 7.8 square meters (2.8 x 2.8 meters) of collector area per person."

M. Simon

You want engineering talent? I'm your man.

Peak solar energy in the mid latitudes (the USA) runs about 1 KW per square meter.

That is 100 W per sq ft. approximately (it is very close - in engineering terms).

The energy required to separate hydrogen and oxygen can be returned totally if the fuel cell is 100% efficient. There will be pumping losses (moving the water around) and fuel cell losses, resistance losses, chemistry maintenance losses, etc. PEM fuel cells - which are low temperature - under 100 deg C - return about 50% of the energy in the gas output. Carbonate fuel cells (high temperature - 650 deg C which is about 1,200 deg F ) can return about 80% of the energy.

A lot will depend on whether the cell can absorb and convert a broad spectrum of light or if it is a narrow band device.

Plants are about .2% to .5% efficient with photosynthesis. Although some calculate values as high as 6%. Typical solar cells used for energy currently run in the 10% to 15% range with special designs running above 25%.

Converting water to H2 and O2 by electrolysis (directly from electricity) is currently about 50% efficient.

Any questions?

M. Simon

There will also be significant gas pumping losses if the gases are stored.


"So who decides who gets to make any profit at all, and if yes, how much is going to be allowed?"
A windfall profits tax would be such useless folly that even thinking liberals don't talk about it (the oil companies, and their stock prices, had terrible years during the 80s and 90s, and no one suggested government hand-outs to them). Obama, though, whose scorn of the "rich" allows him to support raising capital gains and estate taxes during a slow-down even while acknowledging the lack of sense behind that, can't stand to miss out on any opportunity to stick it to business.


Time for the list of industries, business sectors, etc., with higher profit margins than oil companies.


So who decides who gets to make any profit at all, and if yes, how much is going to be allowed?
Oddly enough, the one industry which seems certain to avoid a windfall profits tax is - wind.


Kim and Rick,
Start drilling now,for the sake of the alpaca.


"Are you free Saturday night?"

No Don,Monday nights is free for retards night,drop round then for a free evaluation.


And I charge on Saturday nights.


I know, Peter, children are dying at exorbitant rates in Peru, too. This is just a harbinger if we are cooling long term. And Paul Krugman wants to call the skeptics immoral. What an evil man.

bio mom

Gallup tracking poll tody, 8-1, 2008:: Tied at 44 each.

bio mom

Also, Gallup says Obama LOST status on commander-in-chief, Iraq, and terrorism as compared to before his world tour.


This is off topic but I wanted to post it to you guys. I know this has been seen many times in the past but this is a pretty credible source. Anyway here it is.


Pakistan: More Rumors of Al-Zawahiri's Death August 1, 2008 1658 GMT

Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri is rumored to have been killed in a July 28 U.S. airstrike in Pakistan. (With Stratfor map) [more]


Its on Stratfor and I don't have a subscription so I can't say what the rest of the article say, But there it is I'm keeping my hopes up maybe this one will turn out to be true. 

Tom Maguire

Peak solar energy in the mid latitudes (the USA) runs about 1 KW per square meter.

That is 100 W per sq ft. approximately (it is very close - in engineering terms).

The energy required to separate hydrogen and oxygen can be returned totally if the fuel cell is 100% efficient.

So let's see - how many KW does it take to convert one grams of water to H and O?

Knowing that, we could guess whether this technique would provide a useful amount of water, or just a trickle.

As to the conversion efficiency, if photovoltaic is around 10-20%, this probably won't be much better.

Here is an article on a similar approach (solar powered, catlyzed eloctrolysis which notes that the catalyst, titania, really prefers ulta-violet light.


Turning salt water into energy is good for the environment. If we are turning salt water into energy it would be a good idea to increase the amount of salt water available for this. Global warming increases the available supply of sea water. Ergo, global warming is good for the environment.

Charlie (Colorado)

Found it. It's 13.6 kJ/g H2O.

Notice that while the indium isn't cheap, it's also not consumed: it's a catalyst only. The story also mentions a simple reaction to get H2 using a cheap catalyst.

As far as pumping goes, sea water has a perfectly marvelous built in pump in the tides. Tide comes in, fill a reservoir; tide goes out, let the water trickle out over your collector plates.

Rick Ballard

"So let's see - how many KW does it take to convert one grams of water to H and O?"

13.6 kJ = 0.0038 kWh.

"it's also not consumed"

But if a great volume is required due to scaling, don't you come right back to scarcity driving price beyond the economical boundary for substitution? It's certainly an interesting theory but I first have to become a true believer in the CO2 Monster. Otherwise, cracking shale and coal (and building nukes) makes too much sense.


I get about 141 sq. ft for 1 US gal of H20.


This isn't even cold fusion, which didn't violate thermodynamics, but which had other problems.

This idea proposes yet another perpetual motion machine, which violates the second law of thermodynamics.


In layman's terms, the first law of thermodynamics says you can't get something for nothing.

The second law of thermodynamics essentially says that you can't break even.

Contra Don, you can apply these principles even when you don't know the detailed chemical reactions. Physics comes first, always.


Caveat: The above comment on this proposal assumes that TM's summary is accurate. I didn't read the Times article.

Tom Maguire

This idea proposes yet another perpetual motion machine, which violates the second law of thermodynamics.

Why? The sun is a net energy input; I am quite sure the total energy is less than the solar input.

Or, as my high school chem teacher acknowledged, the earth with its many growing organisms has lots of seeming local violations of thermodynamics, almost all solar-powered.


This sounds interesting, but . . . I haven't waded through the paper yet so this is only a first pass comment, as with most of these breakthroughs there are a "few" engineering details that would need to be resolved.

This process should reduce the cost of producing hydrogen oxygen from water by eliminating some of the capital equipment involved, BUT then you have the not inconsequential issues of needing to store pure oxygen and pure hydrogen. Hydrogen gas is NOT simple to handle to its very small molecular size (most metals are porous to hydrogen creating all sorts of "interesting" problems.

The issue of how to safely store and handle hydrogen has been one of the major limitations of promoting it as a vehicle fuel source.

Pure oxygen has its own share of difficulties though they are well understood.

However, each system using this technique would need both hydrogen and oxygen compressors to store the gases for use at night in any kind of resonable quantity.

The complete system would be rather complex:

1. Photovoltaic cells to provide daytime electricity.

2. Electrolysis cells to produce the gases for nightime power generation.

3. Hydrogen compression and storage

4. Oxygen Compression and Storage

5. Fuel Cell to produce night time power

It will probably expand the suitable applications for solar power, but I don't think that it's going to be competitive with fossil fueled, or nuclear plants for some time.

(Remember also that fossil fueled, or nuclear plants have the advantage of working with the existing electrical distribution grid. Theoretically, an industrial sized plant based on this process could be built to feed into the existing grid, but I don't see anyway in which such a plant would be cost competitive with a fossil or nuclear plant. It's capital cost would be much too high. Probably the first applications for a process like this would be in remote areas without an existing power grid.)

This seems like a worthwhile development, BUT not like the "world changing breakthrough" that alternate energy enthusiasts would like it to be.


As a power source to replace electricity it looks rather dubious for large scale implementations. However as a replacement for gasoline it is rather intriguing.

Imagine a resurgence of nuclear power combined with plug in cars with an advanced capacitator to jump start the electrolysis/fuel cell system running on purified water coupled with a re-forger system. Although it would be a complete self enclosed system (water/catalyst) only needing an occasional energy input, it would be nearly pollution free(and a lot safer) and the range ought to be increased several times, especially if the engine runs at a constant rpm turning a dynamo that powers the various electric motors that propel the vehicle. Add in flywheel and advanced breaking systems and photoelectric (transparent but low efficiency) films on the roof, trunk and hood that would be a neat deal.

Just think of the possibilities: guilt free Hummers and big-assed Cadillacs and Lincolns and muscle cars too! And we get to tell Mohamed and his crew to stick it where the sun don't shine along with the neo-commie greens. Please God, let this be true.

Rick Ballard

NASA Physicist (and Apollo 7 astronaut) fires broadside at AGW and James Hansen. He hits them squarely too.

There ain't no CO2 Monster under the bed and there never has been.


TM: You're right.

I was assuming that everyone already realized that solar power can provide only a miniscule amount of energy. I interpreted your summary to mean that the whole process would result in more energy than you started with. My bad.

Bill in AZ

heh heh Rick, that's gonna leave a mark...
Dang, and I was just about to launch my "Harness CO2" scheme, where by Hansens own analysis a single CO2 molecule will power an average home for years. Since Cunningham squashed that theory with a single common sense paper, I guess we're back to looking at TM's topic here.

Charlie (Colorado)

Ralph, I have to admit I don't see why you'd bother to store the oxygen --- leak it out to the air.

Actually, as I think of it, why bother to *make* the oxygen? If you have the 2H2O + 13.9 kJ/g -> 2H2 and O2 part, why not store just the H2?

Or for a real good time, store them in the same tank, and feed them back through a fuel cell to re-liberate the kJ's?

Buy a really big "No Smoking" sign though....



I'll freely admit that I'm NOT a fuel cell expert, but my understanding is that to keep them efficient, you need to feed them pure oxygen and pure hydrogen --- I'd expect that to be the case if only because that would provide the maximum driving force for the reaction.

It may be possible to get a fuel cell to work with impure fuels, but that would, I would think, be signficantly less efficient, requiring, at the least significantly larger unit.

If it would work, I think that you'd then need an air compressor to compress atmospheric air to the required pressure, but that would be less exotic, and probably cheaper than an oxygen compression system.

I'll see if I can get more accurate information on fuel cell requirements.

All the Best,




This site LUN has some good info. You're correct, pure oxygen is not required --- depending on the type of cell (it was required in the ones I was around years ago). There is a penalty for using impure oxygen, and the ultimate issue would be what the tradeoff would be in terms of cost, efficiency, etc.

As I see it (and that's certainly not a claim to divine insight!) this process does not reduce the cost of photovoltaic energy by an order of magnitude.

IF you supply your daylight demands from conventional cells, they will cost whatever they cost based on current technology.

IF you always generate power via fuel cell, you get to eliminate the cost of the photovoltaic system, but you have to increase the size of your electrolysis cells to produce "roughly" double the amount of hydrogen so that have enough to drive the fuel cells during the day, and also produce enough to store for use at night.

The issue there would be the relative cost of photovoltaics vs the electrolytic cells.

Since you're going to produce pure oxygen as a result of the electrolytic process, you might want to use it during day time operation of the fuel cells to gain efficiency.

I don't mean to belittle the potential of this breakthrough, just to point out that there are a LOT of engineering issues remaining to resolve before its workable.

It will certainly increase the range of applications for which "solar power" makes sense, but it's going to be "a while" before it can replace a fossil or nuclear plant.

We have a lot of photovoltaic installations here in Wyoming typically powering remote transmitters of various kinds; but they're not being used if grid power is close.

Time will tell.


Good stuff, Ralph and Charlie, too. That Cunningham stuff is going to be devastating to the paradigm. He's a physicist and a member of AGU and he just Dutch-Uncled the Mad Scientist.


Once you have a system that cracks hydrogen and oxygen using solar power (or nuclear for that matter), hook it up with something along these lines and start making transportation fuels. Bonus: pulls CO2 out of the environment.

Rick Ballard


Some of your questions are addressed within this paper. The economics really aren't bad at today's $120 oil for solar powered hydrogen production. The MIT advance could be tested rather easily within the existing DOE program to provide a relatively high degree of precision regarding costs.



IMO. Every single instance nuclear power comes out ahead. So the solar cell is an interesting idea but using more dependable and scalable nuclear power to drive massive arrays of these devices is probably the way to go.

Dave Eaton

Interesting conversation here- I'm not an engineer, but I am an electrochemist, so I can clear up a couple of things.

Indium is not abundant.
Nor is it cheap. But on glass or plastic, a transparent film about 10 millionths of an inch thick formed by tin-doped indium oxide will conduct electricity. It's used in LCD displays and electrochromic rearview mirrors. Indium is just being used to make the glass conductive here, not as a catalyst. There are other technologies that are being developed, but in any case this isn't part of the process per se.

as with most of these breakthroughs there are a "few" engineering details that would need to be resolved.

Always true, and especially important to remember when reading press releases. I think that this is significant scientifically, and it could be significant practically, maybe.

What I see as the breakthrough here is twofold: first, the lowering of overpotential, which is the 'extra' voltage (energy) needed for an electrochemical reaction, that would usually be lost as heat. This makes the process close to as efficient as theoretically possible.

Second, being at neutral pH is good. This makes the electrolyte safer and less corrosive, which will make any potential commercial system less expensive.

It might lead to a good way to store solar power. I am not convinced that solar will ever be more than a supplement or application-specific power source, but even making those applications better would be great.


Part six follows (link to part five, where can be found links to earlier installments.):

The minivan turned into a Northern Virginia office park. It's driver stopped the car at the gate of an underground parking garage and rolled down the window. Having taken a small device from one of his passengers, he entered the numbers shown upon it on a small touchpad.

Once inside the garage, he did not look for a marked parking space, but stopped next to the elevator. His passengers got out of the vehicle and entered the elevator. One of them pushed the button for the second floor.

There, two men awaited their arrival. As the doors opened, each raised his hand in salute to the man who was exiting the elevator with the aid of a cane. Stopping outside the elevator doors, the man with the cane reached into the jacket pocket of his elegantly tailored suit and pulled out a folded piece of paper. He held it in front of him between the the thumb and forefinger of his left hand and handed it across to the older of the two men. "This authorization is contingent upon my approval, Colonel Ichikawa," he said. "And I'm going to be very hard to please."

"We have everything in the briefing room, Mr. Vice President," replied Colonel Ichikawa, the older of the two men who had awaited his arrival. "My assistant will lead the way."

The Vice President nodded.

Col. Ichikawa's assistant went to the double doors opposite the elevator and pressed his palm to the scanner beside it. He held the door open for the Vice President and Colonel Ichikawa, before entering himself. The three secret service agents who had entered the building with the Vice President remained by the elevator.

Inside the briefing room, Col. Ichikawa and his assistant were joined by two other members of the political and strategic operations unit, the team of twelve under Ichikawa's direction. It had been established by the first Director of National Intelligence to carry out operations to advance U.S. political and strategic interests. Knowledge of its existence was supposed to be limited to the DNI, his deputy, the President, Vice President, and their national security advisors, but rumor had spread such knowledge rather more widely than that circle. Fortunately, more success had been had in limiting knowledge of the unit's activities.

The Vice President wasted no time. "The NSA dug a little deeper than they were supposed to, as you know. We can contain them, but the FBI investigation could pose problems."

He paused, before continuing, "The President is leaning toward shutting this operation down."

Ichikawa and the other members of his team were quiet. Cheney continued, "And not just because the operation may have been compromised. It's success depends upon one outcome in November. You said a month ago you were working on a contingency plan, but have not provided further information since."

At this point, Ichikawa broke in. "Let's take the technical issues first. Septimius will discuss those," he said, indicating one of the two who had joined the group in the briefing room.

The man referred to as Septimius addressed the Vice President, "Sir, State's people took months to make the connection with China. We were worried they wouldn't get it. The FBI's capabilities we believe are much more in the line with State's than the NSA's. Additionally, it must be noted that while the NSA discovered suspicious activities, they did not figure out who was behind it. We believe the cover story we discussed with you and the President when we launched this operation is still quite strong."

"Thank you," said Ichikawa, and taking the folder that lay on the table before him, handed it to the Vice President. "Sir, this document outlines our contingency plan. I note that it will require the cooperation of MI-6, Britain's foreign intelligence service."

The Vice President read the document, a slight scowl present on his face all the while. When he had finished reading his conclusion was unequivocal. "Next to Operation Merlin, this is, in my experience, the most ill-conceived strategy anyone within any U.S. intelligence agency has ever devised."

He took off his glasses to clean them before rendering his verdict. "I am withholding approval for Phase 2. I will discuss this with the President, but I do not expect he will disagree. We will open discussions with SIS regarding cooperation on a highly sensitive operation, so that we can act quickly if you devise something better. However, if we cannot verify your technical analysis and you do not propose a sensible strategy by next week, Operation Minotaur will be cancelled. Colonel Ichikawa, please return the President's letter of authorization to me."

Rick Ballard

Dave Eaton,

Thanks for the input. I hope the DOE can fold the discovery into their existing program so that a determination as to practicality can be made relatively quickly.

Elliot - thanks for the link back to previous installments. The plot thickens.

Barney Frank

A dead thread I know, but hey we were on vacation.
Reliable, affordable, residential PEM fuel cells have proven as difficult to perfect as solar power. simple propane powered ones were supposed to be market ready over ten years ago and the horizon continues to recede.
Count me from Missouri on this one.


I do not know how to use the Cheap metin2 yang ; my friend tells me how to use.

The comments to this entry are closed.