Saturday, 02 August 2008

In Passing

If it works, I want to offer a wager

Linked at.several.sites, stories about MIT-developed “24-hour solar power.”  If you drill down, you find that what’s actually been developed is a significantly-more-efficiant water electrolysis process which, if combined with a fuel cell, makes for a better “storage battery”

A liquid catalyst was added to water before electrolysis to achieve what the researchers claim is almost 100-percent efficiency...

“The hard part of getting water to split is not the hydrogen -- platinum as a catalyst works fine for the hydrogen. But platinum works very poorly for oxygen, making you use much more energy,” said MIT chemistry professor Daniel Nocera.  “What we have done is made a catalyst work for the oxygen part without any extra energy.  In fact, with our catalyst almost 100 percent of the current used for electrolysis goes into making oxygen and hydrogen.” - EETimes
MIT’s new cobalt phosphate catalyst is also less toxic and much easier to handle than the nickel oxide types previously used.  This has the potential to make electrolysis practical for energy storage, something really important.

But I’m disappointed with all the emphasis on solar.  While solar is sexy, concentrating on it limits your thinking.  Electrolysis is a “battery,” and you can use any available electricity to charge it: Windmills, off-peak hydro, off-peak nuclear... whatever.  Add this to our existing generation-distribution system, and we can significantly increase peak capacity, replace some of the expen$ive natural-gas-fired peaking plants we use now, or do both.  Or place the electrolysis plants at the points of demand and “charge” them in the wee hours (when demand and line losses are low). Poof, we’ve made a significant dent in mitigating our distribution capacity problem.[1]  All before we’ve installed a single photovoltaic panel.

Now for the wager.  If this works, the Luddites, transnational progressives, and liberal fascists will see this as a threat. Because it solves a bunch of problems,[2] and without problems they have no “handles” for taking control of our lives.  So there will be arguments, like this one:
It is established FACT that Hydrogen is very difficult to contain.  It leaks through the tightest seals like they were swiss cheese, and once free it races into the atmosphere and escapes into space.

This is not a major problem when all our hydrogen comes from the deep deposit hydrogen mines in Australia and Canada, but what if this new discovery hearalds an age of wholesail water mining?  Do these so-called scientists not realise that we cannot have water without hydrogen?  Have they forgotten that humans are 80% water?  That water makes our crops grow and our fish swim??  Our life's blood could be literally floating away!

This irresponsible god-gaming may save us from peak oil today, but our grandchildren tomorrow will be facing PEAK WATER if these experiments are allowed to continue!

Write to your political representative today!
The above, not by me but by Slashdot poster “Repton,” almost perfectly mimics the doom-mongering about so much modern technology that already eminates from the “fear crowd.”[3]  He posted it last night at 7:52p.m., less than an hour after Slashdot linked the story.

Now, does anyone want to bet against this exact argument being made, in total seriousness, by somebody, sometime in the near future?[4]

Thought not.

(I posted similar thoughts in a couple.of comments at Daily Pundit.)

UPDATES 080802 14:40:
Related:  The other half of the system:
Fuel Cell Efficiency May Be Improved With Material With ‘Colossal Ionic Conductivity’   (HT: Tom Cohoe at Daily Pundit)

Alex Hutchinson gets it:
It's worth noting that Nocera's current experiments didn't use solar energy—they simply ran off electricity from the grid. That's actually an advantage, since it means the same technology could be used to make hydrogen with wind turbines or other renewable sources like hydropower.
Read the whole article: a good layman’s guide to the technology, plus a “what’s next” explanation of what needs to be done to make it practical.  (Via Bill Quick.)


[1] Which may be a mixed blessing:  It means we can get by longer with the distribution we have, but there’s also less incentive to finally stifle the NIMBYs and BANANAs among us and get down to building more transmission lines.

[2] Some real, and some imaginary.

[3] All it lacks is a few more exclamation marks!!!

[4] Of course, for this particular argument we could just hand ’em a copy of Isaac Asimov’s “The Martian Way” and tell ’em to STFU.

Posted by: Old Grouch in In Passing at 00:57:30 GMT | No Comments | Add Comment
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