EARTH'S ENERGY PROBLEM by James Jaeger
Oil, and fossil fuels, are no longer working. They're causing Global Warming and perpetual war in the Middle East, two catastrophes the United States can no longer afford given that it is now in debt over $8.6 trillion. (See http://zfacts.com/p/461.html) Already the war in Iraq has cost the United States over $350 billion -- money created by going into deeper debt via the Federal Reserve System. (See http://www.mecfilms.com/fiat). This article, originally published on 27 October 2001, but hereby updated, will argue why the United States should abandon its love affair with oil (and ALL fossil fuels) and immediately start an all-out program of developing and deploying FUSION and SOLAR energy. If this is done, the world will have a safe, almost inexhaustible, supply of clean energy at its fingertips. The supply of energy from FUSION and SOLAR will be so enormous, it will easily take us into the next century and beyond. Every industry, and every product produced by those industries, will become cheaper, better and more abundant because energy is the common resource EVERY industry depends on. If the money that has been frittered away on recent conflicts were allocated to developing plasma fusion technology, sustained reactions and deployment would only be 10 years away.
Those who would prefer to stick with a technology like oil until it can't be exploited any further are advocating a risky, if not irrational, scenario given the long-term costs and what we now know about the world's oil supply and global warming (often referred to as "climate change"). If government, or government partnerships with private industry, can't solve Earth's Energy Problem, it's time to call on enlightened entrepreneurs to force major breakthroughs before worse catastrophe strikes. The risks are great, but the rewards are almost infinite.
Overview of the Middle East Oil Situation:
25% of the world's proven oil comes from the Middle East. Each of the 4 Middle East countries that have significant oil production (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait and UAE) have ONLY 4 to 6 major oil fields. Not hundreds. Saudi Arabia is the largest producer. Collectively the 14 largest oil fields in Saudi Arabia produce 20% of the world's daily supply of oil. Saudi Arabia has about 5 to 7 fields that produce 90% of all its oil, Ghawar being the largest and producing 65% of this 90%. These fields are an average of 54 years old and, despite INTENSE exploration efforts in Saudi Arabia as well as the entire Middle East, it has been DECADES since any new significant oil fields have been discovered. Nevertheless, the world continues to blindly drink oil at a rate of 80 million barrels a day.
If Ghawar were to lose reservoir pressure tomorrow -- and it could because NO ONE knows how much oil it has due to intense secrecy -- 65% of 90% of Saudi Arabia's oil production would start down VERY sharply. No one can replace Saudi Arabia's spare production capacity, thus if Saudi Arabia were to peak, for all practical purposes, THE WORLD WOULD HAVE PEAKED! Since Saudi Arabia produces 20% of the world's oil, a loss of Ghawar alone would suddenly be a reduction of almost 10% of the world's oil supply -- over night.
Since Ghawar makes up a significant amount of Saudi Arabia's excess capacity, this excess capacity would go away exposing the world to runaway oil markets. World oil producers would thus be able to exploit everyone for higher prices because Saudi Arabia would no longer be in a position to reduce the demand through its excess capacity. Oil prices would sky rocket to $100, $120, $140 a barrel. This would translate into U.S. gas prices at the pump as high, or higher than they already are in Europe: $3 - 4 per liter (which is $10 per gallon). The sweetheart deal the U.S. government has with the Saudis would no longer be able to protect us with artificially discounted oil prices, thus the U.S. economy would go into a very serious tail spin. This would destabilize the dollar and set off a worldwide recession many times worse than the ones we have recently experienced. All this because one 50-year old oil field in Saudi Arabia lost reservoir pressure.
Given no one has any idea what the world's oil supply actually is, and the fact that China is coming online as a major energy consumer at an annual growth rate of 7% to 10%, it's very risky to fail to develop alternative energy sources. Sure the United Sates is the "Middle East of Coal" and we could gasify this resource, but sooner or later, i.e., within the next century, the world will be demanding 20, 40, 80, 200 terawatts of power PER year. The ONLY technology that can deliver this amount of energy is plasma fusion. Thus it is inevitable that the world will have to develop plasma fusion sooner or later if it wants to continue to evolve and grow.
Given the risks attendant to oil and fossil fuels and the nebulous supply, doesn't it make sense to confront the problem and get on with developing plasma fusion sooner rather than later?
Why a Common Energy Unit is Useful:
Since the world basically runs on electricity, it is convenient and important to translate every energy source (oil, coal, gas, nuclear, water, wind, solar) into terms of electrical power. Thus, when considering Earth's energy requirements and estimating the magnitude the problem, it makes sense to translate everything into a common unit, a common term. The terawatt (TW) is that common unit, a unit that allows us to compare apples with apples and oranges with oranges. Thus a terawatt is a trillion watts of electricity. (For those of you professional scientists who read this, I understand your concern that the terms "energy," "power" and "watts" when applied to electricity are NOT interchangeable, but please bear with me, I am simply trying to get basic ideas across to the lay public.)
Current and Future Electrical Usage:
According to rocket engineer, Robert Zubrin, the Earth is currently using just over 17 terawatts of power each year. By the year 2050, the Earth will be using about 55 terawatts of power EACH year and by 2100 it will use almost 200 terawatts EACH year. This usage has been extrapolated from the usage curve experienced since the 1790's so it's pretty assured. There's nothing wrong with a growing young civilization using ALL the power it wants, so long as it doesn't kill its host planet or poison its biosphere in the process.
But the problem is by 2050 we will need 1,520 terawatt-years of power and by 2100 we will need 7,000 terawatt-years of power. That's a lot, but we have about 3,000 terawatt-years of fossil fuels that we KNOW about and another 7,000 terawatt-years of fossil fuels that we have evidence is out there. This would include all the Saudi and ME oil fields as well as the coal and oil reserves in the U.S. and the rest of the world, including the vast resources of oil expected in Russia. Thus simple arithmetic shows that we may have enough fossil fuels to "keep us going" until somewhere as far out as 2100 or 2125. But after that, the fossil fuel energy tank is on empty and we're out of luck.
Global Warming Imperative:
Actually we may be out of luck much sooner as it looks like Global Warming is real, especially if consumption of fossil fuels contributes to Global Warming. Global Warming probably is real as most the scientific community now acknowledges that it IS real. Thus we may ruin the Earth's biosphere before well before we even exhaust our supply of fossil fuels. This is a no-win game for business and civilization, a risk that should be averted.
The combined effect of Global Dimming has recently made climatologists aware that Global Warming is probably about twice as bad as once thought. In other words, more than half of the effects of global warming caused by green house gases have been masked by the effects of global cooling. If something isn't done, temperatures on Earth could rise as high as 18 - 20 degrees F by the end of the century. This would cause droughts and famines that could wipe out crops and hence the entire human race. See PBS documentary entitled, DIMMING THE SUN, for details. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/horizon/dimming_prog_summary.shtml
Even if one does not believe Global Warming is real, and there are many that work in industry that feel this way, can we really take a chance? Can we really afford to take a chance if there is even a 10% probability that Global Warming is real? What if it IS real? And what if we precipitate a global phase transition in the Earth's climate? What if our world started clouding up like Venus and the temperatures started climbing towards 800 degrees? Or what if warming melts enough of the polar caps to dilute the salinity of the North Atlantic and it causes a massive temperature drop or even another ice-age. If either of these were to happen it could trigger an extinction-level event, a miscalculation from which the human race would never recover. And since we were not prudent enough to establish another branch of humanity on another world, we would go extinct -- just like billions of other species before us have done over the past 600 million years. The human race might as well have never existed. Intelligence was NOT a survival factor. Pretty sad, just because all these years you had to have your SUV and felt watching cable TV was more important than reading important books, such as ENTERING SPACE by Robert Zubrin.
So the bottom line is: we MAY have enough fossil fuels to last us until well into the next century, but are we in a position to safely use them? I say no. We should target the abandonment of all fossil fuels for energy no later than 2020 otherwise we run the serious risk of creating a runaway greenhouse effect through Global Warming. Major scientists are warning us that we must stop the upward trend of carbon dioxide emissions within the next 10 years. That's by 2016 folks. Anyone that tells you this is a lower priority than even terrorism, is a fool or an apologist for the current energy Establishment. And if you don't believe the U.S. is seriously in bed with Saudi Arabia in an "oil system," read a book entitled, SLEEPING WITH THE DEVIL, by ex-CIA analyst, Robert Baer. You will realize that everything Michael Moore has said in his recent movie, FAHRENHEIT 9/11, as far as the Bush administration being apologists for the oil industry, is substantiated by Baer's book (and is also substantiated at http://www.michaelmoore.com/warroom/f911notes). Thus the apologists and people connected with the oil and fossil fuel industries are NOT your friends. When Bush relies, in any way, on reports from the Exxon Corporation as to the situation with either Global Warming or the serious CO2 buildup (some 40% over the past 100 years), this should be a HUGE red flag. The selfish and shortsighted interests of the oil and fossil fuel Establishment has precipitated asymmetric war, Jihad and terrorist tactics against the West. These people need to be held accountable. These people have placed you at risk of seeing your entire WORLD destroyed in a climatic phase transition that could be an extinction-level event, if not now, during the lives of your children and/or grandchildren. The people that want, and push the status quo are thus ignorant or evil beyond imagination. These people need to be cataloged and by-passed: socially, economically, politically and religiously as they are playing too large a part in the continued stagnation of this world.(1)
Plasma Fusion is the Solution:
The only long-term solution to Earth's Energy Problem is PLASMA FUSION: the most powerful energy in the known Universe. Not coal. Not solar. Not natural gas. Not wind or hydro. And not nuclear FISSION: the SPLITTING of atoms. Nuclear fission, usually called -- nuclear energy -- has serious waste disposal problems connected with its technology. It also has other problems like having the potential to render a 100-square mile area of civilization radioactive for 25,000 years. Sure there have not been any Chernobyl's or Three Mile Islands lately, but the next one becomes more probable to the degree we set any more of this risky technology loose on the public. That said, Pebble-Bed reactors show safe promise and should possibly be investigated by the U.S. as China is now doing.(2)
Plasma FUSION: the JOINING of atoms -- is the only viable long-term answer on the horizon for heavy electrical requirements because it's robust and its only by-products are heat and water. More importantly, it's the only energy source we know of that will be able to meet goals of the ENTIRE human race, as extrapolated, since pre-industrial revolution demands. Until and unless long-term requirements are confronted, it is impossible to rationally select energy solutions. If you don't know WHAT your energy requirements will be in the next 50, 100, 200 years, how are you going to be able to select a viable DIRECTION to even START moving in? At the rate global civilization is increasing its demand, some 2.5% per year, even exploiting (destroying) the entire Alaska wilderness for oil will only yield an additional 5 years. Some studies say 1 year. So is it worth it? I say no. It's a misallocation of attention and intention. Right now the human race is WANDERING around in a fog just trying to cope. It has NO IDEA which DIRECTION it needs to go to survive and advance in the long-term. The answer to this dilemma is tied up in energy -- for WITHOUT SUFFICIENT ENERGY ALL LIFE SUPPORTING INDUSTRIES WILL EVENTUALLY CEASE TO EXIST.
The planet, meaning all countries and all of these countries' industries, will need 200 terawatts of power each and every year by the year 2100. That's less than 100 years from now. Again, your kids will probably STILL be alive. YOU may still be a live too, if therapeutic cloning becomes a widespread reality in time. (See http://www.advancedcell.com and The Immortal Cell by Michael D. West) Plasma fusion is the only technology that will be able to give us the necessary energy in 100 years and on.
Fusion is also the only energy that will give us rocket engines powerful enough to explore the Solar System in any meaningful way, when we're ready for it. And we WILL be ready for it starting in the coming decade. Thus, unless there is a major breakthrough in some other energy source, plasma fusion is the ticket, and we should stop wasting money and resources trying to develop other alternatives that will just place us into an endless "cope" cycle. This includes even placing too much hope in nanotechnology unless it leads aggressively to solar power and/or other useful, safe technologies. As much as I am romanced by the nanotech meme, no evidence of inorganic nanotechnology has been observed in the Universe. Thus it is highly doubtful if full Drexlerian INorganic nanotechnology is in fact possible. ORGANIC nanotechnology, such as bacteria and the ribosome, may well be the only forms of nanotechnology possible. Thus for us to sit around waiting for nanotechnology to present us with a technical deus ex machina (such as even in the case with nano-assissted solar technology) may be a big waste of time and energy. Also, zero-point energy (a.k.a. vacuum energy, dark energy, cosmological constant energy) and the Patterson Cell may be possible -- but tapping these are much more pie-in-the-sky. We need to focus about 75% of our resources on plasma fusion -- now! Not 100%, but 75%. For more info on PLASMA FUSION click here.
Future Energy Demands:
Count on it, Earth will need, want and demand a cumulative 10,000 terawatt-years of power over the next century and 200 TWs per year, and up, by the year 2100. Economizing will NOT work and those that think this is the way to go are being foolhardy. Civilizations DON'T economize, unless they're radically succumbing (a possibility that some of the more irresponsible powers-that-be act as if they want). So, we must push the fusion button to its sustainable point and get the job done. We are doing this now and should have sustainable reactions soon IF there is enough private and governmental money and thought allocated in this direction. Unfortunately we may not be able to count on governments to do this because they seem to be part of the problem. The reaction we ultimately need to gain mastery over is the deuterium-helium 3 reaction (D-He3 reaction) because this reaction is much cleaner than the deuterium-deuterium reaction (a reaction which eats away the walls of the outer chamber). In fact the D-He3 reaction is so clean and powerful, it produces the highest energy-to-mass ratio of any reaction found in nature. Why do you think stars us it? The Universe isn't dumb. Are we?
But here's the killer: there's no Helium-3 on Earth, thus we will have to eventually set up mining colonies on the Moon. The Moon is the closest place in the Solar System we can get Helium-3, so we'll we need to start mining He3 off the Moon by at least the year 2010 and be totally routine with such operations by the year 2025. Why? Because the supply of He3 will probably only give us only about 10,000 terawatt-years of energy. And MUCH of this energy may be needed for large nuclear/electric propulsion engines (and eventually fusion engines) that will be necessary to mine the Gas Giants, starting with Jupiter. Why will we have to go to the Gas Giants? For more Helium-3 obviously. The Gas Giants are the Persian Gulf of the Solar System when it comes to Helium-3. Jupiter alone has 5,600,000,000 terawatt-years of Helium-3, enough fuel to not only handle Earth's energy problems for millennia, but enough energy to explore and settle the entire Solar System. More importantly, how do you think we are ever going to get OUT of this Solar System and become a Type III, starfaring civilization? We'll need to mine the OTHER gas giants for their 8.3 billion terawatt-years of Helium-3 because we'll need a lot of this to power the super nuclear powered rocket engines that will be capable of getting us up to at least 5% of the speed of light.
So it's obvious to me, the Universe has laid out all the resources we need to take each baby step in our civilization's evolution. All we have to do is keep the ignorant and destructive morons off our backs long enough to get things done and meet targets. And foremost on the way to meeting conditional, operating and production targets, we MUST keep the oil cartels in the world energy Establishment from totally screwing up the biosphere (environment) and suppressing entrepreneurs who will cause the world to segue into a clean energy system based on plasma fusion (and nano-asisted solar). It will be a challenge, but the entire future of Earth, as well as the Solar System and possibly even our Galaxy depends on how we handle our resources, here and now, and as the Universe presents them at each new level of our technological and biological evolution.(3)
Funding Plasma Fusion and Solar:
If ample sums were allocated each year to the development of plasma fusion (even 11% of what we spend on the annual military budget of $440 billion in the U.S.), plasma fusion could be a reality within 10 - 20 years. Steps in fusion are already being taken, but not enough. (See ITER at http://www.iter.org and http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20061121.wnuclearfusion1121/EmailBNStory/Business/home) The projection of 50 to 100 years would be seen to be pessimistic in light of ample funding for research AND because it doesn't take into consideration the law of accelerating returns. (See Ray Kurzweil's book, The Singularity is Near available at Amazon). Plasma fusion would give Earth the needed 200 terawatts per year by 2100 and do it without further damage to the biosphere. Large plasma fusion plants could be located safely around the world and in Earth orbit to generate enormous amounts of clean electrical power, power that could be transmitted anywhere. Such plants generate sufficient electricity to crack hydrogen out of water, a virtually unlimited resource on Earth and hydrogen, by far, the most abundant element in the Universe. The hydrogen could then be used, not only to feed the fusion process, but as a "storage medium" for use in fuel cells and/or fuel for internal combustion engines that were adapted for hydrogen. Thus, the transportation industry and electricity-intensive industries could be supplied with limitless amounts of electricity originated from clean, renewable plasma fusion plants.
At the same time plasma fusion is being developed and distributed, solar technology could be developed for use in homes and small business. Since a home uses a relatively small amount of energy compared to an automobile, solar energy will soon reach a point where it will be able to supply the needed wattage to run all of the appliances and heating/cooling systems in a house or small business. This technology, with ample funding, will arrive easily by 2006, especially if the public intensifies political pressure to make it happen.(4)
Summary of Factors to Consider:
1. We will reach peak oil by 2020 but PROBABLY HAVE ALREADY REACHED IT.
2. CO2 build-up and global warming are serious, but potentially reversible given that advanced nano- or bio-engineering will be available later in this century.
3. Continued use of fossil fuels will contribute to CO2 build-up and, as a result, global warming, thus fossil fuels (i.e., oil, coal, natural gas, etc.) are no longer an option.
4. Solar, wind and hydro cannot provide enough energy to meet needs now, let alone when we need 50 terawatts of power per year by mid-century and close to 200 terawatts per year by 2100. The new solar cells being developed in South Africa are promising for houses, as the original edition of this article predicted.(4)
5. Nuclear FISSION is too dangerous and waste is a serious problem; plus uranium is a limited and non-renewable resource.
6. Some falsely believe plasma fusion is between 50 and 100 years away from deployment, thus insufficient attention is paid to it.
7. The current Energy Establishment may or may not be part of the Next Energy Establishment, but, in fact, all, or most of them, are clearly inhibiting the transition in order to amortize their $10 trillion infrastructure. This infrastructure is probably already amortized (i.e., bank loans paid off), but they would never admit this because to admit it would cause a decrease in profits, so they imagine.
8. The amount of money allocated towards energy research from the annual national budget is pitiful and the amount allocated to plasma fusion development is bordering on criminal. The U.S. spends less than $1 billion a year on domestic alternative energy development whereas it freely spends $440 billion a year on the death and destruction through the military. Again, government may not be the solution and thus private capital will have to intervene.
Given 1 - 8 above, as well as the data in numerous books and testimony by investment bankers (such as Matt Simmons), my conclusion is this: PLASMA FUSION supplemented by SOLAR are the only viable, long-term solutions to Earth's energy problem.
Homes/small business could be operated on SOLAR energy and heavy industry/transportation could be operated on PLASMA FUSION. Earth's Energy Problem would thus be completely solved for the foreseeable future and well into the next 500 years by using a coordinated combination of:
A. CENTRALIZED FUSION POWER
B. DISTRIBUTED SOLAR POWER
The combination of FUSION and SOLAR would give the world a virtually infinite amount of clean, inexhaustible energy -- plus the added dividend of enough power to develop high-impulse fusion rocket engines that will be necessary to open the door to the manned exploration of the Solar System and its colonization over the next 500 years.
Given the short- and long-term benefits of a Fusion/Solar Energy Establishment, humanity should immediately begin allocating the necessary financial and intellectual resources to their focused development and deployment.
All else is a waste of time and money.
All fossil fuel technologies are counter-productive.
No energy technology other than plasma fusion will be sufficient.
Economizing is NOT an option for a growing, young planetary civilization.
Since energy is a common need of ALL people and all industries, whether in developed or developing nations, the creation and deployment of A and B should really be a WORLD WIDE project lead by the United States. As a demonstration of good faith, the U.S. should allocate about 10% of its military budget ($50 billion per year) toward the development and deployment of plasma fusion. Other countries should contribute 2% of their annual military budgets as well and if they have no defense budget they should contribute by reducing their population by 2% per year.
The calculus of the above would eventually lead to less ability and need to wage wars as a "solution" to problems, especially problems caused by limited energy. Once war, and those who use and profit from it, are gradually removed from power, civilization will be able to allocate increasing amounts of its energy to increasing the standard of living on Earth, thus all the "reasons" for war as a "solution" to anything will systematically become obsolete. Again, one of the primary "reasons" governments and "leaders" embroil their citizens in war is to secure energy, such as oil, by force, if necessary. Such reasons for war become untenable when energy is abundant and thus able to bolster the production of abundant, quality products. In short, wars ALWAYS do more damage than they do good. Wars always destroy more resources than they create.
Again, if the above steps are taken, the energy dividend will pay off in all industries, making all products and services less expensive and higher in quality. If, while this productivity transformation is taking place, countries lead by the United States, could remove themselves from fiat money standards and re-adopt sound money standards, the excess productivity caused by the energy dividend would not be absorbed by government expansion, perpetual wars, empire building, socialist programs and waste. Thus, benefits would accrue to people and private industry.
The combination of a clean and infinite new Energy Establishment and a Sound Money Establishment would usher in an era of unprecedented prosperity and expansion. The human race would thus, for the first time in history, be in a position to attain full Class I status as a global civilization -- Class I meaning, having the ability to fully and economically utilize the resources of its host planet. Class I status would thus close the door on war as an option for the resolution of conflict and open the door to the remedy of the scarcity of material possessions thus leaving human beings in a position to spend considerably more time pursuing education, entertainment, new product development, spiritual enlightenment and exploration.
All problems, no matter how simple or complex, are related. They are solvable by addressing the problems that have the most common elements first, and then moving down the list of priorities to problems that have no common elements. ENERGY is common to all products, services and human activities. MONEY is common to all products, services and most human activities. Money is a form of energy, thus money and energy are, in many ways, flip sides of the same coin and collectively the most common elements of all of humanities' secular problems. Thus these two problems should be addressed and remedied first but probably simultaneously. If this could happen, a solution to WAR, CRIME, IGNORANCE, WASTE, INEFFICIENCY, MATERIAL SCARCITY, OVER-POPULATION, DISEASE, POLLUTION, GLOBAL WARMING, TRANSPORTATION, TRUNCATED-LONGEVITY and all other problems would manifest in sequence.
But it all starts by properly solving Earth's Energy Problem.
Listen to the scientists, not the politicians and not the MONEY-mentality (i.e., people only motivated by money, power and prestige). The later live only for today; the former will help you and your progeny live forever.
Article originally published at http://www.kurzweilai.net/mindx/show_thread.php?rootID=3809#id71686
Originated: 27 October 2001
Revised 29 November 2006
(1) Consider the probable fate of humanity in the twenty-first century under two conditions: with a Martian frontier and without it. In the twenty-first century, without a Martian frontier, there is no question that human cultural diversity will decline severely. Already, in the late twentieth century, advanced communication and transportation technologies have eroded the healthy diversity of human cultures on Earth. As technology allows us to come closer together, so we come to be more alike. Finding another McDonald's in Beijing, country and western music in Tokyo, or a Michael Jordan T-shirt on the back of an Amazon native is no longer a great surprise. Bringing together diverse cultures can be healthy, as it sometimes results in fusions that produce temporary flowering in the arts and other areas. It can also result in very unpleasant increases in ethnic tensions. But however the energy released in the cultural merger is expended in the short term, the important thing in the long term is that it is expended. An analogy to cultural homogenization is that of connecting a wire between the terminals of a battery. A lot of heat can be generated for a while, but when all the potentials have been leveled, a condition of maximum entropy is reached and the battery is dead. The classic example of such a phenomenon in human history is the Roman Empire. The golden age produced by unification is frequently followed by stagnation and decline. The tendency of cultural homogenization on Earth can only accelerate in the twenty-first century. Furthermore, because of rapid communications and transportation technologies "shorting out" intercultural barriers, it will be increasingly impossible to obtain the degree of separation required to develop new and different cultures on Earth. If the Martian frontier is opened, however, this same process of technological advance will also enable us to establish a new, distinct, and dynamic branch of human culture on Mars and eventually on more worlds beyond. The precious diversity of humanity can thus be preserved on a broader field, but only on a broader field. One world will just be too small a domain to allow the preservation and continued generation of the diversity needed not just to keep life interesting, but to assure the survival of the human race. Without the opening of a new frontier on Mars, continued Western civilization also faces the risk of technological stagnation. To some this may appear to be an odd statement, as the present age is frequently cited as one of technological wonders. In fact, however, the rate of progress within our society has been decreasing and at an alarming rate. To see this, it is only necessary to step back and compare the changes that have occurred in the past thirty years with those that occurred in the preceding thirty years and the thirty years before that. Between 1906 and 1936 the world was revolutionized: Cities were electrified; telephones and broadcast radio became common; talking motion pictures appeared; automobiles became practical; and aviation progressed from the Wright Flyer to the DC-3 and Hawker Hurricane. Between 1936 and 1966 the world changed again, with the introduction of communications satellites and interplanetary spacecraft; computers; television; antibiotics; nuclear power; Atlas Titan, and Saturn rockets; Boeing 727s and SR-71s. Compared to these changes, the technological innovations from 1966 to the present seem insignificant. Had we been following the previous sixty years' technological trajectory, we today would have video telephones, solar-powered cars, maglev (magnetic levitation) trains, fusion reactors, hypersonic intercontinental travel, reliable and inexpensive transportation to Earth orbit, under sea cities, open-sea Mari culture, and human settlements on the Moon and Mars. Instead, today we see important technological developments, such as nuclear power and biotechnology, being blocked or enmeshed in controversy -- we are slowing down. Now consider a nascent Martian civilization: Its future will depend critically on the progress of science and technology. Just as the inventions produced by the necessities of frontier America were a powerful driving force on worldwide human progress in the nineteenth century, so the "Martian ingenuity" born in a culture that puts the utmost premium on intelligence, practical education, and the determination required to make real contributions will make much more than its fair share of the scientific and technological breakthroughs, which will dramatically advance the human condition in the twenty-first century. -- Excerpted from Robert Zubrin's book, THE CASE FOR MARS, available at Amazon.com
(2) Pebble-Bed Reactors MAY show promise for the US as well. See article entitled "PEBBLE-BED REACTORS" at http://www.jaegerresearchinstitute.org/articles/pebble.htm
(3) Since I posted this article in 2001, the U.S. has continued to piss away money that could have been used to remedy Earth's Energy Problem on senseless wars over oil. The ITER project is now moving forward but IMO these people are going to take WAY too long to get anything done, i.e. 2040. (See ITER project at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20061121.wnuclearfusion1121/EmailBNStory/Business/home) The only forces that can do this sooner and do it right are the U.S. gov working with private enterprises in the U.S. and other selected countries, such as Germany. Also the $12.8 billion they are planning on spending is a pittance. The United States needs to allocate at least $50 billion year towards this most vital project and the project MUST be located IN the United States. The $50 billion a year needs to be cut out of the gross and ridiculous military budget of $440 billion a year. I guarantee, with this level of financing and expertise, PLASMA FUSION will be a reality by the year 2017. This will thus be an expenditure of only $500 billion, a little LESS than what the U.S. has already frittered away on the Iraq war and only 11% of what the current annual military budget is. Once PLASMA FUSION is deployed, a kilowatt of electricity will cost less than one cent to produce and will create NO greenhouse gases. The United States will thus have an invaluable PRODUCT it can EXPORT to the rest of the world for between 7 and 14 cents per kilowatt hour. This is a 7,000% to 14,000% net profit on an investment of only $500 billion. Thus the $500 billion will quickly be recouped and the U.S. will then be in a position to remedy its outlandish trade deficit and its dangerous national debt. Additionally, the U.S. will be a leader in clean energy and set an example for the rest of the world. Lastly, by doing this, the U.S. will be able to make amends to the world for allowing 5% of its inhabitants to pig up 25% of its energy resources.
(4) Footnote added on 22 November 2006: SA solar research eclipses rest of the world By Willem Steenkamp ---- "In a scientific breakthrough that has stunned the world, a team of South African scientists has developed a revolutionary new, highly efficient solar power technology that will enable homes to obtain all their electricity from the sun. This means high electricity bills and frequent power failures could soon be a thing of the past. The unique South African-developed solar panels will make it possible for houses to become completely self-sufficient for energy supplies. The panels are able to generate enough energy to run stoves, geysers, lights, TVs, fridges, computers - in short all the mod-cons of the modern house. Nothing else comes close to the effectiveness of the SA invention The new technology should be available in South Africa within a year and through a special converter, energy can be fed directly into the wiring of existing houses. New powerful storage units will allow energy storage to meet demands even in winter. The panels are so efficient they can operate through a Cape Town winter. while direct sunlight is ideal for high-energy generation, other daytime light also generates energy via the panels. A team of scientists led by University of Johannesburg (formerly Rand Afrikaans University) scientist Professor Vivian Alberts achieved the breakthrough after 10 years of research. The South African technology has now been patented across the world. One of the world leaders in solar energy, German company IFE Solar Systems, has invested more than R500-million in the South African invention and is set to manufacture 500 000 of the panels before the end of the year at a new plant in Germany. Production will start next month and the factory will run 24 hours a day, producing more than 1 000 panels a day to meet expected demand. Another large German solar company is negotiating with the South African inventors for rights to the technology, while a South African consortium of businesses are keen to build local factories. The new, highly efficient and cheap alloy solar panel is much more efficient than the costly old silicone solar panels. International experts have admitted that nothing else comes close to the effectiveness of the South African invention. The South African solar panels consist of a thin layer of a unique metal alloy that converts light into energy. The photo-responsive alloy can operate on virtually all flexible surfaces, which means it could in future find a host of other applications. Alberts said the new panels are approximately five microns thick (a human hair is 20 microns thick) while the older silicon panels are 350 microns thick. the cost of the South African technology is a fraction of the less effective silicone solar panels. Alberts said in Switzerland it was already compulsory for all new houses to include solar technology to lessen energy demands on national grids. "And that was the older, less effective technology. With our hours of sunlight, we will on average generate twice as much energy than, for instance, European countries." While South African scientists developed and patented the new, super-effective alloy solar panels, other companies have developed new, super-efficient storage batteries and special converters to change the energy into the power source of a particular country (220 volts in South Africa). Eskom spokesperson Carin de Villiers said any new power supply that lessened the load on Eskom was to be welcomed. She said Eskom was also doing its own research on solar energy. "In fact, we are currently investigating building what will probably be the largest solar power plant, in the Northern Cape - a 100-megawatt facility." She added that Eskom was also researching wind and fuel-cell technology as alternative energy sources." Source: http://www.int.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=143&art_id=vn20060211110132138C184427
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