Monday, September 10, 2012

A Powerful Proposition

Last weekend, I had the good fortune to watch an amazing video of a lecture given by Dr. Daniel Nocera. It's an hour and 18 minutes long, but it is totally worth it because there is real hope for mankind in that video. What is it about? It's about new technology that allows us to capture solar energy and store it for future use.

I read about Nocera's work a couple of years ago. He and his team have done some pioneering work in the field of artificial photosynthesis. Notice that the work is government funded. Why didn't the private sector come up with this first? Maybe they were too busy thinking about maximizing profits before humanity.

Here are the basics:
  • Use a light activated catalyst to split water into oxygen and hydrogen.
  • Capture the hydrogen and store it for use later.
  • Burn the hydrogen to power the home.
  • Use the hydrogen to fuel a car or use power generated by burning the hydrogen to charge the car.
Imagine a world where every home has a power source independent of the power company. Imagine an economy independent of the hydrocarbon fuels we now use. Now imagine that all of the infrastructure we used to use to distribute power as electricity and fuel is no longer needed. Artificial photosynthesis would free up giant chunks of the economy dedicated to distributing oil, gas and coal. It would also free up all the money, time and effort spent designing nuclear power plants and passing commission reviews of each plant. The health benefits of such change would be enormous.

The jaw grows slack just considering even some of the possibilities. The only new tech is the catalyst - everything else is off-the-shelf parts. Artificial photosynthesis decentralizes energy production. Imagine what happens to political power when energy production is distributed by the sun.

The math presented in the video is pretty simple. We burn about 12.8 TW of power today - every day. the sun delivers 1000 TW to the earth. On land, we get about 800 TW. By 2050, we will need another 28 TW to keep humanity humming. We won't be able to build power plants fast enough to keep up. But we can fit up homes with this system to scale out billions of little power plants that run off the sun. 

Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have shown very much interest in clean energy. This is especially true of the Republicans. Perhaps they forgot about Richard Nixon. Maybe they want to. While the Democrats have shown some interest in clean energy, even some lip service, I don't see them talking about a game changer like artificial photosynthesis that has been around for two whole years. Maybe they're not ready to talk about it yet.

If I were running the Green Party, *this* would be my new platform: Personal Power for everyone is attainable through artificial photosynthesis. If the Democrats and Republicans won't touch this, the Green Party will be happy to take over.
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