Monday, January 05, 2015

I don't believe in the gloom and doom about global warming

I believe that global warming is real. I can see it here, in Salt Lake City. I've talked to people who have lived here for a long, long time. They can remember a time when there was a lot more snow, when snow was laying on the ground for most days during the winter. I read an article about a former head of the EPA under the Reagan Administration. In recent years, he saw satellite photos showing how since about 1992, 25% of the ice at the poles has melted. Seemingly gone forever. Global warming is real and the evidence is all around us. But there is something we can do about it.

I watch the technology scene closely to see what is on the horizon. I see some interesting trends that, given the right conditions will remove carbon from the atmosphere and it can reverse the trends of the last 30 years and more.

First, there is renewable power. Solar, wind and geothermal power are all there, with hydropower from Dams, but not so much due to droughts in many places. In 2013 alone, global solar capacity increased by 35%. If oil production had increased by that much, we would definitely see it at the pump. Given that current trends continued indefinitely, say for another 20-30 years, solar power could easily become the dominant form of renewable energy worldwide, displacing coal and oil together.

There is a very good reason this could happen: 1000 terawatts of power lands on the earth every day in the form of sunshine. We currently burn about 16 TW every day. To satisfy world demand, we only need a tiny sliver of that energy from the sun.

Another interesting trend is graphene. Graphene is a wondrous material, 200 times stronger than steel, the thinnest substance known to man, one of the greatest conductors, and the list goes on. There is a large team of scientists worldwide who are working on analyzing and characterizing the properties of graphene. New attributes are being identified on a monthly and even weekly basis.

The most interesting discovery about graphene of late is this: the holes in graphene are just big enough to allow proton transfer across the membrane. In simple terms, this means that we can capture hydrogen from the air with graphene and then use that fuel in our cars. The radiator could be replaced with a graphene element that captures protons - the nucleus of a hydrogen atom - the proton eventually captures an electron to create hydrogen, and that goes into storage for burning. The exhaust would be nothing but pure water.

This isn't science fiction. Scientists are learning how this basic research can be applied to energy production in transportation. It could only be a matter of time before this technology becomes commonplace and carbon fuel is replaced by carbon sheets of graphene.

The last item is nuclear. Yes, there is a lot downplay about nuclear, but there are new kids on the block so to speak, whom are re-examining nuclear power as a clean power source. I've discussed thorium power many times on this blog. Here are the basics: thorium molten salt reactors are about 200 times more efficient than light water uranium reactors, they generate 1% of the waste of the latter, and they can be used to burn all of our nuclear waste generated since nuclear reactors were invented. I know of at least one hedge fund investor who expressed confidence that commercial molten salt reactors burning thorium would be a reality within 10-15 years.

That may seem like a long way off, and it is. But scientists around the world are chipping away at it, with a long-term vision in mind.

There is one other aspect of nuclear, the Low Energy Nuclear Reactor. The most interesting example of this is the E-CAT, from an inventory in Italy. He's quite mum about how it works, but some scientists have independently verified nuclear power production from this device. What does it do? It allows low energy fusion between nickel and hydrogen to take place. A few of them have been sold, so we know that a few companies have been willing to part with money for this energy device.

Given enough time and investigation, I believe there is a good chance that low energy fusion will become commonplace.

Most of the examples above are ways to distribute power production. I believe that decentralizing power production is critical to the survival of our civilization. I also believe that saving our planet is doable, and that we can leave the planet in better shape than when we found it for the next generation.

I do not believe that the survival of our civilization is a question of technology. It is a question of political will. Do we have the political will to make the right choices? Many countries in Western Europe have made that choice, replacing carbon with renewables at astonishing rates. The US is slowly gathering up the political will to do the same, despite many in Congress who are kicking and screaming some silly notion that the market is rational.

The market is not rational, if it were, we would not have seen a financial crisis in 2008 created by a completely unregulated securities market. If anyone is going to lead the way to save our civilization, it will have to be governments around the world. The business class is simply too deluded by money to make the right choice.
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