Friday, Febuary 26, 2010
The Hubbert Peak, IPCC reports, melting ice caps, does all this foretell a
disaster? Maybe for polar bears, but for alternative energy pitchmen it's
the mother lode. The free-energy scams such as Joe Newman's Energy Machine
and Dennis Lees Hummingbird motor will still find mom-and-pop investors
hoping to stretch their meager retirements, but the big money awaits a more
sophisticated pitch. Consider the Bloom Box. The pitchman, K.R. Sridhar,
CEO of Bloom Energy in Sunnyvale, is not your typical scam artist, but an
artfully understated business executive. He can go on 60 Minutes or Good
Morning America and never make a slip. But there are warning signs. What is
it hes selling? "It starts with beach sand he says, opening a box of the
stuff. It's like saying a diamond is a lump of carbon. Silicon dioxide is
the most abundant mineral on Earth, and essential to modern electronics.
With the help of animation, he explains that plates made of the stuff
enable hydrocarbon gases to react with oxygen, producing an electric
potential. It's a fuel cell. He never says so, maintaining the fiction that
this is something really new. Its not. Fuel cells date back to 1838, but
have found little application. The magic calls for painting the two sides
of the plate with secret green and black ink respectively. Well there's a
little more to it, but CEOs don't worry about details. Oh, and the Bloom
Box is not cheap. However, Google, FedEx and Wel-Mart can afford to test
the Bloom Box. Everybody loves the idea of distributed energy production,
where we have our own power plant in the backyard. But a Bloom Box is not
totally isolated; it needs to be tied to a gas pipeline. Is this the
future? Probably not.
The European Space Agency has released the first results from its Smos
satellite, launched in November. Smos carries a single instrument - and
interferometric radiometer called Miras which is 8 m across. Miras measures
changes in the wetness of the land and the salinity of ocean water by
observing variations in the natural microwave emission from Earths surface
received by 69 different antennas which interfere to produce the image.
This interferometric technique was borrowed from radio astronomy. Smos
should result in better understanding of the hydrological cycle as water is
exchanged between the Earth's surface and the atmosphere.
The "great Pacific garbage patch" consists of marginally buoyant plastic
particles that have accumulated in a current gyre measuring hundreds of
miles across. The likelihood that similar patches exist in Atlantic gyres
has, until now, been largely ignored. Recently however, fine mesh nets
towed behind research vessels have found similar patches in the North
I don't imagine aluminum foil is very comfortable either, but there are
people who wrap themselves in it before they venture out into the world of
cell phones. Should society be more tolerant and provide EMF-free zones?
Absolutely not! Theres a bunch of things that really bother me, but I
resolutely endure them, refusing even to claim that they are a health
threat. Its my contribution to a peaceful world.