Archive for the ‘energy conversion’ Category

The Better Waves

June 30, 2018

Everywhere everywhere we have waves bouncing around.

The sun sends them to us, across 93 millions of space. They hit our little planet; they reverberate in all kinds of ways. Some of them we capture and channel into energetic uses.

Others we do not capture at all. They just ripple around placidly in places unseen.

Out in the wild, in some natural place where the planetary stream gently trickles through unspoiled environs, we may notice waves just rippling along being their leisurely selves.

Ripples

If we peer closely at them, we may notice the universal vibration passing through our brief moment in time and space.

Waves

In other locations, where humans have captured the waves and trained them into commercial or utilitarian applications, they just degenerate into more of the blahblah interference that we encounter every day in our electronified existence. Like this pic taken at a gas station, where apparently the petrol pushers have determined that we cannot be without electronic stimulation for any amount of time—even the 2 or 3 minutes it takes to fill an itinerant gasoline tank.

EWaves

Although it is strangely reassuring to see a human face there in the mix, especially a pretty one. . .

GasGirl

Glass Chimera

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The Mysterious Door

June 24, 2018

The great physicist, James Clerk Maxwell, had a problem in 1867. It was a very old problem; many had tried to solve it before he came along. It wasn’t actually his problem to fix, but merely to figure it out; his objective was to try and determine who or what had already solved “the problem”. Because, you see, the matter had already been taken care of long, long ago.

Otherwise none of us would be here; nothing would be here.

The actual problem-solver who had worked it out was not thought to be credible at the time of Maxwell’s work. The problem-solver’s presumptuous  representatives had made such a mess of things.

Consequently, in the 1800’s, the scientific community placed little or no credence in what the so-called Church had to say about anything—especially presumably scientific matters like the origin and unfolding of the Universe.

19th-century scientists and other serious researchers like Darwin, Marx and many others were all in a tizzy about throwing the God idea out with the bath water. It was a leap of faith instead of a rational inference. They did have some legitimate arguments about the Church’s faith-based input, because the so-called Church had made such a mess of things while they were running the show back in the middle ages. Two especially bad screwed-ups the Church had done happened when they had, earlier, rejected the findings of Copernicus and Galileo.

But you betcha the mystery still lay unsolved when the science boys took over, long about 1800 or so. They were working on the mystery intently. And so Mr. Maxwell, diligent Scot that he was, took hold of the mantle in 1867, as many others were doing at the time, and he gave it a shot—solving the riddle.

The question of how all this happened.

This existence, this world we live in—how did it get here?

There was, you see, a piece missing in this great puzzle of existence.

In the chain of events that ostensibly took place when the universe was made, there was a missing link that no one had been able to figure out. So, James Clerk Maxwell tackled the question, striving to solve the riddle of the missing link.

Therefore Dr. Maxwell came up with what he called the “Demon.” My unschooled opinion says he could have chosen a better word. . . something like what Rene Descartes had termed it, the Prime Mover.

As Peter Hoffman gives an explanation of Maxwell’s work, the Scot posed this profound question:

“How can molecular machines extract work from the uniform-temperature environment of cells without violating the second law of thermodynamics?”

In other words, how can atoms and molecules organize themselves to become something more than what they already are—just a bunch of damn molecules kicking around like unemployed vagrants?

Or to put it yet another way: How could life have come out of dead particles?

And so, as Dr. Maxwell pondered the problem of the missing link in 1867, he came up with the idea of (what was later called Maxwell’s. . .) Demon.

Peter M. Hoffman explains it, in his 2012 book, Life’s Ratchet,    https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B00A29OFHS/ref       this way:

“Maxwell’s demon . . . was a a tiny hypothetical creature who controlled a little door separating two gas-filled chambers, which initially have the same average temperature. The job of the demon was to separate gas molecules into fast and slow molecules. . . Starting from a uniform-temperature system, the demon had created a temperature gradient—making one side cold and the other side hot. . . This temperature gradient could now be used to do work if a little turbine could be placed in the demon’s door.”

The analogy of a demon is not, of course, to be taken literally. James Maxwell was a brilliant physicist whose work paralleled Einstein’s. His use of the hypothetical creature is merely a literary device to communicate the function of an unidentified catalyst that makes something constructive happen in an environment in which (theoretically) nothing can happen.

Obviously something did happen, back in the days of universe origin, or we wouldn’t be here. Nothing would be here, if the problem had not been solved. Someone, demon or otherwise, must have worked it out.

Rene Descartes, a mathematician who lived in the 1600’s, had stumbled upon the same dilemma. He had posited the idea of a Prime Mover, which seemed pretty logical at the time.

Still does, if you ask me.

An original cause (as in cause in effect), that caused everything else to happen, big bang blah blah etc. and so forth and so on.

But what diligent mathematicians and scientists neglected to mention was that the problem had long ago been solved by a mysterious entity who had been so erroneously represented by the so-called Church: God.

Not a demon, but God. The demons were the created beings who tried to pull rank on the Creator, YWHeh.

Therefore, in order to now— in the 21st-century— give credit where credit is due . . .

MaxwellDemon

I say it was a notable accomplishment what YWHeh did, when he solved the problem of the missing link, way back in time. And he said so.

He said it was good— in the first chapter of his bestseller, Genesis.

It was good when He separated light from darkness. Genesis 1:4:

“God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”

This “separation” function is no chance development. It needed to happen. It’s no coincidence that Maxwell’s demon and Creator YWHeh both are depicted as having “separated” something from something else. . .  The Separator’s accomplishment was functionally something like Maxwell’s presumed demon’s task of separating molecules into two different energy levels in order to create

“a temperature difference between the chambers without expending work, thus seemingly violating the second law.”

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is the law that YWHeh seems to have broken when he started the ball of the universe rolling. But it didn’t matter if he broke that “Law” because he set up the whole kitnkiboodle anyway, back in the Day. That 2nd Law of Thermodynamics was an idea that we came up to try and explain it all. It wasn’t something that YWHeh declared when he declared Let there be light and so forth and so on.

On Day 1 (whatever that means to you) the Prime Mover separated light from darkness, and the rest is history.

Not bad for a day’s work, YHWeh. Keep up the good work.

Glass Chimera 

Solar Tech–what needs to happen

January 24, 2018

When I was a young man, idealistic and foolhardy, I attempted to start a newspaper.

I was in Asheville, a progressive southern town that was collectively trying to morph itself into a sort of Santa Fe of the South.

The year was 1977, and the gas-rationing effect of the so-called Arab oil embargo was still fresh in American minds. We, the generation who had convinced the gov. of the US to get the hell out of Vietnam, were convinced that we could also make a constructive impact on the way business and industry was conducted here in the USA.

Solar tech was a rising star in everybody’s minds, or so we thought at the time. With leadership from Mother Earth News and other early sustainability advocates, many of us free-thinking boomers thought we could shift American Big Business interests from dependency on costly oil to a widespread earth-changing acceptance of Solar, Geothermal and Wind technology.

Solari

So the fledgeling “newspaper” that we were promoting did a center-spread on Solar Energy and Solar Collectors. One of our fellows was a fellow named Jim Samsel; he was from Oregon, or had lived there, and seemed to know more about the subject than most us. He included some diagrams that, as I remember, helped us and the readers to get a visual on what solar collectors looked like and how they were supposed to work. We felt good about our tentative thrust into progressive energy conservation.

That was 41 years ago. Since that time, my life has shifted toward more down-to-earth activities such as loving my wife, raising the children, educating them and living as a Christian family. So my interests drifted away from quasi-experimental pastimes such as dreaming of solar tech, which was known to be expensive to install and maintain.

Since that time, my wife and I have purchased and lived in three houses. On none of them have we installed solar collectors. The expenses of of life and a growing family overtook my nascent interest in alternative, home-based, power installations such as solar.

Now we live in Boone, which is home to Appalachian State University.  Here at ASU, the alt-tech professors and students have put together a noteworthy Sustainability curriculum, with appropriate technology workshops and experimental projects that I occasionally hear about. I haven’t been keeping up with it, but I do know there’s a lot going on out there pertaining of improvements of solar collectors and storage cells.

And that is good. I say more power to them. I hope they can make a big  earth-friendly dent in the massive oil-based infrastructure that has for so long held us all in hydrocarbon bondage.

Solar1

Over the years,  I have occasionally pondered the plight of solar pioneers who have stayed with it, and I formed a little scenario in my mind that posits what needs to happen for solar to really get a significant foothold in our American infrastructure, by way of John Doe’s household and Jane Smith’s homestead.

My scenario starts with a fantasy: a widespread societal/economic attitude shift that inspires homeowners to install solar-panels on a massive scale—millions of homeowners thinking (believing) they can actually save money on their electrical bills by gathering energy from the sun on their very own rooftops. Makes a lot of sense if you think about it.

And the scenario works something like this:

Joe Blow has a few extra hundred bucks in his paycheck this week, so on Saturday he decides to go to the local Lowe’s or Costco or Sam’sClub and pickup another collector or two. He hauls them to the house and mounts them on the roof with a hardware system that has been patently engineered for simplicity of design and installation. The electrical connections below—hooking up to the panel and thereby the household electrical system—have previously been done by his electrician friends Wayne and Bryan.

Solarj

Then, after the connections and installation of the new panels have been accomplished in a half-day or so, he settles into an evening of relaxation with the surety that next month’s electric bill will be lower a a result of his incremental investments up on the roof. As time goes by, Joe uses a few extra bucks here and there to consistently repeat these simple periodic installations and thereby save $ by lowering his household’s power consumption.

Now what would it take for such a scenario to be reality instead of my tech-fantasy?

Starting with a look  back into history, back in the day, over a hundred years ago . . .

Henry Ford figured out how to actuate a new idea called mass production. Within a few decades, a Ford “in every garage” began to be a reality in American development and life. Every Joe Blow now understands that the reason this could happen was because Ford’s mass production assembly line enabled the company (and ultimately the wider automotive industry) to get the unit cost down to an affordable number that Joe and Jane Sixpack could actually spend to purchase a a car or truck for their family.

Now this is what we need for the solar industry in America–mass production and mass-market.

Who will take up the mantle? Who will heave the solartech excalibur out the stone of oil-dominance?

Tesla? GE? Some as-yet-unknown Startup in Phoenix, Detroit, Boone or Montgomery?

That remains to be seen, when and if it ever happens.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .in a brand new 2018. . .

Now suddenly appears an Omen that  perhaps the previously-thought-to-be-conspiracy Industrial Establishment has finally gotten a hold of the Solar vision! The next new expansion manufacturing industry!

What omen is that? The President announces a 30% tariff on foreign-manufactured solar collectors (and washing machines.)

Does this protectionism portend a willingness of American Industry to, at last, leap into solar production because they can now, with a little gov. help, compete with the Chinese and South Korea?

Or, more cynically, does it indicate the continuing Establishment denial of Solar development on a large scale for the sake of continuing oil hegemony?

We shall see in the days ahead what the effects of this tariff will be on our still-nascent Solar industry in America.

SolarStLuke

  Glass half-Full

My Solar Sadness

September 29, 2015

When I was a young man, back in the 1970’s, I found a shoestring in Asheville. I appropriated it and then used it to try and tie all the problems of the world together so they could be disposed of. I took that shoestring and initiated a little newspaper, which, as it turned out, only published six issues before biting the dust.

It was a learning experience, trying to start a newspaper in 1977.

The first issue, as I recall, had a very hopeful article about solar energy development and the possibility of solving our energy woes with new applications of solar technology.

The newspaper-on-a-shoestring idea did not pan out. As for the solar technology featured in the first issue, let’s just say: there is still great potential there.

Now. Fast-forward about 38 years. I’m on vacation in Hawaii, the Big Island. Cruising along the highway that runs northward from Kailua-Kona toward Waikoloa, I see a large, quite impressive solar photovoltaic collector arrangement that seems to embrace a whole building.

This is interesting, I thought. That’s a pretty impressive framework of solar power-generating collection around and above that building. I wonder what it is.

Although I did not snap a picture of it, I later learned that the building is the Visitors’ Center and Office for the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority.  You can see it here:

http://friendsofnelha.org/

A few days later, that is to say yesterday, on Monday morning I attended a presentation there, hoping to find out what the place was all about. And I learned quite a lot about, among many other interesting things, renewable energy development and sustainable aquaculture and mariculture on the Big Island of Hawaii.

At 10 a.m., I watched and listened to an excellent presentation by  Sarah Crawford, who is Executive Director of Friends of Natural Energy Laboratory in Hawaii (FON). Using a multimedia setup, Sarah delivered to me and eight other curious visitors the big-picture introduction to this forward-looking business park-enterprise incubator next to the Pacific on the sunny, leeward side of the Big Island.

The primary resource–you might say the heart and soul of this 870-acre site and its many infrastructure connections–is a constant,plentiful supply of very clean, cold ocean water that is pumped from 2000′ or 3000′ depths of the Ocean. The water is used prolifically by many companies, LLCs, and startups for aquaculture/mariculture research & development, as well as profitable commercial ventures.

One venture in particular–the Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) project–is the largest and most productive of its type in the world, “pioneering the design of systems that use deep cold seawater for air conditioning and electricity.”

Among the many projects and enterprises being conducted here are: a large-scale commercial abalone aquaculture facility; algae-based biofuels extraction facility;  nutritional supplements company; commercial desalination drinking-water production;  kampachi-fish farm; shellfish hatchery nursery for shrimp, oysters, clams, mussels; Maine lobster holding-tank; farming operations for tropical fish, seahorses, edible sea vegetables, black cod; and even a public charter school.

I was impressed. Here in Kona-Kailua the Hawaiians are doing amazing things with that cold seawater that’s being pumped up from way down deep.

As for actual heat collected for hot water or for heating some other medium. . .not so much. More about that in a moment.

Nevertheless, solar energy is taking off big time in Hawaii–for electrical generation by means of photovoltaic collectors. Hawaiians are leading the way. Part of Sarah’s presentation included some impressive statistics about increasing widespread use of roof collectors among homeowners and businesses. She said that recently an aerial photo of the town of Kailua revealed that every major commercial building in the town sported solar collectors on the roof.

The one exception–Home Depot. No solar collectors on the Kailua HD.

Now here I’m finally getting around to the title of this here posting: Solar Sadness

Because you see, ever since that time back in the day when I tried to start a newspaper with its first issue featuring the potential of solar technology–ever since that time– I have thought that the only way that solar tech could really take off in the good ole US of A would be this scenario:

Joe Blow has a few extra bucks in his paycheck this week, so on Saturday he goes to Home Depot or Lowe’s (our North Carolina favorite since that company started only 30 miles from my North Carolina home), and Joe invests is an easy-to-install solar collector or two, hauls it home or has it delivered, then climbs up on the roof, like any energetic homeowner (or hires someone) and connects the new hardware with a few turns of the crescent wrench and a screwdriver or two, assembling the new hardware in series with other collectors that he has previously installed.

In this way Joe Blow or John Doe or Betty Freedan or whoever, socks away some serious energy savings for the next 30 years or so, and so that’s the way solar tech would take off in America: chicken in every pot, car in every garage, collector on every roof kind of middle-class thing.

Well, that has not generally happened on a large scale in America, yet. And if Home Depot is not willing to make use of the emerging solar tech on its own roof on the sunny side of Hawaii, then what hope is there for the sun in middle-class yankee homeowner energy conservation?

Now all that is about power, you know, electrical power, kilowatts blah blah–generating your own so you don’t to buy so much from the regional monopoly or co-op.

But my disappointment about solar actualities came about half-way through the presentation on energy developments at National Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority.

Near the Visitors’ Center is a very impressive-looking mega-field of solar collectors, all of them hooked up together in series. The sight of this had been part of my original curiosity about the NELHA facility:

SolrHWColl

In Sarah’s informative exposition of the on-site projects, her explanation of this installation revealed that it consists of rows and rows of long plastic pipes which had been cut lengthwise down the middle and painted with a special reflective coating. Sunlight striking the half-round concave curve of the 8″ pipe would be focused on a smaller, suspended 3/4″ pipe that contains a heat-carrying substance, water or some other medium. These half-pipes were mounted in such a way as to track the sun’s rise and fall in the sky, thereby maximizing the solar energy gain.

http://keaholesolarpower.com/news/farming_the_sun/

Very impressive.

But here came my disappointment, the solar sadness: this incredible energy-gathering bank has been non-operative for about a year and half.

Why?

Something about running out of money or some such thing. I don’t understand it. There’s plenty of solar energy in Hawaii, and plenty of water. So what’s the problem?

But I’m the clueless tourist here, whose mind starts to fill up with old 1970’s-style conspiracy theories about mega-corporations getting in the way and so forth and so on. Although I don’t believe all that; there must be a legitimate reason why this thing has not worked out.

As for the rest of what’s going on at that NELHA –very impressive!

The cold seawater resource development  that’s happening at Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority is  good, and also profitable for an array of startups for aquaculture, mariculture, and energy conversion enterprises This place is a a beneficial  partnership between the State of Hawaii and all the businesses and LLCs who are working there.

Abalones

Keep up the good work, NELHA! Keep them abalones and other critters coming.

 

Glass half-Full