No Need For Energy Manhattan Project

from the at-least-not-yet dept

Charles Cooper of is upset that on President Bush’s recent trip to Silicon Valley, he didn’t speak with more substance on how technology could help ease our energy problems. Specifically, Cooper would have liked to see Bush call for a new Manhattan Project, this time focusing on alternative energy. First of all, he should know that you can never get much more than rhetoric from a politician. Second, we don’t need another Manhattan Project — the market is already taking care of that. VCs are pouring record amounts into energy technology, none of which required the President’s approval. There’s even some reason to believe there’s overinvestment in new technology, which could be bad for VCs, but great for the economy on the whole. While centrally planned projects might be appropriate for military applications, a pending proposal to provide prize money for hydrogen breakthroughs is much more intriguing. As in other areas, getting people to compete for prizes and profits is a better solution than just throwing a bunch of money at them.

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Comments on “No Need For Energy Manhattan Project”

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David says:

DOE boondoggle

Joe’s analysis is dead-on with regard to massive government spending projects. This type of project would end up under the purview of the DOE which is infamous for it’s inablity to successfully managed high-dollar projects, see Super-Colliding Superconductor, National Ignition Facility, Los Alamos National Lab (all), etc.

Howard (user link) says:

Hydrogen is a loser

Even if you get around the problems of transport and storage, the laws of physics won’t change the enormous explosive mixture range, or the embrittlement problem, or the fact that a gallon of gasoline has more hydrogen in it that a gallon of liquid hydrogen. Hydrogen is nowhere near an energy source; it takes more energy to produce it than you can get back by burning it. However, I don’t mind seeing money spend on hydrogen research, as long as none of it is mine.

Ethanol is somewhat controversial regarding whether it is a net energy source, but the two things that nail the case shut for me are 1) there is no source of free-market ethanol fuel; it is ALL government-subsidized, and 2) the producers of ethanol find it more economical to burn petrofuels than to burn ethanol in the production process(!!).

The most promising technology I have seen so far is biodiesel. It actually burns cleaner than diesel, has better lubrication characteristics, and now that gas/diesel is over $3/gallon, is cost competitive. Better yet, this is all without any government subsidy. Not to mention that burning biodiesel actually reduces atmospheric CO2 — at least, in the case of soybean-derived diesel, because growing soybeans removes more CO2 than is release by burning the derived fuel.

Joe Smith says:

Re: Hydrogen is a loser

The popular discussion around hydrogen generally ignores the second law of thermodynamics. Hydrogen is at best a way of storing energy and the conversion of another energy form to hydrogen will carry with it losses.

Manhattan style projects (think the race to the Moon) are only necessary when the investment is huge, the timeline is extended and the monetary payoff is doubtful.

There are lots of competing research groups (including universities and major corporations) with the resources necessary to research alternate energy sources. Only fusion seems to come close to qualifying for major government funding.

In the short term the most important thing governments could do is to allow electricity prices to move to full marginal cost pricing. That would drive both conservation and research.

Tin Ear (user link) says:

Hmmm... Hydrogen..

If the government actually pressed the hydrogen fuel program (ignoring the fact that it’s not cost-productive) on the producers and refiners, I can see where they might want to find a ready source of the gas. What is the largest source of hydrogen in the area? Of course, the SUN! It’s just a huge hydrogen reaction after all, isn’t it? Let’s see if we can get a siphon hose up there and suck up a couple of billion cubic yards!!

Professor HighBrow (user link) says:

Re: Hmmm... Hydrogen..

What is the largest source of hydrogen in the area? Of course, the SUN! It’s just a huge hydrogen reaction after all, isn’t it?

Exactly! Fusion, to be exact.

There is a very easy answer to all of these energy problems:

Stop being paranoid about nuclear energy.

It doesn’t take many fission power plants to produce vast amounts of power.

Now I am abut to read your mind: “What about 3 mile Island, Professor?”

Bad Engineering, Bad Government response, and unqualified personnel. These are problems that can be solved through Science.

“What about all that radioactive waste, won’t it produce 3 eyed frogs?”

Solution: Launch into non-orbital outer space.

“Aren’t we just “Space Littering? What If a rocket explodes?”

The people in charge of the engineering and safety of the rocket launch have to be within 1000 yards of the launch.

Professor HighBrow says:

Re: hydrogen

I’m having a hard time with the notion there is more hydrogen in a gallon of gas than a gallon of liquid hydrogen.

That, Mike, is because it’s simply not even a true statement.

Liquid hydrogen is used in the friggin’ space shuttle launches for a reason………..

The poster forgot to take chemistry class. Petroleum products are chains of hydrocarbons, which any idiot knows.

Cite your source of this retarded information, so we can give you a Short bus to come and pick you up, Original poster.

I have a problem with that notion as well.

==Prof HiBrow

Joe Smith says:

Re: Re: hydrogen content


Howard is right about the hydrogen content of gasoline and Professor HighBrow isn’t.

The reason hydrogen is used in rockets is that its energy to weight ratio is great. The energy to volume ratio however is terrible.

Hydrocarbons are chains of hydrogen and carbon atoms. Gasoline is a mix of different lengths of chain. Octane is typical with a chemical formula of C8H18. Since a carbon atom has six protons and typically six neutrons and a hydrogen atom has one proton and typically no neutrons hydrogen represents approximately 18/(18+8*12) = 0.16 of the mass of gasoline. Liquid gasoline has a density of 730 to a density of 68 for liquid hydrogen.

0.16 * 730 = 116.8 which is greater than 68 which means:

There are more atoms of hydrogen in a gallon of liquid gasonline than there are in a gallon of liquid hydrogen.

Ringold says:

Re: Re: Re: hydrogen content

I’m not going to do calculations, but those at United Nuclear and others have found hydrogen hydride metals can be used to effectively store quite a lot of hydrogen in a solid state in a reasonable volume of space. These are guys on shoe-string budgets (United Nuclear uses a home-built 30ft particle accelerator of sorts to create the hydride), so a larger investment would likely yield MUCH better results than even they’ve seen.

Therefore, going to go ahead and say energy-to-volume is a non-issue. And bowing to my universities envrionmental economics program, heh, I’ll say that in the long run in a post-industrial country such as ours whats environmentally “profitable” is also financially profitable.. in the long run. I’m no doctor, but I’d venture to guess cancer isn’t caused by bozo beams from the Moon, but studies showing permanent lung damage in most all city dwellers from poor air quality being more of an indicator of one of the major problems. Removing that huge strain on peoples health, and the environment in general, would save the economy money in a massive way.

So there we go, two large “pluses”, but volume and environmental benefits both apply to ethanol as well as hydrogen.

Hydrogen I’d heard in an astronomy course a couple years ago is partly (gravity being the main reason) why Mars has a very thin atmosphere, and we ultimately will too; it has such a high, eh, rate of climb in the atmosphere it often flys right off in to space (helped by Mars low gravity and other properties). I wonder if in the long run (100 years?) that’d be an issue for us as well, versus the billion’s it’d take naturally.

Justin says:

Energy Manhattan Project

Has it crossed anyone’s mind that whats coming next is already invented/discovered…. and that the current administration doesn’t want it, or conservation to stop or slow our oil dependence, but rather want to create ways to speed it up? Energy, like money, is relative to whatever we peg it to, and when we get around to changing what its focal point is, the solution will quickly come, be it hydrogen from the sun, moon (tidal power), wind, nuclear, coal liquification, fusion, sonoluminescent bubble power, methane hydrates on the bottom of the ocean, or matter/antimatter annihilation from green people…..
the politics is the only thing that stands in the way, and politics is all about money

Ringold says:

Joe, what are you, an economics major?

Either way, I am, and thank god, somebody finally talks sense.

I love capitalism. People complain about energy prices, but it’s just a necessary evil to push us on to something else. Nobody would be investing one red cent if gas was still 1.80/gal.

And windfall profits? We should be feeling sorry for those companies, their margins are pathetic 🙂

Anyway, I look forward to future posts from you, Joe.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Gasoline prices

it’s just a necessary evil to push us on to something else.

Bankruptcy is the economy’s way of telling you to pursue other opportunities.

As a further comment on the original post let me add that 1.5 Billion a year in venture capital is not large in comparison with – say – the profits the oil companies are making or the profit potential in a significant energy related development. GE could be spending that much on energy research and development all by themselves.

Professor HighBrow says:

Re: Siphon

Unfortunately, you did not provide the location/make and model of your vehicle.

People with clear tubes and small vehicles are waiting nearby to allow the SUV (with fuel tank nicely raised at a higher level than the poor jerks car) to donate it’s proud American Investment from your car.

(they creep while you sleep)

Justin says:

Manhattan Project

I read the December issue of Wired too, where it talked about $5 a gallon gas being good because it forced money to be spent on new research.

Again, I stress the political issue, be it funding research into as yet to be discovered technologies (like computers in 1910) or to allow already existing technologies to be utilized for a more domestic dependence on energy. It has been shown where coal-gasification can create a fuel source that will run in current car engines, as Hitler was doing for Nazi Germany over 60 years ago. The govenor of Montana has already pledged his state’s coal supplies for such a purpose… 40 years woth of fuel using a 60 year old technology. Thats not including the rest of the country/continent. But politics stands in his way. Coal alone would supply 600 years worth of fuel for the US.

The problem with just this approach is that the permits aren’t being given at anywhere near the speed to allow this to be a viable alternative.

Hydrogen, be it an economical alternative medium for energy storage or not, could easily be produced by such a standard, though, with this switch over, only profitable from an enviromental stand point.

A Manhattan Project sized investment is not needed, the investors are already there, the money is already there, be it the already existing oil cartels, or some group of new investors, the approach is economically viable and profitable… politics just need stand out of the way.

David Arnold says:

Alternative Energy For Real

I am working toward the objective of helping the little people take advantage of their alternative energy resources.

I am NOT interested in helping ADM , Cargill , BP , Louis Dreyfus become richer . I am not interested in furthering the career of loud mouthed politicians .

If we could capture all the hot air that is being issued regarding alternative energy we could provide energy for the Universe . Every political stump jockey is blathering about alternative energy and saving the World.

Very , very , little is being done to help the common person develop their own alternative energy . I am talking about the rural community , farmers , small business , school systems , etc. . I am not talking about putting a biodiesel pump in town to sell fuel for British Petroleum or worse yet , Citgo .

Just had to get it off my chest .

Thank you.

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