Thrawn Rickle 10

Energy Sources—Solar Power Satellites & Hydrogen

© 2003 Williscroft

Where does usable energy on this planet come from?Three sources, actually. As our planet compressed during its formative stages it generated a lot of heat that is now stored inside the earth. We see evidence of this as not very useful volcanoes, and as very useful geothermal heat sources. Radioactive materials that make up part of the earth’s substance contain substantial energy that we can release in nuclear reactors. The balance of useful energy on this planet comes from the sun.

The energy you release when you burn coal, oil, gas, or wood originally came from the sun. It was stored in the growing plant that ultimately became the your fuel.

Hydroelectric energy also comes from the sun. The sun evaporates sea water which then falls as rain and snow in the mountains. As it flows seaward, we extract some of its energy with turbines. The amount of energy it contains depends on the height where it originally fell to earth.

Every energy source we use ultimately comes from the sun, unless it is geothermal or nuclear.

In meeting our energy needs, the trick is to tap these three ultimate sources as efficiently as possible with the very smallest negative impact on our global environment.

In the long run, it makes little sense to capture solar energy in plants, process the plant material into complex chemicals deep underground and store it there for millennia, and then extract the chemicals and burn them to release energy. The chemicals are far more useful in themselves than as fuel. It makes much more sense to utilize these chemicals, and to tap solar energy more directly.

When we burn these chemicals (coal, oil, and gas), we release energy and waste. The cleanest possible burning still produces pure carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas.

We need energy. Nuclear power will produce abundant electricity, but no fire. Fire is an essential ingredient of civilization. We can’t do without it. Fortunately, Nature has an answer.

Water consists of hydrogen and oxygen bound together chemically. Burning plant material produces carbon dioxide. Burning hydrogen produces only water. Herein lies a far ranging solution to our dilemma. Capture incoming solar energy, and use it to separate hydrogen and oxygen from water. The resulting hydrogen can then be burned wherever flame is needed. Hydrogen can drive turbines for electricity, produce electricity in fuel cells, produce graduated heat without flame, and be used in the production of useful chemicals.

It is actually less expensive to transport energy by pumping hydrogen through pipelines than to transmit electricity over high tension lines. The solution to our energy needs, therefore, is to capture solar energy as efficiently as possible, and convert it to hydrogen for pipeline distribution. The most efficient way to capture solar energy is in orbit, outside the earth’s atmosphere. The most efficient way to transmit the energy to earth is with concentrated lasers.

An ideal energy solution, therefore, is a network of solar power satellites that beam their collected energy to equatorial marine stations for conversion to hydrogen. The hydrogen is liquefied and transported by ship to shore based pipeline heads. The resultant energy is practically pollution-free and makes zero contribution to the global greenhouse. For a complete discussion of this concept, read the landmark paper I presented to the Third World-Hydrogen Conference in Tokyo.

Submariner, diver, scientist, author & adventurer. 22 mos underwater, a yr in the equatorial Pacific, 3 yrs in the Arctic, and a yr at the South Pole. BS Marine Physics & Meteorology, PhD in Engineering. Authors non-fiction, Cold War thrillers, and hard science fiction. Lives in Centennial, CO.

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