Saturday, December 04, 2004

Welcome to WaterMind

The core purpose of this Blog is to create a vision of what a Water-based Economy will be like and what Life on Earth will be like when humans finally put an end to the Age of Burning and start to generate electricity from water.

Every time you see a green leaf, think about what it is doing: using sunlight to extract electricity from water and give off oxygen. This process is so ancient, it started even before there was any oxygen in the atmosphere; and it has been going on for so long that it has filled the atmosphere with the oxygen it has today.

So isn't it about time that humans started doing what comes naturally? We have 326 million cubic miles of water freely available; we have Plants to show us how it is done, using a tiny catalyst of manganese atoms; and half of our energy consumption is now in the form of electricity.

As the Blog develops, I expect surprising contributions from people everywhere. I may not hear from 2.2 billion of our brothers and sisters who live in desperate poverty. I dedicate this site to them.


At 6 December 2004 at 06:32, Blogger Paul Jacobson said...

World energy production per capita from 1945 to 1973 grew at a breakneck speed of 3.45%/year. Next from 1973 to the all-time peak in 1979, it slowed to a sluggish 0.64%/year. Then suddenly —and for the first time in history — energy production per capita took a long-term decline of 0.33%/year from 1979 to 1999. The Olduvai theory explains the 1979 peak and the subsequent decline. More to the point, it says that energy production per capita will fall to its 1930 value by 2030, thus giving Industrial Civilization a lifetime of less than or equal to 100 years.

Should this occur, any number of factors could be cited as the 'causes' of collapse. I believe, however, that the collapse will be strongly correlated with an 'epidemic' of permanent blackouts of high-voltage electric power networks — worldwide. Briefly explained: "When the electricity goes out, you are back in the Dark Age. And the Stone Age is just around the corner."

At 6 December 2004 at 06:49, Blogger Paul Jacobson said...

We saw in 2000 escalating warfare in the Middle East obviously over oil reserves. In 2006 there will be the all-time peak of world oil production. In 2008 the OPEC crossover event occurs when OPEC gains domination of the world's oil but it is already too late to maintain supply. The year 2011 marks the end of the slide.

The "cliff" is the final interval. It begins in 2012 when an epidemic of permanent blackouts spreads worldwide, ie. first there are waves of brownouts and temporary blackouts, then finally the electric power networks themselves expire. 2030 marks the fall of world energy use per person to the 1930 level. This is the lagging 30% point when Industrial Civilization becomes history and who knows what comes next.

At 6 December 2004 at 07:10, Blogger Paul Jacobson said...

Blacklight Power believes that it has created a new source of energy, a new plasma source which releases rather than consumes energy. Energy is released as the
electrons of atomic hydrogen are induced to undergo transitions to lower energy levels producing plasma,
light, and novel hydrogen compounds. The energy release is intermediate between chemical and nuclear energies.

The net energy released may be over one hundred
times that of combustion with power densities like those of powerful automobiles. Thus, the BlackLight Process represents a potential new source of energy with H2O as the source of hydrogen fuel obtained by diverting a fraction of the output energy of the process to split water into its elemental constituents.

The Company believes that the BlackLight Process offers an efficient, clean, cheap, and versatile thermal energy source. Using plasma-dynamic conversion, the prototype has achieved plasma-to-electricity conversion from a standard plasma source of 3.6 W/cm3 at 40% conversion efficiency. On a volumetric basis, this prototype result is comparable to the capability of gas turbines. Similarly, prototypes have proven the BlackLight Process to have better performance characteristics than fuel cells without the restrictive capital costs that arise from the requirement of hydrocarbons with the associated infrastructure and hydrocarbon-toelectricity conversion systems.

BlackLight technology is ideal for microdistributed electrical applications and could eliminate problems attendant to the utility industries, such as those arising from the variable regional supply and price of natural gas, the associated cost of building out a suitable supporting transmission grid and natural gas infrastructure required for fuel cells, and the need to on-site reform natural gas to hydrogen for use in fuel cells.

At 6 December 2004 at 07:37, Blogger Paul Jacobson said...

Photosynthesis occurs in plants, some bacteria and algae and involves two protein complexes, photosystem I, and photosystem II - which contains the water-splitting centre.

While previous models of PSII function have sketched out a picture of how the water splitting centre might be organised, the Imperial College (London) team were able to reveal the structure of the centre at a resolution of 3.5 angstroms (or one hundred millionth of a centimetre) in the cyanobacterium, Thermosynechococcus elongatus by combining the expertise of Professor So Iwata in solving protein structures and Professor Jim Barber in the photosynthetic process.

"Results by us and other groups have shown that the splitting of water occurs at a catalytic centre that consists of four manganese atoms (Mn)," explains Professor So Iwata of Imperial's Department of Biological Sciences.

"We've taken this further by showing that three of the manganese atoms, a calcium atom and four oxygen atoms form a cube like structure, which brings stability to the catalytic centre. The fourth and most reactive manganese atom is attached to one of the oxygen atoms of the cube. Together this arrangement gives strong hints about the water-splitting chemistry.

"Our structure also reveals the position of key amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, which provide a details of how co-factors are recruited into the reaction centre."

At 7 December 2004 at 19:58, Blogger Paul Jacobson said...

There are already numerous applications that focus on utilising hydrogen as the fuel. Humboldt State University's Schatz Energy Research Center designed and built a stand-alone solar hydrogen system. The system uses a 9.2 kilowatt (KW) photovoltaic (PV) array to provide power to compressors that aerate fish tanks. The power not used to run the compressors runs a 7.2 kilowatt bipolar alkaline electrolyzer. The electrolyzer can produce 25 liters per minute. The unit has been operating without supervision since 1993. When there is not enough power from the PV array, the hydrogen provides fuel for a 1.5 kilowatt proton exchange membrane fuel cell to provide power for the compressors.

Steam electrolysis is a variation of the conventional electrolysis process. Some of the energy needed to split the water is added as heat instead of electricity, making the process more efficient than conventional electrolysis. At 2,500 degrees Celsius water decomposes into hydrogen and oxygen. This heat could be provided by a concentrating solar energy device. The problem here is to prevent the hydrogen and oxygen from recombining at the high temperatures used in the process.

Thermochemical water splitting uses chemicals such as bromine or iodine, assisted by heat. This causes the water molecule to split. It takes several steps—usually three—to accomplish this entire process.

Photoelectrochemical processes use two types of electrochemical systems to produce hydrogen. One uses soluble metal complexes as a catalyst, while the other uses semiconductor surfaces. When the soluble metal complex dissolves, the complex absorbs solar energy and produces an electrical charge that drives the water splitting reaction. This process mimics photosynthesis.

The other method uses semiconducting electrodes in a photochemical cell to convert optical energy into chemical energy. The semiconductor surface serves two functions, to absorb solar energy and to act as an electrode. Light-induced corrosion limits the useful life of the semiconductor.

Researchers at the University of Tennessee and U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory are researching ways to use photosynthesis to produce hydrogen from sunlight. The researchers extracted two photosynthetic complexes from spinach plants; called Photosystem I and Photosystem II. The two work together to produce carbohydrates for the plant. By attaching platinum atoms to the Photosystem I complexes, the researchers were able to produce hydrogen from visible light. Unfortunately, the process required the use of an added chemical that makes the overall process impractical, but the achievement shows potential. The researchers are working to combine the platinum-Photosystem I complexes with the Photosystem II complexes, forming a molecular system that can convert light and water directly into hydrogen, without help from an added chemical.

Biological and photobiological processes can use algae and bacteria to produce hydrogen. Under specific conditions, the pigments in certain types of algae absorb solar energy. The enzyme in the cell acts as a catalyst to split the water molecules. Some bacteria are also capable of producing hydrogen, but unlike algae they require a substrate to grow on. The organisms not only produce hydrogen, but can clean up pollution as well.

Research funded by US Defense has led to the discovery of a mechanism to produce significant quantities of hydrogen from algae. Scientists have known for decades that algae produce trace amounts of hydrogen, but had not found a feasible method to increase the production of hydrogen. Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found the key. After allowing the algae culture to grow under normal conditions, the research team deprived it of both sulfur and oxygen, causing it to switch to an alternate metabolism that generates hydrogen. After several days of generating hydrogen, the algae culture was returned to normal conditions for a few days, allowing it to store up more energy. The process could be repeated many times. Producing hydrogen from algae could eventually provide a cost-effective and practical means to convert sunlight into hydrogen.

Another source of hydrogen produced through natural processes is methane and ethanol. Methane (CH4) is a component of "biogas" that is produced by anaerobic bacteria. Anaerobic bacteria occur widely throughout the environment. They break down or "digest" organic material in the absence of oxygen and produce biogas as a waste product. Sources of biogas include landfills, and livestock waste and municipal sewage treatment facilities. Methane is also the principal component of "natural gas" (a major heating and power plant fuel) produced by anaerobic bacteria eons ago. Ethanol is produced by the fermentation of biomass. Most fuel ethanol produced in the United States is made from corn.

Chemical engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a process to produce hydrogen from glucose, a sugar produced by many plants. The process shows particular promise because it occurs at relatively low temperatures, and can produce fuel-cell-grade hydrogen in a single step. Glucose is manufactured in vast quantities from corn starch, but can also be derived from sugar beets.


Post a Comment

<< Home