Tuesday, January 19, 2010


My solution to the energy problem is very simple and pretty much guaranteed to work. Energy is a huge weakness in our national security and is the source of many of our problems. It is completely ridiculous to me that we have allowed ourselves to become completely dependent upon a product (crude oil) that is largely controlled by our sworn enemy. It doesn't have to be that way but here we are.

Here is what I would do to solve the problem.

1) All nuclear reactors used to generate electricity for the power grid are slow reactors. A slow reactor is called that because the neutrons that it generates are low energy and move slowly. This means that they only have enough energy to break down a small percentage of the atoms in the nuclear fuel. These reactors only "burn" about 3% of the energy in the fuel (typically Uranium). A fast reactor generates high energy neutrons and can actually burn more than 98% of the energy in the nuclear fuel. I would encourage the development and construction of fast reactors. Fast reactors could provide ALL of our electrical needs for the next several hundred years by burning the nuclear waste left over from the slow reactors. We wouldn't have to mine another gram of uranium for a long time and we could get rid of nearly all of our nuclear waste. And for those who are worried about it (I'm not) they wouldn't generate any green house gases.

2) The jet streams average about 80 miles per hour and blow pretty much 24 hours a day. They are the fastest right around 45° latitude. If you build windmills that could fly like a kite in these jet streams they would produce three times the power of the same windmill on the ground and they would stay in the sky indefinitely. Windmills on the ground are actually active less than half of the time. Six hundred of these windmills would cover an area about ten miles square and would produce as much power as the largest nuclear power plant. Power from such a device is estimated to cost half what the power from a coal fired plant costs.

3) Solar power makes a lot of sense and I think it is well on its way to becoming affordable.

4) While generating electrical power will solve much of our needs it doesn't help with automobiles. Until we get a much improved battery (which may not be that far off), cars will still need liquid fuel. Burning ethanol in a car is about the dumbest thing I've ever heard of. In a world that doesn't have nearly enough food why would we turn our food into ethanol and then burn it?

I'm not convinced that we are on the verge of running out of oil. All of my life I've heard that we have 30 years of oil left in the world. Now it is thirty years later and guess what they're saying? That's right, we still have thirty years of oil left. They have discovered huge oil reserves in places like Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico and even off the coast of California. Some of these are thought to be as large as the oil reserves in Saudi Arabia but we aren't allowed to drill them. Even if we do have plenty of oil left we do need to develop alternative energy just to free ourselves from a product that is controlled by our enemy and can suffer such huge price swings. The answer to this is also quite simple. Methanol. Methanol is also called wood alcohol because it can be made from wood. In fact, methanol can be made from pretty much any plant matter. Coal, grass, straw, paper, cardboard and old clothes just to name a few. If you take the glass and metal out of your garbage, everything else could be made into methanol. Instead of filling our land fills with garbage it should all be turned into methanol. How much does it cost to convert this stuff into methanol you ask? About $2.00 per gallon. That is right, just $2.00 a gallon and if you don't believe me go and look at it in your grocery store. It is a simple process that was developed by the Germans in World War II when Hitler started running out of gasoline. If I were the man in charge I would mandate that every car sold in the US must be duel fuel and able to run off methanol. That is a very simple thing to do and only adds a couple hundred dollars to the selling price of the car. This way if gasoline ever goes over $2.00 a gallon people will simply switch over to methanol and the price of gas will never go over about $2.50 a gallon. Methanol doesn't have as much energy as gas does so you won't get the same mileage but at $2.00 a gallon who cares? Best of all, just to keep the environmentalists happy, because alcohol is made from a plant that was alive in the last few years, the CO2 that is created when you burn it simply replaces the CO2 that was removed from the atmosphere when the plant grew in the first place. This means that methanol is green house gas neutral.


Brandon J. Leavitt said...

Look into Thorium dad. I myself have been converted.


In fact, the only reason we never used this stuff is because it couldn't be turned into a bomb (like Uranium) and we wanted bombs at the time. Thorium reserves in the United States could power the country for 1,000 years, are so harmless you can carry it in your pocket, and they leave no waste.

Fred ... said...

The beauty of a fast reactor is that it can burn just about any fuel source. It would take more than our life time just to burn the waste from the slow reactors and then they can start burning Thorium and other isotopes.

Lynn said...

Very interesting thoughts Fred.