Sunday, July 31, 2016

Drugs of Choice: You Know the Keyword Here

We live in an innovative, demanding, and increasingly stressful society. America is home to some of the greatest entrepreneurs on the planet. They constantly create products and employ the latest technologies of Madison Avenue to hawk their wares. From clothing to cars to cosmetics to housing to services, we are bombarded with propaganda telling us how deficient we are by not having these things. We can't watch TV, surf the internet, flip through a magazine, listen to the radio, or even take a drive without this encroachment on our senses.

Some of us are more susceptible than others. Some are unaware of the forces tugging at their attention, while others have completely immersed themselves in the culture of possessions and the supposed status they bequeath. A cult of materialism is more prevalent in the U.S. than other places on our planet. 

Joe Cragganoski bought a $300,000 house in the suburbs. It's worth slightly less now. He backs his BMW out of the garage to get pampers from the grocer for his kid. He owes student loans and his credit cards are well on their way to being maxed out. Some guy runs a red light and t-bones Joe's car.

The doctor tells Joe to go easy on that broken leg and let him know if he gets dizziness from the concussion. "Oh, and here's some pills for the pain. You're gonna need that. Take one every four hours, two for breakthrough pain."

image courtesy of Wikimedia

Four weeks later Joe is still getting pain meds because he claims his leg still hurts. It doesn't. He's pretty much healed up, but the reprieve from stress the pills provide is something he can't do without. He didn't realize, probably still doesn't, how stressful his life was and how much more stressful it is going to be.

Years later, after therapy and rehab, Joe is clean and sober. Unfortunately, he is divorced and lost the house to bankruptcy. Now, an undiagnosed cracked vertebra from his car accident develops a growth that impinges on his spinal cord. The pain is severe. The doctor recommends surgery. Joe requests the surgery be done without anesthetic because he is afraid of getting hooked again. The doctor refuses. It would be impossible to do without Joe being completely immobile. Joe gets the surgery. Upon release several days later, "Oh, and here's some pills for the pain. You're gonna need that. Take one every four hours, two for breakthrough pain."

image courtesy of Wikimedia

The invisible forces surrounding Joe are powerful and persuasive. Very smart people get trapped just like Joe did. The circumstances may be different, but the effect is the same.

The moral of the story is this. Joe wanting to take little vacations from his stressful life was not wrong, but he did make the wrong choice of how to do that. If you find yourself in a situation like this, stop and take a minute, or a month, to think about it. You are about to abuse a drug that can act as a tool against acute chronic pain, making your life more tolerable. You don't know when or if you will be involved in a terrible accident or acquire a painful illness. Taking one of the most effective means of managing this pain off the table is very irresponsible. Always keep in mind it is one of the most addictive substances in the world. It is only slightly modified heroin. Wars have been fought over it. It has brought down whole civilizations. Treat it with the respect it deserves; the same as you would a diamondback rattlesnake. On the flip side, don't be so afraid of it, you can't use it against acute, long-lasting pain. 

image courtesy of Wikimedia

Keeping up with the Joneses is not the only stressful thing in our environment. Relationships can sour or be overly demanding of our energy and attention. Performance requirements at work or a toxic boss can create severe stress on a daily basis. 

Recognize stress and deal with it another way. Drink alcohol (responsibly) or smoke marijuana (legally). Go for a run. Work out at the gym. Read a book. Make fun of advertisements trying to sell you expensive crap you don't need. Get relationship therapy. Change jobs. Be more aware of the forces and influences demanding you keep up with peers or perceived peers and consciously choose to ignore them. Live a simpler life. Do just about anything but choose opiates to relieve that stress. You may be destroying a valuable tool to deal with acute, chronic pain later in life. Here's hoping you never need it.

Joe is a fictitious character, and I'm not going to blow smoke up your ass and tell you I've been hooked on pain pills. I've never been high on them even though I've taken them. The reason I never experienced euphoria is I took the pills for pain and I never took more than I needed to kill the pain. The above story, however, has authenticity. Much of it is derived from the drug-use forums I used to read because I was scared and wary of becoming addicted. You should be too. Stephen King or H. P. Lovecraft can't hold a candle to the horrors you can find in those forums and chat rooms. 

Now the pendulum has swung back to the situation of doctors not giving out pain meds because they are afraid of their patients becoming addicted. So, not only are people screwing up their own lives and those around them by abusing these pain meds, but also the lives of people they've never met. People that actually need the drug can't get it. People sitting watching TV but not able to enjoy it because pain consumes most of their consciousness. People not interacting with their children because it's too painful. People that could have done wonderful, beautiful things if they weren't so exhausted from dealing with the pain. But that's not the worst part. Even worse are the desperate thoughts that it will never get better than this. They try to get treatment and are denied. They are condemned to live a hell on earth because doctors are afraid the DEA will take their license for prescribing pain meds. Hope is quashed, and depression and misery are all that's left. If you have any feelings for the suffering of others, keep that in mind if you're tempted to use opiate pain medication to get high.

Here is a simple, short video to explain why so many people are getting in trouble with drugs today. You will be amazed!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Tabby's Star Could Teach Us a Few Things

You may have heard by now about the star KIC 8462852 under observation by NASA's Kepler Mission. Also known as Tabby's Star. It is nearly 1500 light years away in a constellation known as Cygnus the Swan. One of 150,000 stars constantly observed over a period of three years, it exhibits some peculiar characteristics.

To understand how peculiar, let's discuss mission parameters. The mission is to observe stars for signs of planets orbiting them. If a planet crosses in front of the star it will occlude the light. A planet the size of Earth would only reduce the light by a tiny bit, much less than one percent. A large planet like Jupiter might bring it up to a full percentage point. And this will happen on a regular basis as the planet orbits its star.

DO NOT throw out your plastic grocery bags. Do this instead.

The light dips for Tabby's Star are 15% and 22% approximately 750 days apart. Is it the same object eclipsing the light, or is it two separate objects spaced equally apart? I suggest it is one object. Why? For one, it is many times more unlikely for there to be two light blocking masses diametrically opposed in the same orbit. Two, one object makes sense if it is the result of intelligent tampering, and I think it is. The rotation time tells us where an object is in relation to its star. If we know the period and the mass of the star, we can calculate the height of the orbit. We know the period is approximately 750 days or 1500 days. The mass of the star is about 1.4 times the Sun. If the artifact circles Tabby's Star every 750 days the orbit is comparable to Mars if it were in the Solar System. If it is two objects equally spaced in the same orbit taking1500 days, they are much further out. They are not in the "Goldilocks zone" and much less likely for life to form or to be out there doing engineering projects on a grand scale. So 750 days would put this object in a more likely orbit for life to form and, eventually, become intelligent. An orbit comparable to Mars is still too cold to be considered in the Goldilocks zone, but perhaps these intelligent beings are from a planet that is in the Goldilocks zone, and they are building at the 750 day orbit because the material they need for the project is already there or near there.

Free trash bags for life for the cost of dinner out. 

Why the difference in the dip in light? My suggestion is an artifact used by an alien civilization to construct their partial version of a Dyson swarm. A Dyson swarm is a net of habitats and energy collectors positioned in a loose sphere around a star to take advantage of its radiation output. A major portion of this artifact would be made up of mirrors that concentrate sunlight onto other material in the solar system to move it or melt it in the process of construction. Therefore, you are going to see different percentages of starlight dip every 750 days because they are going through phases of construction. Mirrors have to adjusted, habitats moved, etc.

What we are watching took place about the time the Roman Empire started to crumble. Think how fast our technology is going now, and we aren't even building giant suncatchers in space. That also means they don't know we are here yet because the Romans weren't broadcasting the Olympic games or I Love Lucy. It won't be until these broadcast signals reach them, or they see changes in the atmosphere due to the Industrial Revolution that we will give ourselves away. It will be the year 4840 A.D. before they could even respond to that information.

That this thing is only 1500 light years away is an amazing fact. If it is not some oddity of coincidence then that means there could be dozens, possibly hundreds, of such constructs in our galaxy alone. That giant chasm of time and distance also points out the localization and loneliness of an intelligent race.

The Earth came to the habitability party early. It has already suffered five mass extinctions. This world or civilization circling Tabby's Star may never have suffered any. Scientists believe that 92% of Earth-like planets haven't been formed yet so this could mean the herald of a boom in intelligent life taking control of it's environment.

If I were a plastic grocery bag this is the way I’d want to go out. 

If it is a civilization building an artifact we should watch them closely. They have obviously gotten past the need to burn things for energy. Perhaps we can pick up a few tips.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

How It Works!

This machine extracts fresh water and electricity from the ocean using a combination of cold ocean water and wind power.  Peak Water; What We're Going To Do About It is a general description of this technology. Cold ocean water is pumped through a heat exchanger in the top of a tower. Ambient air ducted through the tower powers a turbine. Condensed water is extracted from the heat exchanger. This blog will go into more detail about unit size versus quantity of water and electricity produced.

This technology is patent pending. The numbers talked about here are theoretical but give a sound starting point to what can be expected of the real thing. A small prototype would 1. demonstrate that it works and 2. verify the quantities of water and electricity produced. The purpose of this article is to attract interest in financing this important step. The ultimate goal is to have enough of these built and working to get back on track for CO2 emission goals and keep our climate from reaching a tipping point beyond which it will be hard to recover. And to make billions of dollars - full disclosure. Here is a picture of the device for handy reference while I talk about it. Click to enlarge or zoom in.

We're going to assume the device pictured here is a 120 foot diameter cylinder about 700 feet tall with a 200 foot tall rectangular elbow on top of that. Four hundred feet is under water providing stability. It could be much smaller, but not much bigger. Also, we are going to assume the setting is the Gulf of Mexico where temperatures are warm and the air is humid (the hotter the surface environment, the better it works). The average wind speed is 18 mph, average temperature is 74.2 degrees F., and the average humidity is 60%.

We'll start at the top and work our way down. Because the wind collector is about 300 feet above the ocean's surface the wind is going to blow about 4 mph more on average. The elbow at the top gathers the wind. It is 200 feet tall and 120 feet wide. With the doors open, the wind-gathering area is about 60,000 sq. feet. This wind is squished into the top of the cylinder which has an area of 11,300 sq. feet. That is a ratio of 5.3 to 1. All that air is being scrunched up and forced down a vertical tube. With that ratio a 22  mph wind should become a category 3 hurricane of 117 mph going down this vertical tower. But it doesn't. There's a lot of frictional losses. Some of the air backs up in the collection cone and spills out around the edges. It's a process that is about 50% efficient. The air going into the top of the cylinder is only going 58 mph. It then goes through the heat exchanger. This is specially designed to allow a large throughput of air with as little friction as possible. Even so, it will reduce the air velocity by about 30%. Our 58 mph becomes 41 mph.

As the air leaves the exchanger it is much cooler (55 degrees F) and denser and begins to accelerate down in a reverse stack affect. As it drops the 200 feet to the wind turbine it gains another 15 mph to hit the turbine at 56 mph. Here's the link to input numbers to calculate the stack effect.

We will now calculate the wind power density at the turbine to find out how much energy we can extract. WPD=1/2 density of air x velocity of air cubed. In this case the wind density works out to 19,309 watts per meter squared. Our turbine area is 11,300 ft sq. That converts to 1,050 square meters. The total watts is 1,050 x 19,309 = 20,274,450 watts or 20.2 MW (megawatts).

The math involved in determining how much water will condense out on the heat exchanger is complex and dependent on a lot of variables. But we can look at how much water is available and a realistic percentage of what we can extract.

We know the area of the heat exchanger and the velocity of air. The area is 11,300 square feet. The velocity is an average of the inlet 58 mph and the outlet 41 mph which is about 50 mph. That's about 3 billion cubic feet per hour.

There are .0094 pounds of water in a pound of air at 60% humidity. A pound of air at 74 degrees will take up about 13 cubic feet of volume. There are 230 million pounds of air going through the heat exchanger per hour. 230x.0094=2.162 so there are approximately 2.2 million pounds of water going through the exchanger per hour. That's 275,000 gallons of water per hour. Let's say we can get only 20 percent efficiency in removing this water. That's 55,000 gallons per hour times 24 equals 1,320,000 gallons of water per day. That's an average. It's nearly half a billion gallons of water per year. Free. It would provide 170,000 households their average daily consumption of 80 gallons per day. If it were bottled and sold to the public at the average price of $1.21 per gallon it would bring in close to $600,000,000 per year. But let's say only a portion was bottled and the rest pumped into the general water supply so that water brought in just $50,000,000 per year.

How much is our electricity worth? The average residential customer payed about 12.5 cents per kwh (kilowatt hour). We're producing about 200,000,000 kwh per year so that's about $22,300,000 dollars per year.

We now have combined revenues of $72,300,000 per year. How much did it cost to get there? Keep in mind this is a much simpler device than an offshore rig; even simpler than a cruise ship. A cruise ship costs about $2.50 a pound to fabricate. Let's figure we can get this built for $2.25. The unit as described above weighs about 7 million pounds. About $16 million. Transportation and anchorage $5 million. Twenty miles of cable and pipe to transport electricity and water at $1 million per mile = $20 million. Miscellaneous expenses of $2 million. That's a total of $43 million.

$72 million minus $43 million leaves $29 million in profit the first year. Second year it will be $72 million minus $2 million in maintenance. Since there are offshore rigs out there over 40 years old, we can assume our simpler structure has at least a 40 year lifespan. The total revenue is $2.8 billion. And that is just one unit. Imagine 200 units in the Gulf of Mexico, 50 on the east coast of Florida and 150 off the south coast of California. Now we're talking a trillion dollar market in the U.S. alone. Think of the Middle East, India, Pakistan, South America, South Africa, and Australia. Another couple of trillion. Per year.

Now you know what I know. Apart from building a working prototype to pin down the numbers thrown about here, I'm not sure what to do next. Should I incorporate? Kickstarter campaign? Venture Capital? Shark Tank? Your input would be helpful here.


Glen Hendrix

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Peak Water: What We're Going To Do About It

With all the talk of peak oil, it is hard to believe that something as important as peak water may have already come and gone with no equivalent hue and cry. The major constriction for producing food for a burgeoning population is water - not land. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, nearly 5 billion people, about half of global grain production, and 45% of the GPD ($63 trillion dollars) will be at risk due to lack of water with current consumption practices. Eighteen countries; including the big-three grain producers China, India, and the U.S.; are now over-pumping their aquifers. For 20 years Saudi Arabia was self-sufficient in growing wheat. They have nearly exhausted their aquifer and will soon quit growing wheat. Recent droughts in California and Texas seem bad but there is evidence that a major portion of the Southwest U.S. underwent a 10-year drought with hardly a drop of rain several hundred years ago. An inexpensive alternative water source is needed.

Paper or plastic? There are a lot of unexpected turns and twists to the correct answer. 

One of the largest storehouses of energy lies quietly at the bottom of the ocean. It is not oil, and it is not methane hydrate. It is cold water. Specifically, it is deep ocean water, also known as DOW, from the upper levels of the Midnight Zone at 3,300 to 13,200 feet deep. Approximately 90% of the ocean by volume is deep ocean water. This water is at a temperature of 32˚ to 37˚F. More correctly, it might be called a storehouse of a relative lack of energy because it is only the combination with a more energetic (warmer) mass that results in an extractable form of energy. That more energetic mass would, of course, be the warm upper regions of the Twilight Zone and the Sunlight Zone of the ocean and the tropospheric layer of the atmosphere.

courtesy Wikipedia

Although this is the coldest water, anything 2,500 feet and deeper in the ocean is about 46˚F, which is considered "cold ocean water" and is usable for the applications described here. More than 90% of the oceans are greater than 2,500 feet. 

It costs $4000 to recycle ton of plastic bags. That plastic is worth $500 on the open market. 

The best place to exploit this temperature differential is the Tropics where the temperatures near and above the surface of the water are mild to hot year around. Fortunately, approximately 40% of the world's surface lies in the Tropics and it includes a lot of DOW and cold ocean water. While a tropical climate is the most efficient location for extracting water and power, an appreciable percentage of the North and South temperate zones have sufficiently warm weather to make this practical. For the United States that would include the coastline and offshore of states along the Gulf of Mexico, the eastern coast of Florida and the southern coast of California.

Cold ocean water in combination with warm, humid tropical and subtropical air will provide an opportunity to meet water and power needs for the future.

For just the cost of equipment and maintenance the system described here will provide both water and electricity. It is basically a tower mounted on a spar-type, offshore platform. Deep, cold ocean water is pumped into a gas-to-liquid heat exchanger in the top of the tower. Wind is concentrated and re-directed into the heat exchanger. The air becomes cooler and the humidity condenses out onto the surface of the heat exchanger and is collected. Because cool air is denser it accelerates toward the bottom of the tower; essentially a reverse stack effect. A wind turbine at the bottom of the tower harvests the wind energy before it leaves through openings around the base of the tower. The collected water and generated electricity is sent to shore.

Another version is built on the shoreline and uses an onshore reservoir to store the water. This stored water produces electricity that makes up for slumps in production from the wind turbine.

Another version is free-floating with its own propulsion. With the ability to produce electricity and water, it will become a base for mining, aquafarming, recycling ocean plastic, or scientific studies. These could be very independent, almost like tiny nations with their own GPD and tax laws. They could move wherever needed to provide power and fresh water as well as food.

This free ranging version could work in conjunction with special sea-going barges. These would store fresh water and hydrogen from the electrolysis of sea water. When the barge is full, it is towed the nearest port in need of water and fuel.

Barge to lighter water and hydrogen to shore. Top tank is for hydrogen, bottom two for water.

The central spar provides stability for the tower even in high winds and heavy seas. Although it resembles an offshore drilling or production rig, it is much more simple and less expensive. It is even simpler than a cruise ship to construct. Cruise ships are currently running between $2 and $3 dollars per pound to construct. 

The answer to the plastic bag problem is reuse. This new device makes it easy. 

A unit 120 feet in diameter, 300 feet tall (the spar below the surface counterbalances and structurally stabilizes the tower even in high wind) could produce 20MW on average and between two and five million gallons of water per day. At 7 million pounds it would cost about 18 million dollars. The electricity and water produced would retail for about 25 million dollars per year so the unit could conceivably pay for itself in a year. A hundred of these in the Gulf of Mexico could provide the same amount of water as the Brazos River watershed and as much electricity as a large nuclear plant. That would also provide the ability to cool the surface water temperature of a large area and reduce the strength of storms and hurricanes before they reach land.


Bird deaths eliminated.

The sound of the turbine is mitigated by the tower wall.

Flickering shadows on the surrounding landscape are eliminated.

The heat-generating rotating parts of the turbine and generator are kept cool no matter how hot the weather.

The horizontal plane allows more efficient, longer lasting bearings to be used and creates less wear on those bearings.

The horizontal plane also eliminates gravity and wind load fluctuations, making blade construction lighter and cheaper.

Seawater contacting the inner, hard-to-clean surfaces of the device is too cold and salty to form algae, minimizing maintenance.

No chemicals to leak into the environment.

Produces power even when the air is still due to the reverse stack effect.

Now azimuth yaw mechanisms needed to keep turbine aligned.

Being at sea eliminates land purchase or rental or eminent domain takeovers.

Nutrient rich deep ocean water can be used for aquatic farming near the surface.

There is plenty of "fuel" since 90% of ocean water is between 32 and 37 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% of the world is tropical or subtropical.

Courtesy JiaJenn31 of Deviant Art

Ever since I wrote a blog The Future of Wind Energy I've been thinking about this and it has finally crystalized into something useful.This is patent pending technology looking for funding. A prototype needs to be built and tested to get the bugs out. That takes money I don't have. If you're reading this and have an "in" with the likes of Bill Gates or Richard Branson or somebody at Google, send them a link. It is a multi-billion dollar market that is going to keep growing.

Visit this blog to check out the stats that make it such a compelling idea.

At the very least, this solution can bridge the gap for humanity's needs for clean power and fresh water until nuclear fusion or some other technological breakthrough can carry the load.


Glen Hendrix

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Future's So Bright, I Got To Wear 3D Printed Shades

A revolution will soon be upon us. Guns and bombs won't be used--at first.

It is sneaking up on us. It's not quite here, yet all the basic elements exist. With a little tweaking and some advances here and there, the technology will be in place. I would say less than ten years and, perhaps, much sooner than that. Events are accelerating, artificially compressing time. Let's face it - shit happens faster now.

Paper or plastic? The correct answer is clear now. 

There is a segment of society that will benefit more than other segments, and it does not necessarily involve the wealthy. The creative, adventurous elements of our society will be driving this change; and there are two technological fronts precipitating this revolution--robotics and 3D printing. Using these two things, an individual can make products of his imagination real. The 3D printer will be his parts source and the robot will be his assembly line.

Courtesy of Steve Jurvetson. Some rights reserved.
Baxter the Robot

The robot that can do it, Baxter, is already on the market. You can teach it yourself by showing it what to do, and it won't accidentally kill you. The catch is the price tag, about $25,000.00. Half or less for a used model. The 3D printer has a ways to go, too. Speed has to go up, cost has to come down from the multi-thousand dollar range.  Printing in metal (yes, it can be done) also has to step in with a consumer product, but the technology exists. When the price of these machines reaches a point at which the average individual might say, "Hey, I can buy one of those!" then Katy bar the door. The combination of the do-anything robot and 3D printer will be a volatile mixture that creates a blast of grass roots creativity and manufacturing. You'll have mom & pop businesses selling customized one-offs, competing with companies in big boy pants. After the initial investment, it will allow creative individuals to pump out a different product a week for the cost of some plastic and electricity and design time.

MakerBot II

In the old days, if you had an idea for a product, it would involve several plastic molds at $10,000 apiece. A minimum production run of several thousand pieces and a patent to protect it. A hundred thousand to a quarter million dollars might be involved to find out if a product is a winner.

Actual 3D printed 3D glasses

You now have the option of protecting your idea for a year with a U.S. provisional patent for $130; long enough to find out if you need to spend more if it's a hit. Let's say your product is plastic. Your used Baxter robot ($10,000) assembles and packs for you while your 3D printer ($500-$1500) pumps out parts. You're a manufacturer for less than the price of a used car. If there's only a few parts, fire the robot and assemble it yourself. Now you're a manufacturer for less than the price of a really nice refrigerator.

The definitive answer to “paper or plastic?” is here! 

Now back to the guns and bombs. China's business model could be doomed, as well as every other country's business model dependent on low wage workers to pump the treadles of their engines of wealth. Free societies with large middle class and good education systems will benefit the most. How this will change the world order, who knows. But it could eventually involve conflict as segments of society employed by large corporations are laid off because of the competition of millions of mini-manufacturing facilities all over the world. These worker's economic status will be endangered, and there could be some ill will involved on their part.

What would you make if you had a 3D printer and a robot to put together the parts?

I don't know about you, but I would seriously think about making 3D printers and robots.


Glen Hendrix
author Transmat World

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Future of Housing

Image courtesy janinsanfran 
Is climate change real? I suspect there is something to it. The size of the world gives individuals the illusion of infinity; something that can take anything a puny human can do and ignore it or bounce back. But when there are 7 billion puny humans...well, that's different. Besides, if 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are the cause, so if I were a betting man . . . .We will, however, adapt if climate change occurs. How we shelter ourselves will reflect those changes and adaptations. Let's talk about what those trends might be.

The definitive answer to “paper or plastic?” is here! 

If the scientists are correct, there will be drought. There will be intense and powerful storms--EF5 tornadoes and Class 5 hurricanes. These scales of measure may have to be tweaked to include more powerful expressions of nature's fury. The cost of heating and cooling will skyrocket as fossil fuel gets harder and harder to find. Your house will reflect these conditions. It will protect you from lack of water, high winds, and the high price of energy.

Your choice. Underground above or
above ground below
From 1950 to 1957 it refused to rain in Texas. There ensued a spate of reservoir building that would guarantee available water in case of another drought. It worked, but barely. The current drought is putting a strain on that infrastructure, and scientists tell us "you ain't seen nothin' yet." There is a technology thousands of years old that has been neglected and will be resurrected for the house of the future--the cistern. This "personal reservoir" will dictate the material of your roof, which will have to be a non-toxic, non-reactive material like enameled or stainless steel. The choice will be an underground or above-ground cistern that works in concert with your roof to collect your total or auxiliary water needs.

The cistern is not only for water storage. It is a means of flood control. There may come a time when it is mandated by legislation. Drought will be relieved by terrible storms that dump a lot of water in a short period of time. In large, relatively flat municipalities the cistern will be a major defense against urban flooding without straining already stretched budgets. Tax breaks, codes and incentives will have many urbanites installing, at the least, several rain barrel cisterns connected to their gutters to take the load off storm drains.

Because water has the ability to store a lot of heat, the cistern will also act as a thermal heat sink to control the temperature of your future house. It will be like a combination of a geothermal installation and what is called "mini-splits" air conditioners. A heat exchanger/fan built into the wall, ceiling, or floor will be connected to the cistern with a copper tube loop and a small pump. The difference from geothermal is that the cistern will have active elements enhancing the temperature of the water. It may even involve two insulated cisterns, one for hot water and one for cold. A smart thermostat will determine the required combination of hot and cold water to keep you comfy. The solar heating coils and evaporative cooling coils work off of small solar-powered pumps making it much more cost effective than today's central air and heat.

Radiolaria; D-Shape printer in background
The physical structure of your future home may not adhere to the typical wood-frame structure you're used to because the cost of wood and labor will have risen, making alternatives likely. The burgeoning technology of 3D printing has developed to the point it could now take on house-sized structures.

The D-Shape printer infuses layers of sand with a special inorganic binder to print out almost any design you can come up with. The resultant material is similar to marble; very strong, needing no steel reinforcement. Although not the maximum size D-Shape can print, the sculpture Radiolaria captures the freedom one would have in designing their own home. Radiolaria is 3 meters x 3 meters x 3 meters. The current version of D-Shape can prints things twice that size.

I visualize discrete pieces printed to maximum practical shipping dimensions that are joined together at the erection site to form incredible new architectural and sculptural expressions of any size. An integral water catchment tank can be printed into the roof. In the summer, thermostatically controlled weep-holes open to let it trickle down, spreading out through the maze-like textural wall pattern. The resulting evaporative effect will keep the whole house naturally cool. D-Shape will print heating/cooling coils integral to the walls. Your house would be very strong and resistant to storm damage. It's not a big step to imagine D-Shape being fed other material besides sand to create different R-values, densities, translucency, etc.

Container conversion. Courtesy Inhabitat
The future will be a time of recycling and re-use. Almost cliched now and, by some, denigrated is the use of shipping containers converted for habitation. Don't let snide remarks fool you. This is a trend that will continue to the point that shipping containers will become much more costly than they are now. The fact is they are very strong to the point of needing a minimal number of foundation piers, cutting construction costs. Properly secured, they can endure all but the strongest tornadoes. The well-equipped steel fabrication shop can quickly and repeatedly modify them for windows and doors and to fit them together for almost any size living area. Add bamboo flooring and insulation to the outside and they're as cozy as a giant styrofoam ice chest. Just four 40 footers stacked properly with the addition of a joist floor and ceiling and some glass walls can enclose 3,600 square feet with a 1,600 foot deck on top. That's 5,200 square feet of living area based on four $3000 shipping containers! Okay, I'm not implying your final construction cost will be $2.31 per square foot but what a great place to start for your major structural elements.

Are you a paper kind of person in a plastic kind of world? You better read this. 

These are near-term trends (say, the next 50 years) for shelter. If scientists are correct, we could be in for some scary stuff long-term. If the climate has gone completely to hell, it may become cheaper to build on a grand scale to cut down on the costs of heating, cooling and transportation.

The X-Seed 4000 is over 13,000 feet tall and houses 1,000,000 people. Although this iteration appears to be located somewhere in the Middle East, it was originally designed to sit in Tokyo Bay. Parks and Recreation on floors 300, 600, 900 and 1000. You have to admit it does cut down on commuting costs and does away with grid losses on generated electricity. And it's very possible there could arise a new working-class hero--the window washer.

Comments are always welcome,
Glen Hendrix

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Your Next Car Will Run On Popsicles

Mound of Methane Hydrate
 Some rights reserved by neptunecanada 
A vaporized, methane-flavored popsicle from beneath the sea to be exact, similar to the one above. The white stuff is bare methane hydrate. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, methane hydrate is "...a crystalline solid consistingof gas molecules...each surrounded by a cage of  water molecules." It is methane gas in little cages of ice that forms at certain pressures and temperatures in the ocean between 300 and 500 meters deep.

Are you a paper kind of person in a plastic kind of world? You better read this.

Yes, methane is that main ingredient in natural gas. Except natural gas has impurities like pentane, butane, propane and ethane. These, along with other contaminants like carbon dioxide, helium, hydrogen sulfide, and nitrogen have to be removed as well; but about 90 to 99 percent of the gas that gets to your stove or central heater is methane.

Good video of where it's found and how it burns.

How much is down there? It is possible there is up to 23,000 times more cubic feet of pure methane stored as methane hydrate in the ocean than there are in the estimated remaining reserves of natural gas on the planet. Let me demonstrate just how large a quantity that is. That is worth approximately 10 million trillion dollars at today's wellhead price of about $3.35 per thousand cubic feet. I'm not making that up. That is 200,000 times the 2006 fifty trillion dollar estimate of the world's economy in US dollars. The U.S. debt is 17 trillion dollars. Take a trillion dollars; multiply it by 10 so that it's 10 trillion (more than half the national debt); now multiply it by a million. Ten million trillion dollars!

Methane hydrate on fire.
Image courtesy USGS
So what's the catch? Why aren't energy companies all over it? Remember the depths that this stuff forms at is 300 to 500 meters. The average depth of the ocean is 4,300 meters. That means it is not neatly and quietly sitting on the ocean bottom waiting to be dredged up. A lot of it forms a structure shoring up sediments along the edge of continental shelves. One of the largest underwater land slides (the Storegga Slide) took place off the coast of Norway some 8000 years ago. It is thought by some the failure of the methane hydrate substrate caused it. No big deal. It was underwater. I think the 80 foot tsunami it created above the water is what everybody is concerned about.

Another catch is you have to be careful about releasing methane into the atmosphere. According to who you listen to, it is 10 to 20 times better than carbon dioxide at being a greenhouse gas. Some would argue it's only because of the relative quantities, there being so much less methane dissipating more quickly than CO2. A more complete discussion of that is here.

And who says energy companies aren't all over it? Would you want to be the dimwit that yelled "Gold!" at Sutter's Mill? Just last year the U.S. and Japan along with ConocoPhillips completed a production field test on Alaska's North Slope. It got very low-key news coverage. It was successful in that the methane was switched with carbon dioxide, keeping the structural integrity of the hydrate. That large amount of money I mentioned above? Make it bigger because the government is going to pay energy companies to sequester the carbon dioxide on top of what they sell the methane for. They modified the tax code last year to make it easier.

Plastic bags are made from ethane, a part of natural gas burned off as waste before they started making plastic bags. 

Am I going to bitch about that? Not just "no" but "hell, no." It's like, out of the blue (actually, the "deep blue"), we get a do-over. We're not running out of fossil fuel, if this can correctly be labeled "fossil." We have enough for at least several centuries. And it's the cleanest burning available except for hydrogen. It's like the largest suckout at the biggest Texas holdem tournament in the galaxy.

Methane-powered rocket - image courtesy NASA
Our energy demands have to be satiated or the economy suffers. This could reverse the trend of energy becoming more and more expensive to produce. It took a barrel of oil to get a 100 barrels of oil in the early 1900's. Today it takes 1 barrel to get 3. Not good. We want to go back to those old times.

Where is all this stuff? Here are two maps of world locations of hydrates; Map 1 and Map 2. And what about the methane in the permafrost melting and causing runaway global warming? It turns out that is less than 1% of total hydrates and evaporating it is a process that will take hundreds of years. I'm all for laying down tarps on the tundra and collecting some of that. After all, 1% of 10 million trillion dollars a lot.

The answer to the plastic bag problem is reuse. This new device makes it easy. 

What does it mean to the average joe? Don't invest in that coal-fired power plant you had your heart set on. What about those big rigs running the highways. Right now they save the equivalent of $2 per gallon using compressed or liquid natural gas rather than diesel. Imagine if there were, literally, oceans of the stuff? Your electrical rates could be halved or quartered while your air gets cleaner. It won't be long before ships join the fray, cutting freight costs even further. GE will, of course, adapt it to trains and planes. The airline industry, a real stumper for going green, could start using LNG. You could fly to Vegas and back for $10. Fees not included. Cars! Baby boomers zooming all over the country in their LNG-powered RVs. Cheap rocket fuel - see photo above. Personal, LNG-powered thermal zeppelins. Okay, I'm getting exuberant.

It's nice to see something good on the horizon. Let's hope they get it right on extracting methane hydrate. We could use a lucky break. Let's take full advantage of it. Let's hope it's not so good, we forget about developing more efficient, cheaper solar cells; abandon the quest for fusion; and give up on the conquest of space because we're so comfy down here. Because it may not seem like there's any end to the methane when we're flying NY to LA for $50, but there is; and we are known to procrastinate.

Thank you,

Glen Hendrix, author Transmat World

Comments always welcome.