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First Aid for the Planet


The rising price of natural gas probably has your attention, but for the health of your planetary home, there are more reasons to be alert to the politics of energy than gas bills..

The rising price of natural gas probably has your attention, but for the health of your planetary home, there are more reasons to be alert to the politics of energy than gas bills. Greenhouse gases from carbon-fuel burning are causing climate change and weather disasters.

Fortunately, there is hope for halting the rise of greenhouse gases and lowering the cost of energy! New clean-energy technologies are part of the answer. Only political inertia, greed and ungrounded fears of economic ruin stand in the way. (By clean energy I don't mean the pseudo-clean fuels advertised by oil companies with yet another fuel additive. And certainly not nuclear fission-those approaches create further messes.)

Emerging technologies for clean energy give choices, ranging from revolutionary twists on accepted science ( to inventions based on futuristic physics.

One innovative use of accepted engineering is the Davis hydroturbine tapping into the power of riptides to generate electricity by plunking what is essentially an upside-down windmill into ocean currents. Blue Energy Canada Inc aims to put this environmentally low-impact ocean energy to work worldwide. In contrast to previous tidal power projects, with this watermill they won't have to dam up an estuary and therefore impede the flow of aquatic life. The Davis hydroturbine is much more efficient than a windmill, because sea water is 832 times more dense than air. An eight-knot current gives kinetic energy equal to a 390 kilometre-an-hour wind.

Tap into Alternative Power

Over on the unconventional end of the spectrum are inventions that tap into ever-present invisible flows of energy the electric "quantum fluctuations" of space. Although this source is recognized in prestigious physics journals under the name zero-point energy, it's use in practical inventions is not within the belief system of most scientists. Unorthodox energy inventions don't usually get beyond a garage inventor's workbench, because morphing a crude proof-of-principle device into a commercial product requires money. Larger amounts are needed at the stage when devices must be engineered for manufacture and standardized.
Without the approval of academic experts (who aren't experts in engineering of space energy), conventional financing is blocked. However, some space-energy-device inventors are getting help from private financiers who recognize that our world faces a fuel crisis.

Truly Clean Energy

Leaving the futuristic end of the spectrum for now, where do we find environmental cleanup tools for today?

Hydrogen seems to be in the centre of action in energy breakthroughs, such as Canada-grown Ballard fuel cells which combine hydrogen and air to make electricity without combustion and release only a wisp of water vapour.

Some researchers refer to "dirty" hydrogen, meaning that it's extracted from a carbon-based fuel such as natural gas or methanol. While the process gives off considerably less toxins than burning of fuels, it's by no means pure. (You wouldn't want an industrial spill of methanol into a water supply!) With a little research, you can watch the intense jockeying-for-position of lobbying groups such as the methanol or natural gas industries. Nuclear-fission advocates exploit global warming in their claim that we should choose fission as the successor to fossil fuels.

Leaders with courage are needed to publicly plan a transition to an economy based on new clean sources of energy. Leaders with both vision and practicality are needed to ensure that oil drillers, coal miners and nuclear plant workers get retraining for new jobs in the cleanup economy.

Reclaim Your Power

Start by learning some basics of energy technologies. Distinctions about hydrogen, for example, are not difficult to understand. The truly clean approach is to crack water molecules into their two building-block gases hydrogen and oxygen. We face choices in how electricity is generated. Coal-fired generating plants spew poisons. On the other hand, cleanly generated electricity comes from alternative technologies. Don't be brushed off by those who say alternatives can't provide enough electricity. The Blue Energy system, for example, can be scaled up to a multi-gigawatt source by linking large underwater units across an ocean passage between islands. (A highway could be built across the tidal fence.)

Build a Brighter Future

Canadians are providing additional pieces to the puzzle. Stuart Energy Systems of Toronto has an appliance that will provide hydrogen from water for the vehicles in a neighbourhood. Just hook the appliance to electricity and a garden hose! They have a larger fueling station for buses.

Xogen of Calgary has a battery that requires a relatively small input of electricity to make hydrogen from tap water. Again, clean electricity could keep such batteries charged.

Towns and farms can supply hydrogen. Microorganisms can extract it from garbage or manure piles. Your car engine can be converted to run on hydrogen. There are volunteers at the American Hydrogen Association in Arizona who can teach us how.



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Michelle von Hahn

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