Mendeley Brainstorm – The Future of Energy – We Have a Winner!

Will the future of energy look more like this?

Many thanks to all those who entered the Mendeley Brainstorm related to The Future of Energy; picking a winner was not easy, however in the end, we selected Neil Frandsen’s post:

Folks, I write from the viewpoint of a mountain-born, high plains of Alberta raised, retired Seismic Surveyor. For ye Urb-folk, this means that I experienced heating using coal & wood, thru adding large Coleman Heaters burning diesel fuel, on to Natural Gas heating the water in a low-pressure (<25psi) steam radiator system, thru forced-air heated by natural gas, with an excursion to All-Electric Sleigh Camp (supplied by Borek Construction, of Dawson Creek, BC, Canada fame). All Electric heat, at temperatures below -30°C, suffers from DiHydrogenMonoxide’s nasty Hoarfrost Trick, which formed on the grid over the intake fresh air opening, and choked it off! The fuel consumption, of the 4 diesel-driven alternators, really drove home the efficiency hit that converting a hydrocarbon to electricity, then the electricity to heat, makes on your fuel stocks, be it on the High Arctic Ocean Ice, or be it 65 miles south of High Prairie, Alberta, in -40°C (and colder) temperatures. Yes, I experienced that Camp twice. I can easily imagine how Great Britain’s pensioners were making the harsh choice, between freezing to death, or starving to death, when the pricing of Electricity soared!

In the long term, Orbital SolarEnergy collectors, transforming the sun’s energy to microwaves that traverse our atmosphere thru the Low-Loss Window, are the simple solution. The Rectenna Farms may be placed on top of 15 meter tall supports, allowing farm machinery, and domestic animals free passage. The antennas of the Rectenna Farm do not block very much of the incoming daylight, allowing farming, dairy cows, and ranch animals the growth of useful plants. In treed areas, using the tops of hills makes logical sense, and only requires poles 25, or 30 meters high, so tree farming can carry on with little to block the growth of trees.

I see the soy-distant ‘Fast Charging’ of current battery-powered vehicles as risible.

For real fast charging, a pair of 4″ diameter copper cables, well insulated, and solidly clamped to massive granite blocks (reinforced concrete’s rebar would not react well to the electromagnetic fields made during real fast charging), would have to have coolant circulated under their insulation. The Battery in the vehicle would also have to be connected to a powerful coolant circulating system during charging, which must be left doing cooling until the battery had settled down!

In winter, ordinary batteries suffer a performance hit from cold temperatures.

The battery must also supply energy to heat the passenger cabin, plus defrosting air that must be heated, and blown across the glazings, so the driver may see where he/she/it is going.

Self-driving vehicles must be able to ‘see’: I suggest a multi-spectral arrangement: across visible light; IR; and a useful short wavelength radar, to enable distinguishing among solid ground, snow-covered ground, and either snow, or ice that has naught but air beneath it.

The ‘battery’ that uses propane, CH4, or H2, as fuel, the Fuel Cell, is actually a better bet than a mere battery bank, due to the exothermic nature of the Fuel Cell’s work = in winter, especially in Arctic Winter, Propane will effectively stop self-converting to propane gas, because the tank’s environment is not supplying enough heat! The simple device that controls the pressure-drop, from Tank to Fuel Cell’s fuel line, has a bellows. That bellows gets warmer/colder than the ambient air, thus collecting H2O, which freezes, and may build up enough to stop the work of the Bellows. Which is why you see 100W incandescent light bulbs carefully arranged under duct-taped cardboard windshields affixed to each Pressure-Reducer device, to keep the Bellows warm, and free from ice.

I challenge the Fuel Cell folk to create a device which keeps each Fuel Call vehicle from dribbling water along the road, thus enhancing the black ice cover for following vehicles to cope with!

We asked Neil what inspired him, he wrote:

The question of Energy Supply is a very complex situation, and has given rise to lots of different “Solutions”!

I first looked into WindPower, and Solar Power, and lots of Batteries, as a solution to the huge cost of flying in all the Gasoline, Diesel Fuel Jet Fuel, and Propane, to our Petty-Ray seismic camp on the Alberta Forestry DFB-6 emergency E-W Grass-surfaced Airstrip, of DC-3 length, built upon a nice level-topped, very wide Esker, in the summer of 1964. I was 25 that summer, and pitchforked from being a simple Field Clerk, to being the Seismic Crew’s Manager, when Dick (the regular Manager) had to go to Calgary, Alberta, then into the NWT to set up his Winter seismic crew’s barge-delivered supplies, on the Mackenzie River.

We were approximately 90 miles WNW of High Level, Alberta, which was still using the original High Level Airport (three gravel-surfaced runways, iirc). Our supply-run aircraft were Cessna 185; Beech-18, and DC-3, with an actual twin-engined Boeing 247 (yes, thick wings, no flaps, and electric-screws for retracting the main gear, I do not remember the arrangement for the tail-wheel). The costs, of flying-in everyone, and all supplies, was horrible, such that even our Seismic Crew, which recorded 10 miles per day, was running a cost per mile of over C$5,000.00, charged to our Client.

Therefore, I checked into how much windpower, and solarpower would cost, including the costs of setup, and collapsing the towers, and the rotors, the costs of unfurling, and furling, the folded solarpanels, and the costs of hauling the extra weight & volume of equipment to a new Camp Site.

Unfortunately, the reliability of wind, and of solar, power was such that the Battery Bank needed was excessively costly. Adding a supplemental Diesel-fueled Power Plant allowed the battery bank size to drop down to ‘only’ a 40-foot-long semi-trailer full of lead-acid batteries, but the Diesel-fueled Power Plant had to be the size of the one we were already running!

I continued to follow the improvements in WindPower Turbines, and in Solar Power systems (the German engineering company, who erected the 50kW updraft windpower in Spain is the only one to work out a reliable solution, to harvesting tamed windpower by using solarpower to heat the ground under the extensive glazing surrounding the Power Tower).

A few years back, we energy eaters, in Baen Books “Baens Bar” website, chatted about practical ways to harvest the floods of energy roaring past our Globe. The consensus was for the Orbital Collectors, converting the energy into microwaves that used the least lossy ‘window’ in Earth’s atmosphere, to energize Rectennas on top of poles, in Rectenna Farms. The Down-going ‘Beam’ could be sent using a phased array of emitters, thus avoiding the weight of a parabollic antenna, plus using a Beam Energy intensity too low to hurt any animals, or hurt any plant life.

To get the electricity to customers, burying a Cryo-temperature loss-free cable inside a Natural Gas pipeline, in existing Pipeline right of ways, was suggested, and one of us (not I) created a well-thought-out plan to improve the North American Power Grid, by utilizing such Power Lines. I see that method as a way to save a lot of electricity nowadays lost to the realities of long-distance A/C 60-cycle transmission.

My educational background includes only 2 of the 4 years needed to pass the University of Alberta (Edmonton) Engineering courses. That is where I learned my Surveying Theory, my Drafting Skills, and honed my abilities to extract information from books, periodicals, and brain-picking of fellow workers. The Borek Construction folks included Catskinners with experiences in Antarctica, as well as the Canadian Arctic, and their own home forests, and fields, around Dawson Creek, BC.

Those who didn’t win this time are encouraged to respond to the latest Mendeley Brainstorm, regarding The Gig Economy. Thanks again to all our participants.