3 An Almost Magic Power Source

Written by David Simmons on . Posted in 5: Anatomy of Destruction, Books

Anatomy of Destruction
Chapter Three: Energy→Matter→Energy, With Zero Loss

 

Almost earth materials are either conductors or non-conductors, also called insulators.

Conductors conduct electricity.

Insulators do not conduct electricity. Almost all elements on earth do either one or the other. But there are a very few elements that work almost like magic to selectively conduct or not conduct electricity. These elements can be used to make a kind of one way gate that will allow the electromagnetic waves we call ‘sunlight’ to be converted directly into electricity, with no loss, no fuel, no costs, no wear and tear, no pollution, no need for human involvement whatever.

 

Semiconductors

 

If you look at a chart of the periodic table of elements, you will see that almost all of the elements on the left and lower side of the chart are shaded one color, and if you look at the key you will see this shading indicates they are ‘conductors.’

Some chemists use conductors the alternate word for conductors ‘metals.’

A metal is anything that conducts electricity when is in a solid form. You will note that both oxygen and hydrogen are metals/conductors. These elements are not solid in their normal form, but if you cool them off enough to make them turn into a solid, they will conduct electricity.

The reasons that some elements conduct electricity come from quantum mechanics and are too complex for me to go into here. If you want an explanation I would suggest Linus Pauling’s fantastic book ‘General Chemistry,’ a book designed for freshmen in college, which explains enough of the basics of quantum mechanics to understand conductivity. I can give you a sort of basic idea by substituting the analogies that are taught in high school for what actually happens: High school students are taught that atoms have something called ‘electron shells.’ If the outer shell is not full, an electron can enter and kick another electron already in that sell out of the atom. It will flow to the next atom and if it is the same material the same thing will happen. Put electrons in one end of the material and they will flow out of the other. These materials are called ‘conductors.’

Some atoms have no vacancies in their outer shells. Electrons can’t get into these shells to kick other electrons out so if you try to put electricity (electrons) into these materials it won’t go. These materials are called insulators. Because of the realities of quantum mechanics, most elements turn out to be conductors. Only a few elements are insulators. Most periodic tables show conductors (metals) in one color, non conductors (insulators) in another color. There is a thin line between insulators and conductors in a third color. These materials are special. They can conduct electricity sometimes and not conduct it other times. They are called ‘semiconductors.’

First I should tell you what this term means. As the name implies, a semiconductor conducts electricity sometimes and doesn’t conduct electricity other times. We can take advantage of this capability to make devices that conduct electricity when we want them to conduct it, and not conduct electricity when we don’t. This will allow us to make a sort of one way gate for electrons to flow through. This will make all solar energy usable.

The most abundant material on earth is silicon. If you look on a periodic table, you will see that this material is a semiconductor. This means we can have as many solar photoelectric devices as we want, literally covering every surface of every house and building if we want, and with the advantages of mass production they can be extremely cheap.

 

Why This Makes Solar Electricity Usable

 

Let’s mentally expand the electrons to human size. Think of the one-way turnstiles used for exits in subways and public transit systems. You can go out easily. But the turnstile only goes one way and if you try to go back in you will be stopped by a barrier. You can’t go back. Now think of the photons as high school bullies and the electrons as their helpless victims. Whenever a bully sees a victim he can’t help pushing him. If there is no one-way gate, the victims just get pushes around and cry. But say you put up a line of one way gates that lead out of the school yard all the way around the yard where the fence used to be. Whenever a bully sees a victim, he pushes him through the gate and outside of the yard. The victims are afraid. They are supposed to be in school and want to be there because the outside world is an even more dangerous place than the school. They try to get back but can’t. They have no choice but to run around the fence/gates until they can get back to the front door of the school and back inside.

Once they get back inside they are safe. Unless another photon/bully comes along and pushes them through the one-way gate again. Then they have to run around the fence. Now imagine we make the victims do some work to get around the road. (We might put a staircase up and then back down in the middle of it.) They have to work. As long as the photons/bullies are there, we will have the electrons/victims working for us.

The semiconductors that create electricity have a one-atom thin area called the ‘NP barrier,’ which I explain below, that acts like a one-way gate for electrons. The electrons can get through going one way, but can’t get back. The photons from the light push electrons through the gate. You may remember from high school that atoms like to have the same number of electrons as they have protons. Their electrons are on the other side of the gate. The electrons want to get back with their electrons. But they can’t, because the gate only lets them go one way. They look for another way to get back. If you put a piece of wire from one side of the gate (where the extra electrons are) to the other side (where the extra protons are and the electrons want to get back) the electrons will flow though this conductor. If you don’t put any load in the wire, they will flow freely, just like the victims of the bullies will run back without doing any work if you don’t make them. But put something in the way, say a light bulb, and they will do whatever work is necessary to get back home. They will light up the bulb, run the refrigerator motor, or power the microchip in the big screen television.

Once the get back home they will go back into orbit around their proton, like they were before. But the photons from our sun have an incredible amount of power. When another photon hits an electron, it simply can’t hold on to its proton any more. If we put the gate in the right place, it will simply go flying back through it. Now it has to go through the wire and do more work to get back home. If electrons had eyes and could identify coming photons and get out of the way, they might be safe from the next assault. But they don’t have eyes and can’t move on their own. If the sun is still shining, photons are still knocking them across the barrier. As long as the semiconductor is in the sun, electricity will flow through the wire and do work.

It is important that you understand that the semiconductors is not generating electricity. The semiconductor is entirely passive, doing nothing but providing the one-way gate for the electrons to flow through. The photons (light particles in the sunlight) are generating the electricity, exactly as Einstein showed always happens when photons of the right energy level hits any material. The electricity is already there. All the semiconductor is doing is acting as a one-way gate. The semiconductors are entirely passive, doing absolutely nothing. I am stressing this because it will be important when I explain costs. I want you to realize that the semiconductor does nothing and is absolutely unchanged by the process. This tells us how long it will do what it does before it wears out: forever. We need this information to calculate the cost per unit of electricity the device provides.

 

NP Barrier

 

The one way gate for electrons is called an NP barrier. Here is a quick explanation of the way it works:

Silicon has the ability to form a perfect three-dimensional crystal where every nucleus is equally distant from every other nucleus and every electron energy level (called a ‘shell’ in high school) is completely full. This doesn’t normally happen. Most silicon crystals are haphazard. The common name for silicon in nature is ‘quartz.’ If you want to see a lot of quartz/silicon, go to a beach or a desert. You will see mile after mile of it. A third name for it is sand.

If we want to make usable semiconductors, we need all the atoms properly aligned. This means we have to melt the sand and make it recrystallize in the right way. Most commonly, this is done in a special machine called a crystallizing furnace. If a tiny bit of phosphorous is introduced while growing the crystal, the phosphorous will incorporate itself into the crystal. Phosphorous has one more proton and one more electron than silicon. Ordinary, it would be a larger atom because of the extra proton. But if it is in this perfect crystal, it there is no place for the extra electron to go. All the energy levels (‘shells’) are full. The electron can’t fit and must migrate somewhere else. Without the electron to balance out the positive charge, the excess protons give it a tiny positive charge. This is called ‘P’ type silicon. If it is sliced into a thin wafer (thickness about 350 microns, or about 1/80th of an inch) it is called a P type silicon wafer.

After making P type silicon wafer, the manufacturers expose one side of it very briefly to boron trichloride gas. The boron seeps into the crystalline matrix and replaces some silicon. The boron has fewer protons than silicon. But because the electron orbits are all symmetrical, the electrons like to be in them and the orbits fill up anyway, even though there aren’t enough protons to balance them out. The extra electrons give this part of the wafer a negative charge and it is called N type silicon. Now we have a usable semiconductor that can be used to make electricity, because it has the one way gate.

The place where the N and P type silicon come together is called an NP barrier. This is the one way gate for electrons. Electrons can easily pass from the N side to the P side, because the positive charge in the P type attracts the negative charge of the electron. But electrons can not go from the P side to the side that already has an abundance of electrons and a negative charge.

 

Volts, Amps, and Watts: the Basic Units of electricity

Volts

 

Voltage is like desire. It is what the electrons want to do. They want to get home. How badly do they want this? There are a lot of ways to tell. My solar panels operate at about 98 volts. Each panel has two wires coming out of it, a red and a black. When I put them into the sun and bring the wires close together, a continuous lighting spark flies across the gap. I can clearly see lighting and hear a buzz as electrons fly through the air to get from terminal to terminal. I could weld with this system. If I hook two panels in a series, with the negative terminal of one to the positive terminal of the other, I again have two wires, a red and black. Now the voltage is twice as high, at 196 volts. Now I don’t have to bring the wires nearly as close to get the sparks to fly. The lightning bolt is brighter and the noise louder. When I put my system together, I wanted to use the highest voltage my power control mechanism would handle. It can handle up to 400 volts so I wired four panels together in series, giving me 392 volts. This produces a serious bolt of lighting and prominent buzzing noise. The voltage is desire. It is also called the ‘pressure’ because many engineers think of it as similar to the pressure on a water pipe. The pressure tells us how bad the water wants to get out of the pipe. The voltage tells us how badly the electrons want to get back home.

Voltage is potential energy. If I leave the wires far enough apart that the spark can’t jump, nothing happens. But I can hook up a voltage meter and it will tell me that the voltage is 392 volts. No electrons are flowing. But they want to get back home very badly and if I give them a conductor to flow through, they will fairly well fly through it.

 

Amps

 

The spark between the terminals was real electrons moving through the air. How many electrons are there? They have been counted. The total electrons that will flow from one terminal to another with one of my panels are about 3 x 1018 per second.

The number written out is 62,480,00,000,000,000,000 electrons per second. This is a pretty hard number to comprehend it is so high. When dealing with very high numbers, we make them easier to understand by using scientific notation. In this notation, we put the significant digits first, in this case 6.241, and then put the number of zeros that would be after the decimal point in a superscript after 10. This means we multiply the 6.241 by a 1 with 18 zeros after it, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000.

The standard measurement for ‘number of electrons per second moving through a wire is called the ‘ampere.’ One ampere is 6.241 × 1018 electrons. So we have two measures of energy. One is the amount of energy that each electron has, or the voltage. The other is the number of electrons or amperage.

 

Wattage

 

If the wires of the solar panel are just hooked up to each other, with the red touching the black, the electrons go flying through the wire to get home. They don’t do any work because they don’t have to. If you just hook the wires up to each other, you are giving the electrons a free ride. They can get home at no cost. But you don’t have to give them a free ride. If you put an electrical load in their way, and make them push on it to get home, they will push.

An electric light bulb is a standard load. The bulb has a filament made of a material with a high electrical resistance. The electrons have to push against this resistance to get home. You could think of this as forcing them to stretch out an elastic corridor to get through so they could get back home. They push the corridor out of shape, stretching it and releasing it hundreds of trillions of time per second, and it get hot. Within a microsecond it gets red hot and then white, and glows. The electrons are working.

If you put a volt meter into the line, you will see the voltage is a little lower than it was before. The electrons are giving up some of their potential energy by putting it into the bulb. They don’t have as much left so the voltage is lower. If you put an amp gage in the line you will see a certain number of amps. To find the amount of work being done, multiply the voltage times the amperage. The total work done by electricity is called the ‘watts.’ One watt is exactly one volt at one amp. If you have a 1 amp current running thought he light bulb at 100 volts, the bulb will produce 100 watts of light. You don’t have to run a light bulb. You can run a motor and anything that runs on a motor, or any kind of electronic device.

 

Inverter

 

My system is a 3KW system, meaning it produces 3,000 watts of electricity in full sun. Where I live I get about 6.8 hours of full sun per day on a year around average, which works out to 2,500 hours per year. This is about what you can expect in most of the United States. Take the 3KW it produces with this much full sun times 2,500 to get 7,500 KWH, the amount it produces in a year. My utility charges 10¢ per KWH so if I had bought this from the utility I would have had to pay $750 for it.

The panels each have two wires coming out of the, one black and one red. I hook all the black wires together and all the red wires together up on the roof. The panels are set up to make this easy, with connectors at the ends of the wires that just plug into a harness. The harness has only two wires, one red and one black, going from my roof down to a device in my garage called an ‘inverter.’ The inverter converts the DC electricity the panels produce to the AC electricity my household appliances use.

I know that sometimes I will produce more than I use and I don’t want it to go to waste, so I bought an inverter that allows me to feed the excess into the electrical grid. This is called a ‘grid tie inverter.’ When I put it in, I had to call the electric company out to install a special meter that is capable of turning backward. When I feed electricity into the grid, my meter runs backward. When I use more electricity than I produce, it runs forward.

I want to tell you how I hooked it up because I want you to know it is not rocket science. The two wires from the roof hook up to terminals on the grid tie inverters that are color coded red and black. Then I ran a 220 volt dryer cord from the inverter and plugged into the plug my dryer used to plug into. That’s it. It is hooked up. The dryer plug doesn’t take electricity out of the utility system, it feeds it back. (Electricity can go either way through your wires.)

My utility charges a $6.22 monthly service fee to all customers, plus charges for whatever their meter reads. Since my meter always reads zero or negative consumption, my usage fee is always $0 so my entire electric bill is $6.22 a month. I often feed electricity into the grid which, if the world were fair, I would get paid for. But because of PURPA, a law passed in 1978 that effectively makes it impossible for small producers like myself to sell for anything close to market rates, I can’t sell the electricity and don’t try. I have plenty of electricity. I leave the lights on as long as I want. I run the air conditioner with the doors open. Since my electricity is free, I really don’t care; since it is totally non-destructive, I don’t feel guilty.

 

How We Make Photoelectric Devices

 

There are two basic ways to make silicon photoelectric devices. Both methods start with sand. Sand is made of silicon dioxide, one atom of silicon for two atoms of oxygen. To make the devices, you have to get rid of the oxygen. To do this, you heat the sand in the presence of some element that forms stronger bonds with oxygen than silicon does. For example, the hydrogen and oxygen bond together to form H20 or water. If you have some hydrogen (which you can get from water) you can bubble it through molten sand. The heat breaks bond between silicon and oxygen. The oxygen combines with hydrogen to form water, and you are left with water and pure silicon, with no oxygen.

To make the devices, you need to crystallize the silicon. There are two ways to do this. First, you can melt the silicon in a crystallizing furnace. This has a tiny seed of already crystallized silicon hanging from a wire. This seed grows as atoms attach individually to the seed in the proper configuration. The silicon crystal is very fragile so the machine has to be mounted in a special way to prevent vibrations. A tiny bit of phosphorous is added to the mixture to create P type material. After the crystal has grown to about the size of a basketball, the manufacturer takes it out of the furnace and slices it into sections about 1/80th of an inch thick. The top is exposed to boron trichloride gas to form the NP barrier and you are done. The finished material is called a ‘wafer.’ Wafers are very thin and fragile.

To make a panel of the wafers, you need two pieces of glass. Run the glass through a special inkjet printer that prints a network of lines with a metallic ink that conducts electricity. The lines come together at a terminal on each piece of glass. Make a sandwich with the wafers between the glass. The wafers have an N side and a P side and you have to make sure they are all have the same side up. Put the glass together and then seal it with some caulking material so that water doesn’t get between the sheets of glass. You now have a solar panel. Since glass is hard to mount, most manufacturers now build a metal frame around the outside so it can be mounted to the rack facing the sun. That’s basically all there is to it.

The second option is called ‘amorphous’ or ‘thin film’ process. To use this, when you run hydrogen through the mixture to get rid of the oxygen, you have to keep running hydrogen through it until it bonds with the silicon, to form silane gas, chemical symbol SiH4. You can simply electroplate this onto a standard sheet of steel metal roofing material. This website explains the exact process. http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~dbirnie/solarclass/amorphousSi.pdf

After you have the silicon coating the steel, you need to expose it to the boron trichloride gas to create the NP barrier. You need to print a network of lines with metallic ink on the top and then coat it with something to protect the ink from the elements. Done.

Amorphous is far cheaper than wafer systems per watt of electricity, but because it doesn’t produce as much electricity per square ft, you will need to cover a larger area for the same amount of electricity. If you would otherwise have a regular metal roof, you can get metal coated with the amorphous silicon. It will look just like a regular metal roof (it will be blue, the color of the silicon) but it will produce electricity.

 

Costs

 

As I write this, panels made of wafers cost $3.30 per watt. The flexible roofing material that produces electricity sells for $3 a watt. You can check the prices easily on Ebay by looking for ‘solar panels’ to check panel prices and ‘amorphous’ or ‘thin film’ solar for the sheets. The sheets come in 15 inch widths and lengths up to 18 ft long. The price per square foot works out to be about $23. If your home has 2500 square feet of roof space, it would cost about $34,500 for material to roof it with the photoelectric roof. This compares to about $5,000 to roof it with regular metal. If the roof was properly orientated (facing south) it would produce 10,200 watts of electricity an hour. At 6.8 peak sun hours per day on a year around average, that works out to $25,316 KWH a year with a market value of between $2,000 and $4,000 a year, depending on the electricity rates where you live. If you live in California or the North East, where rates are highest, your electric roof will pay for itself in 8 years. If you are building a new house and have to pay roofing costs anyway, you can knock off a year from your saving to not have to buy the regular roofing materials.

Later, I will explain that you can’t really do this because it is illegal to sell your electricity for market rates, under the terms of special legislation designed to protect utilities from solar competition in 1978. But if we had free enterprise and people were allowed to compete with their local utilities by selling electricity for market rates, solar is already very practical. It costs far, far less than nuclear. The initial investment alone is less than half and the operating costs of solar are zero, so they are infinitively lower than the costs for nuclear.

 

How Much Solar Electricity do we have?

 

Photoelectric devices don’t generate electricity. The light from the sun generates the electricity. On average, each square meter of earth’s surface gets 1 KWH (kilowatt hours, a standard measure of electricity) per hour of full sun. Standard efficiency devices (available off the shelf) have an efficiency of 10%, so you would get roughly 1/10th of a KWH per hour per square meter of roof, if you had solar tiles on it. If your roof is 150 square meters (about average in the United States) you will get 15 KWH/hour in full sun. Of course, the sun doesn’t shine all the time. To determine the amount of energy in your location, you have to find ‘full sun equivalent hours’ there. Each place has different amounts. The range is about 8 full sun equivalent hours (Arizona desert) to 5 (Portland Oregon). Multiply this times 15 to get the number of KWH you will get per day as a year around average. For example, the 150 square meter roof would produce between 60 and 120 KWH per day on a year around average. .

Now check your electricity bill to find out how much you use. The average house in the United States uses about 40 KWH per day (this equates to a $120 monthly electricity bill.) So, with current technology, if your roof were made of solar tiles it would provide between 1.5 and 3 times the electricity your home uses for all purposes.

In current systems, this is uneconomic for reasons I explain below. (Uneconomic means ‘the numbers don’t work.’ It wouldn’t make financial sense.) But not all societies have the flows of value that make solar uneconomic. In Chapter Six I will explain that in a certain type of society I call a ‘socratic.’ (This is like a common domain society, except it has extremely strong incentives to improve, invest, manage risk, and advance technology.) In that system, the solarization would add only the cost of input materials and energy to the cost of tiles, so it would add only about 3¢ per watt. In this case, with 15,000 watts of capacity, this would add roughly $450 to the cost of a home. All electricity it uses, and enough to power from ½ to 2 other homes, would be free.

 

A Practical Example

 

I make my electricity this way. I couldn’t get the tiles (they make them but they are expensive) so I use standard off the shelf panels. (Millennium 43s, if you want to look them up. They are very common.) The panels produce DC electricity. My home appliances run on AC so I have to convert it to AC to run them. I use device called an ‘inverter’ for this. This device has a computer in it that detects the line input voltage, current, wave pattern, frequency, and other factors from the incoming utility line. It has a series of switches that switch the current back and forth in a way that makes it alternate at the exact rate that standard household current alternates. My inverter is a ‘grid tie’ inverter, which means that the system is hooked up to the electrical grid. When the panels produce more electricity than I use, the inverter feeds the excess into the grid to sell to other customers. My meter turns backward and I get credits against future use for whatever I send out into the system. If I use more than the panels produce, my meter turns forward and I draw the excess power out of the grid. I only get charged for the net energy I use. Most of the time, I don’t use any and my electricity bill is zero.

I didn’t buy the panels new. They were roughly 20 years old when I got them. But I checked them against factory specs before I bought them. A well-built solar panel does not degrade. They don’t generate electricity. They are entirely passive, doing nothing but allowing electrons going in only one direction to pass. The silicon atoms do this on a sub-atomic level. As long as the atoms are there and are still silicon, they will do this forever. They don’t degrade because they have no parts that can degrade. They produce at new factory specs after 20 years and I have never found out any information about solar that leads me to believe they will produce any less in 100 or 1,000 years than they do now.

The panels are very sturdy and will continue to work even after significant damage. While installing them, I accidentally dropped one of the panels off my roof. My house is three stories high and it fell about 40 ft, directly onto rocks. The glass shattered into pieces but the metal frame around them held everything together. I wondered if it might still work so I glued the glass back together and put the panel into the sun. It produced with the exact factory specifications of the other panels. I decided to hook it up and keep using it until it failed to see how long it will last. It continues to work, in spite of rain ice and 80 mph winds, freezing cold and 110 degree heat. If the glue holds up, it will probably still work in a hundred years, or perhaps a thousand. It is such a simple device that it takes a lot to make it stop functioning. So far, I haven’t found any way to make this happen.

 

Anatomy of Destruction

Chapter Four: Costs of Free Electricity

 

I have electricity.

If you own a device that has any moving parts, you have to set aside money to replace them in order to break even. For example, when I was in the trucking business I knew motors would last about 250,000 miles before they would need a rebuild that costs $5,000. I set aside 2¢ for every mile into a fund. When the rebuild time came, I had the money in the fund to pay for it. People who run capital intensive businesses know that they incur repair costs over time, not at the instant everything breaks. I knew a lot of other truckers who didn’t set aside money. When rebuild time came they didn’t have the money, couldn’t afford to fix the trucks and couldn’t run them. They went out of business. A good businessman will determine set aside amounts for each wear item and set aside the appropriate amount. This is a true cost. Solar panels don’t wear so they don’t have set-aside costs.

I have never bought an ounce of coal, oil, gas, uranium, or any other fuel for it. My fuel costs are zero. The panels don’t have any moving parts to maintain or lubricate. Lubrication and maintenance costs are zero. Nothing wears out that might need to be repaired or replaced. My repair costs are zero. My capital set-asides for replacement of worn out parts are zero.

Depreciation is the amount that must be set aside to replace the entire item when it is so worn out it is cheaper to replace than it than to repair it. (See footnote above for set-aside description.) The units don’t depreciate so these costs are also zero.

 

In only have a 2 KW system that covers about ¼ of my roof. I don’t need much because I designed my house in concert with the ecosystem to take advantage of natural (called ‘passive’) energy flows. In the winter, my south-facing windows keep the house warm so I don’t need heat (except on cloudy days, which are very rare in Tucson). My pool and spa both have thermal panels to heat them and don’t need any supplementary heat. (If the weather is cloudy I have to go without a Jacuzzi until the sun comes out. My pool is large enough it can stay warm several days without heat.) I live in a canyon with westerly winds constant all summer long. I built a system that allows the wind to blow through pads that a pump system keeps wet, cooling the house all summer long with evaporation. I only need AC in the very few days that are both hot and humid, during the monsoon season. This little system provides all he electricity I need.

 

Let’s add all that up. (I’ll wait if you want to get a calculator.) I get zero.

Each year these panels give me about 4,000 KWH of electricity.

Total cost per KWH exactly 0¢.

 

Why Don’t We Use Solar?

 

I wanted to explain how everything works so you can see there isn’t any magic. No advanced technology. No alien help. No help from God or any Great Spirit. It is very simple: the sun generates electricity, whether or not we use it. The semiconductor simply makes it usable. We make the semiconductor out of the most abundant and by far the cheapest material on earth. And we don’t even need very much of this raw material. The total amount of silicon in the semiconductors of my panels is only about 3 pounds, about the weight of a liter bottle of water. Consider that your house has perhaps 30,000 pounds of concrete in it (just about all homes built in the last hundred years have foundations made of concrete) and concrete is almost entirely silicon. If just 1/10000th of this silicon were on your roof in the proper configuration, you would have all the electricity you ever want, totally for free.

Sounds good. Why don’t we do it?

The answer is unique to the type of society we have. Our current societies have flows of value that distort the real costs and benefits of options in ways that make people who want to use solar pay massive artificial costs to the little pieces of paper with numbers on them (or tokens made of gold or silver in some societies) used as ‘money.’ These artificial costs, called ‘capital costs’ are not costs of anything valuable to humankind that is needed for solar. They are costs of replicating a flow of value that these societies naturally have.

These flows of value are entirely artificial. The only way to fully understand this is to realize that some societies do not have them, some societies have very tiny flows, some have larger flows, and some (the ones we live in) have extremely large flows. When you understand all of these options (the topic of Chapter Three) you will realize that these flows only exist in societies structured a certain way, as ours are. They are not natural costs of solar in any way. They are simply flows of value that the realities of current types of societies require people to replicate, in order for these societies to function.

Here in this appendix, I want to tell you two things. First, how do the systems work? Second, why don’t we use them in current systems? Much of this book is about where the value that makes solar and other non-destructive processes uneconomic comes from and why it flows as it does. Here I just want to tell you what the flows are and allow you to confirm for yourself that they exist:

We live in societies where the rich get richer without doing anything, without effort and without risk. (Again, don’t worry about why this happens yet. I explain this in the text. The only point is that it does happen.) There is a flow of value called the ‘risk-free returns’ paid to money every year. This flow takes place at a rate called the ‘risk-free return rate.’

A flow of money is called ‘risk-free’ is there is no chance of default or no chance the person who is supposed to pay will decide not to pay and you won’t get it. In the United States, the government guarantees almost all mortgage so if you make a mortgage loan to someone through these programs, you know you will be paid the interest and principle of the loan. If you want to find the current rate, look up the rate for FNMA or GNMA bonds. This is the rate that people who invest in these mortgages get. You can invest money in these bonds at the current rate. There is no chance you will not get paid back, with the full promised interest, so these investments are free risk. You don’t have to do anything to get this money, so they are also free of effort. (In fact, you could be dead. You would get the exact same return.)

The amount that the mortgage holder pays is higher, exactly 5/8 of 1% higher in the United States. Of this extra, 1/8 of 1% goes to pay paperwork processing costs. This goes to the company that sends out the mortgage coupons, sends out late notices, processes the money and sends it through to the people who get it, and deals with problems and repossession if necessary. The other ½ of 1% goes into a ‘loss reserve fund’ to cover potential loan losses. If someone doesn’t pay on time, they still have to pay bond-holders on time and they use the money in the fund to pay these amounts, until they can repossess the property and sell it to recover the amount owed. When the United States government set up this system in 1954, loss rates had never been greater than ½ of 1% times total outstanding debt, so the government thought it never would and this insurance premium would cover all losses. This happened for many years and the government decided to get out of the mortgage business and sold the companies that put the deals together as ‘Fannie Mae’ and ‘Freddie Mac.’ These companies put together the loans, sold the bonds, collected the loss reserve amounts, and paid out losses out of the reserve fund. Any money left over was profits and went to the shareholders. This worked fine until 2008 when losses soared from their typical ¼ of 1% per year to more than 10% per year. The government had to take over the mortgage companies and pay the losses themselves. They had to do this because they had essentially cosigned for the loans. The companies both went bankrupt and the government had to take over all their debts. As I write this, the government is responsible for these debts, roughly $20,000,000,000,000 ($20 trillion) in addition to its ‘regular’ debt.

If the government doesn’t have the money to pay these obligations, it can and is obligated by law to print the money to pay them. This is what makes these obligations risk free: There is no chance of default. As long as there is a United States government, the rich will get richer without risk or effort. (Don’t think this is a capitalist thing. Communist countries do the exact same thing.)

The exact rate changes from time to time, but for most of my life it has been about 10%, so I want to use this figure for the sake of example. Now I will give you the short answer, and long answer to the above question: Why don’t we use solar?

Quick answer: Solar panels generate at 2% return on investment. Money generates a 10% return, or five times as much. If you want to borrow money to make the investment, you have to pay five times more as interest than you get from the panels in the form of free electricity. You lose massive amounts of money. If you use your own money, you have to give up the 10% you would have collected as automatic, effort-free and risk-free returns. Giving up money is paying a cost. You give up 10% a year times the amount you could be collecting returns on, the invested amount in the panels. You only get a 2% return on the panels in the form of free electricity. So it costs you five times more each year to own the panels (in the form of lost free money you would have gotten) than the panels produce.

The solar electricity is not expensive. It is free. Nothing could be cheaper than free. But it is ‘uneconomic.’ This is because of the flows of money that take place in the type of society we live in. Not because of any cost of anything valuable to humankind that has to be paid to make free solar energy usable.

 

The Long Version:

 

Seems impossible. It is free. Yet it is uneconomic? How can that be? Let’s look over the exact numbers to see why:

If you look on Ebay, you will see hundreds to thousands of solar systems for sale. The size of this worldwide market leads to a very narrow ‘spread’ of prices, or a very small difference between the maximum and minimum prices of the panels. A lot of people are always looking for deals. If the offered price of a system is extremely low, people will bid it up. If the offered price on a system is higher than people know they can get a similar system for, they won’t bid and it won’t sell. The only systems that actually sell, therefore, are neither overpriced nor underpriced. The market makes sure prices stay in a very narrow range. The cost for a 2kw turn-key system has been about $14,000 for several years. If you want it installed with an inverter, going through government for permits, taxes, inspection fees, and other bureaucratic costs, you will also have to pay local costs that depend on labor rates. In most places in the United States, this will add another $6,000 to the system, for a total investment of $20,000, right at $10 per watt of capacity.

My system produces just over 4,000 KWH per year. Where I live, the electricity costs exactly 10¢ per KWH, so I get slightly more than $400 worth of electricity every year from the system. It required an investment of $20,000, so I get a return of 2% on the investment. You can do the same thing. I get a 2% return. You can get a 2% return if you want. Anyone can.

Why don’t people do this?

There is a very simple reason. We live in societies that have mechanical flows of value that make the rich richer at a certain rate. One such flow of value is called the ‘risk-free return rate.’ This is the rate at which people can get richer without any effort, any work, any skills, or any risk. The exact risk-free rate varies over time, but for most of my life it has averaged about 10% so I want to use this figure for the sake of examples. (The above footnote shows you how to check the rate at the current time. It has never been below 4 %..)

So here’s your decision. You know you can get a 2% return investing in solar. Anyone can. This return is not risk-free of course. Your home may be hit by a hurricane that rips the roof apart or hit by a meteor that destroys it. It is not entirely without effort. (At the very least, you have to watch the wiring to make sure the birds haven’t chewed through the insulation on the wires, for example). If the risk-free rate is 10%, you can get five times the return on investment without risk and effort by simply choosing not to invest in solar. Just keep the money. Put it in a government backed mortgage security and collect free money, without doing anything.

Even superficially, ‘not-solar’ has a big advantage over solar. But actually the advantage of ‘not solar’ is much larger than it appears because of compounding. The risk-free return does something that solar return could never do: It grows at an exponential rate. Let’s consider what happens over an average working life of 50 years if you go with solar or choose to simply sit back and collect free money. If you go with solar, you will get $400 worth of free electricity every year for fifty years, a total of $20,000 in value, as returns on your investment. You will still have the panels, which are still worth the same amount (you don’t have to take them down; they add $20,000 to the value of your home). So if you invest in panels, you essentially get $20,000 worth of free electricity, and then get every dime you invested back at the end of this period.

To calculate this, use the function future value in a spreadsheet. Put in 10% for the rate, 50 for the time in years, 0 for the payment because you aren’t paying anything into or out of the account except interest, and $20,000 for the present value or starting investment. This leads to a formula =-FV(10%,50,0,20000). You calculate this and should get $2,347,817. (Calculations are quite complex and some computers do them differently leading to slightly different end figures. This is from Excel.)

Now say you agree not to invest in solar. You put the money into government insured mortgages at 10%. The first year you get $2,000. But the second year you get interest on the principle and interest on the interest. Then you get interest on the interest plus interest on the interest, and then interest on the interest on the interest on the interest. This kind of growth is called ‘exponential’ and is the same rate that the nuclear reactions called ‘explosions’ take place. The money grows at a fantastic rate. After 50 years you wind up with an amazing $2,347,817. Compare this to the (pathetic) $40,000 you would have wound up with ($20,000 in panels and $20,000 in electricity) if you had invested in the panels. You wind up with more than 70 times more by choosing to not invest in solar and not generate free electricity than if you had chosen solar.

 

What If We Had A Society That Worked Differently?

 

In current systems, the rich get richer at a very, very, very rapid rate. In 2010, about $40,000,000,000,000 ($40 trillion) flowed to money as risk-free returns. You don’t have to do anything to get this money. You don’t even have to take on risk. You get paid for having something, not doing something.

Chapter Three explains that we can make mechanical changes in our societies that alter the rate at which the rich get richer. By adjusting a variable called the ‘price/rent ratio’ we can cause some part of the money that had gone to make the rich richer to an entity I call the ‘community of humankind,’ to use to meet the needs of the human race. If we cause this to happen, the amounts paid per dollar of existing wealth will fall. They get less free money for each dollar they already have, so their rate of return will fall.

For example, we might choose a system where the rich still get richer without effort or risk, but they only get richer at an average rate of 4% a year, not the 10% they average in republics. Now the solar return is only half of the prevailing risk-free rate people can get not investing in solar. People who might have been willing to justify some loss on investment, but not the full 8%, may choose solar now.

Let’s say that we choose a system where the rich still get richer without effort or risk, but they only get richer at a rate of 2% a year. Now people are comparing a 2% return with solar with a 2% return for doing nothing and ignoring solar. Solar now breaks even. Many people will chose solar.

We can also choose a system where the rich get richer automatically at only 1% a year. If we have a system like this, people will compare a 1% free return doing nothing and collecting a return from an already-existing asset to double that return making an investment in a system that will produce free electricity forever. If people are self-interested, if they are greedy and selfish and want as much as they can get for themselves and the people they love, people will build solar.

I will also explain an entire range of options where the free wealth of society doesn’t go to the pieces of paper with numbers on them called ‘money’ at all. It all goes to the community of humankind to help advance the interests of the human race as a whole. If we choose a system in this broad range, the rich will still be able to get richer. But not without taking on risk, putting out effort, or doing something. In a society like this, people have to compare a perpetual flow of electricity that they can produce totally free and sell for market rates, to nothing. Invest in solar and get free electricity. Don’t invest and get nothing. In this system, people will have very powerful incentives to invest in solar. They can get free money investing in solar.

They get free money investing in solar in any system. But in current systems, they get more free money if they don’t invest in solar.

Our current societies have flows of value that send more than $16 trillion a year to money as risk-free returns. Is this right or wrong? That is a value judgment. You must decide that for yourself. I am just comparing societies. If we choose this option for society, we must accept that people will not choose non-destructive technologies, even those that lead to totally free electricity.

 

The Rest of the Story

 

The flows of value that lead to destructive incentives come from markets.

In the United States, the government wants to appear to encourage solar so they set up a system to pay subsidies through a tricky mechanism that appears to encourage solar, but actually encourages coal. Here’s how it works: If I put up solar, my utility can buy the ‘capacity’ from me. They don’t buy the panels or electricity: I still own them. They really own nothing but the right to say their utility produces electricity with solar. For each unit of solar capacity they add, utilities can get free pollution permits. They can use these permits to emit more pollution or sell them to people who want to build a destructive pant and wouldn’t ordinarily be allowed to because of the pollution. The more solar they can claim to have, the more they can pollute and the more money they can make selling pollution permits to others. So, of course, they want the maximum in capacity they can get. They therefore buy the capacity of anyone in their systems. This makes it appear that the utility (together with the government) is subsidizing solar. In fact, they are subsidizing coal.

Our governments could take steps to counteract these incentives. They could have true subsidies on solar, rather than the phony ones we have now. We could simply make it legal for people to invent and market products that would allow people to use solar in a way that competes with current utilities. We could stop subsidizing coal with the billions in depletion allowances, billions in subsidies on trains (coal is the huge majority of rail freight and over half of rail capacity goes to haul coal), exemptions from pollution requirements for natural gas fracking (it is totally legal for natural gas drillers to destroy entire public aquifers by ‘fracking’ or cracking the rocks that hold water and gas separate, so the gas will leach out through the aquifer and the gas companies can collect it), or any of the thousands of other subsidies on destructive industries that current governments provide. If a tiny fraction of the money that went to subsidize destructive options in current systems went to build automated solar photoelectric roofing tile factories like the ones I will be describing in Chapter Eight, solar photoelectric roofing substrates would cost little more than our current roofing materials. The electricity is already there. All we have to do is collect it.

 

Individuals can build solar. But they can not sell it. If you check solar inverters you will see they all conform to a standard called UL-1741. Inverters made to this standard are unable to produce electricity unless connected to a complying electrical grid. They have electronic mechanisms that are designed to detect signals that the utilities send out. Without these signals, the inverter immediately shuts down and stops producing electricity. My system is UL-1741 compliant. (All systems must be. This is the only thing the utility checks for.) This means I can’t produce electricity unless I am hooked up to the grid and the power is on. If we have a power outage, my power goes off, even though the system is capable of providing all my electricity. I have tried and not been able to find a way to override the system, so I can’t produce electricity unless I am connected.

In the United States, all utilities are regulated monopolies. It is illegal to compete with them. If my system could produce electricity without a connection to the grid, it would be able to compete with them. To prevent competition, the power companies created this standard. The United States and every other country I have checked requires it. In these systems, it is not legal for people to produce electricity privately and sell it in competition with utilities.

 

 

Why do governments subsidize destruction and not subsidize non-destructive alternatives?

The answer is simple: we live in societies that depend on jobs and ‘activity’ to function. Unemployment destroys these societies. These societies need jobs. Destruction provides work. If we use destructive energy systems, we have to employ millions of people worldwide to dig up and transport an endless stream of fuels to the furnaces to provide our energy over time. We need to employ millions more to make the equipment to move the fuels, millions more still to make the steel for this equipment, millions more to extract additional coal to make the additional steel we need for the additional equipment to mine the additional coal. The endless use of destructive processes creates ever more jobs as people have to work more and harder each year to find and exploit the increasingly scarce resources. More work means more incomes, more spending, more demand, more production, more profits, more investment returns, more tax returns, and a better-functioning society.

We could get all our energy for free from the sun with no destruction at all. But the non-destructive system doesn’t create the things these societies need more than almost anything else: jobs. No one has to extract sunlight from underground mines, so if we used solar we would lose almost all of our current mining jobs. No one has to run trains to haul sunlight to our roofs where it can generate electricity, so if we used solar we would lose roughly half of all transport jobs in the world today (more than half of all train traffic is coal; add in oil and gas transport, which has facilities that only transport these items, and roughly half of everything transported is fossil fuels). Photoelectric systems don’t have any moving parts to lubricate or wear so they don’t need armies of people working full time to keep them in repair, as gas-fired and coal-fired plants do. Solar photoelectric panels work on a sub-atomic level that doesn’t wear in use, so if we used this system we wouldn’t have to build and rebuild, over and over again, to keep producing energy. Build the panels once (in factories that are almost totally automated and require virtually no labor). Set them in the sun. That’s it.

Imagine the catastrophic effects on our systems if we were to start using this free energy. At this time, more than 100 million people worldwide have jobs directly related to fossil fuel use. If we used solar, these people would lose their jobs and incomes. More than a billion people have jobs indirectly related to fossil fuel use. They would lose their incomes also. They would stop spending and ‘demand’ (the amount they can afford, not the amount they need to stay alive) collapses. Businesses that sell other things can’t sell anymore and lay off nearly everyone. Now nearly everyone has no jobs and nothing to spend. We can produce energy for almost nothing. But no one has anything to spend so it really doesn’t matter that it doesn’t cost anything to produce energy anymore. Our systems won’t be able to function.

The people in governments know this. They don’t want to appear to favor destruction, but they know we need the jobs. So they say they want solar and other non-destructive technologies in their public speeches, but spend their time in back rooms encouraging the destructive options. Then they use tricks to try to convince us that they aren’t doing this. They call programs that provide massive subsidies for coal, and thus increase the amount of pollution in the skies, the ‘Clear Skies Initiative.’ Programs that pay people to destroy forests have names like the ‘Forest Preservation Act.’

During the campaigns, they tell us how much they care. We really want to believe them and delude ourselves that this time things will be different. But once in office they have to take care of business. They need to keep society functioning. The society they run needs destruction to function. Once in power they will work hard to give this society what it needs. It needs jobs. It needs destruction. They will make sure it gets it.

Later I will be talking about systems without the flows of value that induce destruction. In these societies, solar is literally free. Nothing can compete with free. No one would even consider coal. In current societies, solar does generate returns. They are often close to what people need to justify them. But they could be a lot closer. In fact, in many applications, solar would be cheaper than coal even with the fantastic artificial costs discussed above, if our governments just encouraged it. But as long as our societies work in ways that depend on jobs to function, we can’t expect them to really do anything like this. Republics need jobs. Republics have massive capital costs that make solar uneconomic. As long as we have republics, our governments will do everything in their power to prevent solar or any non-destructive option from gaining any traction.

 

Non-destructive Gasoline

 

If we had unlimited free (or even extremely low cost) electricity, we could make all the fuel we want out of it, with no destruction of any kind. We could make just about any kind of fuel we want, but I want to concentrate on gasoline, because people know what it is, how to use it, and are used to using it. After I have explained how to make non-destructive gasoline, I will explain some of other fuels that we could also make that might be preferable to gasoline.

First I have to give you some simple chemistry: Water is H2O, or two parts hydrogen and one of oxygen. Carbon dioxide is CO2 or two parts oxygen to one part carbon. Gasoline is a hydrocarbon, made of carbon and hydrogen. Because gasoline is made of oil pumped from the ground, not all gasoline molecules are identical. But the average ratio of pumped gasoline is 8 atoms of carbon for every 18 atoms of hydrogen. This gives us C8H18, the chemical symbol for ‘octane.’ If you look on the pump when you buy gas, you will see an ‘octane rating.’ This is how close your gasoline performs to pure octane. Gasoline with a 100 octane rating would burn like pure octane, the gold standard for cars running on gasoline.

Gasoline is not pure octane but I need a molecule to explain the reaction, so let’s say you have some gasoline that is pure octane. One molecule of octane will combine with 25 molecules of oxygen (O2) to become 18 molecules of water (H2O) and 16 molecules of carbon dioxide (CO2), plus energy. This is how gasoline works. The heat causes the gasoline to combine with oxygen (‘burn’) and break down into water and carbon dioxide. The water is in the form of steam. The steam has a lot of pressure and pushes down on the piston, causing the engine to turn. Then the gases (mostly carbon dioxide and steam) exhaust into the air and the system draws in more oxygen and mixes it with gasoline.

The start products are octane and oxygen. The end products are carbon dioxide, water, and energy.

All chemical reactions are reversible. In fact, chemists say that we can’t tell by watching a reaction whether time is moving forward or backward, because everything would happen the same way either way. If you have 18 molecules of water and 16 molecules of carbon dioxide, and can put back as much energy as was released when the gasoline burned, you can turn this into one molecule of octane and 25 molecules of oxygen. Theoretically, this can be done. No one does this for profit in the world today but if electricity were cheap enough they would be able to do it for profit. Here’s how:

You start with water. Put a tiny bit of salt into water so it can conduct electricity, then put in two electrodes (anything made of metal) and run DC electricity through them at 1.2 Volts or higher. You will see tiny bubbles forming on both electrodes. (If you want to try this, the easiest way is to take a 9v battery and put it into water with a tiny bit of salt). The bubbles on the positive terminal are hydrogen. The ones on the negative are oxygen. To make gasoline, you just need the hydrogen. You can collect it. You don’t need the oxygen and can simply let it bubble into the air.

You can do the same thing with carbon dioxide but it is slightly harder to do. You need a platinum electrode and a temperature of about 550C. (I didn’t say it would be easy. Only that it could be done.) Again, you just need the carbon and can let the oxygen bubble into the air. Oxygen is not a pollutant. We breathe oxygen. Our air is 29% oxygen. You can put as much into the air as you want. (But don’t worry about this anyway, you will be taking it right back out again shortly). Now you have carbon and hydrogen. Put them into the same place and they spontaneously form methane, (CH4), a basic hydrocarbon.

The methane is also known as ‘natural gas.’ As you drive down the road you occasionally see vehicles that say they run on CNG, which is compressed natural gas. You can run engines on this directly. But if you absolutely must have gasoline, all you have to do is heat the methane. (You need to do this in a closed vessel with no oxygen so it doesn’t burn.) This causes the methane to throw off hydrogen molecules and reform in to chains of carbon, surrounded by hydrogen. This is a very common procedure done to day in modern refineries, which take various hydrocarbons in oil, including methane, and make them into octane for gasoline. You can keep doing this and the chains will get bigger and bigger. When you get to C8H18 you are done. You have octane. You can burn it in any gasoline engine on earth.

I claim this is a non-destructive fuel. You may say that gasoline is inherently destructive. There is no way to have safe gasoline. It is true that gasoline pumped from the ground is inherently destructive. But not all gasoline. If you pump gasoline and then burn it, you release carbon into the air that had been underground for billions of years. You also burn contaminants, mainly sulfur, which produces sulfur dioxide and turns into sulfuric acid. This is not pure octane, of course, and doesn’t burn efficiently so it produces carbon monoxide, a very dangerous toxin, and hydrocarbons, the soot that you see in the air over most big cities. Manufactured gasoline doesn’t add any carbon to the air. Remember, you took the carbon out of the air to make the gasoline. When you burn the gasoline, you put it back. This is a cycle. Nothing is added to the atmosphere that wasn’t already there. If nature is balanced before, it is balanced afterward.

There are two pollutants that any piston engine produces, and this will produce both of them. The first is oxides of nitrogen. Our air contains nitrogen and oxygen and if we compress these gasses together (which happen in a position engine) they combine to form oxides of nitrogen, a pollutant. The other is ozone. The compressed oxygen combines with other oxygen atoms to form oxygen, symbol O3, a powerful oxidant. (It accelerates rusting and other oxidation processes, and is thought to accelerate aging..) To eliminate these pollutants, we must move to an engine type with lower compression ratios. The only gasoline engine now known that can operate at compression ratios low enough to prevent the creation of ozone and oxides of nitrogen is the Wankel. If we want to use gasoline with no pollution at all we would have to use this type of engine.

The manufactured gasoline has no sulfur or other contaminants. No sulfur dioxide. It doesn’t have impurities that prevent complete combustion, so no carbon monoxide or hydrocarbons. None of the pollutants that come from pumped gasoline.

 

Why Don’t We Make Gasoline out of Electricity?

 

We could make gasoline out of electricity in any system. But if electricity is expensive, the gasoline would be too expensive. Some numbers may help understand this. Gasoline contains 115,000 BTU of energy. (Because there really is no such thing as pure gasoline, there is no exact standard and this is an estimate. Actual energy content varies from sample to sample.) Electricity contains exactly 3,412 BTU per KWH. If you could make gasoline with electricity with no energy loss, you would need 33.4 KWH. The energy intensive part of the process, electrolysis, is about 50% efficient with current technology, so it would require a minimum of 67 KWH of electricity to produce a gallon of gasoline. With electricity at 10¢, this means $6.70 per gallon. The input materials, water and air, are free. So you don’t have to consider them. The only cost that you would have to pay per gallon of gasoline would be the cost of the energy.

You could consider the gasoline to be an electricity storage device. Of electricity costs 10¢/KWH, it would cost you $6.70 to store energy in a liquid form. As I write this, wholesale gasoline brings $2.25 per gallon, about a third as much. It would not make sense to make gasoline out of electricity with prices like this.

In current systems, electric cars do far more damage to the environment than gasoline cars. Coal has 8,000 BTU per pound. At 25% efficiency you need 57 pounds of coal to make 33.5 KWH of electricity, the amount that contains the same 115,000 BTU of energy in a gallon of gasoline. This compares to the 6.24 pounds of fossil fuel you burn if you use gasoline. Which does more damage to the environmental: burning 57 pounds of coal (to make the electricity) or burning the 6.24 pounds of gasoline directly? It wouldn’t make sense to use fossil fuel generated electricity to power vehicles in any form, either directly in battery powered cars, or indirectly by making gasoline or other fuels out of the electricity.

The high capital costs would make them quite expensive still in current systems, but they would be able to generate returns on investment of about 10%, compared with current return rates of 2%, so they could compete at any return rates up to this figure. This would cause solar to replace coal, even in current systems. I will explain this with the example in Chapter Eight.

Now consider a society structured so that the artificial costs of solar don’t exist. You could put a few hundred dollars extra into your house and it would produce from 1.5 to 3 times the energy you need. You would have plenty of extra electricity to use for any purpose you want. Perhaps you could put it into an electric car. Perhaps you could use gasoline or some other fuel. If the energy comes from the sun, the car doesn’t harm the environment no matter how you get the energy into the car. For practical purposes, energy is free. Free as electricity and free as fuel.

But there are a lot better fuels than gasoline.

 

A Crappy Fuel

 

Originally, when people started to pump oil out of the ground, they needed it for lighting and lubrication. Before pumped oil, people used whale oil for this. By the 1850s whales were getting pretty hard to find and whale oil was quite expensive. People found that if they distilled oil pumped from the ground, they got 4 major products. The first was a very light distillate, kerosene. Kerosene was a very good lighting fuel, almost as good as whale oil. The heavy distillate was good for lubricating oil. The lighter of the two intermediate products was called ‘heating oil’ and was very useful for heat. In 1898, Ferdinand Diesel found another use for heating oil and most people now call this ‘diesel fuel’ for the engine he invented. This left one product, gasoline, which had no use. People dumped it into pits to get rid of it.

As demand for oil increased, people looked for a use for the enormous amounts of useless gasoline people had to get rid of. Some people found that under unique circumstances they could use it as a fuel for engines. It wasn’t and still isn’t a good fuel. It required significantly more fuel to generate the same amount of usable energy as diesel engines. It is far more dangerous than diesel. Drop a match in diesel and it goes out. Do the same thing with gasoline and you go to the hospital or morgue. Gasoline is also highly corrosive. It will dissolve almost anything so the engines had to be made to withstand the corrosion. Gasoline doesn’t naturally lubricate as diesel does, so you have to mix lubricating oil with gasoline. (If you have a chainsaw or other small engine, you probably still have to do this.) The gasoline strips oil from the cylinders, making them rust and corrode very rapidly if left alone for a short time. Gasoline engines are temperamental and would often backfire, shooting flames out of every hole in the machine and occasionally causing the entire engine to simply explode like a bomb. People didn’t build gasoline engines because gasoline was a good fuel. They built them because they wanted to find something, anything, to use the gasoline for.

Some of these problems of gasoline engines have been solved, but not all of them. Now forced lubrication systems can constantly replace the lubricants that gasoline strips, so we don’t have to mix lubricating oil with gasoline. But other problems are as bad as ever. Tens of thousands of people are killed or maimed in accidents caused by gasoline fires every year. (Think about this. You probably know at least one person in this category. I know several.) Everyone who has used both types of engines knows that diesel engines are far more efficient, using only ¾ths as much fuel to go the same distance as gasoline. Diesel engines run at far lower speeds than gasoline engines, so they don’t wear nearly as rapidly and will last roughly 10 times as long as a gasoline engine in the same application. The diesel naturally lubricates the engine, keeping wear down and reducing maintenance costs compared to gasoline. They just aren’t very good engines and their fuel is dangerous, inefficient, and highly destructive.

 

A Better Fuel

 

If you have ever studied chemistry, you will know that hydrogen is a unique atom, with only one proton and election. This atom is so tiny that it can do things that no other atom can do. For instance, it can hide within the matrices of certain metals. We don’t fully understand how this is possible just yet, but we know that certain metals can hold many times their own volume in hydrogen. For example, palladium can hold more than 300 times its own volume in hydrogen, in a special molecular form called ‘palladium hydride.’ This jams the atoms of hydrogen together even more closely than if they were in liquid or solid hydrogen. In fact, the atoms are so close together that when people first discovered palladium hydride, they thought the atoms were close enough together to fuse into helium, releasing immense amounts of energy, in a process called ‘cold fusion.’ This turned out to be incorrect, but the point here is that hydrogen can be squeezed into extremely tiny containers and we can get far more hydrogen fuel into a given space than we can any other fuel. The hydrogen literally disappears into the metal matrix until it is needed. While it is in the form of the metal matrix, it is safe.

Other much more common metals can also store hydrogen at very high densities. If you own a device that has a nickel metal hydride battery, this uses shaved nickel, the second most abundant material in the earth’s crust, to store hydrogen as a hydride. When you hook the battery up, the nickel releases the hydrogen which then combines with oxygen, stored in another part of the battery, to create pure water and generate electricity. You can recharge these cells. If you apply electricity to them the water separates again into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen goes into hydride form to be used again.

A device that turns hydrogen and oxygen into electricity and water is called a ‘fuel cell.’ If you have watched TV commercials, you have seen many that tell you about the wonderful coal and oil companies that are working on fuel cells to solve our energy problems, but that no practical fuel cells yet exist. This is actually a lie, or I should say, a tricky distortion of the truth. The coal and oil companies know how easy it is to make hydrogen out of coal and oil. All you do is heat it up. The problem is that this hydrogen made from coal is extremely dirty and has contaminants they can’t eliminate. Coal contains large amounts of sulfur. Even in minute quantities sulfur destroys the type of fuel cell used in your nickel metal hydride battery, which is called an ‘alkaline’ fuel cell. These cells can only run on pure hydrogen and oxygen made from water electrolysis. Run them on the dirty hydrogen from coal and atmospheric air (the air you breathe which is already heavily contaminated with sulfur from more than a hundred years of burning coal and oil), and the sulfur ruins these fuel cells within minutes.

Fuel cells do exist. They are extremely cheap, which is why you probably already have dozens of them in your home. They are also extremely efficient, produce no pollutants of any kind in operation, require no maintenance, and last many decades even if used constantly. They are a proven technology. But they can not tolerate any sulfur at all. Even after a century of trying no one has been able to figure out how to make them tolerant of sulfur. You can use them to generate electricity from hydrogen made with water electrolysis. But they can not burn hydrogen made from coal. No way no how. Of course, the coal companies keep trying. This is what they are trying to do and, so far, have always failed to do. Many chemists say they are wasting their time.

They spend most of their effort on an entirely different type of cell, called an ‘acid fuel cell.’ These cells are not nearly as efficient as alkaline cells, they produce enormous amounts of waste heat (the alkaline cell produce no waste heat and operate at room temperature) they wear quickly, and they are extremely expensive. But they have one advantage over the alkaline varieties: they can be made to be somewhat tolerant of sulfur. Not totally tolerant. But somewhat. This give scientists hope that they can make fuel cells that can burn dirty hydrogen made from coal and oil with oxygen that comes from the sulfur-contaminated air of our cities.

When they say they are working on fuel cells to solve our energy problems, they aren’t lying. If we had fuel cells that were tolerant of sulfur, we would no longer need gasoline and could burn ‘coal gas,’ or hydrogen made from coal in our cars. We have unlimited amounts of coal so we will never run out of fuel for fuel cell vehicles. But they are lying when they imply this is green energy. The energy comes from coal, our dirtiest energy source. Saying ‘clean coal’ is like saying ‘clean dirt’ or ‘dark light.’ There is no such thing.

Now let’s come back to the alkaline fuel cell. Thomas Edison took out the first patents on this device more than a century ago. Alkaline fuel cells are basically alkaline batteries with a continuous flow of new electrolyte in the form of hydrogen and oxygen. You probably have dozens of them in your home and thousands within a mile of your home. But these fuel cells can only use hydrogen and oxygen from water electrolysis and this requires electricity. Electricity is fantastically expensive in republics. Even with the massive subsidies we have on coal, there is no way to make it cheap. In some of the societies I will explain in the next few chapters, it is not just cheap, it is free. We can have unlimited fuel for any type of vehicle, without any destruction. Unlimited gasoline if we want. But hydrogen can run a fuel cell which will provide electricity in a way that will make the car much cheaper to operate, faster, more efficient, more powerful, and totally quiet, without any risk of pollution under any circumstances.

We could make non-destructive gasoline, kerosene (jet fuel), and diesel if we want out of water, electricity, and air. We could make it in unlimited quantities, without depleting, or adding a gram of carbon to the air. If consumers want these fuels, they will be able to buy them in the society I explain later. But carbon-based fuels are crappy fuels and I doubt anyone would want them if there were alternatives.

If we made our own electricity with photoelectric panels, electricity would be free. The raw materials for non-destructive fuels are water and air, also free. They aren’t harmed by using them this way and get replaced in exactly the same state as when we started. If we use these fuels, we are really running the machines on electricity. The electricity comes from the sun, so we are really running the machines on solar energy.

 

Energy

 

We can get all of our energy from the sun. All of it. Your roof now produces many times more energy than your home uses. Even with current technologies, that use essentially garbage silicon wafers, we can turn that electricity into usable electricity at a 13% efficiency. At this efficiency, your roof will provide 3-4 times more usable electricity than the average home uses.

It takes about a pound of dirt, properly processed, to produce enough silicon wafer to give you all this energy. The silicon doesn’t generate electricity it merely sorts out the electricity that is already being generated as the sun hits your roof into the electricity you can use and the electricity you can’t use. The usable electricity goes into your system to run anything that runs on electricity.

You will get a lot more than you need. You can use the excess to turn water into hydrogen and oxygen and store these materials (hydrogen in hydride form) for later use. If you need electricity when the sun is not shining, a fuel cell will convert this hydrogen and oxygen back into electricity and water. The next day, the sun can separate the water again into hydrogen and oxygen for later use.

 

Soar energy is free. It falls to earth each day whether we use it or not. Solar electricity is free. All sunlight turns into electricity as soon as it hits the planet. All we have to do is collect it. We have had the technology to do this for more than a century. The material we need, silicon, is the cheapest and most abundant material on earth. Societies have to be structured in ways that create incredibly bizarre flows of value in order for destructive energy to be cheaper than non-destructive energy. This stands to reason: destructive energy requires a continuing flow of new resources to replace those destroyed. Someone must dig up the resources. These people have to be paid. Destructive energy can never be cheap, let alone free. Non-destructive energy is naturally free. Only in systems with incredibly large distortion flows of value will destructive energy be cheaper than non-destructive energy.

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