Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Fight The Power

Arnold Schwarzenegger, during his time in office, has made most progress with environmental reforms. One of the changes in California is the formation of a 'hydrogen highway', a series of gas stations which service hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. There are seven (stations, that is). In a year there will be eleven. The Governator, who owns more Humvees than that, had one converted to hydrogen-hybrid--though I suspect he uses up most of the power driving to and from the gas station.
Hydrogen is an extremely common naturally-occurring element, but is expensive to extract. The cheapest way is using natural gas for steam extraction, which uses more natural-gas-power than it returns in hydrogen-power. Another way is to use electrolysis to extract hydrogen from water, which uses three times more power than with gas.
You can extract hydrogen via electrolysis yourself with just a 9-volt battery, a glass of water and two thick pencil leads. Connect the leads with wire to the battery terminals. Place them in the water; one will bubble with oxygen, the other with hydrogen. (How can you tell? Set the bubbles on fire, that's how.)
Added to the problem is that the countries with the largest natural gas reserves are Qatar (by Saudi Arabia), Iran and Russia. Great.

Money channeled into bio-fuels like ethanol made from corn or soybeans are seen as a pork-barrel sop to Iowa, a politically crucial state. Apart from the long-standing government subsidy scheme that allows unprofitable farming to continue in perpetuity, serious questions have been raised about whether the world actually needs more high-fructose corn syrup. Other crops such as sugarcane and switchgrass yield more ethanol per acre at lower prices, but none are price-competitive with the stuff that comes out of the ground. Except oil from algae.
It's not sexy, but algae farms yield more oil per acre than other crops by orders of magnitude. Ten million acres would equal all oil imports to America. By way of comparison, cotton covers 10m. acres, soybeans 60m. and corn 70m (1992 figures). This would not address the environmental concerns about greenhouse gas emissions, but it would cut down on the number of expensive, unpopular wars.

A lot more money is being channeled into renewable energy sources. Generally the more reliable the source, the more money is spent, China being the prime example. The Three Gorges Dam will be the largest generator of its kind in the world, as will the Maglev wind turbine (that's the monstrosity below). It's 500 times more powerful than any other wind turbine in the world. The $53m. construction began in November.

A theologian interviewed in Slate magazine yesterday said that without a religious system of belief, we would have no basis for hope; nihilism would presumably sap our wills and we would hang our heads, leave litter in the streets, and sleep with our grandmothers. But I think that to build a better society, faith in God has negative effect. Religion has a way of disempowering us, always looking up and out for vague divine assistance. Those who believe that we have one life to live, and that what we do now is where meaning comes from, will do more to build, solve, create and reinvent than those merely passing time and tracts. And that seems like a reason to have hope for the future.

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