Monday, August 04, 2008

New Lamps For Old

When times get tough, people grasp at straws and want to believe in simplistic fairytale fixes to problems that took a long time forming and for which there are no easy answers.

For months now, I have been hearing on the street and reading in the tabloid press, references to an emerging technology that would allow the generation of power using water as fuel. Sometimes I hear it as a modification of the internal combustion engine, sometimes as a fuel cell technology. In each case, the motor vehicle is billed as the primary beneficiary of this technology. Everybody desperately wants to be able to drive as much as they want, at little or no cost. If such a process were possible, it would transform all aspects of life on the planet and shift the balance of World trade and power. Ocean vessels could use the medium upon which they travel for fuel. Anyplace a well could be dug or that has a natural source of water, would have an unlimited source of power for human industry and habitation.

I have yet to read anything that would lead me to believe that the generation of power using water as some type of "fuel" would be possible. It would be nice if some cheap, easy and non polluting alternative to the use of fossil fuels was available to us at this point. Popular excitement would be warranted if it was. I'm not saying such a thing would be impossible. What I do think is that if such a thing were on the horizon, or even being researched, there would be articles in all the mainstream print and video media and there are not.

Now we get to the part of the post where I show how stupid I am. As far as I know water, H2O, is a simple oxidized compound. Energy has already been released, when the hydrogen and oxygen were bonded together. To break the hydrogen and oxygen apart would cost energy. If we came up with a way to use a readily available free source of power, like sunlight, to break the chemical bonds of stable compounds and initiate a relatively complex series of chemical reactions that release large amounts of useful energy, that might solve our energy problems. It would be nothing less than the technological equivalent of photosynthesis and the Kreb's cycle combined. I don't think that solar energy technology is anywhere near that stage.

I try not to scoff and act the curmudgeon when being told, again, that next year we can all buy cars that run on water but it's hard.

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