Thursday, February 25, 2010

JMG, Energy Follows Its Bliss

All this explains as well why the “zero point energy” people are basically smoking their shorts. The premise of zero point energy is that there’s a vast amount of energy woven into the fabric of spacetime; if we can tap into it, we solve all our energy problems and go zooming off to the stars. They do seem to be right that there’s a huge amount of energy in empty space, but once again, the amount of energy does not tell you how much work you can do with it, and zero point energy is by definition at the lowest possible level of concentration. By definition, therefore, it can’t be made to do anything at all, and any attempt to make use of it belongs right up there on the shelf with my motor-generator gimmick.

The same logic also explains why projects for coming up with a replacement for fossil fuels using sunlight, or any other readily available renewable energy source, are doomed to fail. What makes fossil fuels so valuable is the fact that the energy they contain was gathered over countless centuries and then concentrated by geological processes involving fantastic amounts of heat and pressure over millions of years. They define the far end of the curve of energy concentration, at least on this planet, which is why they are as scarce as they are, and why no other energy resource can compete with them – as long as they still exist, that is.

As concentrated fossil fuel supplies deplete, in turn, a civilization that depends on them for its survival will find itself in a very nasty bind. If ours is anything to go by, it will proceed to make that bind even worse by trying to make up the difference by manufacturing new energy sources at roughly the same level of concentration. That’s a losing bargain, because it maximizes the amount of exergy that gets lost: you have to disperse a lot of energy to make the concentrated energy source, remember, before you can get around to using the concentrated energy source to do anything useful. Thus trying to fill our gas tanks with some manufactured substitute for gasoline, say, drains our remaining supplies of concentrated energy at a much faster pace than the other option – that of doing as much as possible with relatively low concentrations of energy, and husbanding the highly concentrated energy sources for those necessary tasks that can’t be done without them.

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