Posts Tagged energy


Posted by on Sunday, 15 April, 2012




You’ve read about fusion energy.

Energy that is plentiful and cheap.

It uses water as fuel. No pollution. No global warming. No uranium. No meltdowns.

Energy like it’s made in the stars where the nuclei of atoms are fused together.

Sadly, discussions about energy these days tend to describe fusion power as too “out there”, too “not in your lifetime”.

But what if..


Eric Lerner is the head of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics in new Jersey. It’s a small private lab.

Lerner put out a press release about how his company has advanced the “containment problem”.

Fusion reactions – think stars and hydrogen bombs – are  rough on any devices you try to put them in so they have to be contained in electromagnetic “bottles” to keep the incredibly corrosive plasma out of contact with the walls of the machine. Lerner says his lab has succeeded with containment at the highest temperature ever.

And not mere containment. Lawrenceville Plasma wasn’t happy with just beating mainstream scientists at their own game. Lerner’s team beat them with a technology that has been written off as impractical – a type of fusion that doesn’t produce any dangerous neutrons  – aneutronic fusion.  The process is safe as yogurt.

But safe doesn’t necessarily light  lamps.

I checked the nightly news: NBC, ABC, FOX? They missed Lerner’s announcement. There’s been an incredible lack of coverage. Nothing in the New York Times.  Nothing,  even  in The Good 5-Cent Cigar, the student newspaper at the University of Rhode Island.

Fishy? You’re thinking this was some self promotional deal that MisterScienceAintSoBad fell for?

Google it. Go ahead, I dare you. There’s nothing but praise for Lerner’s accomplishment. Online, this seems as solid as the theory of gravity. (In fact, the gravity thing  has some detractors on the far right and the far left).

Isn’t that TOO much praise for Lawrenceville Plasma Physics? Shouldn’t we worry? Normally, everybody’s a critic. The President may have been born in Kenya. The Queen of England’s a commie. Where did Lerner get HIS teflon? Shouldn’t there be some doubters asking how this small private lab, with a trickle of funding,  made an end run around the big players? Shouldn’t some be  questioning the authenticity of the report?

MisterScienceAintSoBad has seen this type of thing before. Remember the Mysterious Case of Chloe Sohl? As with the Chloe Sohl case, something didn’t sound right. If there’s a big breakthrough in fusion energy, it’s hot news, right?  Why is the mainstream press missing in action? Why does this breakthrough only show up  when I Google (or Bing or whatever)?

What gives?


The Internet is an open place. Information can be manipulated.

How? Maybe scam artists plant phony praise for certain “events”. So much so that it overwhelms everything else. Maybe they screw with Wikipedia articles.  Maybe they forge authoritative  recommendations. It would be nice to understand how this all works so you could know when you’re being played. For now, let me just remind you that if it seems too good to be true it probably is too good to be true.


In this case, there were hints.

Lerner had written a book about the big bang – The Big Bang Never Happened. In his book, he says that the physics world is wrong about the “big bang”.

Here’s the thing.

It could be Lerner, with his bachelors degree in physics, who’s wrong. And the entire community of scientists from Einstein to Hubble might possibly be right.

You never know.

Another hint. Lerner, in his press release, speaks matter of factly about cooperating with Iran in this vital area.


Was that a misprint? Did he mean Uranus? Isn’t Iran our mortal enemy? The future of energy now lies with a hands-across-the-ocean project between Iranian and US scientists?

Lerner says Iranian and American scientists want an alternative to the current conflict.

.. a scientific and engineering collaboration between the two countries that could, if successful, make uranium enrichment obsolete, block proliferation everywhere, liberate the world from oil, and open up a new source of cheap, clean unlimited energy. 

And, unbelievably, the New York Times missed THAT one?

Now Lerner has caught out the rest of the science guys again. The billions  that are being spent on nuclear fusion? What a waste! His company’s Focus Fusion 1 research instrument has achieved the highest temperature magnetic containment ever recorded. And on a shoestring. One more (giant) step to go for Lerner’s group. Then, ITER, the world’s most advanced nuclear fusion project, will become a useless relic.

Lerner’s achievement has met with silence from the establishment. And fist bumps from an easily impressed crowd on the Internet. Eric Lerner’s “All those A-holes who think they know so much just don’t get it” approach seems evidence enough.

If you want to believe.

Aneutronic fusion, as far as I can tell, is more akin to cold fusion (you remember Pons and Fleischmann, right?)  in that it shares the term “fusion” with the intense release of energy that happens in stars but not the potential for lighting up cities.

I’m going to say that the effort at Lawrenceville Plasma is more impossible dream than robust science. But, look, I could be wrong. I don’t have a Phd either.

Here’s some interesting back-and-forth on this event from ars technica (a site for tech geeks).


In the meantime, it’s fair to ask if we’ve given up too easily on the main fusion effort, the deuterium-tritium cycle that Lerner’s group disdains.


It HAS been a long time. And it may be yet another 20 years until commercialization of fusion power. But, you know what? The Joint European Torus has produced 16 megawatts of power-  not nothing – and demonstrated that the deuterium tritium cycle is technically feasible. A commercial scale power plant (that’s ITER) is where the remaining bugs get worked out. If all goes well – and I grant you that’s a lot of all’s to go well – we’re on our way to curbing global warming and a whole of other impossible stuff.

A new era.

For those who can wait.

– – – – – – – – –

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Posted by on Monday, 2 May, 2011


My Dear Mister Scienceaintsobad: I’m a pacifist and a vegetarian. I’m also an environmentalist and I hate, hate, hate the big gas guzzling monsters that you typical Americans drive . (Well, not YOU, MR SASB, since I’m sure YOU have a refined social conscience.) I’m trying to decided between a Toyota Prius hybrid which gets 51 mpg and a Ford Fusion which only gets 36 mpg. The problem is that I so want to “buy American” and yet, I want to get the most green, green, green car I can. Do you have any suggestions, kind sir? -Goody2shoes.

You already HAVE a life, right?

OK.Then let’s talk about hybrid cars. They’re great. No question about that. You get TWO engines for the price of one (and a half, actually).

And what is environmentalism, really,  if it can’t give you that “I’m so in love with  myself” moment?

But if you’re SERIOUSLY trying to figure out how to reduce the carbon footprint of your transportation, skip the hybrid  says the  Dust to Dust Energy Report – Automotive (CNW).

Why? Because we stupes who thought we were gonna save energy fergot to take into account the “lifecycle” cost of a vehicle. It takes ENERGY to MANUFACTURE a car and its parts. And, when you total up all that ENERGY, you haven’t SAVED anything.

CNW says.

In FACT, with a hybrid, you’re in the hole so bad (energywise)  that a hummer –  a big ol galumphing HUMMER –  is more efficient than a Prius.  Aren’t you glad you checked?

Except CNW’s pants are on fire. Its argument is flamed by Bengt Halvorson ( .

Bengt says there’s nothing new here. Lifecycle analysis is old stuff. Been around a long time.  Besides.  CNW’s “facts” don’t match up with other studies.  It should explain its methodology since most research goes the other way, affirming the benefit of hybrids.  One thing that’s kinda obvious about the CNW study is that it seems to jigger the lifetime of the some hybrids. For example, it gives the Prius only 109,000 miles while the Hummer H1 keeps humming for 379,000 miles. Is THAT fair??? And it “writes off” R&D for hybrid development over about 11 seconds.


MISTER SCIENCEAINTSOBAD can’t advise you about buying American, Goody. That’s not my department.

But you’re good to go with hybrids.

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Posted by on Sunday, 26 December, 2010

THAT DARN URANIUM! (Antinuclear Protest, Paris)

Thorium fueled nuclear power plants may the answer (part of it, anyway) to our energy needs.


The thing about nuclear power? It is fueled by uranium. Which is considered kinda dangerous. And, because it’s rare, uranium is expensive and supplies are finite. We’re already running low.

I can’t say that the radioactive waste from nuclear plants is that DESIRABLE either. The only state that actually wants to store it is Itchybottom. Which, come to think of it, isn’t, officially, a state.

By far, the worst byproduct of nuclear energy is plutonium which remains highly radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.

That’s what I said. Hundreds of thousands.


If you’re a terrorist who loves God, but not God’s children, you do like plutonium. Although making a“true” nuclear weapon’s probably not practical for terrorists, believe me,  the toxicity and radioactivity of plutonium’s plenty bad, all by itself. Our current nuke power stations make plutonium like chickens make eggs. If the stuff got into the wrong hands, the yoke could be on us.  This scares a LOT of people over at “Homeland”.


That’s the crazy thing. There is.

It’s called thorium. Thorium’s an element  (its symbol is Th). It’s named after Thor. And Thor is a God.

That should tell you something.

In an article for CNBC, Trevor Curwin of beausejourgroup describes how thorium could REALLY change the way we think about energy by replacing the uranium in our nuclear power stations with thorium.

Thorium is radioactive. Only a little though. Easy to shield against.

Although thorium isn’t common, there’s lots more thorium than there is uranium; you can MAKE uranium from thorium. Not only is thorium more common than uranium but a little thorium goes a long way. You get 200 units of uranium from 1 unit of thorium.

The US has 16% of the world supply of thorium, by the way.

As far as safety is concerned, that’s a point in its favor too.  The molten salts of thorium can’t sustain a chain reaction.  You can’t GET a thorium reactor to melt down.

Even with an appointment in advance.

That’s good,right?

But that’s the least of it. Get this! You can feed the radioactive waste you had been planning to store for 100,000 years into it and the thorium cycle will consume the waste and make it nice.

Nicer, anyway.

After a “mere” 300 years of storage, no byproduct of a thorium reactor is more dangerous than a lump of coal.

Okay. That IS a long time. But 300 years is short compared to hundreds of thousands. You’ll give me that.


Why thorium? Well, aside from “why not?” there are several good reasons.

1. It’s much safer than uranium and neatly solves the problem of nuclear waste as well as potential terrorism.

2. It’s much more abundant.

3. It’s cheaper.

4. It doesn’t require “refining” with centrifuges. Which makes thing much simpler and easier.

5. Like uranium based nuclear power, it doesn’t contribute to global warming.

6. Unlike solar, wind, hydro, and tidal, it doesn’t require very special conditions (like high winds or tides) to work.  So it can be located in a lot more places.

7. It can operate round the clock so storage of energy, which is a big problem for wind and solar, isn’t required.

8. It’s named after a god.


How long would it take to develop a thorium power station? It’s already been done in a couple of test reactors (since abandoned). And India and the Czech Republic are actively pursuing thorium .  If we get serious, we could probably build a modern thorium power plant in five to ten years.

The LAST thing MISTERScienceAintSoBad wants to do is make you feel all competitive. But DO you want India or (maybe) Iran to beat us to this very neat technology?

Do you?

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Posted by on Sunday, 22 August, 2010



In 1980, we met the compact fluorescent light.


Small and twisty with nasty contents. You KNOW something THAT bad must have an environmental justification. Compact fluorescents (CFLs) are just just – I dunno – wrong! The color is off, the shapes are off, they’re just not RIGHT!

They say we’re sposed  to use more and more compact fluorescents because  incandescent light bulbs are on the way out. They (incandescent bulbs)  chew up watts faster’en my dog chews through a morselburger (a morsel of hamburger dropped, accidentally, on the floor).

‘course, if you don’t like compact fluorescent bulbs and you wanna do the the right thing and avoid incandescent bulbs, there are those nice hot orange-ish  halogen lights. MisterScienceAintSoBad likes ’em better than CFLs.

But where are the  sturdy,cool,  long lasting light emitting diode (LED) bulbs which produce a lovely quality of light and  were promised in Genesis, Chapter 1, Verse 1 (Let there be.. “)? Aren’t they the ultimate solution to lighting?

They’re a comin’.

If you’ve bought yerself a nice flashlight, lately, you’ve probably noticed that there are dozens of models that sport LED bulbs. Unlike the flashlights we grew up with  that  throw out a wavering  yellow dot, surrounded by greasy ringlets of yellow and get dimmer and dimmer with use, the new flashlights with LED bulbs are incredible. They’re bright and clear and last a spooky long time. There are tiny versions that surprise with great light and larger versions that ‘re almost like an automotive headlight. Aim one across a big field and you can actually SEE the coyote who’s checking you out. MisterScienceAintSoBad has one for dog walks.

The coyotes in my town are buying them too.

According to Cree, sales of LED lighting components have doubled in the past 12 months.


Home lighting? Just watch. Home Depot’s gearing up to sell a “65 watt LED bulb” that  only uses 10 watts of juice. The light quality will be terrific, it will last a ridiculously long time,  and, if it breaks, no hazmat suits. A vacuum cleaner’ll do nicely.

Putting Algae In The Tank

Posted by on Tuesday, 12 January, 2010


Energy: Riding The Algal Wave.

Jet engines decorate our skies with their sunlight sparkled contrails. While sharing, generously, their carbon dioxide with our oh so delicate atmosphere.

Airplanes, alone, contribute 2 to 3 percent of all of the CO2 emissions – a lot for just one single human activity. When you think of all forms of transportation including planes, cars, trucks, trains, ships, barges, and whatnot they (airplanes) are responsible for about one fifth of the total.

Do you worry about such things? Do you think global warming’s an over hyped pseudo scientific fraud?

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad doesn’t like to make a big controversial mess out of himself so if you think the whole carbon thing’s all nonsense, I will let you go. You probably have other stuff to do right now anyway. The rest of you can move up into the empty chairs while I explain what the airline industry intends to do about this.

First I should explain that airplanes have a little too much oomph to run on solar energy. And hydrogen fuel cell’s are still more dreamish than realish. The practical answer appears to be some form of fuel made from renewable substances and algae seems to the renewable substance of the moment.

But the fuel requirements for the turbine engines that run jet aircraft are pretty stringent.

You would think!

It get very cold in the stratosphere. And the pressure changes considerably from down here to up there. Diesel, with its high flash point and low volatility isn’t a very good fuel for jets. And early forms of biodiesel tended to get cloudy and clog up at low temperatures. At 30,000 feet, you really WANT a good fuel. Don’t you? Failure is not (a very desirable) option. And, by the way, the flammability of jet fuel is a terrifically important consideration in the event of an airplane accident where spilled fuel can change a survivable crash into a hopeless inferno.

The delays in implementing a new kind of fuel aren’t just foot dragging. This isn’t an easy problem. Because of all this, for the foreseeable future, any solution is likely to be a mix of conventional fuel with biofuel.

What are the real prospects for replacing (or at least reducing) reliance on kerosene? In 2008, Boeing figured we would be able to transition to a 30/70 biofuel/kerosene mixture within 3 to 5 years.

Are we on track?

I asked Adele C Schwartz, a well respected journalist with lots of professional experience in the air transportation industry (oh and my sister) where to find information on this topic and she pointed me to an article by Geoffrey Thomas in Air Transport World which is fairly encouraging about the prospects for the airline industry getting itself over to algae based “biodiesel”. Sapphire Energy seems to think it’s good for a million gallons of biodiesel and biojet by next year.

But Thomas’s article emphasizes that this isn’t likely to happen without government incentives playing a major role.

One would hope!

Where WOULD this country be if we didn’t look to government to take the lead in innovation and risk?