Part two is a look at emerging technologies with fusion forefront.  Without any doubt the Holy Grail, planetary savior, or nirvana is likely fusion.  Following close on would be the dark horses such as Randell Mills’ BlackLight hydrino technology.

Fusion outside of the multinational ITER project using the old tokamak idea to confine the fuel has had a banner year.  When it comes to fusion events its hard to tell who had burned the most fuel or who fused the most atoms, but a certainty is in hand, Bussard Fusion and Lerner Fusion are both able to fuse on demand with Rostoker’s secret privately funded concept still under wraps and the Canadian’s General Fusion team building a machine to physically hammer fusion.  The path to fusion breakeven has gotten much, much wider.  2009 marked a good year for funding and is already paying off.

At the other end of the spectrum are the cold fusion derivatives.  While cold fusion is still a nasty for some, it’s been a generation since the fiasco that started with Fleischmann & Pons.  But credit is due to the pair, the fusion events are coming faster, stronger and more reliably than ever, they will be seen as triggering a seminal event.  The public relations disaster needs gotten over with, and the research needs supported with quality and quantity of attention and funding.  Something that releases energy is going on, the inputs are minimal for the output, and the available heat needs harnessing.   The physics believers are getting steamrolled by the leaders; cold fusion is real and won’t be going away.  The embarrassments to come are going to be humiliating.  Fingers are already getting sharpened up for the pointing.  Meanwhile the chemistry crowd has the bit in its teeth and may have working units before the physics people can grow up enough to explain it.

In the same way physics is overlooking or dissing Randell Mills’ BlackLight.  Dr. Mills is busily gathering third party confirmations, signing customers and pressing on with the designs and building of ever-larger units for testing and construction.  The question is, obviously, scale. How big can it get?  Another question could be how small can it get?  Assuming the technology works, which is less and less of a concern, Dr. Mills has something historical.  Should working units start delivery or construction, the event will be worth being alive to see.  There could be a price war to the bottom for generating electricity someday and that someday might be sooner than one might think.

Bio engineering and innovative chemistry are making great strides for bio-based fuels.  Even the centuries old technology of brewing alcohol is getting attention.  Yields and efficiencies are making news.  For portable liquid fuels the future for consumers looks bright.

The ethanol industry has had a banner year.  While the oil price run up in 2008 set up some producers for going broke, the new owners have gotten facilities at bargain basement prices.  No note of any plants closing permanently has passed this screen, instead the news of ever increasing sophistication in efficiency streams by.  Both corn and sugar cane are on a roll.  And much to the chagrin of the ‘sky is going to fall’ food vs. fuel crowd there were no shortages of food or even noticeable price increases – rather U.S. taxpayers are finally off the hook for the multi tens of billions of dollars in subsidies paid over decades for corn production.  Corn and other raw feedstocks have always followed the price of oil, and for the years to come it will be that way – ethanol or not.  What to look forward to is the change over where the price of oil follows the biomass price.  That’s the turning point.  It’s coming as sure as another sunrise.

The most engaging, interesting and high potential field is in bioengineering.  This writer is hoping that 2010 will see the announcement of a fully designed and engineered organism with attributes of bacteria and fungi or however the ideal biomass to fuel precursor is built.  Imagine you are an R&D executive at a major independent oil company, the handwriting is on the wall, hydrocarbons are very easy to make, it’s the productivity and processes that human intelligence has to master.  There is no surprise then that Exxon-Mobil has put $600 million on the table.  More is sure to follow from others.  Yields and efficiencies are just setting up at the starting gate.

Liquid fuels are humanities’ favorite energy storage – so far.  The electrical storage research field is the single most exciting research business for 2009.  We saw air battery technologies in both zinc and lithium metals gain traction and fast funding opportunities.  Consortiums have formed, the most notable one led by IBM.  Chemical electron storage research has just hit the fast lane for batteries.

The capacitor arena seems dominated by Eestor and their still ‘secret’ capacitor.  This firm is another ‘doubt is passing by’ technology.  At the scale of investors, executives and signed non-disclosure parties in on the developments, there is something huge going on there.  There are competitive answers too.  Carbon capacitors at very low price points can get to market if the funding gets to the innovators.  Should Eestor come out functioning the investment money should flow heavily.  Cheap electron storage is the salvation for all intermittent power production. There’s getting to be an awful lot of investment in intermittent power production and should a really disruptive technology such as BlackLight go to market whole industries will be headed for dire straights with a need for storage.

That’s the good stuff, now for the worst of the bad.  The limitation on humanities’ creativity is the capacity of the individual mind for imagination.  Societies that seed and nurture those minds are going to lead, prosper and grow pulling the whole of the world along.  The U.S. has had the leadership for generations.  But somehow the electorate chose an administration that has an ideology that puts the consensus of decisions in the government’s hands.  2009 could not have been a more clear demonstration.  A year has been lost to the attempt, which astonishingly looks like it will succeed, to seize one seventh of the national economy moving a huge share of the freely chosen individual decisions into bureaucratic hands.  Choice and self-determination is being replaced by law, regulations, bureaucrats and documentation requiring individual compliance.  No more destructive social choice could do more harm to so many individuals.

This is a demonstration of the central control danger to human progress.  Entrenchment, either from a political agenda seeking power and rents, or the idea in science from the past denying new ideas be they a fact, a fiction or a sham, or an industry rich in influence closing opportunity to better ways or just plain ol’ human intransigence – the past year is a warning.  The U.S. is showing its age, fearfulness and corruption.

The worry should go across the entire energy and fuel territory from investors, lenders and management to workers, consumers and ultimately the researcher, innovator and creative minds in every field of endeavor.

Wealth creation and capital formation are the engines of prosperity. They can exist only when risks offer great rewards.  Centralizing power, in any industry, is a cold shower warning of a drowning.  Wealth will move to safety when threatened and the U.S. electorate has just threatened itself with dire results likely on the way.

2010 doesn’t hold quite the promise of 2009.  The profits are smaller, the government has changed priorities, and risks seem larger compared to the rewards.  Maybe it’s just a recession without leadership answers that make much sense.  But the seeding for 2009s results were in the past years, 2010 will be in part the choices made in 2009.  And the seeding rate is sinking.


2 Comments so far

  1. Frank on January 5, 2010 7:24 PM
  2. Matt on January 6, 2010 10:57 AM

    The black swans are swimming and confounding naysayer physicists. The community college science lab fusion actually is working. And, the black light thingamajig seems to work as well.

    1/2 of all the humans on earth currently heat and cook with wood or dung. Their chance at a decent life may be on the horizon.

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