May 20, 2005

Different News 

Tim Worstall read my technical assistance request and passed it to his readers - thus, I got a few comments with a possible diagnosis.
A motherboard problem seems to be the consensus. Bloody hell, because an eventual MB replacement will be expensive, and almost surely come together with untold hassle. As far as I know, the MiTAC service centres in the UK are in Telford (England) and Paisley (Scotland). Maybe someone knows a backyard, dodgy computer repairer in London?

The same Tim, however, also wrote a post about the latest encouraging developments in the field of fuel cells and solar energy. In particular, Solid Oxide Fuel Cells are ahead of schedule regarding their cost effectiveness, and they are ready to enter the market for local electricity generation (small power stations, in other words) and combined electricity-heat cycles. They are not suitable for transport, but they may be installed on a ship or submarine, who knows. The military navies around the world are very interested in all-electrical ship for various reasons (one can be to mount solenoid guns on them), and SOFCs would offer an efficient and silent (if you're noisy, enemy submarines and ships will hear you with hydrophones from many kilometers away) generation system. Indeed, I've heard from someone in-the-know that Italy and Germany are working together on a fuel cells-powered military submarine.

Tim also mentions a plan to pump excess carbon dioxide from power stations (or hydrogen plants) into exhausted oilfields or the slaty aquifers under the bottom of the North Sea. I've been at a conference on this plan, and it sounds good and feasible. Carbon dioxide would stay there in a liquid or even supercritical state until it reacts with dissolved minerals to form carbonaceous rocks - in about 5000 years.

Also, efficient systems for the photocracking of water are now available: in future, we may have water cracked in our roof using sunlight, then hydrogen stored and burned during the night or cloudy days in SOFCs to produce electricity and heath. This is still engineering fiction (not science, because all this is already possible, but too expensive, difficult and unpractical to apply for domestic use), but maybe in 20 years it will be fairly common.

Efficiency of solar cells is up to 30%, but there are also extremely cheap and less efficent cells available.

What I figure for the future is an energy mix: traditional but novel power stations (clean coal processes, turbogas and pebble-bed nuclear) will still be necessary for the bulk production, but that will be locally integrated by a variety of renewable sources - wind, solar, biomass as a fuel, maybe even wave or tidal energy.

I think this is a realistic scenario, more than those who want to produce GW upon GW using only wind farms and sparse rows of solar panels. And, all this will allow us to mantain our living standards, while at the same time causing less pollution an using less resources - and causing less climate change, if human activities have a significant impact on it.


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