Are We On the Verge of an Energy Breakthrough? → Washingtons Blog
Are We On the Verge of an Energy Breakthrough? - Washingtons Blog

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Are We On the Verge of an Energy Breakthrough?

Dr. Brian Josephson, winner of the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on superconductivity, has recently released a YouTube video of an interview of himself conducted by Judith Driscoll, Professor of Materials Science at Cambridge University. The video is also published on the Cambridge University website.

In the video, Dennis M. Bushnell - Chief Scientist at the NASA Langley Research Center - says that the Rossi e-cat reactor:

This is capable by itself of completly changing geoeconomics, geopolitics and solving climate and energy.
Professor Josephson is also very hopeful that the e-cat will be a breakthrough on par the first flight of the Wright brothers.

Popular Science reports:

A wee particle accelerator in the English countryside could be a harbinger of a safer, cleaner future of energy. Specifically, nuclear energy, but not the type that has wrought havoc in Japan and controversy throughout Europe and the U.S. It would be based on thorium, a radioactive element that is much more abundant, and much more safe, than traditional sources of nuclear power.

Some advocates believe small nuclear reactors powered by thorium could wean the world off coal and natural gas, and do it more safely than traditional nuclear. Thorium is not only abundant, but more efficient than uranium or coal — one ton of the silver metal can produce as much energy as 200 tons of uranium, or 3.5 million tons of coal, as the Mail on Sunday calculates it.

The newspaper took a tour of a small particle accelerator that could be used to power future thorium reactors. Nicknamed EMMA — the Electron Model of Many Applications — the accelerator would be used to jump-start fissile nuclear reactions inside a small-scale thorium power plant.

Thorium reactors would not melt down, in part because they require an external input to produce fission. Thorium atoms would release energy when bombarded by high-energy neutrons, such as the type supplied in a particle accelerator.

Techie Buzz notes:

A miniature particle accelerator, small enough to be stashed away in your basement, can be used to produce nearly unlimited amounts of nuclear energy, in a controlled manner, using the radioactive element thorium.


Scientists have long looked at a radioactive element other than Uranium as a potential candidate for producing nuclear power – Thorium. Thorium research is, however, at its infancy, given that the focus of all nuclear research has focused on Uranium. Thorium is found widely, easily refined, extremely safe to handle and leaves no residue after fission. Thorium produces about 200 times the energy produced by Uranium and produces no carbon dioxide. The only catch is that, for fission, it needs to be initiated by bombardment with charged particles, such as electrons. This is a happy handicap, since a Thorium reactor would be incapable of a meltdown. After Fukushima, this maybe the new global fool-proof safety standard.

Enter EMMA. EMMA can deliver the required accelerated electrons onto a Thorium core, producing energy in a process that is much more controlled than Uranium fission ... A nation powered by only Thorium based nuclear energy would leave no carbon footprint or nuclear waste and would not run out of energy in the next 10,000 years.


EMMA could usher in new-generation, clean and danger-free nuclear power plants, something that is considered an oxymoron today.

Moreover, as Popular Science points out in another article, a new alloy can convert heat directly into electricity:

A new alloy with unique properties can convert heat directly into electricity, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota. The alloy, a multiferroic composite of nickel, cobalt, manganese and tin, can be either non-magnetic and highly magnetic, depending on its temperature.

Multiferroic materials possess both magnetism and ferroelectricity, or a permanent electric polarization. Materials with both of these properties are very rare; check out this explainer from the National Institute of Standards and Technology if you’re interested in the electron orbital arrangements that cause these phenomena.


One obvious use for this material would be in the exhaust pipes of vehicles. Several automakers are already working on heat transfer devices that can convert a car’s hot exhaust into usable electricity; General Motors is using alloys called skutterudites, which are cobalt-arsenide materials doped with rare earths.

Rare earth magnets are already a necessity in many hybrid car batteries, so heat-capture devices made of the new multiferroic compound could be placed near the magnets.

The material could also be used in power plants or even ocean thermal energy generators, the researchers said.

Indeed, as I wrote in April:

Power can also be captured from excess heat energy. As I've previously noted:

Heat can be used to generate electricity. This is true not only on the industrial scale, but even on the level of your home faucet. Indeed, inventors have already built home faucet kits which turn the unused heat from your hot water into electricity.

In hot climates, black thermal-electric mats could be installed on roofs to generate electricity.

Heat is a byproduct of other processes, and so nothing special needs to be done to create it. Just about every human activity and many natural processes create heat, so we just have to utilize it.
A dramatic example of wasted heat energy is the Oak Creek coal-fired power plant in Wisconsin. The two units at Oak Creek suck up two billion gallons of water from Lake Michigan each day, and pipe it back into lake 10-15 degrees warmer. All of that heat energy is wasted.

So a new alloy which directly converts heat into energy is exciting.

And as I noted last year:

Due to high oil prices, major breakthroughs in energy production are happening every day.

For example:

  • It has been discovered that alcohol made from donuts, grass and other abundant materials can run cars and all other engines [see below]
With recent breakthroughs, individuals can now generate enough energy to get off the grid and power their own homes. Indeed, some companies will even provide the equipment for you (and see this).


And as I've written before, alcohol has more alternative energy applications than you might know:

There's a secret history regarding alcohol that you won't hear on the six o'clock news:

  • Cars and everything else running on internal combustion engines can run on alcohol at least as well as they can run on gasoline. Indeed, engines were built back in 1870 that could run using either alcohol or gasoline
  • A New York Times article from 1908 (and here) enthusiastically states:
"Autoists Discuss Alcohol As Fuel; Great Future Ahead For Use In Commercial Wagons, Says Prof. Lucke. Tests With Motor Truck E.R. Hewitt Tells Engineers Of His Results With Gasoline And Alcohol In Same Engine"
  • Henry Ford said that alcohol was "a cleaner, nicer, better fuel for automobiles than gasoline" (James Brough, The Ford Dynasty: An American Story, p. 118, and cited in "Ford - The Men and the Machine", p. 365). The Model T Ford had a knob right on the dashboard to adjust the fuel-air mixture for either alcohol or gas
  • Alcohol does not corrode or shorten the lifespan of modern cars, and an inexpensive adjustment to regular cars will make them run smoothly and inexpensively on alcohol

Moreover, those in the know actually are using alcohol as a fuel today. For example, there are many millions of cars being driven in Brazil that run on alcohol.

And many government and car fleets are actually required to be able to run on either alcohol or gas. The car companies simply forgot to tell the American consumer that these kind of cars are available. See this and this.
Indeed, as I've previously noted, running equipment using alcohol should not increase food prices:
The leading proponents of alcohol as fuel are not talking about corn. Corn is a lousy crop for making alcohol, and there are many other crops that are much more efficient. Indeed, the leaders in this field promote growing a wide variety of crops (appropriate for whatever specific climate you live in), and many of the crops they suggest are also valuable food crops.

And you don't even need to use plants . . . you can make alcohol fuel out of rotten fruit, stale soft drinks or donuts.
And see this and this.
Indeed, in a decidedly old-fashioned spin on the still and moonshine-making as livelihood during the Great Depression, engineer and alcohol production expert David Chu points out that we can create alcohol for our machines, mash to raise mushrooms, earthworms and fish, and CO2 for our garden all at the same time - producing a livelihood for ourselves in the process:


  1. Why use a particle accelerator when a LFTR - which uses a liquid thorium fluoride salt blanket surrounding the core to generate more uranium for the core - has already been demonstrated by the Oak Ridge group in the 1960s? A particle accelerator just seems over complicating the process. I assume there must be some advantage but I just can't see one.

  2. The section on multiferroic materials has a problem or two. You should point out that existing thermocouple technology is at least as efficient (probably more so) as this "breakthrough."

    Then there's this gem: "...Rare earth magnets are already a necessity in many hybrid car batteries..."

    Batteries do NOT CONTAIN MAGNETS.

  3. Yes....yes....YES! I'm glad the news about thorium is finally starting to get noticed. I wish the Prof all the best on his ideas but at the very least we should be spending BILLIONS on thorium research. I prefer the LFTR idea as you would find at but it is certainly better than blowing trillions on wars over oil or fracking up our drinking water.

  4. What people aren't getting about the linear accelerator thorium reactor is its small scale. Aside from the fact that industrial learning curve is better through manufacture of small units than large ones, smaller units lend themselves to a vastly greater resilience. I find it absolutely astonishing that the only person connected with the defense establishment to have seriously pushed for this kind of resilience in US society was William Norris and he achieve pariah status for putting his private resource behind his vision.

  5. I guess the bit about the particle accelerator is it avoids the need for dirty and lethal materials such as uranium, at least according to the quotes above. That seems like a pretty significant benefit.

    Alcohol is not the answer - not if everyone wants to drive a car anyway. It increases food prices as the amount of arable land continues to decline, and more importantly the availability of the fresh water in order to grow the plants. Not to mention fertiliser, let alone the environmental cost of monocultures.

    (and excuse me for laughing at making alcohol from donuts or flat coke ... because it's not like those are made from plants ... although perhaps in america ...)

    re solar, i'm surprised they're taking photovolataic and converting it to hydrogen to store - seems rather inefficient. The most efficient solar converters apparently use Stirling engines anyway.

    Stuff like this might be better if it can be scaled up/simplified:

  6. The problem never has been our ability to live on the Earth without destroying it, as we have for most of the time that the human species has been here.

    The problem is that in the last two centuries the power has become concentrated in people who are not sane, and they are in denial about the nature of the Earth.

    We are on the downslope of the peak of sanity unfortunately, and another civilization after ours has a better chance, in some ways, of doing what must be done.


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