20 October 2005

The Scientist, The Madman, The Thief and Their Lightbulb : The Search for Free Energy

An (even-handed) history of the quest for free energy: energy that doesn't consume matter and doesn't produce waste. Much of the hope rides on electricity and magnetism and the research is as old as our modern study of electromagnetism.

[The theories] are not creating any new energy. The systems are doing at least one of two things: they have either found--as in the case of some cold fusion cells--a new way of accessing chemical, nuclear or other forms of energy locked up in the system's components parts; the other possibility is that they are getting their energy from the 'zero-point fluctuations of the vacuum'. This zero-point energy is the 'background' or 'ether' energy of the universe, and is also called vacuum energy, or the 'quantum fluctuations of the vacuum'.

So the hope is that we can tap into the larger machinery of the Earth and the universe itself and convert its fundamental processes into useful energy. There are many quack-y stories in here but some fascinating all the same. I was astounded that even in the earliest days of fossil fuel use, many scientists were warning that we shouldn't become dependent on it. In 1900, Nikola Tesla says:

In some countries, as in Great Britain, the hurtful effects of this squandering of fuel are beginning to be felt. The price of coal is constantly rising, and the poor are made to suffer more and more. Though we are still far from the dreaded 'exhaustion of the coal fields', ... it is our duty to coming generations to leave this store of energy intact for them, or at least not to touch it until we shall have perfected processes for burning coal more efficiently. Those who are to come after us will need fuel more than we do.
The Scientist, The Madman, The Thief and Their Lightbulb : The Search for Free Energy; Tutt, Keith
[ posted by sstrader on 20 October 2005 at 10:34:25 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature ]