This month we are happy
to announce the release of the NEW and improved EM Pulser! It is an improved version
with a stronger magnetic field pulse coil and rechargeable battery,
designed by the late medical doctor Glen Gordon. EM-Pulser
still has the nanosecond rise time based on an impressive NASA
study. As an accompanied DVD lecture of his indicates, the fast
magnetic pulse stimulates the heat shock protein 70 (HSP 70) which is
a chaperone protein able to repair inflammation on site very quickly.
His list of recommended applications accompanies each device we sell
and several of his articles are included in the hefty User Manual. We
also offer a thirty day money back and one year warranty as well.
are also introducing a Clearance Sale of $20 on
the past NPA-20 Conference Proceedings (where
COFE6 was held in parallel) with the 383-page (bound
8.5"x11") book, as well as a wonderful monograph, Cosmology and Zero Point Energy by
Barry Setterfield for only$15 for the 465-page masterpiece
(bound 8.5"x11"), since they were donated to IRI for our
viewers and readers by the Natural Philosophy Alliance. The one-page summary back cover of Cosmology
and Zero Point Energy is online. Also the list of all of the
papers (Page One of the Table of Contents and Page Two of the Table of Contents) in
the NPA-20 Conference Proceedings has been posted online
for your perusal.
first #1 story is an exciting and expanding field of bio research
from Columbia University where bacterial spores on a rubber sheet are
now generating electricity directly just from a wet surface which
causes a repeated bending of the rubber sheet. This the same type of
action reported last year in our Future Energy eNews (January, 2013) with
a totally different polymer technology developed by MIT and a
Story #2 is a nice update to an old renewable energy technology that
is now considered future energy since the theoretical output is
estimated to be about 20 Gigawatts. Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion
(OTEC) has operated successfully off the coast of Hawaii for at least
20 years but now 21st century engineers are planning to expand
its production worldwide. This is a great, in-depth analysis of its
potential since the thermal gradient is very consistent and probably
increasing with global warming of the atmosphere.
#3 deals with a new view of the world's largest solar electric generator also
reported on in the Future Energy eNews last month when it first
opened in Ivanpah, CA. The concern is how the energy can be used at
night and the solution is found in a well-known technology reported
on, once again, in a past Future Energy eNews (January, 2012) where
a chart of four phase change materials on the market now can store
massive amounts of heat by melting (in clothing or in buildings).
However, the new article below is looking for "new"
materials -including new kinds of salt and glass-that can store heat
at these high temperatures.
#4 is a celebration of private space enterprise with SpaceX
successfully recovering its rocket booster thus aiming at lowering
the cost of transporting goods to low earth orbit.
last Story #5 gives mankind a glimmer of hope for controlling and
perhaps reducing one of the major greenhouse heat-trapping gases in
our earth's atmosphere - CO2. Now it has been discovered that CO2 can
be stored and vitrified into rock itself through a chemical reaction
with volcanic minerals. No clean future energy technology can be a
revolution if the earth keeps trapping more and more heat so this new
technology is a marriage made in heaven perhaps, if millions of tons
of CO2 can be sequestered in this manner.
Valone, PhD, PE.
Proceedings from NPA. Click on picture to order
465-page ZPE Monograph from NPA
on picture to order
1) Electrical Generator Uses Bacterial Spores
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired
Engineering at Harvard
A new type of electrical generator uses bacterial spores to
harness the untapped power of evaporating water, according to new
research. Its developers foresee electrical generators driven by
changes in humidity from sun-warmed ponds and harbors.
prototype generators work by harnessing the movement of a sheet of
rubber coated on one side with spores. The sheet bends when it dries
out, much as a pine cone opens as it dries or a freshly fallen leaf
curls, and then straightens when humidity rises. Such bending back
and forth means that spore-coated sheets or tiny planks can act as
actuators that drive movement, and that movement can be harvested to
this technology is developed fully, it has a very promising
endgame," said Ozgur Sahin, Ph.D., who led the study, first at
Harvard's Rowland Institute, later at the Wyss Institute, and most
recently at Columbia University, where he's now an associate
professor of biological sciences and physics. Sahin collaborated with
Wyss Institute Core Faculty member L. Mahadevan, Ph.D., who is also
the Lola England de Valpine professor of applied mathematics,
organismic and evolutionary biology, and physics at the School of
Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University, and Adam Driks,Ph.D.,
a professor of microbiology and immunology at Loyola University
Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. The researchers reported their
work yesterday in Nature Nanotechnology.
evaporation is the largest power source in nature, Sahin said.
"Sunlight hits the ocean, heats it up, and energy has to leave
the ocean through evaporation," he explained. "If you think
about all the ice on top of Mt. Everest -- who took this huge amount
of material up there? There's energy in evaporation, but it's so subtle
we don't see it."
until now no one has tapped that energy to generate electricity.
Sahin pursued the idea of a new humidity-driven generator, he
realized that Mahadevan had been investigating similar problems from
a physical perspective. Specifically, he had characterized how
moisture deforms materials, including biological materials such as
pinecones, leaves and flowers, as well as human-made materials such
as a sheet of tissue paper lying in a dish of water.
collaborated with Mahadevan and Driks on one of those studies. A soil
bacterium called Bacillus subtilis wrinkles as it dries out
like a grape becoming a raisin, forming a tough, dormant spore. The
results, which they reported in 2012 in theJournal of the Royal
Society Interface, explained why.
raisins, which cannot re-form into grapes, spores can take on water
and almost immediately restore themselves to their original shape.
Sahin realized that since they shrink reversibly, they had to be
storing energy. In fact, spores would be particularly good at storing
energy because they are rigid, yet still expand and contract a great
deal, the researchers predicted.
changing moisture levels deform these spores, it followed that
devices containing these materials should be able to move in response
to changing humidity levels," Mahadevan said. "Now Ozgur
has shown very nicely how this could be used practically."
Sahin first set out to measure the energy of spores, he was taken by
put a solution thick with spores on a tiny, flexible silicon plank,
expecting to measure the humidity-driven force in a customized atomic
force microscope. But before he could insert the plank, he saw it
curving and straightening with his naked eye. His inhaling and
exhaling had changed the humidity subtly, and the spores had
realized then that this was extremely powerful," Sahin said.
fact, simply increasing the humidity from that of a dry, sunny day to
a humid, misty one enabled the flexible, spore-coated plank to
generate 1000 times as much force as human muscle, and at least 10
times as much as other materials engineers currently use to build
actuators, Sahin discovered. In fact, moistening a pound of dry
spores would generate enough force to lift a car one meter off the
build such an actuator, Sahin tested how well spore-coated materials
such as silicon, rubber, plastic, and adhesive tape stored energy,
settling on rubber as the most promising material.
he built a simple humidity-driven generator out of Legos™, a
miniature fan, a magnet and a spore-coated cantilever. As the
cantilever flips back and forth in response to moisture, it drives a
rotating magnet that produces electricity.
prototype captures just a small percentage of the energy released by
evaporation, but it could be improved by genetically engineering the
spores to be stiffer and more elastic. Indeed, in early experiments,
spores of a mutant strain provided by Driks stored twice as much
energy as normal strains.
and wind energy fluctuate dramatically when the sun doesn't shine or
the wind doesn't blow, and we have no good way of storing enough of
it to supply the grid for long," said Wyss Institute Founding
Director Don Ingber, M.D., Ph.D. "If changes in humidity could
be harnessed to generate electricity night and day using a scaled up
version of this new generator, it could provide the world with a
desperately needed new source of renewable energy."
work was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Rowland Junior
Fellows Program, and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired
Engineering at Harvard University. In addition to Sahin, Driks and
Mahadevan, the authors included Xi Chen, a postdoctoral research
associate at Columbia University.
above story is based on materials provided by Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired
Engineering at Harvard. Note: Materials may be edited for
content and length.
- Xi Chen, L. Mahadevan, Adam Driks, Ozgur
Sahin. Bacillus spores as building blocks for
stimuli-responsive materials and nanogenerators. Nature
Nanotechnology, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2013.290
Oceans of Power at 20,000 Megawatts
03 March 2014 by Helen Knight, New Scientist,
Jules Verne imagined this
limitless power source in Victorian times - now 21st-century
engineers say heat trapped in the oceans could provide electricity for
IF ANY energy source is
worthy of the name "steampunk", it is surely ocean thermal
energy conversion. Victorian-era science fiction? Check: Jules Verne
mused about its potential in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the
Sea in 1870. Mechanical, vaguely 19th-century technology? Check.
Compelling candidate for renewable energy in a post-apocalyptic
future? Tick that box as well.
Claims for it have certainly
been grandiose. In theory, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC)
could provide 4000 times the world's energy needs in any
given year, with neither pollution nor greenhouse gases to show
for it. In the real world, however, it has long been written off as
This year, a surprising
number of projects are getting under way around the world, helmed not
by quixotic visionaries but by hard-nosed pragmatists such as those
at aerospace giant Lockheed Martin. So what's changed?
It's possible that Verne
dreamed up the idea for OTEC to help out Captain Nemo, the
protagonist of Verne's deep-sea yarn who needed electricity to power
his submarine, the Nautilus - it is the first written mention of the
idea. "By establishing a circuit between two wires plunged to
different depths, [it should be possible] to obtain electricity by
the difference of temperature to which they would have been exposed,"
Nemo told his shipmate. Eleven years after the book was published,
French physicist Jacques-Arsène d'Arsonval proposed the first
practical design for a power plant that does exactly that. Instead of
using wires, he used pipes to exploit the temperature difference between
the cold deep ocean and the warm surface waters to generate steam
The idea is brilliant. The
ocean is a massive and constantly replenished storage medium for
solar energy. Most of that heat is stored in the top 100 metres of
the ocean, while the water 1000 metres below - fed by the polar
regions - remains at a fairly constant 4 to 5 °C.
To make energy from that
heat difference, modern-day systems pump warm surface water past
pipes containing a liquid with a low boiling point, such as ammonia.
The ammonia boils and the steam is used to power a turbine,
generating electricity. Cold deep-ocean water is then piped through
the steam, causing the ammonia to condense back into a liquid, ready
to begin the cycle again (see diagram). Steam-powered turbines
drive nearly every coal and nuclear power plant in the world, but
their steam is produced by burning polluting coal or generating
long-lived nuclear waste. OTEC, by contrast, provides steam in a
clean and theoretically limitless way.
That's in an ideal world. In
reality, what the ocean's thermal gradient gives, the equipment takes
away. The main problem is accessing the cold deep water: pumping the
vast amounts of water needed requires 1000-metre-long pipes that are
wide enough and strong enough to handle several cubic metres of
seawater per second for every megawatt of electricity produced. Tally
all the inefficiencies in the process and the theoretical efficiency
of an OTEC plant drops to a dismal 4 to 6 per cent.
Thanks to this and other
factors, the process needs a temperature difference of at least 20 °C
between the surface and deep water to work. Such conditions exist in
a relatively narrow band around Earth's equator that includes the
tropics and subtropics (see map).
Despite these constraints,
the 20th century was filled with fitful efforts to make OTEC work.
The most ambitious of these, in the 1970s, was sparked by an oil
crisis, after which the US president Jimmy Carter signed into law the
production of 10,000 megawatts of electricity using the technology by
1999. However, the price of oil then fell again, and alternatives to
petroleum sank once more to the bottom of the to-do list.
So when Lockheed Martin last
year announced that it would begin construction on a 10-megawatt
plant off the coast of southern China, the news was met with a marked
lack of interest. We had been here before.
A closer look, however,
reveals that the project may signal a sea change for OTEC. The time
may finally have come for this 19th-century technology to become part
of the 21st century's renewable energy mix, thanks to a strange
partnership of other renewables, the oil industry - and perhaps even
Many calculations are
changing. OTEC's efficiency may be low, but since it uses seawater,
which is abundant and free, it still makes economic sense if done on
a large-enough scale. Oil prices are unstable and climate change is
becoming an increasingly urgent driver of alternative energy sources.
The shortcomings of intermittent renewables such as wind and solar
energy, which only produce electricity when the sun is shining or the
wind is blowing, are still keeping these on the margins. By contrast,
OTEC plants can operate 24 hours a day, says Ted Johnson of Ocean
Thermal Energy Corporation, which plans to commercialise the
technology. Round-the-clock power means an OTEC plant could simply be
plugged directly into a municipal grid to replace fossil fuel power
plants, without the adjustments and balances necessary to integrate
unpredictable solar and wind power.
But what use is that power
if the equipment needed to harness it costs more than the electricity
it provides? Here, too, advances have been made. Lockheed Martin borrowed
techniques from bridge and wind-turbine manufacturing - both of which
use advanced fibreglass and resin composites to make their
ultra-light, ultra-strong materials - to design a cheap pipe that is
strong and flexible enough to withstand the stresses and strains of
ocean currents. Even better, it can be assembled on the ocean-surface
platform of the OTEC plant itself and gradually lowered in as it is
made, eliminating the risk of transporting the huge structure into
position - and dropping it. A promising OTEC project in the Bay of
Bengal had to be scrapped in 2003, after engineers building a
1-megawatt plant lost not only their first pipe but also its
Then there are myriad
lessons from the offshore oil and gas industry, where it has become
commonplace to operate in ocean depths greater than 1000 metres.
These have made equipment available for commercial purchase that just
20 years ago would have needed to be designed from scratch.
Thanks to such developments,
a 100-megwatt plant would cost about $790 million to build, says Luis
Vega, who researches OTEC at the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute at
the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Taking the costs of building and
running an OTEC plant into account, Vega reckons the price of the
electricity produced would come in at around 18 US cents per kilowatt hour, not far
from US Department of Energy estimates of 14 cents for coal with
carbon capture and storage, and 14 to 26 cents for solar energy.
In this changed landscape,
OTEC projects have begun to pop up all over the world. Last year, a
50-kilowatt pilot OTEC plant began operating on Kume Island in
Okinawa, Japan. Meanwhile in Hawaii, Makai Ocean Engineering is
building a 100- kilowatt plant at its Ocean Energy Research Center in
Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. This year, Bluerise, a spin-out from
Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, is planning to
start building a 500-kilowatt OTEC plant close to Curaçao
International Airport in the Carribbean. "These smaller islands
are likely to be the first market, as they are all suffering from a
dependency on expensive imported fuels," says Remi Blokker, CEO
But they won't be the last.
Recent advances promise to bring OTEC into the mainstream.
Various research groups have
investigated the possibility of combining OTEC with solar power.
Paola Bombarda at the Polytechnic University of Milan in Italy has
modelled the output of an OTEC plant that uses solar power to
increase the temperature of the warm ocean water before it is used to
boil the ammonia. She found that even a low-cost solar collector - a
simple device that traps heat in lenses or tubes - could triple a
plant's daytime electricity output (Journal of Engineering for Gas Turbines
and Power, vol 135, p 42302).
Similar techniques could
help plants in countries that lie a bit too far north to rely on OTEC
all year round, such as South Korea. In the summer months, the
temperature difference between the surface and deep water around
South Korea exceeds the all-important 20 °C minimum, but that isn't the
case in winter. So to make it work year-round, engineers at the Korea
Ocean Research & Development Institute (KORDI) in Goseong-gun are
beginning to modify a 20-kilowatt demonstration plant so that heat from solar power, wind farms and
waste incineration plants can pre-heat the incoming surface
water before it meets the ammonia.
An even better idea would be
to combine OTEC with another 24-hour power source. Hyeon-Ju Kim and
his colleagues at KORDI are looking to geothermal energy, which taps
heat deep underground, to boost the temperature of the seawater that
boils the ammonia in a combined
"GeOTEC" plant. Such tweaks could expand the
"equatorial waistband" for productive OTEC plants by a
factor of two.
In light of these rapid
developments, OTEC has become promising enough that the prospect of
its expansion has begun to ring alarm bells among environmentalists.Concerns have been raised by the US
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among others, about
the risk of algal blooms forming as nutrient-rich,
bacteria-free water from the sunless depths is introduced to the
hungry algae in warmer, sunlit waters. But computer modelling
suggests that as long as the cold water is returned to the ocean at
depths lower than 60 metres, the risk of algal blooms should be minimal,
To eliminate even this
modest risk, London-based Energy Island has patented a design for an
OTEC plant in which the ammonia vapour is no longer condensed into
liquid at the surface but at depth. This means nutrient-rich water
would never need to be pumped up to the surface, says founder Dominic
Another question being posed
echoes previous concerns about the large-scale take up of other
renewables: does OTEC have local and global effects on the
environment,such as changing global temperatures?
Happily, research suggests
we can ramp up OTEC production without affecting the ocean.
Researchers at the University of Hawaii's Ocean and Resources Engineeringdepartment
in Honolulu modelled the effect of widespread, commercial-scale OTEC
production on the seas, including the global thermohaline circulation
- the network of slow currents that transport deep water throughout
the oceans. They found that OTEC plants could safely extract the
equivalent of 7 terawatts of electricity, or nearly 50 per cent of
global energy consumption, before they would have any noticeable
effect on ocean temperatures (Journal of Energy Resources Technology,
vol 135, p 41202). However, the authors acknowledge the
difficulties of drawing strong conclusions about the environmental
effects of OTEC.
It is certainly a good time
to add a new form of renewable-energy generation to the mix, since
climate change may have unforeseen circumstances for some existing
clean technologies. In July, the US Department of Energy released a report on the energy sector's
vulnerability to climate change, which found that higher
temperatures could reduce the amount of fresh water available for
both hydropower generation and concentrated solar power plants, whose
superheated equipment requires water cooling.
By comparison, OTEC sweet
spots don't appear to be vulnerable to climate change, says Robert
Thresher, a research fellow at the National Renewable Energy
Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. "Most of the OTEC resources are
along the equator, and you wouldn't expect the sea surface
temperature to dramatically change there," he says.
Indeed, climate change might
even increase the global output for OTEC by expanding the
OTEC-friendly zone: "As the oceans warm with climate change, you
might find warmer [surface] water further north and south from the
equator," he says. Though the idea has also been proposed
elsewhere, he hastens to add that this is "an intuitive
notion" that would need to be confirmed by rigorous modelling.
More problematic is the
suggestion that the deep oceans may have absorbed a great deal of the
heat of climate change, which could reduce the all-important
temperature difference of surface and deep water (New Scientist, 7
December 2013, p 34). However, according to research published last
year by Magdalena Balmaseda and colleagues at the European Centre for
Medium Range Weather Forecasts in Reading, UK, it is far from clear
where exactly that heat is going. "The heat absorption is not
uniform in space, depth and time," says Balmaseda (Geophysical Research Letters, vol 40, p
Whether or not the warm
equatorial waistband OTEC relies on expands, the technology might not
be limited to countries in the tropics for much longer. At the
Offshore Symposium in Houston, Texas, in February 2013, SBM Offshore,
which develops technology for oil exploration and drilling, revealed
that it has been investigating designs for a 10-megawatt OTEC ship as
a means of providing power to remote oil wells. OTEC plants become
more expensive the further they are built from shore, but ships,
which are cheaper to build, have no such constraints. OTEC ships
could roam the seas in search of spots with the best temperature
ratios, tethering to submarine cables to return power to shore.
Indeed, proponents of the
technology believe the future lies in OTEC ships that
"graze" the oceans for electricity. To get around the
problem of delivering it to shore by submarine cables, the
electricity generated could be used in situ to split seawater into
hydrogen and oxygen, with the hydrogen stored in fuel cells before being
transported for use around the world. A 100-megawatt OTEC ship
could produce 1.3 tonnes of liquid hydrogen per hour, says Vega,
albeit at a present cost of about three times what a barrel of oil
costs today. The hydrogen economy, after all, is still finding its
Nonetheless, it appears,
after all this time, that Jules Verne may have been onto something.
If anything, he was thinking too small. Instead of a ship powered by
the ocean, a fleet of ships may bring the ocean's energy to the
world. Steampunk indeed.
This article appeared in
print under the headline "Sea change"
Leader: "Society turns to steampunk to fix its
Helen Knight is a
writer based in London
back to table of contents
3) Cheap Solar
Power Generated at Night
Kevin Bullis, MIT Technology Review, April 2014
New solar thermal technologies could address
solar power's intermittency problem.
the world's largest solar thermal power plant-in Ivanpah,
California-opened earlier this year, it was greeted with skepticism.
The power plant is undeniably impressive. A collection of 300,000
mirrors, each the size of a garage door, focus sunlight on three
140-meter towers, generating high temperatures. That heat produces
steam that drives the same kind of turbines used in fossil-fuel power
plants. That heat can be stored (such as by heating up molten salts)
and used when the sun goes down far more cheaply than it costs to
store electricity in batteries (see "World's Largest Solar
Thermal Power Delivers Power for the First Time").
many experts-even some who invested in the plant-say it might be the
last of its kind. David Crane, CEO of NRG
Energy, one of three companies, including BrightSource Energy and
Google, that funded the plant, says the economics looked good when
the plant was first proposed six years ago. Since then, the price of
conventional photovoltaic solar panels has plummeted. "Now we're
banking on solar photovoltaics," he told a crowd of researchers
and entrepreneurs at a conference earlier this year.
allure of solar thermal technology is simple. Unlike conventional
solar panels, it can generate power even when the sun isn't shining.
But in practice, it's far more expensive than both fossil fuel power
and electricity from solar panels. And that reality has sent
researchers scrambling to find ways to make the technology more
big challenge, says Philip Gleckman, chief technology officer of Areva Solar, is that
the arrays of mirrors, as well as the motors and gearboxes used to
aim them at the sun, are expensive. One potential fix, he says, comes
from a San Francisco startup, Otherlab, which
replaces the motors with pneumatics and actuators that can be made
cheaply using the manufacturing equipment that's currently used to
make plastic water bottles.
head of Otherlab's solar efforts, Leila Madrone, says the
technology could cut the cost of mirror fields for concentrating
sunlight by 70 percent. But even this cost reduction, she says, won't
be enough to make the technology competitive with solar panels-even
though the mirrors account for a third to a half of the overall cost
of a solar thermal plant.
overall costs down will require increasing the amount of power a
solar thermal plant can generate, so it can sell more power for the
same amount of investment. One approach to increasing power output is
to increase the temperatures at which solar thermal power plants can
operate, which would make them more efficient. They currently operate
at 650 °C or less, but some researchers are developing ways to
increase this to anywhere from 800 °C to 1,200 °C. That approach is
being pursued by another startup, Halotechnics, which
uses high-throughput screening processes to develop new
materials-including new kinds of salt and glass-that can store heat
at these high temperatures (see "Cheap Solar Power at Night").
option, being funded by a new program at the U.S. Advanced Research
Projects Agency for Energy, is to make power plants that add solar
panels to solar thermal power plants. The basic idea is that solar
panels can only efficiently convert certain wavelengths of light into
electricity. Much of the energy in infrared and ultraviolet light,
for example, doesn't get converted, and is instead emitted as heat.
The new projects look for ways to harness that heat.
systems that combine heat and solar panels aren't new. For many
years, companies have offered solar systems that run water pipes
behind solar panels-the waste heat from the panels makes the water
hot enough for showers.
new approach, however, is to look for ways to reach much higher
temperatures-high enough to be used for generating electricity. Such
methods typically involve concentrating sunlight to generate high
temperatures, and then diverting some of that concentrated sunlight
to solar panels.
one case, nanoparticles suspended in a fluid absorb wavelengths of
sunlight that solar panels don't convert efficiently. Those
nanoparticles heat up the fluid. Light that the solar panels can use
pass through the fluid to a solar panel. Other researchers use
mirrors that allow only certain wavelengths to pass through
Howard Branz, the program
manager in charge of these projects at ARPA-E, says the hope is that
the added cost of these hybrid systems will be made up for by two
things. First, the systems will be more efficient, potentially
converting more than half of the energy in sunlight into electricity,
compared to 15 to 40 percent with existing conventional solar panels.
the ability to store heat for use whenever it's needed will become
more valuable as more solar power is installed. Germany, which has
far more solar power than any other country, sometimes has to pay its
neighbors to take excess solar power generated on some sunny days.
"This program is looking out to a future that might be tomorrow
in Germany, three years away in California, five years away in
Arizona," Branz says. "But eventually this future will come
to everywhere that people want to generate a lot of electricity with
back to table of contents
Reusable Rocket Booster
Later this month, if all goes well, Space
Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, will achieve a
delivering cargo to the International Space Station, the first stage
of the Falcon 9 rocket used for the flight will fire its engines for
the second time. The burn will allow the rocket to reenter the
atmosphere in controlled flight, without breaking up and disintegrating
on the way down as most booster rockets do.
launch was originally planned for March 16, but the company has
delayed the launch until at least March 30 to allow for further
machine will settle over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of its Cape
Canaveral launchpad, engines roaring, and four landing legs will
unfold from the rocket's sides. Hovering over ocean, the rocket will
kick up a salt spray along with the flames and smoke. Finally, the
engines will cut off and the rocket will drop the last few feet into
the ocean for recovery by a waiting barge.
test of SpaceX's renewable booster rocket technology will be the
first of its kind and could pave the way to radically cheaper access
to space. "Reusability has been the Holy Grail of the launch
industry for decades," says Jeff Foust, an analyst
at Futron, a consultancy based in Bethesda, Maryland. That's because
the so-called expendable rockets that are the industry standard add
enormously to launch costs-the equivalent of building a new aircraft
for every transatlantic flight.
began flying low-altitude tests of a Falcon 9 first stage with a
single engine, a rocket known as Grasshopper, at its McGregor, Texas,
proving grounds in 2012. The flights got progressively higher, until
a final test in October, when the rocket reached an altitude of 744
meters. Then, following a flight to place a communications satellite
in geosynchronous orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California
in November, a Falcon 9 first stage successfully restarted three of
its nine engines to make a controlled supersonic reentry from space.
rocket survived reentry, but subsequently spun out of control and
broke up on impact with the Pacific Ocean. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said
in a call with reporters after the flight that landing legs, which
that rocket lacked, would most likely have stabilized the rocket
enough to make a controlled landing on the water. The March 16 flight
will be the first orbital test with landing legs.
recovering the rocket from the water on Sunday, SpaceX engineers and
technicians will study it to determine what it would take to
refurbish such a rocket for reuse. SpaceX also has plans to recover
and reuse the second stage rocket, but for now, it will recover only
the first stage and its nine Merlin engines, which make up the bulk
of the cost of the rocket.
without reusable rockets, SpaceX has already shaken up the
$190-billion-a-year satellite launch market with radically lower
launch costs than its competitors. The company advertises $55.6
million per Falcon 9 launch. Its competitors are less forthcoming
about how much they charge, but French rocket company Arianespace has
indicated that it may ask for an increase in government subsidies to
remain competitive with SpaceX.
to home, SpaceX is vying for so-called Evolved Expendable Launch
Vehicle, or EELV, contracts to launch satellites for the U.S. Air
Force. Its only competitor for the contracts, United Launch Alliance,
charges $380 million per launch.
testified before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense
meeting on March 5 that his company can cut that cost down to $90
million per launch. He said the higher cost for a government mission
versus a commercial one was due to a lack of government-provided
launch insurance. "So, in order to improve the probability of
success, there is quite a substantial mission assurance overhead
applied," Musk said in the hearing. Still, SpaceX's proposed
charge for the Air Force missions is a mere 23 percent of ULA's.
is counting on lower launch costs to increase demand for launch
services. But Foust cautions that this strategy comes with risk.
"It's worth noting," he says, "that many current
customers of launch services, including operators of commercial
satellites, aren't particularly price sensitive, so thus aren't
counting on reusability to lower costs."
means those additional launches, and thus revenue, may have to come
from markets that don't exist yet. "A reusable system with much
lower launch costs might actually result in lower revenue for that
company unless they can significantly increase demand," says
Foust. "That additional demand would likely have to come from
new markets, with commercial human spaceflight perhaps the biggest
and best-known example."
SpaceX was founded with human spaceflight as its ultimate mission. It
is now one of three companies working with NASA funds to build ships
capable of sending astronauts to the International Space Station.
Musk plans to take SpaceX even further-all the way to Mars with
settlers. And colonizing Mars will require lots of low-cost flights.
Belfiore (michaelbelfiore.com) is
the author of Rocketeers: How a Visionary Band of Business
Leaders, Engineers, and Pilots Is Boldly Privatizing Space.
Dioxide Stored in Rock
Kevin Bullis, MIT Technology Review, April
Capturing carbon dioxide and storing it
underground could help address climate change, but some experts worry
that the gas will leak back out.
described in the journal Science points to a more secure
way of storing it-as rock. The scientists showed that when carbon
dioxide is pumped along with water into certain types of underground
formations, it reacts with the surrounding rock and forms minerals
that could sequester the carbon dioxide for hundreds or thousands of
week, a major U.N. climate report called attention to the importance
of carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) for dealing with
climate change, and suggested that the cost of limiting warming to
two degrees Celsius would greatly increase if CCS isn't used (see "The Cost of Limiting
Climate Change Could Double Without Carbon Capture Technology").
But the report also noted that concerns about leaks could slow or
block large-scale use of the technology.
the new work, researchers from University College London and the
University of Iceland added carbon dioxide to a stream of water being
pumped underground at a large geothermal power plant in Iceland, as
part of normal plant operations. The carbon dioxide quickly dissolves
in the water, and in that state it no longer has a tendency to rise
to the surface. Once underground, the carbon dioxide-laden water
reacts with basalt, a type of volcanic rock. The researchers showed
that, within a year, 80 percent of it had reacted with magnesium,
calcium, and iron to form carbonate minerals such as limestone.
have proposed storing carbon dioxide by reacting it with basalt and
other types of rock before. What's surprising about this study is
just how fast the reactions occurred, says Sigurdur Gislason, a
professor at the University of Iceland. The researchers report that
80 percent of the carbon dioxide they'd injected had formed
carbonates in just one year.
challenge with the new approach is that it requires very large
amounts of water-10 to 20 times the mass of the carbon dioxide being
stored, says Eric Oelkers, a
professor of aqueous geochemistry at University College London. The
researchers estimate that this will make it twice as expensive as
conventional approaches to storing carbon dioxide-at least in the
Mark Zoback, a
professor of earth sciences at Stanford University, says there may be
other challenges. While basalt is common, especially on the ocean
floor, basalt that is porous enough to accommodate the large volumes
of water and carbon dioxide might be hard to come by. If the approach
were to be used at a large scale, it "would probably necessitate
transport of CO2 in pipelines for thousands of miles."
Zoback, whose research suggests that earthquakes could cause carbon
dioxide gas to leak out of underground storage sites, says, "the
advantages of storing carbon in a mineral form are absolutely clear.
It would be great if this could scale up" (see "Researchers Say Earthquakes
Would Let Stored CO2 Escape").
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