Energy Density

By Dr. Jim Ferguson

If my father had survived to 2019 he would have joined the ranks of a small group who, like my mother-in-law, are centenarians. We westerners marvel at those who have lived so long. Asian cultures often go further; they honor the accumulated experiences and wisdom of the aged and deem them venerable.

I was thinking about this and other things as I was driving down the interstate in my wife’s aging 2013 Toyota Avalon. Becky loves cars and especially her Avalon, which is her third. My father would not have approved of purchasing a Japanese product because of his experiences in the Pacific during WWII. However, I feel much better knowing that Toyota vehicles are, these days, largely made in the United States.

As a boy I remember various products labeled “Made in Japan.” Later, items were inscribed “Made in Taiwan” and now we so often read “Made in China.” Perhaps we are coming to our senses and supporting products made in the USA.

Our Avalon is a hybrid vehicle with both a gasoline and an electric motor to maximize fuel efficiency. I assure you, despite what liberals say, conservatives are sensitive to environmental issues – at least this conservative is. We get forty miles to the gallon of gasoline because our car sequentially and alternatively uses both engines, synchronized with a third-generation transmission technology. As I was describing our car’s mechanical attributes to my son in-law, he zinged me quipping, “Obama will be pleased.”

Becky’s car will snap your head back if you stomp on the accelerator. I’m not an engineer so I’ll use Mr. Webster’s definition of torque as “a force that produces or tends to produce rotation or torsion.” At a traffic light, when I step on the Avalon’s accelerator the electric engine produces instantaneous force to turn the wheels. There is no time lag as with an internal combustion engine. However, an electric battery has only so much storage capacity defined by physics, despite what Elon Musk says. (I heard the other day that a battery replacement on a Tesla is $33,000; and lithium ion batteries eventually have to be replaced.) The Avalon’s hybrid battery is continually recharged by the gasoline engine to keep it from running out of “juice.”

I’m not a physicist – but I once stayed in a Holiday Inn Express. Recently, I was introduced to a new term “energy density” by a good friend of mine who is a real physicist at Oak Ridge. We were discussing climate change and various sources of energy in our eclectic reading group euphemistically entitled the Salon. (If you’re interested in the meaning of that name you can look it up.)

My friend sent me a chart of selected energy densities. Noteworthy is a lithium ion battery with the least stored energy density (<1MJ/Kg). Fossil fuels are in the middle of the chart at around 40-50 MJ/Kg (million joules per kilogram of mass). Nuclear fission such as in nuclear reactors produces ~80,000,000 joules of energy per kilogram of mass. (France produces 70% of its electrical needs from nuclear reactors.) Hydrogen fusion which powers our sun and the stars produces ~160,000,000 joules/kilogram. Someday, we may have the technology to magnetically contain nuclear fusion within a reactor vessel which will solve the energy crisis. Hello, Star Trek! I mention “solar power” in passing because it is merely reflected energy from the sun which can be converted into electrical energy. However, the limitations are the physics of battery storage, the current technology of photo-galvanic cells and the fact that the sun does not shine at night or in stormy weather. I did not mention switch grass because it is a joke and a political ruse. You cannot fly an airplane with wind mills, solar power or switch grass.

My friend then explained other techniques of using stored kinetic energy for power generation. Imagine water stored behind a dam and slowly released to turn a turbine and generate electricity in a hydroelectric dam project. Might it be possible to mount a massive object on magnetic levitation (maglev) tracks thereby reducing friction and the energy necessary to move the mass up a ridge to generate and store potential energy? You then attach the object by cables to counterweights and turbines. As the object slides back down the tracks the stored energy turns turbines which generate electricity. Physicists think of such things which admittedly are beyond my pay grade.

I have no doubt that the energy crisis will be solved by the ingenuity of man unless we tear ourselves apart first. When the problem of hydrogen fusion containment is mastered we will have “oceans” of energy (H2O).

I have become a skeptic of anything the media or politicians say. I certainly do not believe the al-gorian hoopla or the rants of clueless Congresswoman AOC (Alexandria Occasia Cortez) or those of the terrified, teenage climate “expert” from Sweden.

I remember predictions of a new Ice Age in the 1970s. Now they say we are causing the world to heat up because we drive cars and use HVAC. A thousand years before The Industrial Age of the 1800s, Greenland was warm and “green” between 800-1300 AD. Then the world became so cold that in the 1700s (known as the Maunder Minimum) French winter wheat crops failed causing famine sparking the French Revolution. The 1880s and 90s were extremely cold in America, but the 1930s were hot contributing to drought and the dust bowl in the Midwest. Actually, I am glad that we live in the warm Holocene interglacial period. I do not want to return to the Wisconsian Ice Age (75,000-11,000 years ago) which produced glaciers a mile deep at Niagara Falls and in the Lake Superior region.

Conservation and frugality are foundational principles for me. These are parts of “healthy” stewardship of the earth. However, I refuse to sit in the dark and either roast or freeze because of the latest politically motivated climate crisis. And make no mistake. If the environmental justice (climate) warriors have to tell the XYZ generations they must turn off their iPhones and Internet connections because of energy shortages, the guillotines will again come out.







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