Friday, August 1, 2008

Not quite as exciting as when the Aggies discovered cold fusion, but...

this looks like it could be big: "Major discovery" from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution.

Via The Agitator.

The discovery is a process that mimics photosynthesis by which solar energy can be stored using cheap, natural materials. Finding such a storage mechanism -- apparently -- was the last major barrier to "transform[ing] solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source." As the article states, "within 10 years... electricity-by-wire from a central source could be a thing of the past."

As alluded to in the headline, we've been disappointed by stuff like this before. However, in these types of announcements you usually see a lot of hedging by the scientists, who are eager to manage expectations and warn against over-excitement.

But this article is peppered with stuff like "revolutionary leap", "unprecedented", "giant leap", "enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind", "the importance of [this] discovery cannot be overstated", "This is the nirvana of what we've been talking about for years", and etc.

The leading researcher is quoted as saying "Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon... I know this is going to work." Not much hedging there.


Meanwhile, I've been thinking a lot about energy issues lately, mostly from a standpoint of politics and public energy policy. And, somewhat relatedly, the other week I was watching a nature show (I hardly ever watched these before I got the HD Plasma TV setup) where some dirty hippie egghead scientist type (the kind of person John McCain and his supports just absolutely hate) was conducting experiments on giant redwoods (or sequoias or whatever). This guy said that one of these trees transports something like 2 TONS of water hundreds of feet vertically EACH DAY. The most basic knowledge of physics will tell you that that requires a heck of a lot of energy. Where does all this energy come from? About 1000 sqft of sunlight. The hippie scientist guy characterized this as "the most efficient hydraulic system known to man". Which at the time led me to the obvious idea that we ought to be able to figure out how this works, and start implementing it ourselves... and that -- maybe, just maybe -- this ought to be a pretty damn high priority for us, as, you know, a society, civilization, species, etc.

Of course, it isn't. These guys at MIT did what they did using a $10m donation from a private family trust. I hate to get too political here... but imagine what could be done with even a fraction of the $1+ Trillion we have committed to our failed adventure in appropriating cheap oil from Iraq.


Anonymous said...

Oh no, we couldn't spare a dime for that. We need every penny to pay our cronies, ahem, I mean, contractors, to rebuild the country we spent those billions destroying.

Anonymous said...

Watch out, you keep talking like that and they'll kick you out of Texass. Make you come live out here with us in California!

Gleemonex said...

Goddamn, it's what I've been saying! This is unbelievably great news, despite how sad it is that the research had to be funded privately instead of with the full force & commitment of our government for the betterment of the people.