Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Science Technology

Orbiting Lasers for Hydrogen Power 402

Posted by michael
from the brought-to-you-by-evil-geniuses-for-a-better-tomorrow dept.
DerekLyons writes: "Yahoo is carrying a story about a Japanese scientist who plans to use giant orbiting lasers to extract H2 from seawater. The interesting part of the scheme is that design uses solar pumped lasers, which avoid the loss of efficiency (and increased launch weight) from powering the laser with electricity from solar cells. Is the way to finally break the main dilemma of the hydrogen economy? (That it takes more energy to make the hydrogen than you gain in using it.)"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Orbiting Lasers for Hydrogen Power

Comments Filter:
  • main dilemma? (Score:3, Offtopic)

    by s20451 (410424) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @10:20AM (#2816042) Journal

    Is the way to finally break the main dilemma of the hydrogen economy? (That it takes more energy to make the hydrogen than you gain in using it.)

    No. In order to do that, you would have to repeal the laws of thermodynamics [ouc.bc.ca].

    • Is the way to finally break the main dilemma of the hydrogen economy? (That it takes more energy to make the hydrogen than you gain in using it.)

      No. In order to do that, you would have to repeal the laws of thermodynamics [ouc.bc.ca].

      You're playing with the words. The dilemna of the hydrogen economy is that the inefficiencies of conversion cause more energy to be wasted (from the point of view of human users, natch) than is the case with other, less friendly (environmentally, renewability) fuels (like petroleum).

    • Actually, that isn't the problem with Hydrogen.

      The problem with Hydrogen is that to make it, the process is only 20% efficient. This compares unfavourably with other processes, e.g. batteries are more like 50% efficient. Still, if you have a pollution free, inexaustable source of energy ('the Sun') this doesn't matter as much.

      The other problem with Hydrogen is its low density. This can be improved by compressing it or storing it in a metal 'catalyst', but then it stops being low density and becomes rather too heavy for cars and such like.
    • Re:main dilemma? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by bitflip (49188)
      The poster is guity only of imprecise phrasing. It should've reflected the costs of such conversions. Right now, it costs more to create hydrogen than the income converting the hydrogen to energy would create. A hydrogen-based economy doesn't exist because of the costs involved, not the physics behind it.
    • Thermodynamics (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nanojath (265940) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @01:45PM (#2817520) Homepage Journal
      Precisely. Why is this so hard to understand? Every form of fuel or energy storage requires more power to create than it can produce. Otherwise you could simply hook the power production process up to the power storage/fuel creation process and - Viola! - perpetual motion, all our energy problems are solved.


      The main problem of all renewable energy schemes is that fossil fuels are formed by millions of years of solar energy accumulated by the biosphere and millions of years of geological pressure. It isn't that these fuels are more fundamentally efficient - in fact, they are relatively innefficient from many perspectives. It is that nature has done all the work for us - leaving us to liberate the value at our leisure. Convenient, and in the extremely narrow and short-sighted view we've taken of energy, cheap.


      The problems, of course, are that we are stuck with relatively dirty fuels like coal and oil, and that these fuels are not renewable in the short term. Hence, any renewable fuel will face us with a cost-benefits problem: it will cost more to produce than an equivalent unit of coal or oil. Until we start measuring the environmental, political and future stability/planning impacts as part of the cost of burning fossil fuels, it will always seem economically preferable to stick with our old standbys.


      The real issue of hydrogen or any alternative fuels (biomass derived, ethanol, etc.) is to find the most efficient way to use a renewable or sustainable energy source. Hydrogen has the convenience and benefit of being a fuel: useful from points of view of storage and self-containment.

  • Replies (Score:4, Funny)

    by Syberghost (10557) <syberghost AT syberghost DOT com> on Thursday January 10, 2002 @10:23AM (#2816059) Homepage
    I predict that within 30 minutes, there will be at least two confused posts saying that we should just use solar panels to generate electricity to "crack" the hydrogen from sea water.

    I further predict that at least one of these will, after someone posts a brief reply explaining why that's not a workable idea, dissolve into flames.
    • We should just use solar panels to generate electricity to crack the hydrogen from sea water!
    • Re:Replies (Score:5, Informative)

      by pmc (40532) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @10:52AM (#2816232) Homepage
      We should just use solar panels to generate hydrogen from sea water....

      I predict that within 30 minutes, there will be at least two confused posts saying that we should just use solar panels to generate electricity to "crack" the hydrogen from sea water.

      ...except that, instead of using electrical conversion followed by electrolysis they will use photocatalysis, as described in this Physics World Article [physicsweb.org], which talks about the implications of a paper published in Nature.

      The jist of it, for the link weary, is that by the use of a cunning contrived semiconductor it is possible to arrange the band-gap to be higher that the reduction potential of H2, which allows the production of H2 from the H+ ions that are always present in water.

      Early days yet (efficiency is 0.66%, compared with an break-even of 4%), and lifetimes are unknown at the moment. But using solar panels to generate hydrogen should not be rejected out of hand just because the energetics are unfavourable with one particular type of solar cell.
  • by Master_Ruthless (89957) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @10:23AM (#2816063)
    Any government or corporation that puts anything into orbit that could even potentially be used as a weapon is going to face resistance from the entire world. Even if you went into contortions trying to prove that the tool could never be used for military purposes, the media would get ahold of the term "space lasers" and that would be curtains for the idea.
    • by InfoVore (98438) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @11:17AM (#2816392) Homepage
      AP-WORLD NEWSBURST 10 Jan 2019:

      BUSINESS:

      A spokesman for the Empire of Japan announced the successful launch of the last power-sat in their highly successful Laser Power Satellite System. The system, which provides 98% of Japan's power, has been extended to allow them to provide power to any point on the globe. "We can focus 10 terawatts of laser energy to any point on the earth. The market for our space based power is unlimited and unstoppable." said Energy Minister Hirohito.

      POLITICS:

      U.S. Trade Secretary Jenna Bush announced that all trade sanctions against the newly reformed Empire of Japan would be removed. "The Japanese are old and trustworthy friends of the United States. The restoration of the Empire should not be seen as an aggressive anti-democratic move. Instead, it should be seen as an old and honorable society returning to its cultural roots. We applaud them."

      FASHION:

      The World Fashion Expo in New York provided a peak at this year's hot fashions. For the second year in a row, chrome and silver were the materials of choice. The new fashion accessory for this year is mirror-silvered umbrellas. Elite fashion designer Mano had this to say about the trend- "Shiny Shiny Shiny. Is beautiful and functional, No?"
    • by mikeee (137160) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @11:22AM (#2816420)
      A weapon system that's PROFITABLE when not in use! Just imagine how the economic numbers on this thing look better if the DOD covers, say 25% of operating costs for the right to commender it during wartime.
    • Every time there's a Slashdot article about putting a laser (on the moon | in orbit | on another satellite), someone says, "Ooooh, but what about its use as a weapon? The rest of the world ain't gonna go for this!"

      The truth of the matter is that the amount of energy needed by an "outer-space laser" to be an effective weapon would be so great, and the cost of this outerspace weapon so great, that it would not be feasible. Why on earth would a government put an unquestionably more expensive space-laser-weapon in orbit if conventional weapons ("daisycutter", anyone?) are already so very effective?

      Aside from the practical reasons, the political fallout of using a orbiting laser weapon would be astronomical.

      Let's be serious, okay?
      • Why on earth would a government put an unquestionably more expensive space-laser-weapon in orbit if conventional weapons ("daisycutter", anyone?) are already so very effective?

        The problem is that they aren't that effective. The turnaround time from intel collection to a conventional bombing run is usally far too long. You need to have bombers in the area, bombs in the arsenal, and generally have a static target that won't move from the time of intel collection to bomb run; generally pointless for taking out personnel; much more effective for equipment. With a space based weapon system (such as lasers), you could more or less pin-point any area under the satellite within a few momements of getting the intel. Throw enough of them above the earth in a geo-synchronous orbit and you could cover all the inhabited portions of the planet. Yes, yes, I'm completing ignoring the political ramifications of a space based assassination system. Remember Real Genius? Well, the movie was quite fantastical, but the theory is sound. Two years ago, a predator drone had a live video feed of Bin Laden in a training camp, sadly they were unarmed and could do nothing but watch him wander about. Any wonder why they are all armed now?

      • Hmmm... You're asking an organization that builds 1000 foot long metal boats that carry jets to be serious? You think that people who paid $500 for toilet seats are concerned about the cost of an orbital laser? Is the outfit that just toppled another sovereign government worried about international opinion?

        For the US military an orbital laser system is not a question of how or why, but when.
  • Don't trust them (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ricky Glaze (529365)
    I don't think that it would be wise to let the Japanese have that much power that they can point anywhere. It would take up valuable government resources to monitor the direction the laser is pointed and its use. And what if they decided to just blow a city away, then what? Sounds shady to me.
    • "let them"?

      When did we become their mommy and daddy?
      It's science, and something like this would undoubtabley be monitored and studied world-wide. They can't exactly just sneak around with it, and vaporize L.A.

      If we were doing this, you wouldn't want Japan contimplating "letting us".
      • Actually, we've been their mommy and daddy since 1951, when the US-Japan security treaty was signed, at the Japanese government's request. We provide Japan with complete military protection, ever since we rather completely thwarted their attempts to take over the Eastern Hemisphere in the middle of the last century.

        Even today, 50 years since the treaty was instated, every major political party in Japan supports our military presence, in spite of some of the awful blunders of our GIs in Okinawa. This support allowed them to rebuild their economy post-WWII, and keeps the huge burden of policing the Pacific Rim off of the shoulders of their government.

        This is why we get a rather amplified voice in their doings.

        BTW, it's 'comtemplating'.

    • by nege (263655)
      At some point....we will have to learn to live with the fact that there will be many (at least more than 2) organazations that can kill millions of people anywhere at anytime. The technology is within grasp and so we know that if it is within grasp we will grab it. The delema will not be "how do avoid this technology getting into the wrong hands" it will be "how do we as humans overcome our instinct to kill each other and assert control over one another?"
  • Thermodynamics (Score:4, Informative)

    by Hard_Code (49548) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @10:25AM (#2816069)
    "That it takes more energy to make the hydrogen than you gain in using it."

    Look, due to the laws of thermodynamics it will ALWAYS take more energy to obtain a resource than to use it. Same applies for oil - once we're out of it, it will be very damn expensive to "make" it. So a lot of these arguments against renewable energy sources are just rubbish. Sure, you don't get as big of an *immediate* payoff, but you get a much steadier, reliable payoff over time. The trick is amortizing the expense of using a certain fuel by using the byproducts in a very efficient way. We waste such vast amounts of energy both in direct use, and in unrecaptured efficiency, that I'm sure any number of energy sources will be totally viable (hydrogen, wind, solar, thermal, hydro, methane). But of course many of these will require social changes that nobody is willing to make. To paraphrase Denis Leary, everybody wants to get themselves a 1967 Cadillac El Dorado convertible, hot pink with whaleskin hub caps and all leather cow interior and big brown baby seal eyes for headlights, drive around in that baby at 115mph getting one mile per gallon, sucking down quarter pounder cheese burgers from McDonald's in the old-fashioned non-biodegradable styrofoam containers and when they're done sucking down those grease ball burgers, wipe their mouths with the American flag and toss the styrofoam container right out the side and there ain't a God damned thing anybody can do about it.
    • Re:Thermodynamics (Score:2, Insightful)

      by MikeyO (99577)
      Look, due to the laws of thermodynamics it will ALWAYS take more energy to obtain a resource than to use it.

      So since his lasers are powered by the sun, you are saying that he is not going to produce enough energy to renew the sun?? Damn, I guess this isn't going to work.
    • Re:Thermodynamics (Score:2, Interesting)

      by CSieber (548526)
      Look, thermodynamics isn't the most relevant thing here. We're talking about energy sources and fuel, not energy in general. Obviously we all know that its impossible to truly create energy (dE(universe) = 0).

      The point here is fuel, and there are two types of fuel: Efficient and Inefficient. An inefficient fuel is one in which you must spend more energy to obtain and process the fuel into usable energy than you get back when you're done. An efficient fuel is the opposite. You put less energy in than you get out.

      Right now, fossil fuels are an excellent example of efficient fuels. We put minimal effort in and get an incredible return. However, once we run out of what the Earth has stored over the last several million years, fossil fuels will become extremely inefficient, so it is to our advantage to find much more plentiful efficient fuels.

      If this technology makes hydrogen into a more efficient fuel then we should probably support it, as there is a LOT of hydrogen around. :)

    • Re:Thermodynamics (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Alsee (515537) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @10:57AM (#2816262) Homepage
      Look, due to the laws of thermodynamics it will ALWAYS take more energy to obtain a resource than to use it. Same applies for oil - once we're out of it, it will be very damn expensive to "make" it.

      Sigh. It does NOT currently take more energy to obtain a Oil than to use it. We aren't out of it. That is why renewable energy sources have such a hard time being competitive. It's hard to beat a dense source of energy that's lying around.

      a lot of these arguments against renewable energy sources are just rubbish.

      Arguements shmarguements. There will be a massive switchover to renewables when the tech improves enough to make it as cheap as oil, or when we start to run out of oil.

      Until then, ranting about social change is nothing more than another source of greenhouse gas.

      Anyone who's played Civ or MOO etc, knows the way to win the game is to maximize research.

      (And to save umpteen people from replying to point out that I just suggested people base national / global policy in a video game, yeah yeah, I know. I still think it's a valid point.)

      -
      • "the way to win the game is to maximize research"

        YESS!!! Finally, someone points that out. Now, how do we convince the GOVERNMENT to fund the research? Big business sure isn't going to, and universities can only do so much by themselves - they need funding. Unfortunately, the government also responds to pressure from big business, so it's a problem.

        This point is not well understood by a lot of people who need to understand it - we NEED research very badly. It isn't something we do (as a society) just for the heck of it. As long as population pressures increase (and I can't see anything short of a plague or mass starvation changing that), demands on resources will get more intense. At some point in the future, we will burn up all the oil which we economically can. At that point, we are in deep S**T unless we have been gradually switching to something else. And in order to do that switching, we have to know how to build whatever we are switching to. Preferably, we would like to work out those details BEFORE our economy starts sliding due to rising energy costs. Yes, it will do so anyway, since unless we work out practical fusion we won't have the sheer mass of power we can generate right now, but the more gradual the shift, the better.

        OK, enough ranting. Just remember, we WANT to here about politicians giving more money to research. It's not a luxury, folks. It's an absolute necessity.
      • It does NOT currently take more energy to obtain a Oil than to use it.

        He didn't say "obtain," he said "make". When we run out of oil, we'll find out how hard it is to make... we're all out of dinosaurs and don't have a hundred million years to wait besides.
    • Swiss Tony [demon.co.uk] Says:

      The Hydrogen Problem is like making love to a beautiful woman! You could always just have a wank - but its a whole lot more rewarding to put some effort into seducing the beautiful woman.

      The wanking is oil okay - the beautiful woman is hydrogen, or solar, or wind or whatever.
    • Re:Thermodynamics (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Mister Snee (549894)
      So renewable energy sources will always require more energy to be put into them than you get back out. But in that case, it doesn't matter, does it? We use such an insignificantly tiny amount of the energy coming off the sun that throwing some more solar collectors into orbit isn't going to negatively effect our current thermodynamic economy in any appreciable way whatsoever. Now, if we'd built a big ol' whopping dyson sphere around the sun collecting 100% of its energy, the shadow cast by the satellite would cause an actual energy trade-off... a negative one, due to the energy lost in firing that big ol' laser and everything. But, um, we don't have a big ol' whopping dyson sphere. We're just tapping into an energy source we're using pathetically little of right now. So, screw thermodynamics. :D
  • by mysticbob (21980) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @10:26AM (#2816079)
    two objections to the front-page commentary here:
    1. the issue with adoption of hydrogegn is the entrenched position that fossil-fuels have. it's not that hydrogen is harder to use, it's that there is billions invested in transport, wells, autos, etc, all which would have to change. not to mention the industry mogul's (and current usa administration's) vested interest. in additon, you don't need so many specialized resources to create hydrogen, eh - just some electricity and water - think of the threat that poses to the oil hegemony...
    2. there are always energy costs to creating portable forms of energy, but that's the issue, not that it's more energy-expensive to create hydrogen than to use it. add up the costs in shipping oil around the planet. not cheap. the real benefit is that oil is portable once extracted.
    • by krlynch (158571) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @01:09PM (#2817189) Homepage

      Sorry, but you managed to be substantially wrong in parts of BOTH of your points :-)

      not to mention the industry mogul's vested interest

      You keep hearing this ridiculous statement from people, and I don't understand how people think a future hydrogen economy would be any different. If and when we move to a hydrogen based energy economy, who do you think will be the ones extracting, storing, shipping, and selling the hydrogen? I'll give you one guess... the current players that dominate the petroleum/coal based energy economy. They're the ones that have the capital to make it happen.

      Incidentally, the energy industry would LOVE to be able to natively produce hydrogen, and be paid for creation, distribution, and sale; they would drop oil in a heartbeat if they could, because there would be more profit at a lower cost, and that is always a win. There is VASTLY more uncertainty in doing business in the parts of the world that have the most oil than it is to do business in the first world, and that drives up costs tremendously. There are huge expenses in extraction, transportation, storage, refinement, bribes, legal issues, and taxation that just would not be encountered if they could do all of these things at home. And let's not forget that they would score a big PR win for their support of the "environment" (no more "pollution", no more spills, no more ground water contamination, etc...). There is no upside to "protecting" oil once the technology is there to produce/store/transport hydrogen cheaply.

      there are always energy costs to creating portable forms of energy, but that's the issue, not that it's more energy-expensive to create hydrogen than to use it.

      No, that really isn't the point. The point the previous poster was trying to make is that the energy cost of extracting, processing, shipping, and selling petroleum based products is substantially LOWER than the amount of energy extracted from the oil. This is because the energy has already been stored for us, for free, in the oil; burning the oil releases the stored energy, and digging it up costs almost nothing energy-wise. For hydrogen, however, there is no such "free store" we can dig up. Combine hydrogen with oxygen to get water, and you get a relatively huge release of energy, but we have no previously STORED source of hydrogen; we have to disassemble water to get that hydrogen. But, the energy cost of cracking water is substantially HIGHER than the amount of energy that can later be extracted from the stored hydrogen. So, there is currently no feasible way to phase out our use of petroleum; in fact, if we switched to hydrogen power in our cars today, it would drive UP the demand for oil, not decrease it (a similar problem would occur if we all went out and switched to electric cars today). The real benefit of oil is not its portability; the real benefit is that it stores vastly more chemical energy than it takes to extract it from the ground.

    • 1.the issue with adoption of hydrogegn is the entrenched position that fossil-fuels have. it's not that hydrogen is harder to use, it's that there is billions invested in transport, wells, autos, etc, all which would have to change. not to mention the industry mogul's (and current usa administration's) vested interest. in additon, you don't need so many specialized resources to create hydrogen, eh - just some electricity and water - think of the threat that poses to the oil hegemony...

      2.there are always energy costs to creating portable forms of energy, but that's the issue, not that it's more energy-expensive to create hydrogen than to use it. add up the costs in shipping oil around the planet. not cheap. the real benefit is that oil is portable once extracted.


      Both of these problems are addressed if you burn CO2 in a hydrogen atmosphere to produce methanol. Methanol can be stored and transported like any other volatile liquid fuel, which means you can use the existing infrastructure, and can use it automobiles with minimal modification (though you'd want a ceramic engine block to avoid corrosion in the long term).

      The article directly mentioned methanol production as an application of a hydrogen plant.

      Transport and infrastructure aren't the problem.

      The real reason why this won't be done any time soon is that gasoline is cheaper to produce per litre (by taking it out of the ground) than methanol (which must be made from scratch, by direct synthesis or farming and fermenting).

      When/if oil and natural gas reserves are depleted, it will become cost-competitive. Before then, it won't be.
    • ust some electricity and water - think of the threat that poses to the oil hegemony...

      You couldn't be more wrong: Hydrogen is stupid, but the oil companies would benefit most if it were to gain ground:

      In case it has somehow escaped your attention, pretty much all the hydrogen that's "all around us" has the distressing property of being bound up in water. Water is an incredibly stable molecule that's notoriously difficult to tear apart, so it's not a practical source of hydrogen, because of the energy input required.

      The simple fact is that Natural Gas is the ONLY large-scale source of hydrogen that's economically feasible with present technology. (Almost all hydrogen commercially available today is produced from natural gas.)

      But there are two big problems even to this approach: 1) converting natural gas (methane, CH) to hydrogen is still expensive and inefficient and 2) Natural Gas is already one of the cleanest-burning fuels known, so why not just burn it directly? NG is considerably better in terms of storage and transport as well, and existing engines can be easily modified to run on it. In short it has almost all the benefits of hydrogen, with almost none of the drawbacks. (Keep in mind that hydrogen still creates pollutants such as oxides of nitrogen when burned in air rather than pure oxygen.)

      add up the costs in shipping oil around the planet. not cheap. the real benefit is that oil is portable once extracted.

      Actually, shipping anything (including oil) on a large scale is incredibly cheap. Shipping oil, or even gasoline, is oconsiderably cheaper than shipping equivalent energy densities of hydrogen. (Not to mention that when shipping crude oil, you're shipping much more than energy - you're shipping everything that can be made from oil, too: Asphalt, plastics, petrochemicals and all their derivatives, etc. Look around your desk - much of what you see was sloshing around in an oil tanker not long ago.)

      To sum it up: Using hydrogen as a large-scale fuel is just flat stupid, but there are enough idiots that believe the propaganda that it's "the perfect fuel" that we'll be fighting off their ignorance (or worse yet, paying for it) for years.
  • Solar Lasers suck (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 10, 2002 @10:27AM (#2816090)
    All known solid state laser gain substances have fairly narrowband excitation spectrums. This presents a two fold problem: 1) fairly little power is available in that window (the sun is a blackbody raditator) 2) Energy outside of that window tends to just heat the medium and either cause breakdown or unacceptable thermal lensing.

    I've built a solar pumped nd:yvo4 laser, but it was a waste: because of those factors I could have extracted more power and probably energy from a solar electric system.

    Without some serious new developments in laser substances with ultra broadband pump inputs, this won't work too well.
  • by whanau (315267)
    "Is the way to finally break the main dilemma of the hydrogen economy? (That it takes more energy to make the hydrogen than you gain in using it.)"

    Unfortunately in the real world it is impossible to make hydrogen from water that holds more potential energy thany you put in. There are always inefficencies in the conversion process, and this process is likely to lose a lot of the solar energy in transmission through the atmosphere. The thing about hydrogen that people forget is that it is just a store for energy that has to be "charged" as it were by separating it from water, rather than a energy source in itself like traditional fossil fuels. However this hydrogen conversion system is better than most in that the energy source for the conversion process is largely free.
  • And here I was just reading about how Unreal Tournament 2 was going to have a way of firing an orbiting laser at your opponents.

    Cool.
    • Would this "laser" sent to earth have destructive powers? I'm guessing yes. Someone who knows about this stuff... what would be similar to this beam of light hitting a target? A hand grenade? A stick of TNT?
  • by Uttles (324447) <uttles@COMMAgmail.com minus punct> on Thursday January 10, 2002 @10:33AM (#2816118) Homepage Journal
    Preface: I have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm just proposing a theory to provoke thought, that's all.

    This whole idea sounds really cool and I'd love to live in a world of hydrogen energy, but I've thought for a long time that alternate energy sources have been developed more extensively than we are allowed to know. The political ties between OPEC, car manufacturers, governments around the world, power plants, etc. seem to me to be so entangling that they could easily, and in my opinion have easily, squashed new ideas for alternate power sources. I've heard of everything from water powered cars to solar panel arrays that are 50 times more effecient than those in use today... yet none of these technologies has been allowed to flourish, and I suspect it has something to do with the trillions of dollars that are hauled in by oil companies and any company associated with them. When you think about it in terms of history, oil is the gold of the modern day. People who have it want to make money off of it, so they want to keep supply down (just enough to get by) and demand up, way up. I have no doubts that the people in the oil industry would do anything and everything to keep it the most valuable substance today, just look at some of the evil that came out of the pursuit of gold.

    "NASDA and the Institute for Laser Technology in Tokyo set about joint research development of this system. And it is under application for a patent in cooperation with NASDA, ILT and Mitsubishi Research Institute Inc, which is a private think tank company," Dr. Mori wrote SPACE.com in an email interview.

    Now, doesn't it strike you as odd that Mitsubishi has their hands in this? OK so it says "a private think tank company," but really, I think this "private" think tank company named "Mitsubishi" wouldn't resist some "inspiration" by the automotive industry (heavily linked to Big Oil) and somehow sabotage or discredit this research.

    Anyway, I'll stop ranting, but I'd like to know if anyone has any facts that go along with what I'm saying or if I've just been reading the Drudge Report [drudgereport.com] too much.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Now, doesn't it strike you as odd that Mitsubishi has their hands in this? OK so it says "a private think tank company," but really, I think this "private" think tank company named "Mitsubishi" wouldn't resist some "inspiration" by the automotive industry (heavily linked to Big Oil) and somehow sabotage or discredit this research.

      So you know, Mitsubishi is the name of a large number of unrelated Japanese corporations. I believe that at one time (pre WWII) they were all one corp, but were broken up by the Allies as part of the surrender terms (as they were heavily involved in the Japanese War industry).

      Despite their previous ties, they are now completely unrelated companies, aside from the same name and the normal cartel dealing which is otherwise common in Japanese industry.

    • by s20451 (410424) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @10:53AM (#2816233) Journal
      Unlike in the States, big compaines in Japan have a little bit of everything. Mitsubishi [mitsubishi.co.jp] makes cars, trains, ships, aircraft, televisions, stereos, agricultural chemicals, food additives, synthetic rubber, molasses, canned foods, textiles, semiconductors ... the list goes on. Any large project in Japan couldn't avoid being associated with a company that also makes cars.
    • Well since Japan has virtually no natural resources, and is therefore even more dependant on foreign sources for energy. I think it is likely that Japan will be the first to break the ties with the oil cartels. They have the lowest concentration of automobiles of any first world country, so most likely to use alternative fuels for public transportation. The also DO have technology and ready access to water (island nation remember). I would think that if the worlds second largest economy could break itself of one major foreign dependence, they will at least try, especially since that coutry is extremely xenophobic.
    • You've been reading the Drudge Report too much.

      The political ties ... have easily, squashed new ideas for alternate power sources.

      Well, no. Those political ties cost vast amounts of money ... money that would otherwise be profit, bonuses, stock options, etc... The conspiracy theories may be fun, but they don't make sense, because conspiracies only make sense in real life when everyone benefits. While OPEC certainly benefits, everyone else loses, and are only tied together because they have to be to get what they need to stay in business. What would you prefer: deep, entagling ties to corrupt regimes and vast transportation costs, or having complete control over the whole process, without having to pay anyone off?

      I've heard of everything from water powered cars to solar panel arrays that are 50 times more effecient than those in use today

      None of which exist, because all of them would violate the laws of physics (that pesky 2nd law of thermodynamics).

      doesn't it strike you as odd that Mitsubishi has their hands in this?

      Others have discussed your misperception here, so I'll not bother.

      So, basically, you're conspiracy premise makes little sense, your grasp of the science of these "squashed new ideas" is inadequate, and your knowledge of the industries involved is minimal (much like Matt Drudge!). So, I'd say you've been reading too much Drudge, and not enough fact.

      • Before you dismiss me as some idiot, let me just say I do know about physics, thermodynamics, molecular chemistry, and history. What I was doing here was thinking openly. All of the laws and rules of science are not flawless, they're all written by men. I don't doubt that our laws of thermodynamics are accurate, I'm only saying that it's ignorant to discount a seemingly impossible idea just because research to this day has built up evidence against it, for example, "the world is round." We all know how that argument turned out.

        Think about this (and I'm talking basics here, extremely simplistic, I don't want to get into details): what exactly is gravity? Just because something is massive, why am I pulled towards it because I'm far less massive? Why can I force two positively charged magnets towards each other and they will force themselves apart for as long as I feel like doing it? Yeah, yeah, I know about magnetism and molecular attraction and all that stuff, but I'm trying to get at the fact that science doesn't fully understand all of the forces around us, and it may never, so don't go condemning new ideas just because they disagree with your high school physics teacher.
        • Before you dismiss me as some idiot

          I'm not doing that, and I am sorry if I gave you that impression.

          it's ignorant to discount a seemingly impossible idea just because research to this day has built up evidence against it

          That is PRECISELY why I dismiss it: when someone tells me that a "water powered car" is possible, and I ask the question "How do you intend to extract energy from the water?", and the answer violates well understood and well researched physics AND the person making the claim hasn't demonstrated either that it works or that they understand the scientific method, then I dismiss their claim. If they do demonstrate it, and it conflicts with modern theory, then we have something to talk about. I do the same thing when my colleagues make ridiculous claims about the structure and properties of subatomic particles, and they do it to me; the difference is that we don't go out and tell the world that we can do something that we haven't suitably demonstrated is possible and have been peer reviewed.

          Think about this...: what exactly is gravity?

          If you could answer that question, then you would be a Nobel Laureate. :-) I can explain to you in great detail qualitatively HOW gravity works, I can give you detailed quantitative predictions, I can show you how precisely the theory matches the experiments, but I can't tell you WHAT gravity is ... and that is true of a great many things, but it doesn't prevent me from telling you that you WILL fall to earth if you strap on feathers and jump off a building while claiming you can fly.... And I do realize that you were using gravity as an example, but I would have torn any other example to shreds too :-)

          don't go condemning new ideas just because they disagree with your high school physics teacher.

          I wouldn't condemn them on those grounds; my high school physics teachers knew so little physics :-) I condemn pseudoscience/bad science/crackpot ideas based on my doctoral level research and training in physics (truth in advertising: I haven't defended my dissertation yet ... give me three more months :-) And I don't have a tendency to condemn those ideas that I think are ridiculous but are outside my field, because I don't necessarily have the training to do so with authority; I only attack those things which violate known experimental facts within my field. And a water powered car is one of those things that is known from experiment (not just our crazy theory) to be impossible.

          My basic point is the following: while it may be ignorant to discount an idea based on a hunch that conflicts with my (experimentally based) understanding of the structure of physical reality, it is even more ignorant to promulgate ideas that explicitly conflict with well established and easily reproducible experimental facts.

    • Also, consider this: If one automobile company realizes that by making its cars dependent on a foreign, expensive substance (like oil), it's crippling itself. Imagine that this field of study comes to fruition and this Mitsubishi-sponsored technology begins pumping out hydrogen. All Mitsubish has to do then is build a car that will safely run on hyrdrogen and suddenly, they've got a perfectly good machine to which they control the source of fuel. Granted, they can't make a killing off of this right off, because they have to undercut the oil companies, but so long as they're making a profit, they can continue to do this. If it's cheaper to use hydrogen, then people will and this will spur a change in the economy/infrastructure as oil-dependent companies realize they're being outsold by a cheaper, cleaner solution. Mind, Mitsubishi's motive isn't change. It's the returns they'll make while everybody else is retooling to use hydrogen. Not to mention that it gives them that much longer to advance their technology ahead of the competition.
  • by CDWert (450988) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @10:34AM (#2816125) Homepage
    Ok Im not a tree hugger, BUT what are the long term effects say on the Ozone of pumping a laser of this magnitude though the atmosphere not to mention ionizing radiation effects while it travels through the air ?

    My understanding is it REQUIES VERY HIGH temperatures to Dissacociate water on the order of 3500 degreesf plus (PS Dont ever try to quelch a thermite reaction with water :)

    Ok so were using Ti02 as a catalyst, what my question is what about thermal evnviormental pollution, hell in some cases its worse than chemical pollution. Hmm were encountering a greenhouse effect globally lets fire oh say 50 or so 10+ megawat lasers at earth. (Its only one until it works)

    If this is going to be succesfull youll see a commercial proliferation of these without regard for saftey, No dont think so , look at the oil companies and their rigs , then consider again when Oil companies see this as the next big thing ?
    Hell with all that free hydrogen you could manufacture your own hydrocarbons CHEAP, aka GAS ...
    Nice big vicious cycle Gotta Love Science
    • Hold on to your horses, Fermi.

      High temperatures do not dissociate molecules; high amounts of energy do (there's a big difference). A laser, being a concentrated energetic source, could provide that much energy. By the way, you can't quench thermite with water simply because it's too hot and the water will vaporize before quenching anything.

      TiO2 (not "tee-eye-zero-two") is a common catalyst. Catalysts, by definition, are retrieved after the reaction and not consumed. There should be little pollution from the use of this material.

      I'm not sure about thermal pollution, but I believe that because air is mostly nothing (there's only a few atoms in a relatively large volume of air), there shouldn't be much increase in the temperature of the air (or deflection of the laser). Once it hits the water on the floating island, the desired reaction should take place. I think most of the energy in the laser would be used to break the water molecules and little would go to the surroundings.

      Free hydrogen will not get you cheap hydrocarbons. You'd have to use more energy to do this (although you could easily hydrogenate more of those lovely animal fats in your diet).

      Nice big cycle; you do hafta love science.

    • The long term effects on the Ozone would be generation of more Ozone.

      I know that high energy output will create Ozone out of regular O2.

      It seems you are worried about the Ozone layer, it in actuallity would be fine, but Ozone would be generated all along the lasers path and waft along with the wind. With Ozone being posionous and all you probably wouldn't want to downwind from the beam.
    • My understanding is it REQUIES VERY HIGH temperatures to Dissacociate water on the order of 3500 degreesf plus (PS Dont ever try to quelch a thermite reaction with water :)

      This has nothing to do with the temperature needed to dissociate water.

      It has to do with the fact that aluminum will happily strip oxygen out of water (3H2O + 2Al -> 3H2 + Al2O3 + 818 kJ).

      This doesn't happen at room temperature (due to the activation energy and the oxide skin on aluminum), but at thermite temperatures it will most certainly happen. Aluminum is a very reactive metal.
    • There is no reason to worry that something which catches sunlight that was about to hit the planet anyway, and then beams some of that energy to the surface, will cause an overall heating. Actually, because the energy transfer from sunlight to laser will be nowhere near 100% efficient, you can argue that the thing will act as a shade for the planet, reducing the total energy we absorb.
  • Nice idea (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sobrique (543255)
    Not quite correct on using less power to produce hydrogen than you gain consuming it - fundamentally that's against thermodynamics, and a source of infinite energy
    Burn hydrogen, use energy produced to make more, sell surplus, repeat.
    It is quite an old concept, that of an orbiting solar power plant. The medium for energy transferrence is slightly different, but the idea is the same (I seem to recall the early forms of the idea used microwaves beamed down from orbit. Shudder).
    Nothing new and revolutionary, but if they can get it working we have tapped another energy source (yes, I know we already have solar power, but an orbital power station doesn't have the limits on size that a ground based one does.)
    • I think you missed the point. The article was saying that less energy is used than is gained by the people actually running the system. The Sun, an infinite power source in respect to the span of a human life, provides the rest of the energy. So in total, yes, more energy is used than is gained, a lot more. But as far as we care, we've gained a lot more than we've used.
  • Yet Another Giant Orbiting Laser Project.

    While I'm sure the scientist in question was utterly serious and that this is a flat-out spiffy idea, I'm kind of curious if I'm the only one who lets loose a secret chuckle at every article mentioning giant orbiting lasers?

    OK, maybe that's just me.

    - B

  • by klaun (236494) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @10:54AM (#2816239)
    One problem when comparing plans like this for producing fuel, to other more traditional fuels is that the cost of crude oil or whatever does not reflect the value of the oil.

    That is if we had to reproduce the oil rather than just extracting it from the ground we'd probably find other more "green" methods of energy production much less of an investment.

    The fact that something that is renewable cost more than something that is irreplaceable is a pointer to the shortcomings of our economic system, not to problems with solar, wind, or other alternative energy sources.
    • by krlynch (158571) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @01:28PM (#2817371) Homepage

      One problem when comparing plans like this for producing fuel, to other more traditional fuels is that the cost of crude oil or whatever does not reflect the value of the oil.


      I disagree, because I don't think your implied definition of value makes any sense; the "value" of a commodity is determined by what buyers are willing to pay for it, and what sellers are willing to sell it for. Currently, buyers and sellers can agree on the cost of buying and selling oil. Currently, what buyers are willing to pay for hydrogen is substantially below what sellers are willing to accept for it. Until that changes, which will only occur by lowering the costs (which will take time and research), not enough people will be willing to switch.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Let's see 504 billion killowatt hours needed.
    Each laser is capable of 10 megawatt hours.

    Someone correct my math because that leads me
    to conclude that we need 50 million orbiting
    lasers...
    • Um. Each laser is capable of 10 megawatts, and the annual energy needed is 504 billion kilowatt hours. You need to make the units match before comparing them.


      Also, the 10 megawatt satellite is a test satellite. Presumably, if it works, later facilities would be more powerful.

      • Oops, sorry, forgot the math. 10 megawatts = 10,000 kilowatts. ~8,760 hours per year. Therefore, the test satellite would produce over 87 million kilowatt hours annually. (I think?) That means you'd need ~5,700 similar satellites to meet all of Japan's needs, which is still quite a few.

        But the article doesn't say how much power a full-scale satellite would produce, so I dunno.

  • I call it the Alan Parson's Project
  • by bryan1945 (301828)
    I first read about something like this is a scifi series by Michael F. Flynn- Rogue Star, Firestar. In those books they used satellites to pump microwaves down to earth to provide electricity.

    But you come up with the same type of questions: What thermal effects will it have on the atmosphere? Can it be used as a weapon? What effect will it have on local weather (how cool would it be to have a _stable_, low-scale tornado centered on the warmed air around the laser!)?

    Solar energy is nearly a holy grail for energy- it's always there and there is a bunch of it. The only problem is collecting it efficiently and delivering it (ok, 2 probs). Personally, I think it would be better to beam down the power and then crack the water, rather than have a huge ass laser bombarding the ocean. How many seagulls are you going to cook? Of course, you could set up "Fried Seagull Emporium" as a lunch stand for the workers!
    • Back in the 70's with the Oil Crisis, Uncle Sugar poured a lot of money into researching just this technology (solar satellites beaming microwaves to transmit the power). The usual objections about the cost of launching that much material into orbit versus the money it would make providing power were what killed it.

      However, it did enrich (yeah, right) a member of my family, a well-known bee researcher (well, as well-known as bee researchers get), who did the social insect studies on the collection system (a grid of wires in some fairly far-off place). He found there were no effects, but hey, he got grant money and 27 negative papers to his name! ;-)
    • from playing simcity, you would know that the only risk is from it missing its target and blowing up a section of town, which is easy to stop by just unchecking "Disasters." DUH!
  • Low earth orbit? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 10, 2002 @11:06AM (#2816315)
    The article mentions that these satelites would be in low earth orbit, yet have a stationary generation plant on the surface. Would you not require a geostationary orbit at 36K km in order to do this? And the best place to put your generation plant would probably be on the equator to reduce atmospheric effects.

    My 2c.
  • Whoops (Score:3, Interesting)

    by YeeHaW_Jelte (451855) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @11:08AM (#2816326) Homepage
    I remember about plans to win energy from the sun by solar panels in low orbit and then emiting this energy to relay stations on earth by way of a narrow focus ion beam or something -- sorry, I ain't no rocket scientist.
    I also distincly remember this being a bad idea because the chance of failure and was too high -- the thought of a high power beam coursing it's destructive path along the earth ad random would make you think twice even about the lowest chances of failure.

    Wouldn't this system be prone to the same kind of risks?
  • by Oztun (111934) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @11:10AM (#2816347)
    Yeah but what happens when Dr Evil gets ahold of this "giant laser" and holds the earth hostage for ONE MILLION dollars?
  • Too vunerable? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CProgrammer98 (240351)
    So, when we've run out of fossil fuels and each nation has their orbiting lasers up there generating H2, wouldn't it be incredibly easy for a hostile nation to take out another Nation or Nation's energy source? A few quick zaps and bamb! The hydorgen lasers are knocked out of alignement or disabled and ooops - no power! - and no quick and easy way to restore the power either.

    Those lasers won't be very easy to defend, unlike oilfields and power stations. Well, ok, you can drop a few nukes to take out the powerstations but the country woulnd't be habitable afterwards.

    It seems to me that relying on this tech for power makes you a hell of a lot more vunerable.

  • Risks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Antity (214405) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @11:41AM (#2816549) Homepage

    A giant orbital laser that fires to the ground into a giant salt water swimmingpool.

    • What is the impact of fried birds dropping onto this pool?

    • What can this concentrated energy do to some of the earths outer layers that are important for climate? Atmosphere, stratosphere, and so on.

    • Impact on the ozone layer, which is already (by definition, not by human interaction) quite thin and easy to disturb?

    • What are they going to do with all the Oxygenium? Since the air we breathe consists to more than 70 percent of Nitrogen, not Oxygene, simply freeing large volumes could be problematic. (And can be quite a risk for the installation itself. Think of "no smoking".)

    • What if a mislead plane happens to fly into the beam? A weather balloon?

    • Impact on clouds? Hitting them (and the H2O within them) will also split the H2O, and then Ozone will react from the Oxygenium radicals. And: Ozone is only good in exactly the right height over ground. Every Ozone lower than that is poisonous and, in the volumes we're talking about, could lead to quite interesting weather effects within these clouds.

    • Don't talk about what happens if this cloud of ozone happens to drift over some city. In cities, we usually call this "smog" and try to avoid it.

    • Sulfur dioxide, raising up in clouds from big cities or other things that burn fuel (oil plants?) is known to react to Sulfur Acid in the athmospere, with the help of the power of sunlight. A while after, we call this "sour rain" or "acid rain". What amount of acid could react if a cloud like this is hit by this _very_ strong artificial sun?

    Nice idea, but done by company scientists for company scientists. IMHO, this could cause far too many things to be implemented.

    And, remember: "They" are not fiddling with a x square miles big sector of air above their installation. They're fiddling with the atmosphere that is shared by some billion of people. There is hardly a thing like local effects with wind, clouds, and weather. Ask your European friend if he sometimes finds a thin layer of very fine sand outside his house or on his windows. This comes straight from the Sahara desert in Africa. (No, I'm not kidding.)

    When the reactor in Tchernobyl went "blob", the radioactive dirt was distributed over half of Europe, 1000s of kilometres, which still ended up with enough dirt to have them throw away every vegetable in their gardens.

    And: Science doesn't have any data about what happens to the very highest layers above us when hit by a concentrated stream of energy on a single point that is several times stronger than the strong rays of the real sun around it. It might well cause something or, doing this several months in a row, burn a hole into a layer of gases that we not even know about yet. We Just Don't Know.

    Fiddling with this is just stupid.

  • Why Not Fission? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Brown Line (542536)
    Maybe I'm crazy, but it seems to me that instead of a Buck Rogers-style solution to cracking H2O into H2, why not use fission power to do the same thing? Fission power is a well-known source of energy - no R&D involved - and the plants used to crack H2O into H2 can be located far from any populated area, to minimize risk in case of an accident. A question for the chemists in the /. audience: would it be feasible to use fission power to combine atmospheric CO2 with H2O to make methane? If so, it would be possible to port the methane via the nation's natural-gas pipelines to power home fuel-cell units to generate electricity. In effect, you could transmit nuclear-generated energy thousands of miles with minimal transmission loss. Just a thought. In any event, I was delighted to read about the fuel-cell initiative. I'll be buying one of those home units as soon I can afford one.
    • Re:Why Not Fission? (Score:2, Informative)

      by J'raxis (248192)
      What are you talking about? Fission is a process on the atomic scale (breaking an atom into smaller atoms, e.g., Uranium-235 down into Barium-144 and Krypton-90), not breaking chemical molecules into their constituent atoms. You cannot break a water molecule into anything via fission, however the individual oxygen atoms within could be theoretically broken down into something else, even though oxygen is not typically considered fissionable (that is, most atoms do not have an affinity to split apart like Uranium or Plutonium do).
    • Maybe I'm crazy, but it seems to me that instead of a Buck Rogers-style solution to cracking H2O into H2, why not use fission power to do the same thing?

      Because you get less useful energy (work) out of the H2 you produce than it takes to produce the H2, better to simply use the electricity directly.

      In effect, you could transmit nuclear-generated energy thousands of miles with minimal transmission loss.

      All you are doing is exchanging transmission loss for generation inefficiencies. The net result is a net loss in energy.
  • by slow_flight (518010) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @12:41PM (#2816978)
    ... the Alan Parsons project.
  • by Tyrannosaurus (203173) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @12:51PM (#2817054)
    Why don't we just attach some laser beams to the heads of some sharks? The sharks are in the water, the lasers are in the water...BAM, we've got the Hydrogen!


    C'mon people! All I want is some frickin' sharks with lasers on their heads! Is that too much to ask?

  • It stands to reason that if Japan can make solar-pumped lasers and have a few nuclear reactors around, they could make nuke-pumped x-ray lasers.
  • Am I the only one that thinks the very idea of "orbiting lasers" is a bit dangerous?
  • Can they be far behind?

    Where are the Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow when you need them?

    Fnord.
  • Here's a more promising method for Hydrogen cracking [hionsolar.com] without adding more junk into orbit around this planet.

    Go, Go, Gadget.

FORTRAN is a good example of a language which is easier to parse using ad hoc techniques. -- D. Gries [What's good about it? Ed.]

Working...