Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Thursday, October 23, 2003

  Energy source found in tap water... but it's all a matter of scale

Life is like a sewer - you get out of it what you put into it - Tom Lehrer

Are the column inches devoted to headlines in conventional publications always so misleading?

Scientists find new way to make electricity, Cdn researchers find new source of electricity, Electricity Discovery Pumps Up The Power, Energy source found in tap water, Response gives profs a charge, Lightbulb moment leads to clean energy source Can water run your mobile?... etc.

I'm not going to list all the publications involved (if you want, you can hit this google link for more headlines on this topic), but the reprints all stem from an original article in the Journal of Micromechanics and Engineering about generating electricity "electrokinetically" from pushing water through microtubes.

Most of the glassy eye'd, enthusiastic transcriptions of what must have been a carefully worded press release by a PR agency manage to miss what Nature magazine nailed - that a conventional water driven turbine was far more efficient than the current electrokinetic process.... The new process is currently less than 1% efficient where a hydroelectric turbine can be 80-95% efficient - so we aren't going to see any change in how dams are built any time soon. (more about that in a minute, after I get done ranting)

No... instead almost universally, the articles mention that in the experiment, water was Squeezed through a syringe and powered a lightbulb...

a VERY SMALL light bulb. A very, very, very, very small lightbulb.

The howler headline?

Energy source found in tap water - Rediff

In a world where tap water is subsidized heavily (as in supplied free), sure. But it would be much more efficient to power your house with small turbines under each tap and garden hose!

The second howler in this headline? Electrokinetics is not an "energy source", OK? At best, it's an "Energy storage mechanism". A battery. You can quibble about where energy actually comes from but in the case of this experiment, it came from a syringe. (Again... nature mag got it right.)

The three laws of thermodynamics (paraphrased)

You can't win
You can't break even
You can't even get out of the game

Water that gets pumped uphill to your tap can't possibly generate more energy on the way down than on the way up.

Another howler headline: "Can water run your mobile?"

Fuel cells may be appearing in consumer devices in the next couple years. A fuel cell generates water as a byproduct of the energy retrieval process (it's still a battery, you have to pump energy in to get energy out). It's highly unlikely that highly pressurized water will be used to power your mobile - but highly pressurized hydrogen gas is a distinct possibility.

So, anyway, in short, electrokinetic electricity generation is a new idea, but it is, at best, a far more inefficient means of storing and retrieving electricity, especially in bulk, than most other known means. Sensationalism over science does everyone a disservice. Years from now 1000s of people will think that electricity from water is a suppressed technology, just like cold fusion....

Now... having roundly debunked some of the more absurd statements made about this discovery, I'd like to place emphasis on the original context by which the scientists announced it. I was going to talk about really tiny machines - and about teflon, and a few other things - but I'm runninglate, and I'd rather you just read Dr. Richard Feynman's 1959 speech on There's plenty of Room at the bottom....

The world functions differently at the cellular or molecular scale. Electrokinetic energy might actually make sense as a means to power devices much smaller than your mobile. How small? Chips the size of what Dust, Inc. is working on. Or smaller.

More later. Maybe.
 
Comments: Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link



<< Home
David Täht writes about politics, space, copyright, the internet, audio software, operating systems and surfing.


Resume,Songs,
My new blog, NeX-6, My facebook page
Orgs I like
The EFF - keeping free speech in the world
Musical stuff I like
Jeff, Rick, Ardour, Jack
Prior Rants - Happy Birthday, Anna-Kim! Chance favors a prepared mind... and body And the surf is up... again An old graphic A different vision The camels of the dark side... Google - stranger than Lovecraft? The slow seduction of the camels of the Dark Side Almost a normal morning The winter of my disconnect
Best of the blog:
Uncle Bill's Helicopter - A speech I gave to ITT Tech - Chicken soup for engineers
Beating the Brand - A pathological exploration of how branding makes it hard to think straight
Inside the Internet Mind - trying to map the weather within the global supercomputer that consists of humans and google
Sex In Politics - If politicians spent more time pounding the flesh rather than pressing it, it would be a better world
Getting resources from space - An alternative to blowing money on mars using NEAs.
On the Columbia - Why I care about space
Authors I like:
Doc Searls
Where's Cherie?
UrbanAgora
Jerry Pournelle
The Cubic Dog
Evan Hunt
The Bay Area is talking
Brizzled
Zimnoiac Emanations
Eric Raymond
Unlocking The Air
Bob Mage
BroadBand & Me
SpaceCraft
Selenian Boondocks
My Pencil
Transterrestial Musings
Bear Waller Hollar
Callahans
Pajamas Media BlogRoll Member

If you really want to, you can poke through the below links as well.

ARCHIVES
06/09/2002 - 06/16/2002 / 07/28/2002 - 08/04/2002 / 08/11/2002 - 08/18/2002 / 08/18/2002 - 08/25/2002 / 08/25/2002 - 09/01/2002 / 09/22/2002 - 09/29/2002 / 11/10/2002 - 11/17/2002 / 12/15/2002 - 12/22/2002 / 12/22/2002 - 12/29/2002 / 12/29/2002 - 01/05/2003 / 01/05/2003 - 01/12/2003 / 01/19/2003 - 01/26/2003 / 01/26/2003 - 02/02/2003 / 02/09/2003 - 02/16/2003 / 02/16/2003 - 02/23/2003 / 03/02/2003 - 03/09/2003 / 03/16/2003 - 03/23/2003 / 04/06/2003 - 04/13/2003 / 04/13/2003 - 04/20/2003 / 04/20/2003 - 04/27/2003 / 05/04/2003 - 05/11/2003 / 05/18/2003 - 05/25/2003 / 05/25/2003 - 06/01/2003 / 06/01/2003 - 06/08/2003 / 06/08/2003 - 06/15/2003 / 06/15/2003 - 06/22/2003 / 06/22/2003 - 06/29/2003 / 06/29/2003 - 07/06/2003 / 07/20/2003 - 07/27/2003 / 07/27/2003 - 08/03/2003 / 08/03/2003 - 08/10/2003 / 08/10/2003 - 08/17/2003 / 08/17/2003 - 08/24/2003 / 08/24/2003 - 08/31/2003 / 08/31/2003 - 09/07/2003 / 09/07/2003 - 09/14/2003 / 09/14/2003 - 09/21/2003 / 09/21/2003 - 09/28/2003 / 09/28/2003 - 10/05/2003 / 10/05/2003 - 10/12/2003 / 10/12/2003 - 10/19/2003 / 10/19/2003 - 10/26/2003 / 10/26/2003 - 11/02/2003 / 11/02/2003 - 11/09/2003 / 11/09/2003 - 11/16/2003 / 11/30/2003 - 12/07/2003 / 12/07/2003 - 12/14/2003 / 12/14/2003 - 12/21/2003 / 12/28/2003 - 01/04/2004 / 01/11/2004 - 01/18/2004 / 01/18/2004 - 01/25/2004 / 01/25/2004 - 02/01/2004 / 02/01/2004 - 02/08/2004 / 02/08/2004 - 02/15/2004 / 02/15/2004 - 02/22/2004 / 02/22/2004 - 02/29/2004 / 02/29/2004 - 03/07/2004 / 03/14/2004 - 03/21/2004 / 03/21/2004 - 03/28/2004 / 03/28/2004 - 04/04/2004 / 04/04/2004 - 04/11/2004 / 04/11/2004 - 04/18/2004 / 04/18/2004 - 04/25/2004 / 04/25/2004 - 05/02/2004 / 05/02/2004 - 05/09/2004 / 05/09/2004 - 05/16/2004 / 05/16/2004 - 05/23/2004 / 05/30/2004 - 06/06/2004 / 06/06/2004 - 06/13/2004 / 06/13/2004 - 06/20/2004 / 06/20/2004 - 06/27/2004 / 06/27/2004 - 07/04/2004 / 07/04/2004 - 07/11/2004 / 07/11/2004 - 07/18/2004 / 07/18/2004 - 07/25/2004 / 08/08/2004 - 08/15/2004 / 08/22/2004 - 08/29/2004 / 08/29/2004 - 09/05/2004 / 09/05/2004 - 09/12/2004 / 09/19/2004 - 09/26/2004 / 09/26/2004 - 10/03/2004 / 10/03/2004 - 10/10/2004 / 10/10/2004 - 10/17/2004 / 10/17/2004 - 10/24/2004 / 10/24/2004 - 10/31/2004 / 10/31/2004 - 11/07/2004 / 11/07/2004 - 11/14/2004 / 11/14/2004 - 11/21/2004 / 11/21/2004 - 11/28/2004 / 11/28/2004 - 12/05/2004 / 12/05/2004 - 12/12/2004 / 12/12/2004 - 12/19/2004 / 12/19/2004 - 12/26/2004 / 12/26/2004 - 01/02/2005 / 01/02/2005 - 01/09/2005 / 01/16/2005 - 01/23/2005 / 01/23/2005 - 01/30/2005 / 01/30/2005 - 02/06/2005 / 02/06/2005 - 02/13/2005 / 02/13/2005 - 02/20/2005 / 02/20/2005 - 02/27/2005 / 02/27/2005 - 03/06/2005 / 03/06/2005 - 03/13/2005 / 03/27/2005 - 04/03/2005 / 04/03/2005 - 04/10/2005 / 04/10/2005 - 04/17/2005 / 05/29/2005 - 06/05/2005 / 06/05/2005 - 06/12/2005 / 06/12/2005 - 06/19/2005 / 06/19/2005 - 06/26/2005 / 06/26/2005 - 07/03/2005 / 07/03/2005 - 07/10/2005 / 07/10/2005 - 07/17/2005 / 07/24/2005 - 07/31/2005 / 07/31/2005 - 08/07/2005 / 08/07/2005 - 08/14/2005 / 08/14/2005 - 08/21/2005 / 08/21/2005 - 08/28/2005 / 08/28/2005 - 09/04/2005 / 09/04/2005 - 09/11/2005 / 09/11/2005 - 09/18/2005 / 09/18/2005 - 09/25/2005 / 09/25/2005 - 10/02/2005 / 10/02/2005 - 10/09/2005 / 10/09/2005 - 10/16/2005 / 10/16/2005 - 10/23/2005 / 10/23/2005 - 10/30/2005 / 10/30/2005 - 11/06/2005 / 11/06/2005 - 11/13/2005 / 11/13/2005 - 11/20/2005 / 11/20/2005 - 11/27/2005 / 11/27/2005 - 12/04/2005 / 12/04/2005 - 12/11/2005 / 12/11/2005 - 12/18/2005 / 12/18/2005 - 12/25/2005 / 01/01/2006 - 01/08/2006 / 01/08/2006 - 01/15/2006 / 01/15/2006 - 01/22/2006 / 01/22/2006 - 01/29/2006 / 01/29/2006 - 02/05/2006 / 02/19/2006 - 02/26/2006 / 03/05/2006 - 03/12/2006 / 03/19/2006 - 03/26/2006 / 03/26/2006 - 04/02/2006 / 04/02/2006 - 04/09/2006 / 04/09/2006 - 04/16/2006 / 04/23/2006 - 04/30/2006 / 05/07/2006 - 05/14/2006 / 05/14/2006 - 05/21/2006 / 05/21/2006 - 05/28/2006 / 06/04/2006 - 06/11/2006 / 06/11/2006 - 06/18/2006 / 06/18/2006 - 06/25/2006 / 06/25/2006 - 07/02/2006 / 07/02/2006 - 07/09/2006 / 07/09/2006 - 07/16/2006 / 07/23/2006 - 07/30/2006 / 08/06/2006 - 08/13/2006 / 08/13/2006 - 08/20/2006 / 09/03/2006 - 09/10/2006 / 09/17/2006 - 09/24/2006 / 09/24/2006 - 10/01/2006 / 10/01/2006 - 10/08/2006 / 10/22/2006 - 10/29/2006 / 11/19/2006 - 11/26/2006 / 11/26/2006 - 12/03/2006 / 12/03/2006 - 12/10/2006 / 12/10/2006 - 12/17/2006 / 12/17/2006 - 12/24/2006 / 12/24/2006 - 12/31/2006 / 01/07/2007 - 01/14/2007 / 01/14/2007 - 01/21/2007 / 01/28/2007 - 02/04/2007 / 02/11/2007 - 02/18/2007 / 02/18/2007 - 02/25/2007 / 02/25/2007 - 03/04/2007 / 03/04/2007 - 03/11/2007 / 03/18/2007 - 03/25/2007 / 04/01/2007 - 04/08/2007 / 04/08/2007 - 04/15/2007 / 04/15/2007 - 04/22/2007 / 04/22/2007 - 04/29/2007 / 04/29/2007 - 05/06/2007 / 05/06/2007 - 05/13/2007 / 05/20/2007 - 05/27/2007 / 05/27/2007 - 06/03/2007 / 06/03/2007 - 06/10/2007 / 06/10/2007 - 06/17/2007 / 06/17/2007 - 06/24/2007 / 07/01/2007 - 07/08/2007 / 07/08/2007 - 07/15/2007 / 07/22/2007 - 07/29/2007 / 07/29/2007 - 08/05/2007 / 08/05/2007 - 08/12/2007 / 08/26/2007 - 09/02/2007 / 09/09/2007 - 09/16/2007 / 09/23/2007 - 09/30/2007 / 09/30/2007 - 10/07/2007 / 10/07/2007 - 10/14/2007 / 10/14/2007 - 10/21/2007 / 10/21/2007 - 10/28/2007 / 10/28/2007 - 11/04/2007 / 11/04/2007 - 11/11/2007 / 11/11/2007 - 11/18/2007 / 11/18/2007 - 11/25/2007 / 11/25/2007 - 12/02/2007 / 12/02/2007 - 12/09/2007 / 12/09/2007 - 12/16/2007 / 12/16/2007 - 12/23/2007 / 12/23/2007 - 12/30/2007 / 01/06/2008 - 01/13/2008 / 02/03/2008 - 02/10/2008 / 02/17/2008 - 02/24/2008 / 02/24/2008 - 03/02/2008 / 03/02/2008 - 03/09/2008 / 03/09/2008 - 03/16/2008 / 03/16/2008 - 03/23/2008 / 03/23/2008 - 03/30/2008 / 03/30/2008 - 04/06/2008 / 04/20/2008 - 04/27/2008 / 04/27/2008 - 05/04/2008 / 05/04/2008 - 05/11/2008 / 05/11/2008 - 05/18/2008 / 05/18/2008 - 05/25/2008 / 05/25/2008 - 06/01/2008 / 06/01/2008 - 06/08/2008 / 06/08/2008 - 06/15/2008 / 06/15/2008 - 06/22/2008 / 06/22/2008 - 06/29/2008 / 07/06/2008 - 07/13/2008 / 07/13/2008 - 07/20/2008 / 07/20/2008 - 07/27/2008 / 07/27/2008 - 08/03/2008 / 08/03/2008 - 08/10/2008 / 08/10/2008 - 08/17/2008 / 08/17/2008 - 08/24/2008 / 08/31/2008 - 09/07/2008 / 09/07/2008 - 09/14/2008 / 09/14/2008 - 09/21/2008 / 09/21/2008 - 09/28/2008 / 09/28/2008 - 10/05/2008 / 10/05/2008 - 10/12/2008 / 10/12/2008 - 10/19/2008 / 10/19/2008 - 10/26/2008 / 10/26/2008 - 11/02/2008 / 11/02/2008 - 11/09/2008 / 11/09/2008 - 11/16/2008 / 11/16/2008 - 11/23/2008 / 12/07/2008 - 12/14/2008 / 12/21/2008 - 12/28/2008 / 12/28/2008 - 01/04/2009 / 01/18/2009 - 01/25/2009 / 01/25/2009 - 02/01/2009 / 03/22/2009 - 03/29/2009 / 05/10/2009 - 05/17/2009 / 05/17/2009 - 05/24/2009 / 05/31/2009 - 06/07/2009 / 06/14/2009 - 06/21/2009 / 06/21/2009 - 06/28/2009 / 06/28/2009 - 07/05/2009 / 07/05/2009 - 07/12/2009 / 07/12/2009 - 07/19/2009 / 07/26/2009 - 08/02/2009 / 08/09/2009 - 08/16/2009 / 08/23/2009 - 08/30/2009 / 09/06/2009 - 09/13/2009 / 09/20/2009 - 09/27/2009 / 09/27/2009 - 10/04/2009 / 10/04/2009 - 10/11/2009 / 10/11/2009 - 10/18/2009 / 10/18/2009 - 10/25/2009 / 10/25/2009 - 11/01/2009 / 11/29/2009 - 12/06/2009 / 12/27/2009 - 01/03/2010 / 01/31/2010 - 02/07/2010 / 02/07/2010 - 02/14/2010 / 02/28/2010 - 03/07/2010 / 03/07/2010 - 03/14/2010 / 03/28/2010 - 04/04/2010 / 04/18/2010 - 04/25/2010 / 05/16/2010 - 05/23/2010 / 05/30/2010 - 06/06/2010 / 06/13/2010 - 06/20/2010 / 06/20/2010 - 06/27/2010 / 07/04/2010 - 07/11/2010 / 07/11/2010 - 07/18/2010 / 07/18/2010 - 07/25/2010 / 08/08/2010 - 08/15/2010 / 08/29/2010 - 09/05/2010 / 09/05/2010 - 09/12/2010 / 09/19/2010 - 09/26/2010 / 09/26/2010 - 10/03/2010 / 10/10/2010 - 10/17/2010 / 10/17/2010 - 10/24/2010 / 10/31/2010 - 11/07/2010 / 11/28/2010 - 12/05/2010 / 12/05/2010 - 12/12/2010 / 12/12/2010 - 12/19/2010 / 12/26/2010 - 01/02/2011 / 03/06/2011 - 03/13/2011 / 03/13/2011 - 03/20/2011 / 05/22/2011 - 05/29/2011 / 08/07/2011 - 08/14/2011 / 08/14/2011 - 08/21/2011 / 09/18/2011 - 09/25/2011 / 10/02/2011 - 10/09/2011 / 10/09/2011 - 10/16/2011 / 11/06/2011 - 11/13/2011 / 01/15/2012 - 01/22/2012 / 04/22/2012 - 04/29/2012 / 06/24/2012 - 07/01/2012 / 08/05/2012 - 08/12/2012 / 08/11/2013 - 08/18/2013 / 03/01/2015 - 03/08/2015 / 10/04/2015 - 10/11/2015 / 11/08/2015 - 11/15/2015 /


Powered by Blogger