Need new energy sources

By Tom Putnam | Oct 11, 2010

The United States is in a conundrum. Our economy is in the doldrums, and the cacophony surrounding our midterm elections is a reflection of this dire situation. Our developing new energy resources can ameliorate many of the world's problems and halt our descent into this economic abyss.

China is behaving as the U.S. did after World War II, successfully engaging in industrial production. It does have an advantage, a work-force that will work for a "minimum wage," but workers are receiving more income than they had before as peasants. Eventually, China's population will arrive economically to where the U.S. is today; in the meantime, our industrial production, which is credited with the creation of our middle class, is on the skids.

One way to create new jobs for our modestly educated middle class is to develop new products that require mass production, as did our automobile assembly lines. We should advocate for our young to seek education beyond high school. That way, they can be part of the development of new products that will provide jobs for their peers who left school and rolled up their sleeves. Assembly work does not require an advanced degree, and it can provide a living wage.

Working on an automobile-engine assembly line in a Detroit Chrysler factory during my summer vacations in the 1950s helped put me through college and medical school. The assembly workers all called me "Doc" because they knew I wanted to go to medical school. Each summer they would greet me with, "Hey, Doc! How's it going?" That experience taught me a lot about automobile engines, but also even more about human behavior and how nice people really are.

Our need for new energy resources will enable us to solve so many of our problems and provide new jobs. A century ago, the West realized that mobile energy resources were a requirement in the developing world. There is no more useful source of mobile energy that we know of today than petroleum and its products. With the entire world needing petroleum, it is becoming more scarce, and it is a cause of friction between the oil producing countries of the Middle East and Central Asia. Searching for new sources, especially offshore, can lead to accidents that can be catastrophic for our environment. Many blame carbon dioxide from the burning of petroleum and other fossil fuels as the cause of global warming. For all of those reasons, we truly need to develop new sources of mobile energy and the word "mobile" must be emphasized.

It is a tragedy that Matt Simmons has passed. When I heard of Matt's idea to develop a floating windmill farm in the Gulf of Maine, so far offshore that the NIMBYs would not have an issue, I felt that was innovative thinking, would provide jobs for Mainers and reduce our dependence on carbon-based energy sources. The farms would generate electricity that would be sent ashore by wire and then distributed to consumers to supply their energy needs. The one flaw is that the electricity is not portable, unless batteries are recharged electrically; behold, that is being done today.

I did not realize that Matt was not going to produce electricity with his wind farms but instead take seawater and extract ammonia from it. Ammonia, when cooled and compressed, becomes a liquid and a portable source of energy. I am not saying that Matt's ideas were going to solve our energy needs but the guy was thinking and creating. We need more like Matt Simmons.

So what sort of energy resources should we be considering?

All of them.

Let's not forget atomic energy. It is so unlike us, at least the populace in the mid-20th Century, to be turned off of atomic energy because of the Three-Mile Island catastrophe. Fortunately, that was nothing like Chernobyl in Russia, but it did grab American attention. Unlike previous American behavior, we reacted by fleeing, shutting down most of our atomic energy plants' production.

We should have worked to make atomic energy safe, such as the French have today. Another large problem is what to do with atomic waste. Here is where we need American ingenuity. There must be other useful ways of solving the waste problem other than burying it. What about the idea of encasing the ultimate waste in appropriate containers and placing them on the ocean floor near tectonic plates? That would permit the waste packets to be carried under the plates, into the earth's interior.

Remember the goal is mobile energy and inexpensive resources. Let's get going. Our universities and our businesses must become involved and our students must demand it. Government can support, but must not direct, it. We live in a free society and that includes its various enterprises. We can do it.


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