Monday, May 22, 2006

Alternative Fuels: Another Idea Makes It Off The Pizza Box

Here's one from the "where do they get these ideas?" file. So many scientists have so many ways to approach the alternative fuels search. From biodiesel to more outlandish (and fictional) concepts like "Mr. Fusion" from the movie Back To The Future, everyone is looking for the perfect replacement for good old evil, polluting, gasoline. Of course, most of these ideas will never be more than that, one more notion jotted down on the back of a pizza box during a late night brainstorming session. Some of those pizza box ideas actually get developed enough to be patented. Some, like biodiesel from french fry oil, are at this moment making a few cars vroom their way down a state highway or two. Most, however, like biodiesel, carry their own flaws and environmental impact.

One of the potential alternates touted for its cleanliness and efficiency, hydrogen fuel cells, also has a list of problems a mile long, including the fact that it's highly explosive. Enter an idea that has just made it past the pizza box stage, and moved on to the patent application stage. At New Scientist today, Barry Fox is writing about a new proposal from the US Department of Energy to encase the hydrogen in tiny glass balls, balls so small and smooth they would flow like a liquid into your tank, where heat or vacuum would then be used to extract the hydrogen. The hope is that the hydrogen would "be so tightly locked inside the spheres that there would be no risk of explosion or fire if a leak occurs." Let us hope so indeed.

It will be interesting to see whether this plan will get to the "we actually made it work" stage, and then move on to being available to the average consumer. If it does, I envision some logistics issues. This is just my speculation, but I imagine that when you went to fill up your tank, you would first have to hit a station that could empty your tank--of all those slippery little glass balls. A little cumbersome, but it could still work. Just from personal preference, however, I'm still hoping the Mr. Fusion idea hasn't been scrapped. With that there was no trip to the filling station at all. Just a couple of banana peels, and a mostly empty beer can, and we're off. No more waiting in line, and your garbage becomes valuable. Heck of a deal.

Update: As if in answer to my request for Mr. Fusion to be taken out of mothballs, here's some progress on the nuclear fusion front--a potential solution to those things we all dread--ELMs. Hat tip: Futurismic

Ouch: Scrappleface has Senator Clinton's proposal for how to fund alternative energy research.


  1. Just a reminder that hydrogen balloons tend not to stay put. Better make sure the balloon portion is a bit heavier than the hydrogen eh?

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