Promoting Energy Conservation and

Using Alternative Energy Resources

Ken Touryan, in his presidential address for ASA in 2003 — “ASA in the 21st Century: Expanding Our Vision for Serving God, the Church, and Society Through Science & Technology” — described "Ten Pressing Issues Facing the Earth Today."  He placed our impending crisis in energy balance, caused by increasing demand coupled with dwindling supplies of fossil fuels, at the top of the list.  He projected that we will run out of fossil fuels by 2050, so we should move to alternative energy sources.   { Touryan has a Ph.D. in Aerospace Sciences from Princeton, and is Chief Technology Analyst in the Technology Deployment Office at National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO. }

Two years later, in 2005 at the 60th Annual Meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), the focus was on energy.  What you see below is excerpts from an ASA Newsletter summarizing highlights from the meeting, held August 5–8 at Messiah College in Grantham, PA.

A Meeting Filled with Energy
        As gasoline prices soar and known petroleum reserves diminish, this year's Annual Meeting theme, “Alternate Energy Resources: Conservation and the Environment,” was especially timely.  Energy efficiency measures lead to what one presenter termed ‘negawatts’ — short for ‘negative watts,’ watts that don't have to be generated because they aren't consumed.
        Also energetically presented was the theme of “Appropriate Technology,” especially as applied to countries of the developing world.  Some of the most enthusiastic presentations were from people with hands-on overseas experience, providing facilities that saved lives, prevented epidemics, improved nutrition and provided livelihoods for disadvantaged individuals and villages. ...


Exploring Alternate Energy Resources

        In the Friday evening opening session, Stanley Bull — associate director of science and technology at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO — pointed out that currently only 6% of the energy consumed in the US is from renewable sources.  Highlighting our increased dependence on foreign oil sources, he stressed that present trends are unsustainable [as described by Glenn Morton in The Coming Energy Crisis (2000) and The World's Oil Supply Revisited (2005)].
        Bull and specialists in various fields outlined alternatives:

        WIND:  Stanley Bull reported that electrical generation by wind power has increased rapidly.  GE has installed a 1.5-Megawatt wind turbine in Tehachapi, CA, and Bull expects 10-MW units to be operational by 2010.  A 3.6-MW prototype is operating in the Irish Sea, with each blade150 feet long.  Superimposing the image of a Boeing 747 over the turbine, he compared it to "rotating a football field."
        Jim Green of NREL said many smaller windmills operate on farmland, taking only a few square yards out of agricultural production while supplementing farmers' income.  Such geographically- diversified sources have the advantage of making the nation's power grid less vulnerable to threats ranging from tornadoes to terrorism, compared to large central generating stations.
        Technological hurdles are often easier to overcome than societal inertia or political opposition.  Jerrold L. McNatt of Gordon C. pointed out that Massachusetts has an estimated potential of 2880 MW of wind energy, but is currently using only 1 MW of it.  Even though this may be the only renewable energy resource in the area, residents resist the proposal to install a 420-MW wind park with 130 wind turbines mounted on 246-ft. lighted towers supporting 341-ft. diameter blades.  Opponents acknowledge that it may be a good idea in principle, but NIMBY, ‘not in my back yard.’

        SOLAR subdivides into two specialties:
        1. Photovoltaics:  Photovoltaics (PV) is the direct conversion of light to electricity.  Electricity is the most expensive type of energy to produce, and PV is the most expensive viable technology to generate it.  But NREL's Brent Nelson pointed out that the total global solar resource is more than large enough to power a sustainable electrical generation system for the world.  When political, sociological, environmental, and sustainability issues are factored with the economics, PV becomes one of the most favorable technologies.  Under the title “A Chicken in Every Pot, Solar Panels on Every Roof: Is It Practical?”  John A. Bloom (Biola U.) described his experience of installing, testing, and maintaining a 2.5-kw photovoltaic system tied to the power grid to power his home.
        2. Solar coatings are applied to sheets of glass to control the transmission of solar energy.  Annabelle Pratt described the ‘sputtering’ process, in which coatings are applied by using high-voltage apparatus to ignite a plasma in a vacuum chamber.  For a warm climate, a coating can reduce the amount of solar energy entering a building; for a cold climate, it can reduce the solar energy escaping from a building.  Solar-coated glass products have been in use in commercial buildings for several decades and are now also available in the residential market.

        FUEL CELLS convert the chemical energy of a fuel directly into low-voltage d.c.  When hydrogen is the fuel, the only emission is water vapor.  Hydrogen and oxygen react electrochemically at separated electrodes, producing electricity, heat, and water.  John A. Turner explained that an individual fuel cell generates between 0.6–0.8 volt, "so power specifications are met by connecting a specific number of cells in series to obtain the necessary voltage, and by sizing the active area of the cells for the current."

        HYDROGEN:  NREL's George Sverdrup devoted a session to what he described as a clean, abundant fuel.  He reported various stages of development to produce hydrogen from water, fossil fuels, and biomass.  Hydrogen energy can be converted to electricity for powering vehicles or buildings, using either combustion or electrochemical fuel cells.
        Kenneth Piers (Calvin College) was less sanguine, saying, "… in a profound thermodynamic sense, hydrogen can never be an energy source;  rather, because it needs to be produced from other materials, hydrogen will always be a net energy consumer."  He added, "It behooves us to ask whether or not the energy used to produce, store, distribute, and deliver hydrogen might not be used in better ways."  He also expressed concern that leakage might pose serious environmental risks.

        AMMONIA can be used in fuel cells or in internal combustion engines.  Ammonia can be readily and economically produced from our abundant supply of coal, and it is much easier to store and transport than hydrogen.  John H. Holbrook pointed out that, instead of producing a greenhouse gas, the ‘exhaust’ waste products are nitrogen and clean, potable water.  A liter of liquid ammonia theoretically produces approximately 4 kWh of energy and nearly 1.6 liters of pure water.  "This feature could be a real blessing in remote or underdeveloped areas, or in disaster situations, where both energy and drinking water are important."

        NUCLEAR FUSION:  Ian Hutchinson (MIT) began a Saturday afternoon parallel session by surveying the present state of fusion research.  He said, "The astonishing technical difficulty of ‘recreating’ on the human scale what God has gifted us with, so elegantly and stably, on the solar scale, has proven far greater than was initially imagined.  Nevertheless, research now stands at the threshold of a scientific demonstration of a burning plasma."
        He presented fusion research as an appropriate calling for a Christian.
        Robert Kaita, from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, pointed out that the US and the former USSR pioneered fusion research in the mid-twentieth century.  He lamented the fact that the US has not pursued this form of energy as aggressively as several developing countries.  He noted that the July 1 issue of Science asked: "Will fusion always be the energy source of the future?"  The text continued: "It's been 35 years away for about 50 years, and unless the international community gets its act together, it'll be 35 years for many decades to come."
        The US decision of a decade ago that it was too expensive contrasts with aggressive development in India, the People's Republic of China, and South Korea.  Kaita observed that South Korea prioritizes its fusion research so highly that they have not scaled it back significantly even during severe financial difficulties.  "This was a time when there were news photographs of women donating their jewelry to help stave off the country's economic crisis."
       Why has the US seen nuclear fusion as less of a priority?  He attributes much of it to the differences between Asian and American philosophical outlooks, stating: "Asians have been called ‘situation centered,’ while Westerners are more ‘individual centered.’ … Furthermore, the Asian tends to focus on relational responsibility and motivation based on duty to others, while the Westerner typically thinks more in terms of personal rights."
Citing 1 Cor 10:24 and Phil 2:3–4, Kaita concludes: "Our focus as Christians should be on making the best decisions we can.  They should be based not purely from self-interest, but with the kind of servant mindset and humility that only obedience to Christ can provide."

        ‘NEGAWATTS’:  Using more efficient devices can provide significant reductions in energy usage.  At the 1998 Annual Meeting in Cambridge, England, it was pointed out that if incandescent lamps in all traffic signals in the UK were replaced with light-emitting diodes (LEDs), the saving would be equivalent to closing two power plants.


Applying Technology to Meet Human Need

        Carl A. Erickson, Jr. of Messiah C. provided the definition of Appropriate Technologies: "Local, self-help, self-reliant technologies that local people themselves choose, which they can understand, maintain, and repair.  They are generally simple, capitalsaving, labor-enhancing, and culturally acceptable.  Ecologically, appropriate technologies are environmentally sustainable, as much as possible using renewable energy, and limiting atmospheric, chemical, and solid waste pollution."

        A solar cooker is very appropriate for underdeveloped countries.  Paul Arveson pointed out that many countries have relied so much on burning wood, that they have depleted trees, habitat, soil and watershed.  Cooking smoke kills over 1.6 million people each year, causing acute lower respiratory infection, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, etc.  Many poor families spend 25% of their income on fuel.  The Cookit, a solar cooker that uses aluminum foil or metallized plastic film to collect and concentrate the sun's rays, consumes no fuel, eliminates the daily search for firewood, provides business opportunities, and can sterilize water and pasteurize milk.

        For developed countries, hybrid cars make a lot of sense.  Ken Van Dellen is driving his second Toyota Prius, a gas-electric hybrid car with EPA estimates of 60 mpg highway, 55 combined.  The vehicle contains a small gas engine, and the electric motor also acts as a generator.  It has a continuously-variable automatic transmission, "which means it doesn't shift.  It just smoothly goes from one speed to another."  The gas engine turns off in town driving, and the car becomes all-electric.  The engine turns off at stop signs and red lights and starts again when you step on the accelerator.  The electric air conditioner can run without the engine running.  With a drag coefficient of .26, the Prius is more streamlined than a Corvette by .02 and is less than half that of a Hummer.
        The gasoline engine charges the batteries at times.  Kinetic energy charges them when you coast, and there is regenerative braking when you stop.
        Ken claims his car produces 90% less smog-forming pollution than a conventional engine, a super-ultra rating.  Driving it from Anchorage to Miami produces less smog-forming pollution than a can of air freshener.  Driving it 150,000 miles produces less smog than latex-painting a 500-square-foot room.

        Technology for Shalom
        Every day the equivalent of 20 jumbo jets full of children die from diseases.  Most of these 6,000 deaths could be prevented by providing sources of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.  U. of Wisconsin civil and environmental engineering prof. Peter J. Bosscher used those facts to make his case that the developing world needs engineers more than doctors.
        Speaking on the topic “Technology for Shalom,” he bolstered his case by pointing out that the average African woman walks 6 km to get fresh water, another six to return, carrying a 20 kg water load.  In the developing world, the average person uses 10 liters of water per day — their full day's water use for washing, eating, drinking and cooking.  That's the equivalent of one standard American toilet flush [ed. note: this would be slightly more than two flushes of a 1.28-gallon high-efficiency toilet].
        Cooperating with Engineers without Borders, Bosscher sends engineering students to implement low-tech/high impact projects like potable water sources or sanitation facilities.  Some organizations send university students on overseas projects with goals merely to have a good time and to return safely.  But when his students engage in humanitarian outreach, "Engineering has a human face.  No longer is it just calculations and mechanics and calculus."  When they see their engineering expertise help people, many of them make it their life's career.
        He quoted Bernard Amadei, founding president of Engineers without Borders-USA, who said: "Improving the lives of the 5 billion people whose chief concern is to stay alive another day on our planet is no longer an option; it is an obligation."

        A solar cooker is very appropriate for underdeveloped countries. ..... [This paragraph, and the three below, were located here in the ASA Newsletter, but have been moved to the beginning of this section because they're more directly related to the "alternative energy" theme of this page.]
        For developed countries, hybrid cars make a lot of sense. ... The gasoline engine... Ken claims his car...

        Bradley Aspires to Be George Washington Carver of Coconuts
        Walter Bradley (Baylor U. professor and ASA Council member) champions using technology in creative ways to help the poor.
        In Papua New Guinea he has implemented that goal by converting coconuts into valueadded products.  Realizing that extracting milk from the coconut produced substantial waste, he resolved "to become for coconuts what George Washington Carver had become for peanuts."  He and associates discovered the various parts could be used:
  • as fuel, for chip-burning cook stoves and for biodiesel;
  • as animal feed, containing 16% protein and all essential amino acids;
  • in construction, processed into particle board;
  • in ecology, as matting to minimize erosion;
  • in the household, as cooking oil, glycerin for soap, and the empty shell as a cup.
        Making it even more suitable for developing countries, coconuts grow primarily in soil that is sandy and near coastlines — the very areas where poverty and drought are most intense.  Each tree can bear continually, producing two to four crops per year, and an experienced climber can harvest about 1,000 coconuts per day.  That sounds like an ideally ‘appropriate’ solution for developing countries!

        The R/C Ratio
        That expression was mentioned several times during the conference.  NREL's Ken Touryan explains, "R stands for Resources and C for Challenges.  That ratio is often very much less than 1, especially for Christians.  However, if we multiply it by God's name, His hands, etc., which can be described as ‘infinite,’ then R times infinity will be larger than any challenge whatsoever!"  { For details of the R/C Ratio and scriptural examples, see Ken's elaboration in the page-introduction. }

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