Saturday, October 30, 2021

Moving Beyond the Steam Engine | An Essay on Eco-Prosperity

 30 October 2021

Because I'm a gold/silver investor, I'm tied into the Libertarian political movement, of which I'm not a typical member. My core belief system is more Bucky Fuller. We require design technology to do more and more with less and less so as to achieve ephemeralization, which is both a process and a goal. If there were an ephemeralist political party, that is the one I would actually join!

While the above "political" statement is peripheral to my argument, it's my view that there are two "valid" economic systems: markets & trade (capitalism/prosperity) and subsistence (Ivan Illich is among those who have advocated for subsistence, as do many of my First Nation friends, and also many environmentalists). 

With ephemeralization (Buckminster Fuller) we can see a rising standard of living (prosperity) with a concomitant lowering demand on the environment. I think only prosperity will enable us to afford the large cost of environmental repair and habitat restoration (that is, prosperity will benefit the planet MORE than subsistence for this perhaps non-obvious reason). 

Strikingly, almost everybody on both sides is advocating a power system based on steam engines, apart from the eco-subsistence movement, who prefer wind/solar and voluntary poverty (I don't use the term pejoratively: it is a valid way forward, though not the one I prefer). 

This is why my discovery of the HB11 Energy fusion/electric system a few years ago set my thinking on a new track. Of the 34 fusion power technology development plans I studied, only HB11 bypasses the typical avenue of heat generation in the power cycle. Almost all fusion designs, even those not using radioactive deuterium/tritium, intend to channel heat into steam engine technology, which now seems hopelessly primitive to me. The same goes, of course, for coal, natural gas, and nuclear fission. 

Given how fundamentally superior the HB11 design is, I am stunned at how little attention it is receiving on the world stage, even among fusion power advocates, who seem largely content to derive heat from nuclear fusion and then to channel the heat into primitive steam engine technology. To be blunt, I just don't get it! 

It goes without saying that if we really want to reduce global warming, generating power through heat (including via carbon-free power) can't possibly be the most desirable way forward. For example, large cities are heat engines in themselves, tending to be measurably warmer than their surrounding territory, just because they are energy consumers and heat generators. Stated differently, generating power by producing heat cannot possibly aid the cause of reining in global warming. 

Don't get me wrong. Even though the HB11 process generates electricity without heat, I have considered that electricity is not fully efficient, and that the standard measure of electrical inefficiency is heat generation in transmission & deployment. Beyond that, electricity will still be used for many heat generation ends, including home/office/space heating & cooling. Further, many technologies require heat input, including refining and mechanical processes of all sorts. Electrical motors, for example, those in electric vehicles, will also generate large amounts of waste heat. While all of the above is true, it is still vastly preferable to bypass heating in the original generation of power. 

I will go further. It is ridiculous to continue to contemplate using heating as a method of power generation, period.

I've already composed an essay on my blog about 14 emerging (constructive) trends, applicable to our present time, which is here: 

Carbon recapture/planetary cooling and habitat restoration are two of the 14 trends. 

Can we use electrical power to recapture carbon, otherwise cool the planet, and restore habitats? Clearly, yes. So while the "eco-prosperity" course that I advocate will generate heat, both intentionally and as a consequence of inefficiencies, I think we can easily compensate for that by recapturing carbon and restoring habitats (I say "easily" because prosperity makes the large scale deployment of new technologies possible). I don't have to describe here how healthy (recovering/regenerating) oceans and forests capture carbon and promote an overall cooling of the earth. I am assuming that this is generally well understood among my readers.

Let me comment briefly on the potentially misleading dichotomy of capitalism vs socialism. While communism clearly destroys wealth by removing incentives to innovate and to create profitable efficiencies, in my view, the positive aspect of "socialism " is that capitalist prosperity, by increasing real wealth, makes improved physical and social infrastructure possible: not just better power/communication grids, roads and waterworks, but better education, health care, and basic social security. Stated simply, eco-prosperity is both capitalist and "socialist," in that it is a roadmap for increasing prosperity with democratic benefits.

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