Monday, December 21, 2009

Coal on the Decline

Articles out of Florida say that the next planned coal fired power plant has been cancelled. This markes a milestone of sorts, since it was partially an economic decision. The Seminole Electric Cooperative has cited...
- Uncertainty - there might be new fees on carbon intensive fuels or coal in particular
- Lower cost Natural Gas - the cleaner fuel seems more abundant with less risk of carbon tariffs
- Energy efficiency measures (from a scaled back economy and from Federal incentives) reduce demand
- Alternative Power, especially solar, is cheaper and in greater demand from power consumers

To my thinking, the cost of coal must now suffer with the additional cost of uncertainty in regulation when competing with the other energy sources.
Most alternative energies don't face the kind of minimum start-up size issues that coal and gas face. Installing a ten megawatt facility of wind or solar one megawatt at a time isn't much more expensive than installing it all at once. This allows a utility more financial flexibility in a fiscal landscape with less freely flowing capital. There might even be additional savings from falling wind & solar prices during an extended project. And there are no fuel costs with wind or solar, which brings in a owning vs. renting calculation.

It is analogous to weighing whether one should rent an entire home, or, for just a little bit more per room, buy that home one room at a time as your budget allows, while being able to fully utilize each of the rooms one has purchased. What resident wouldn't prefer the second option? I think the owning vs. renting model will be a major motivator for the more fiscally astute companies and landowners to chose wind & solar.

Dan

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More Efficient Carbon Fiber Airplanes

Boeing has just done a test flight for their new 787 Dreamliner. I usually don't fawn over a big corporation's newest product launch, but this one is a highlight for efficiency. It is mostly made from carbon fiber composites and titanium, uses more efficient engines and should save an airline 20% on fuel costs.These fuel savings will constitute huge reductions on greenhouse gas emissions since flight is one of the most CO2 intensive activities one can pursue. A couple percent savings with the largest wasters can have a bigger effect than a huge savings in less wasteful sectors.
Amory Lovins of RMI has presented evidence linking energy efficiency with improved profits at some major corporations. There are now sustainability MBA programs at institutions like the Presidio College that are training the next generation of managers and executives. This profit oriented demographic will uses their newly acquired efficiency paradigms to drive the more forward thinking corporations towards sustainability as a competitive strategy. And being less competitive will quickly drive the other corporations towards efficiency. As Lovins says, "We will change their minds or their managers."
Companies like FiberForge will be cranking out the new ultra-light, ultra-strong materials to meet an ever rising demand. A concept I would find conceptually appealing would be generating some of those carbon fibers from CO2 emissions. To sequester carbon within the industrial materials that will reduce the CO2 emissions has a kind of intellectual symmetry that is very satisfying.
Dan

Monday, October 12, 2009

Governor Schwarzenegger Signed Two Solar Bills

Our solar-advocating governor has signed in two bills that will add monetary incentives for installing more solar. AB 920 will mean that solar on your home won't just reduce your electric bill; you might actually get paid by the utility for producing more than you consume. And SB 32 means that the utilities have to buy energy at above-wholesale prices from producers between 1.5 and 3 megawatts. So we might see more big installations on large roofs and large parking lots.

Articles:
LA Times
NASDAQ

Dan

Industries of Inefficiency?

Efficiency Effects

Perhaps, in a small way, efficiency has contributed to our recent economic downturn.

There has been a kind of split personality amongst managers and executives for quite some time. They have been of two minds regarding their internal operations and their external financial entanglements. Borrowing Rushkoff's paradigm of the corporation as fundamentally a manager of debt, the decisions made have been less than ideal because of the different standards used when managing 'external' vs. 'internal' debt.

By internal, I mean that when a company purchases equipment, it doesn't expect to instantly regain the value of that equipment at the flip of the 'on' switch. They plan the purchase with a Return On Investment (ROI) scheme. They predict how much the equipment will cost to purchase and to operate, balance that against how much revenue they expect to generate, and decide if the purchase is profitable enough.

And by external, I mean that the company will sell stocks, take loans from banks, purchase insurance, and make other financial arrangements with third parties to collect capital for operations and fiscal security. So Rushkoff's label of 'managers of debt' seems apt. But they are inconsistent in their management.

Per Amory Lovins, internal equipment is often purchased with very short ROIs requirements while the external fiscal deals can have an order of magnitude longer ROIs. That effectively makes the equipment look like a worse investment when compared to investing in stocks, for example. Which is not consistent with trying to maximize the profitability of the company, since both the external fiscal dealing and the internal operations contribute to the bottom line.

This bias did not arise from intentional neglect or outright stupidity on the part of executives and managers, but rather from a cultural bias amongst the major fiscal decision makers. The same way scientist and engineers as a community look down on mixing with end users, the executives and managers have difficulty seeing a more efficient tool as having the same capability for generating profits that a bit of market speculation might. So they skew their company's spending towards external financial ventures rather than internal investments that might pay off quicker with less risk.

Right now the smart investment money prefers US government bonds over stocks, since stocks are riskier. Which makes internal investments into efficiency much more attractive. The confidence is high, the returns are rapid, and the external fiscal environment favors trimming down.

Some major companies have been proving the soundness of these investments. Lovins' recent debate with an economist (with lots of actual numbers from actual firms) cited profitable efficiencies found at Dow, BP, IBM, GE and Dupont. They are teaching their competitors that going efficient is the best strategy for the near future. But someone is probably losing revenue somewhere along the line. At least part of the billions of dollars of profits he cited must have been a loss to some part of the economy.

An Industry of Inefficiency?

As glad as I am to hear of such wonderful efficiencies and reductions in the carbon footprints of major corporations, I have to consider further: Who is being hurt by this? With less electricity and water being consumed, with less materials entering the waste stream, there must be some companies that are getting less business. Could these companies be said to be part of an industry of inefficiency?

Here in California, we have been proven wise to have been tough on our utilities in the 1970's. We forced them, kicking and screaming, to work under rules that rewarded them for selling less energy to their customers. The power companies of other states work under the old model where they get more money for selling more power, and polluting more along the way. It is not very surprising that PG&E has become the greenest utility in the country, even to the point of lobbying for more efficiency and clean energy mandates.

Relative to PG&E, utilities that rely on coal, for example, seem to benefit when corporations and individual consumers are wasteful. They get more revenue from a wasteful, inefficient customer base than from an efficient one. So they have no interest in implementing new efficiency standards. In fact, their obligation to their shareholders that they maximize profits would seem to require them to discourage efficiency legislation and practices.

I am not saying that there are people who get up for work looking forward to creating some more waste for the sake of sheer malevolence. I am saying that there will be some who will rightly worry when the public thinking of the day turns towards efficiency. The insecurity they feel about their investments, their workplace, or their job will be quite justified as our consumer economy demands a higher MPG rating, as our health care reforms discourage unnecessary procedures, and as the shareholders demand better management techniques.

Amory Lovins used a wonderful phrase when talking about corporations being forced through competition to adopt efficiency practices: "... they will either change their minds or their managers." Maybe the manager whose training didn't include sustainable management techniques might want to educate himself on such methods as a hedge against getting fired some day soon.

And considering how many managers had efficiency low on the priority list, how few executives paid attention to something as lower management as the electric bill, how few employees are even asked to turn the light off in an empty room, one must wonder how much of our economy is based upon waste? As we find our society can't afford the wasteful practices in the face of global competition and global warming, how much of the old investments in the industries of inefficiency will evaporate? What will happen to those who owe at least part of their paycheck to waste?

We should feel some sympathy for those who will be displaced by the sustainability trends. But we should try to give them "a hand up, not a handout" when that demographic is large enough to warrant government expenditures. Let's retrain those coal workers to do efficiency retrofits, install solar panels, or process biofuels. Fewer people will suffer less if we adopt the green practices sooner rather than later. 

We should be expect some real resistance to change from those that invested heavily in the inefficiency industries. They will be willing to devote a significant portion of their investment capital towards preventing the loss of the rest of their investments. But ultimately, our capitalist system will seduce them back towards the industries of growth and profit.

One of my favorite aspects of Amory Lovins' lecture series was the discovery that the fundamental drives of capitalism might happily coincide with the need to reduce civilization's carbon footprint. Corporations and capitalism might be our most effective tools for getting us out of the mess that corporations and capitalism got us into. After all, they are terraforming the Earth without even really trying. Imagine what they can accomplish when they are deliberate and motivated.

Reference:
- Amory Lovins debate on ForaTV
- Amory Lovins 4th of 5 lectures on energy efficiency at Stanford.
- Doug Rushkoff's interview about his new book, Life Inc.

Dan

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ridesharing for freight/packages

I was listening to a podcast about an Open Source group that is trying to build free services for improving the connectivity within cities at little or no cost. So I've posted a comment to the DIYCity.org site, and I thought I would copy that post here.

In this time of tightening belts, offering each other services outside of the normal range of commerce can allow individuals and small groups to prosper while spending less. So what if the ridesharing goes beyond people only?

I imagine needing to get a book/lamp/banner to a friend/colleague some distance away, but preferring to use something more appropriate/locally efficient/cheaper than UPS/FedEx/Post Office. Maybe I could look up a driver going to that location, and offer some gas money/bartered goods/bartered services for taking my object to its destination.

Apparently, a delivery ridesharing scheme already works amongst some grocery vendors, saving delivery costs when Brand A bread is going to the same place as Brand B coffee. As with that case, ridesharing for packages might require some small groups that limit membership so they can better collaborate and coordinate amongst themselves. But I expect the majority of traffic would come from one-by-one arrangements.

Ridesharing for stuff introduces new efficiencies:
- less delivery trucks are needed, reducing traffic and carbon footprint
- trade that would go to national/multinational corporations (UPS/FedEx) stays local
- this would add a neighborly networking social benefit that the standard delivery services don't offer
- with a reduced cost barrier to the movement of goods, exchanges can happen that might not have otherwise, improving a city's efficiency
- drivers can feel better about their personal carbon footprint
- this may be the first way to offer deliveries via electric or hybrid vehicles
- during disasters or movement restrictions from epidemics, this could offer additional robustness to a system for moving goods by remaining more localized

This notion has been nagging at me for a while. Driving a vehicle that doesn't change cargo capacity to fit my needs of the moment had always seemed inefficient. This notion is a step towards an ideal efficiency, made more possible with the increase mobile connectivity and location tracking of today's gadgets.

Of course, there would be some trust issues. These might be partially overcome by:
- establishing a reputation system like eBay's
- posting the pickup and delivery to Twitter (a kind of tracking)
- posting camera phone pics of the exchanges to Flickr (a kind of documentation/advertising)
- keeping the typical value of the objects pretty low (implying less direct competition with the bog corporate services)

I would welcome suggestions, proofs of concept, or criticisms. I might include such a system in a story I've been working on, so I would prefer to make adjustments if the notion is fatally flawed.

Thanks,
EcoGeekDan

Monday, August 10, 2009

Solar Thermal hits 30% efficiency

Science Friday had Steve Cowman, the CEO of Stirling Energy Systems, as a guest speaker during the show this last Friday. He said they are getting efficiencies of 30% out of their latest configuration of production solar thermal systems. By efficiency he means that 30% of the solar energy hitting the mirror dish gets converted into electrical energy. Which is pretty good, but the total energy per installation still depends upon the site.

Many of these are going into projects located around the Imperial Valley in Southern California, a location with some of the best solar thermal energy annual incomes. Which is a nice way of saying the place is a hot, sun-drenched desert.

On the environmental impact:
Some of those on the extreme conservation end of the scale are going to find this intrusion of man-made devices, and the roads & power lines that link them, objectionable. I would like to remind those folks that their ideal of pristine wilderness is already back in the past. Our effects on the planet's climate show that we already assumed the role of gardener for all of the biosphere. And that while we have been quite neglectful gardeners up until now, we must still take all of the biosphere into account.

We need to abandon the old notions of Man vs. Nature. The extreme conservationists share the same model as the greedy industrialist; they just prefer that civilization lose territory to wilderness over the industrialists' strategy of displacing wilderness wherever convenient.

We have to embrace our role as Gardeners of Earth and civilization intertwined with nature. Specifically in the case of building solar thermal arrays in the Mojave, those that would preserve the desert should remember that the deserts are growing. I find it to be an almost poetic symmetry that the ever expanding deserts we would like to avoid as Earth's Gardeners can be the source of the clean energy that will slow their expansion.

And to forestall the conservationist's argument that the solar industries will just adopt the ├╝ber-industrialists' strategy and cover the all the deserts in mirrors and solar panels, please remember that the solar energy that reaches Earth's surface is about FIVE THOUSAND TIMES the energy our civilization uses. The science fiction writer in me enjoys playing around with what we might do with an abundance of say ten times our actual energy needs. But the economist in me says never fear, conservationists; as we tried filling the deserts with clean energy collection, the price of energy would drop so low as to make each new solar collector too expensive to be economically viable.

According to John Smart, we would need only 100 square miles of these Stirling Solar Thermal Collectors, an area 10 miles by 10 miles, to provide all the US electrical needs. Now there could be some bias in that calculation, but even if that means that number is off by a factor of 10, we are still only talking about an area 32 x 32 miles. I think the deserts can spare us this space.

I also think some of the wildlife can successfully co-exist with these solar installations; the flora and fauna that prefer some shade in the desert might even prosper from such projects. As apposed to the people, who would not really be fighting for such real estate. The wildlife will only have to deal with some scattered fields of nearly silent, mostly immobile structures, even rarer maintenance crews, and the power lines. Imagine a developer trying to sell investors on the notion of putting up a mall out in the empty, sun-drenched desert.

This is a young industry that needs to be fostered. I think that around the time we hit one terrawatt of installed solar power, the majority of society will have been convinced that this is cheap, clean, abundant energy with almost no downside. And the consensus might be those who were making the most noise about solar energy's downsides were either receiving some kind of personal benefit from the fossil fuel industries, or were generally opposed to change in any form. History does not look kindly on those who resist the next paradigm.

On Improving Efficiency Further:

According to thermodynamics, particularly the Carnot heat engine, the maximum mechanical energy, and therefor electrical energy after conversion, is related to the heat difference between the heat source and the heat dump. The redesigned mirror dish system and Stirling engine design that Stirling Energy Systems will be using in upcoming projects probably improves mostly on the heat source and the heat-to-mechanical-to-electrical energy efficiency. They might be overlooking the heat dump side of the system, and thus sacrificing some potential efficiencies.

I have made a diagram suggesting further efficiency that could be gained through placing a fan, radiator fins and possibly an air flow cowling that could result in more effective heat flux though convective means. I'm not sure if driving the fan would cost more than the additional electricity created, which would be the deciding factor for adding it to the system. But a further thought occurs that might make this decision much easier.



The dishes will be sited in the hot, arid desert. The ambient air will not be the ideal for removing the heat from the system, so improving the ambient air might be beneficial enough for adding to the design. My suggestion is burying geothermal cooling tubes below the dishes. The ground a couple feet below the surface will be much cooler, so running the ambient air through the tubes prior to use in cooling will mean the heat flux will be higher, increasing the power generated. This effectively increases the scope of the system to to include some of the reservoir of relative coolness in the ground underneath the dishes.

The same notion could be applied to the long trough-style solar thermal collectors. It would probably be more effective as well. With longer underground tubes spread out over a larger area, the external intake air would heat up the ground near the tubes more slowly. And the air would be closer to the underground temperature as it was brought to the steam turbines. (The cooling phase should take place after the steam has flowed through the turbine; cooling the expanded steam will cause it to decrease in volume, creating a relative vacuum and sucking more steam in from the turbine exhaust, resulting in a stronger flow.)

The designs that use molten salt as heat storage medium could also benefit from the geothermal tubes. During the day cycle, the time from the sun being too low to generate any more useful heat to sometime well into the night will probably be the time of highest demand upon the heat storage system, and the geothermal cooling would offset the day's heating of the ambient air. Later in the night when power demand has fallen, the coolness of the ambient air might even be effectively stored in the ground near the tubes.

Of course, water would be a much better energy transfer medium than the air. Perhaps the most efficient scheme would be to 1) run the steam exhaust from the turbines through the geothermal cooling tubes, condensing and cooling it, then 2) using the cooled water at the cooling stage of the turbine process, creating that relative vacuum from cooling the steam while preheating the water to just below boiling prior to its conversion to steam by the molten salt phase. An added benefit should be much less water demand since the water is in a mostly closed circuit system.

The grand scale notion then is to concentrate the solar thermal heat and the geothermal cool into the same system where they can deliver more power to the turbines. This should be a more efficient use of a given patch of land out in the desert.

I will try and post a diagram of this process as well. I will likely be describing these notions in a fictional story I'm working on, so if there are any critiques on the scientific soundness of my notions, I would welcome them. I'd hate to use some bad science in my fiction.

EcoGeekDan

Friday, August 7, 2009

Cash for Clunkers, Day 14 (37)

You know who else is probably benefiting from the program? Small businesses and the auto loan financial sector. You know who is mollified by the program? UAW workers and US auto manufacturers.

Small businesses would join the US everyman in taking advantage of what could effectively work like a free down payment. And most of the individuals or businesses taking advantage of the program will be helping an auto loan sector that has been on the decline for a few quarters.

The auto workers unions made some self sacrificing deals lately, partially at the urging of Democrats I'd bet. By injecting a sales surge into their industry, they are looking at much improved odds of staying employed. That should make their cooperation feel justified. And don't forget that even though many of the top selling vehicles involved in this initiative are not US owned companies, they are still manufactured in US based factories. So those inclined to "buy American" should be somewhat mollified.

The Big Three have been struggling lately. While they are fighting for survival, they have been required to accommodate higher CAFE standards. Their legions of lobbyist could pester Congress like so: "How can you ask us to spend on refitting our manufacturing toward higher fuel efficiencies while we have to come begging for help just to survive?" But with this program, the consumer demand has shifted towards higher fuel efficiencies. And the car industry will always find ways to financially justify capital investment to accommodate consumer demand. Their own survival and government pressures are now pushing them in the same direction.

Similarly, the US consumer should feel better. The environmentalists often ask for noble sacrifice without considering the financial hardships that may result. "Everyone should just drive more efficient cars." This gives the movement an elitist feel since it is mostly the comfortable that can trade money away for improving the world. So Cash for Clunkers removes the initial financial sting. And, lo and behold, we find that a lot of consumers would like to choose the more sustainable option all things being equal.

Many might find that they would have saved an amount equal to the rebate in gas savings over a few years. So the program might also have a practical educational effect. And we will see consumers preferring efficiency without consciously signing on to a political Green movement.

For a much more informed discussion on these notions, take a listen to Amory Lovins' lectures at Stanford in '07. His description of a 'Fee-Bate' program is quite similar to Cash for Clunkers. And his attention to detail is such that he might point out the city street repair departments could be added to the list of beneficiaries of the program; with lighter average vehicle weights come less road damage.

EcoGeekDan

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cash For Clunkers, Day 11 (or 34?)

Update: The House has approved another $2,000,000 in funding for the program, but the Senate must approved as well, and before the recess starts on Friday. The margin of approval in the House indicates a popularity too great for the Senate to fight, so they seem likely to approve.

Besides the Unemployment extensions, this seems to be the first bailout program that directly benefits the average family. Other bailout money has gone to banks, car manufacturers, and government contractors, all a bit outside the mainstream. In a mostly consumer economy, helping the mainstream consumers will be the most effective stimulus.

KQED's Forum just had a show on the subject. The Harvard economics professor seemed only concerned about the debt the US was incurring for this stimulus program, but not for any of the other programs. Cash for Clunkers has used a billion, is waiting for the approval of two more, and even if there is another extension, it is likely to be less than for 10 total. Haven't the other bailouts been in the range of tens or even hundreds of billions? And that professor wants to gainsay even a small step towards equality?

His main plea was for a gas tax. I often wonder about people who appeal for such highly unpopular and unlikely strategies. Are they really hoping nothing will change, like Bush Jr. and his hydrogen research?

In any case, I sure will not miss those SUVs and trucks that are mostly being replaced by regular cars. We should all watch for changes in auto fatalities in the next year, along with reductions in the US trade deficit stemming from reduced oil demand.

In fact, we should recommend our congressmen offer a second round of the program: if the economy continues to flounder, we will help the average family while saving oil; and if the economy picks up, the qualifications can require greater mileage improvements. Removing these gas guzzlers from the roads will go a long way towards energy independence. And don't forget that the rest of the world will see that the US has finally gotten off its good intentions and done something measurable. We might go into the next round of climate talks with a lot more clout & credibility.

I personally think that this sustainability program is one of the best for how it mixes public and private sector benefits. It will be a frequently cited example of efforts that improve both the environment and the economy.

EcoGeekDan

Friday, July 31, 2009

Cash for Clunkers Effects, part II

7/31/09 - 10:51 pm

Ok, I'm having a tough time getting at the market results for the specific sectors I mentioned in my prior post. But it looks like Chevron and Ford are up today, while maybe steel is down. It may be that I need to expand the time scale for my predictions.

I am now thinking that at the end of the program, steel will have declined some, the car companies will have risen, and oil is just too heavily speculated upon for me to predict.

EcoGeekDan

Cash for Clunkers Effects

7/31/09 1:59 am - I'm predicting that today's markets will open with oil and steel companies declining, while car companies rise.

I just read some news about the Cash for Clunkers federal stimulus program running out of money. The $1 billion of funding that Congress thought would last until November, or four months after going into effect July 1st, was spent in less than a month. In other words, people bought up around a quarter million more efficient cars.

I have to wonder how much gas will be saved. These were some of the least efficient cars (or, more likely, trucks and SUVs) on the road. I think the oil companies must be worrying over equations like this:

[1/4 million cars] X [average gas saved per mile] X [average miles driven per year] = [total reduction in gasoline sold in the next 12 months]

That may not be a huge reduction to their bottom line, but in markets that only like growth, the oil stocks will fall. And those vehicles will really be off the road: the dealers must send them to be crushed or they won't be paid the rebate money. So the supply of recycled steel will rise, sending steel prices down.

U.S. drivers will send less money to the oil industry and more to the auto industry, so car company stocks will rise. Which will probably mean the bailed-out U.S. auto manufacturers pay back the bail-out money sooner. And with customers preferring the efficient models over the gas guzzlers, the manufacturers will prefer to make those more efficient cars.

Such a positive response from both the consumers and the auto companies will drive Congress to add more funding. Once they do, there may be a repeat of these declines and rises. But it will be interesting to see what the difference in effect will be if the criteria are toughened, as some in Congress are advocating.

Lastly, with the average weight of cars going down, the easiest way to improve mileages, the number of auto fatalities might decline as well. We won't have data on this aspect for some time, though.

I will post a follow up later today to evaluate how good a guess I made in the short term.

-EcoGeekDan

Thursday, June 25, 2009

An Elegant Solution to Climate Change

Has anyone else noticed that the chief climate change instigator is an excess of carbon, yet the latest hot technologies in materials science often involve carbon nanotubes and other fullerenes? In other words, our most perplexing waste stream and our most exciting new materials share the same major ingredient, carbon.

So why can't we take this waste stream and turn it into a big cash cow supply stream? Yes, the carbon nanotube and graphene technologies are still developing, but we've been finding applications for graphite and diamonds for decades if not centuries. And wouldn't turning the problem pollution into a valuable resource be the most elegant solution possible?

What most people would really like as a solution to climate change is some killer new technology to just get rid of the carbon emissions. Well I think this is it. So here's the design challenge to the materials scientists: create a method for sequestering all that carbon into cool new materials for our electronics, cars, buildings and infrastructure. And maybe get mega-rich doing it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Higher temperature superconductors

I'm posting this prediction here because the Long Bet Foundation charges money to make a bet.

I think there will be another generation of superconductors pretty soon, say 3-10 years. I think this because of a trend I noticed with the discovery of type II superconductors in 1987 combined with a current trend in more sophisticated multiwalled nanotube production.

Up until the discovery of that first ceramic superconductor, superconductivity had only been achieved within about 30 degrees of absolute zero. Typically some very pricey liquid helium was used to get a material down to the appropriate temperature range. And the superconductivity effect occurred in all 3 dimension.

With the invention of a ceramic (or perovskite) superconductor, there was a huge jump in critical temperatures. Pretty soon superconductivity could be found at temperature over 110 degrees Kelvin. But the superconductivity occurred in a planar fashion, a reduction in dimensionality from 3 to 2. I visualize this as something akin to a layer cake where a middle layer is the site of zero resistance. It seemed to me like we traded a decrease in dimensionality for an increase in temperature.

So the next logical step is to go from 2 dimensions to one dimension, with a corresponding increase in temperature. Since the type II superconductors are like a 'tuning' of layers to get one special layer with the superconductivity behavior, then these new superconductors will be layered cylinders where the layers are 'tuned' to create a single dimension of superconductivity. Which seems similar to the various multiwalled nanotubes I keep reading about in the science journals. And since the researchers are riding an improvement curve for engineering the layers of multiwalled nanotubes, it seems likely that even the probably rare mix of chemistry and structure that could result in a linear superconductivity will be stumbled upon soon.

I have been expecting that higher temperature superconductivity in multiwalled nanotubes would be sited along the axial center, but I suppose it could also occur in one of the inner walls of the nanotube, a bit away from center. Since the pairing of electrons into Cooper Pairs involves a certain range of distances, perhaps the superconductivity occurring a layer or two out from the center would actually be a critical requirement.

The net result could be superconductivity at temperatures much easier (and cheaper) to achieve, perhaps even at room temperature. If we could get superconductivity at dry ice or even water ice temperatures, then lots of applications become possible, or at least cheaper: lossless power transmission, cheaper maglev, cheaper medical scanning, almost noiseless information transfer, lossless energy storage.

I think the sustainability movement could benefit greatly from the potential efficiencies in electrical transmission and particularly energy storage. When one inserts a current into a superconducting ring, orbits the ring for as long as the superconducting state is maintained. If the nanotube superconductors could be made cheaply enough and with a pretty high tolerance for magnetic fields, then we might solve the green energy industry's major hurdle of storage.

Right now the type II superconductors are often cooked up via crystal growing and epitaxial deposition, a process I've had some experience with. I'm not sure what percentage of type II's are fabricated this way, but I am sure that all of the processes used are fairly demanding in energy, materials (due to the rare earth elements involved) and labor, and are therefor costly. For the hypothetical nanotube superconductors, the fabrication processes might be more akin to electroplating, at a great reduction in energy and time costs. It would be a bit ironic but certainly convenient if the newer, better superconductors were also cheaper and easier to scale up in fabrication.

I am interested to hear if anyone has some theory or data to support or preclude this possibility.

Thanks,
ecogeekdan