Stalking the Elusive Quantum Vacuum - Part 2
By Bill Moore
Mark Goldes is both a visionary and a practical man. While the question of zero point energy and our ability to make use of it remains an open one, the reality of superconductivity is not. Companies are actually making products that utilize superconductivity, which is the ability to move electrons with little or no efficiency-robbing, heat-generating resistance. As Goldes reminded me, it was Scientific American many years ago that predicted a new industrial revolution if and when superconductivity was achieved. The tiny Sebastopol, California company he heads hopes to play a leading role in that industrial revolution through the development of superconducting, room temperature polymers... with the help of the Russians.
The theory of superconductivity has been around for the last century with the first breakthroughs taking place nearly 60 years ago after it was discovered that resistance vanishes at cryogenic temperatures of minus 420 degrees Fahrenheit. Get the conductor cold enough and you've got a superconductor. Some of the very first commercial products to use this approach are magnetic resonance imaging or MRI machines used by the medical profession and cell telephone base stations.
At the time of our conversation last fall, after the 2003 Michelin Challenge Bibendum, only one nation had actually deployed superconductive power cables. Denmark currently feeds electrical power via superconductive cables to 50,000 households. Japan has now commercialized superconductive cable and just last week, LG Cable of Korea followed suit. All of these devices still require the use of liquid nitrogen or hydrogen to keep the non-metal filaments at cryogenic temperatures.
"In 1986, we had a breakthrough at IBM's Zurich laboratory that opened the way to ceramic superconductors," Goldes explained, adding that while everyone knows they work, there are at least fifty theories to explain why it works. In addition to power cables, which could transmit electricity across a continent without energy loss, you can also use superconductivity to store energy for brief periods of time.
"If you make a loop of a superconductor, its the finest sort of energy storage we know anything about," he continued, "because you're storing the energy in a magnetic field." There are SMES (superconducting magnetic energy storage) devices now available off the shelf that can store up to one megawatt of power for one minute. They cost in the neighborhood of one million dollars installed, "but if you are a paper mill or chip manufacturer, a few seconds of down time can cost a tremendous amount of money."
Beyond industrial-scale machines, Goldes sees applications at the CPU level of your laptop computer. He envisions SMES devices integrated into the motherboard and replacing your computer's battery. Instead of the slow recharge time where the computer has to be plugged in for several hours, you could instantly recharge the laptop's SMES by plugging the computer in and then immediately unplugging it. Because SMES can be instantly charged and gradually discharged -- which a supercapacitor can't do -- you would no longer need a chemical battery for portable power.
Obviously the same could apply to electric vehicles, which would suddenly turn the current paradigm on its head. Recharging the EV's SMES power pack would be instantaneous, instead of taking hours to complete. But such revolutionary devices are still in the future and hinge on the successful development of what are referred to as "room temperature" superconductors, which is where Goldes' company, Magnetic Power, Inc., is focusing its active attention.
It is his view that polymers represent the next step in achieving the holy grail of room temperature superconductivity, which requires no cryogenic cooling and can operate at temperatures up to nearly 390 degrees Fahrenheit (200 C).
"We can do all the things you can do with present superconductors, almost without exception, at room temperatures..." When spun into a wire just one-fiftieth the diameter of a human hair, such materials will be able to carry 50 Amperes of current, Goldes contends.
"We're taking about a marvelous material with excellent magnetic characteristics. It's a... breakthrough that happened by accident in a Russian laboratory."
As he relates the story, a Russian scientist was handed a piece of what was thought to be common polypropylene -- the stuff cheap, plastic rope is made of -- which instead of acting as an insulator was actually conducting electricity. He was asked to "fix" it so it would insulate, but instead he decided to find out why is was acting like a conductor. Gradually more people in the lab began to look at the problem, suspecting they had a possible candidate for a room temperature superconductor.
Goldes told EV World that by the end of the Cold War and collapse of the old Soviet Union, the Russians believed they'd solved the problem. He began corresponding with them, eventually bringing their technology -- and their massive Magnetic Balance machine -- to northern California. To help continue their research, Goldes raised $7 million from "angel" investors, of which $5 million has gone into superconductors and the balance into ZPE research. He estimates that he needs another $12 million to bring a superconducting wire to the market.
Moving Beyond Our Fossil Fuel "Kindergarten"
Goldes believes that fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas have enabled society to progress to the point we have the capacity both intellectually and technologically to not only comprehend superconductors and zero point energy, but actually be able to make use of them in the near future. He quoted to me Buckminster Fuller's statement that fossil fuels are mankind's energy "kindergarten." [Be sure to also read EV World's interview with Barbara Freese, the author of "Coal: A Human History"].
But it's also a "Kindergarten" where the substance sustaining it is destined to grow increasingly scarce and expensive as we pass the global equivalent to "Hubbert's Peak," in which Goldes is a firm believer. So, from his perspective, mankind is in a race, of which most people are entirely oblivious, to bring on-line replacement energy systems and energy-saving products like superconducting power cables before looming fossil fuel shortages and high prices bring on a potentially catastrophic global depression and devastating resource wars.
Interestingly, Goldes also supports the notion of vehicle-to-grid power, envisioning a time when the grid won't be powered by ancient coal-fired generators and obsolete nuclear plants, but by tens of millions of parked cars which someday will be powered not by gasoline or biodiesel or ethanol or even hydrogen, but by a combination of ZPE and SMES devices.
But as I said at the outset of this article, Goldes is also a practical man who readily acknowledges he could be wrong about ZPE, telling me, "I can't even be sure we're right. I have to leave five percent room for the fact that this could all be a mistake."
Though the gambler in Goldes says the odds are in his favor. He again pointed to the work of Wesley Gary, Hans Coler and Fabrizio Pinto as strong evidence for the validity of quantum vacuum energy, noting with heightened passion in his voice that such a discovery could tranform the world into a global campus.
"What we're looking at here is an evolving breakthrough that could make possible all the things we've wanted to see happen on this planet including massive numbers of new jobs." Here Goldes envisions converting all the world's cars and trucks to run on some futuristic ZPE/SMES power pack. There would be tens of thousands of one-day conversion facilties set up worldwide that would take in your gasoline engine car in the morning, pull out all the ICE hardware, and replace it with an electric-drive system powered by the ZPE/SMES power pack. You'd pick up the car in the evening and never, ever refuel it.
Just as visionary -- though some will argue its more 'pie-in-the-sky' than practical -- is Goldes' view of the world's economy where ownership of industry and commerce is spread broadly among all the inhabitants of the planet, instead of in the hands of a growing few. Here he's not talking about some super-Soviet utopia, but an enhanced and democratized form of capitalism, where most of the world's population derives half of its income from stock dividends and other investment vehicles, freeing them from the modern drudgery of a 40 hour work week. With their financial independence assured, they will be free to pursue careers that interest them and allow them greater freedom of choice and mobility. He sees the "work" week cut to two ten-hour days, with five days to pursue ones education and enlightenment.
"A diversified income means you can speak your mind," Goldes said, creating the world's first truly free and open society. Right now, he believes, we have a "muted democracy, where we have a democracy" because people are afraid to jeopardize their jobs or their pension by speaking out.
"We are at a point in human evolution where we desparately need people to learn," he argued. "We don't need people to learn everything. We just need people to learn enough to survive on a planet that is hurtling through space at a phenomenal speed in a universe we are only beginning to grasp the dimensions of; and if we can do something to turn the planet, as it already has, into a university, and people have the time to learn anything they want to learn, and do anything they want to do that is reasonable... Wow, that's a lot more fun than being caught in the typical grinder."
"I call this the Brooklyn Project. We had the Manhattan Project. Let's go to the other side of the bridge [and ask] how do we move the world in such a way that everything becomes joy and fun and a challenge?" He sees such an environment stimulating vast numbers of entrepreneurs worldwide.
From his perspective, this isn't an option, but a necessity. "We are at the first point in human history where we have to do these things just to survive, and that's the way you get rid of terrorism."
"All people have to do is learn how to learn," he concluded. And be given the freedom to pursue their dreams, something Goldes hopes to play a small part in helping make happen... someday soon.
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