October 10, 2009
Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey
US House of Representatives
Via Fax 707 542 2745
Re - House Science Subcommittee on Energy
Dear Congresswoman Woolsey
Thank you for granting me this opportunity to write this letter that you will forward to all the members of the House Science Subcommittee on Energy. The representatives who sit on this science subcommittee have an awesome responsibility. Our standard of living as well as our national security and well being are based on good policy coming forth from this subcommittee. Unfortunately the record on energy policy ever since the Department of Energy was created in 1977 has been dismal. Without boring you with detail I list the failures in chronological order: Coal to Liquid and Gaseous Fuel; Energy Deregulation; MTBE and Reformulated Gasoline; Cold Fusion; Hydrogen; Fuel Cells; Corn Ethanol; Clean Coal; and Cellulosic Ethanol.
A new Administration and a new Congress will now be spending even more money on the “energy problem”. Most energy technologies are Betamax technologies from a thermodynamics perspective. A little about my background and why think I can help. I graduated in 1973 with a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg S. Africa. I received my MBA from the same university in 1975 and went to work on coal gasification in South Africa. I came to the USA on a fellowship from the Monsanto Corp to study for my MS in Chemical Engineering at Iowa State University and my field of graduate work was in Thermodynamics. I graduated with a MS Chemical Engineering in 1977. I worked for 12 years in cryogenics and became well versed in hydrogen. I then spent 16 years becoming an expert in microelectronics fabrication leading teams in the design of chip, LCD and nonmaterial making facilities the world over. For the past four years I have worked at Genentech and lead teams in the chemistry, manufacturing and control of biopharmaceuticals. My education and work experience is deep in the fundamental technologies that relate to energy past and present. I am not a registered Democrat yet Andrew Tobias, the Treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, has referred to me on his blog as me being “frighteningly bright”. Enough said on qualification to opine on matters before your subcommittee.
The single point I wish to communicate is that very few technologies have a “Moore’s Law” rate of learning. I had the good fortune to lead the design of Intel’s chip fabrication facilities in the Silicon Valley for six years and lived Moore’s Law. I have written and lectured extensively that fuel cells will never approach a high rate of learning and hence cost reduction. I have written and lectured that the same slow rate of learning will hold for photovoltaic cells. I have written and lectured that corn ethanol would be a bust.
I told the National Hydrogen Association meeting in 2005 that hydrogen was a great chemical and a pathetic energy carrier. At this very meeting Secretary of Energy Sam Bodman handed out $100 million to GM for their science fictional fuel cell. I was one of the few antagonists to MTBE back in 1989. I have said that cellulosic ethanol will be a bigger bust than corn ethanol. And I now say that lithium ion batteries will not become sufficiently inexpensive for the Volt to stand a chance against a Prius. Carbon sequestration will also not happen in sufficiently large measure to do much and will remain prohibitively expensive. I say to you the House Science Subcommittee on Energy that these assertions you hear that economies of scale and mass production will drive down the cost of these technologies are not realistic.
What is realistic from a thermodynamics perspective are improvements to wind farms, improvements to geothermal, improvements to solar thermal, improvements to nuclear power generation, improvements to pumped hydro and compressed air energy storage. Certainly improvements in the rate at which we consume energy can and should be made. I also have prognosticated that is possible from a thermodynamic point of view to develop gasoline engines that operate at the same high compression ratio and in the same un-throttled mode as diesel engines. Running all engines in a mode that mimic diesel engines will yield massive improvements in fuel economy. Simply promoting the use of diesel for private vehicles will also make a big difference in fuel consumption.
You may ask why did computer chips and LCD screens enjoy a rapid learning rate and why won’t these other technologies improve in likewise manner? I would like the opportunity to address that fundamental question by detailed explanation of Thermodynamics, Learning Rates, System Fabrication, Reaction Kinetics, and Resource Limitations. This of course cannot be accomplished in a simple introductory letter. I remind you all of a sign that hanged in Albert Einstein’s office in Princeton. The sign read “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts “. Likewise the laws of thermodynamics will prove that hope is not a strategy for a realistic energy policy and if what we do is going to count let’s allow the laws of thermodynamics to take precedence over our man made laws.