* Born hacker
* Issues of race and oppression
* Entreprenuer spirit
* Issues with patents
* Big companies stifling innovation
Someone should write "Inventors at Work".
I don't pretend to have the engineering knowledge to know whether this will work or not, whether it's snake oil or not, but surely, if an electric sports car for the rich can get funded, so can this guy. I'm assuming the guy isn't peddling snake-oil, the circumstances certainly seem to indicate that he's sincere.
Is it that he needs a super-salesman to the money? Godin, Kawasaki, surely one of them would step up for the potential for good and profit that is possible if this technology is feasible.
Until Edison found the proper filament material, he had an empty glass jar with leads in it and a theory. As soon as he found the proper filament material, he had an invention that changes the world.
The concept here is great. Heat hydrogen to create differential pressure, extract ions by forcing it through a membrane, repeat. Note that the key part of it is the membrane. The primary problem in fuel cells is the same thing - the membrane.
It becomes basically a materials problem at that point.
That is not to say that it is easy, but that it is different. Once I have a few square inches of the proper material I no longer have just a proof of concept or a prototype, I have a full fledged device. The whole issue is figuring it out once and that might take a long time.
(Sure there are more issues, like extracting water from the fuel cell or increasing efficiency or lowering cost, but the bulk of it is that first initial problem.)
It might turn out that whatever it takes to make this membrane is crazy expensive, and that it doesn't make economic sense. Or maybe it will start out expensive and it will become cheap like the filament in the lightbult. I don't know but I do know that he will probably need a heck of a lot more funding before he can show a proof of concept, and anyone waiting for it to work will be far to late to get in on the action.
It does mention PARC investing and owning parts of his patents.
A huge unmet need is extraction of heat energy at lower temperature differentials - it could put to use tons of waste energy at industrial plants, your car exhaust, h20 that leaves current steam generators, etc... The JTEC has the potential to make use of all this would-be entropy.
That means between say 20 Celsius and 45 Celsius you will never convert more than 8% of the thermal energy that needs to flow from hot to cold into useful work.
That, of course, would still be a real challenge. I didn't see any specifics, but notice his ceramic membrane was built to withstand 400 C. That's very hot.
It does sound rather more complex than a solar cell.
After that experience I went on to do some contract work with another early stage startup. They had no solid idea or vision for a product and had funding in the amount of 1.5 million.
It is concerning to me that a proven inventor like Johnson, who has a solid concept, is struggling to pull in his initial 100,000
Looks like someone else has already proven the market http://sandbag.org.uk/
But since they aren't doing it in the bay area it's an easy run for a motivated team with strong leadership.
Johnson may have initially wanted to fund his invention purely from his own money, keeping all the equity, but as the money started running out he has been looking for alternatives.
Maybe its just that he likes being the boss, and not having to answer to anyone, including investors...
Looks like he's trying to give up as little ownership as possible: govt grants, reinvest revenue, slow to get vc funding.
But since H2 is not the fuel (it is the working fluid, the sun is the fuel) and as long as the loss is kept within reason, it seems like this could generate enough energy to do some electrolysis and refill any lost H2.
Do steam turbines really clank? (I can believe in the hissing part.)
Now on a more substantial level, the claims of "60% efficiency" and "on part with coal" claims are interesting and need a little more explanation, in my opinion. How are these numbers being calculated? We aren't told.
One might guess it's based on a bunch of manufacturing and startup costs, along with operating costs, for an unknown number of years (probably many) along with projections about various other future costs. What power levels will a prototype produce, and how will it be scaled up?
I think the concept sounds promising, but a lot of questions remain to be answered.
But do I get giant heatsinks built for me to test? How do I find out if this is already patented? How do I sell it?
A solar heater would work better (if you have sun) because it will absorb more energy than ambiant air convected over the same area. And you would need a fan for a heatsink if its wasn't windy. http://www.amazon.com/SmartPool-SunHeater-Above-Ground-Pools...
A way for you to test it would be to do it on a small scale - maybe buy some copper tube and circulate an aquarium with the water filter pump.
Sounds like a way to save on air conditioning costs to me. Put a heat exchanger to the pool and heat your pool while cooling your house.
You don't have to explain your idea in detail, of course, but I'd be curious if you had considered a way to safely transfer the energy into the water. Perhaps there is a solar powered way to cheaply heat swimming pools safely... but I'd think the energy might need to be converted to electricity first, since we are already used to controlling and insulating that safely.
I do remember reading somewhere about capturing/retaining heat during the hotter parts of the season and then releasing it during the colder seasons. The solution involved a massive hole I believe or something like that.
Don't want to use your pool in the fall and spring, but want to save on your heating and cooling bills? Use the pool as a heat storage device, and save the desirable temperature (afternoon or night, depending) in the pool, then run the heat exchanger in the house to enjoy the cool night air during the day.
I still have no idea how to get someone to manufacture it, or to mass produce and market it myself.
Patent pending ;)
Yes, I realize there is a lot more to it than that. However, there have been solar concentrators of all kinds of varieties, I've built a couple of proto-types the one in the pictures above was one of the more promising ones because it allows the collector to be stationary.
Interesting tidbit from that experiment, it's quite hard to bond a solar panel to a cooling surface that can dissipate 800 watts over 100 square centimeters, whatever you use to bond will melt or dry out and then your solar cells will self-disassemble. So you will end up with active cooling, which in turn will give you co-generation (both electricity and heat).
I really hope this guy will succeed, we could do with a bit more radical thinking in this space.
I had a ton of fun building that stuff though. And with co-generation you use the 'old' tech and use the byproduct (heat) for some other purpose. That way you can get to very high efficiencies too.
Why don't the whole hydrogen atoms go through the membrane to the lower pressure area?
How does he alternate which side is heated? How does he cool the other side?
He isn't ionizing the gas, he is increasing the gas pressure by heating it. "Only instead of using those pressure gradients to move an axle or a wheel, he’s forcing ions through a membrane." See next for why that is important.
> Why don't the whole hydrogen atoms go through the membrane to the lower pressure area?
He uses a semi-permeable membrane http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semipermeable_membrane. They also have use in chemical applications such as batteries and fuel cells.
The membrane blocks the atoms, but allows the ions (protons) through. It does require a substantial amount of pressure for it to work. That is where the heat -> pressure comes into effect, and why the reconstituted hydrogen on the "cold" size has to be compressed and pumped back into the "hot" side.
While this sounds a little like a perpetual motion machine, it isn't because the sun's heat is adding the energy that is being extracted via the electrons.
> How does he alternate which side is heated? How does he cool the other side?
He heats one side and cools one side, no alternating. The heating (and cooling) cause a pressure differential, which drives the reaction via the semi-permeable membrane.
I suspect there are some pretty substantial challenges remaining before this becomes a sizable / viable energy source.
It sounds like it is related to proton exchange fuel cells, except instead of using the catalyst + oxidant to drive the reaction, it is using pressure.
Also, is there really enough hydrogen ionizing at 400C?
The article says it is compressed in order to move it back to the high pressure side.
> Also, is there really enough hydrogen ionizing at 400C?
I don't believe (traditional) ionization is occurring. My guess is that it works at the molecular level like reverse osmosis works with salt water to form fresh water. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reverse_osmosis The dissociation of the hydrogen atoms into protons and electrons is through heat and pressure, facilitated by the semi-permeable membrane.
Note that the membrane is key and is very unique. Johnson [...] proved he could make a ceramic membrane capable of withstanding temperatures above 400 degrees Celsius. A semi-permeable plastic membrane is non-trivial. A semi-permeable ceramic membrane that passes protons, strips electrons, and blocks hydrogen atoms while running at 400^C has to be really, really tough to do.
The electrons and protons recombine on the cold side to reform hydrogen. That hydrogen has to be compressed sufficiently to move it back to the "hot" side of the system. This is probably a pretty substantial compression and will probably limit the efficiency of the system - it also raises the "perpetual motion machine" red flag in my mind, except the sun is adding lots of thermal energy to make it go for real.
I'm picturing the system working at a molecular level like reverse osmosis of seawater: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reverse_osmosis. Reverse osmosis requires a substantial amount of pressure (~1000 psi) to force the water through the semi-permeable membrane while the salt cannot pass through the membrane and thus stays on the salty side.
Because that's what the membrane filters do. See:
Mainly they work on size - small versus really small.
Again, at a guess, it doesn't need to cool the other side - it's not a temperature gradient, it's a concentration gradient. And since the ions are being reacted back to H2 at a brisk rate, it's not a big problem. The more thermal energy you could maintain in the ions the better, because they wouldn't need as much heating once they'd been recycled.
It has a whiff of perpetual motion machine to it. Maxwell's Demon, I think.
The sun delivers on the order of 1000W per sqm during the day, so (eg.) focusing 100 sqm into 1 sqm == 100,000W. 12 hours of daylight will then give you a theoretical production of 1.2MWh per day, but it's usually a lot less, due to the angle of the sun in the morning/evening and inefficiencies in your energy capture.
My intuitive understanding is that, as you heat the absorber, it becomes hotter and hotter, until it reaches the same temperature as the sun's surface. At this point, the absorber (also a blackbody) radiates just as much energy as it receives from the sun; thus there is no more heat exchange. Otherwise, you would be taking two objects at the same temperature and making one hotter and the other one colder with no work from outside the system, violating thermodynamics.
There is a more formal study in solar energy books like (http://books.google.com/books?id=81WI2LwrpkcC&lpg=PA25...) or (http://www.physics.drexel.edu/~jenks/Solar%20Energy.pdf) (PDF, page 21 onwards is quite relevant).
Think of it in terms of photons - if you're collecting and concentrating photons, the upper limit is the total number of photons which the sun produces. I'm pretty sure that if you focused all of those into a square meter of the earth's surface, then it'd reach more than 5760K.
Where did the other laws go?
> The second issue is that solar heating is due to radiation, not conduction/convection, so there's no heat exchange as such.
I don't understand how there could be "solar heating" but no "heat exchange".
Unless I misunderstood the papers I cited, the efficiency equations show that there is a limit (efficiency drops to 0% with Ts=Ta), but I'll still try to address the "intuition" part of your post.
Let's say we are in a black room with no windows, everything being at room temperature. I use lenses to concentrate the infrared light from the walls onto a black cube. Would the cube heat up from the concentration of photons?
Hmm, I thought that "heat exchange" referred to direct transfer of heat energy, perhaps I'm misremembering. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_transfer#Radiation doesn't seem to differentiate, but bear in mind that there's no way to focus molecular vibration with a mirror.
And if more photons hit the cube with your lens than without it, then yes, the cube will heat up.
That's a perpetual motion machine.
btw, from what I've been reading, it looks like you're right (ie. you can't heat anything directly to > the sun's temperature) but I can't find any explanation which makes any intuitive sense at all, just lots of stuff like http://en.allexperts.com/q/Physics-1358/Black-body-radiation... (note the hand waving) or else a bunch of hard core entropy equations.
So you can't focus sunlight to more than 6000k however many mirrors you use.
As a trivial example disproving your claim, energy from the Sun can be collected in solar panels that can be used to run devices that can hit any temperature you want. For an extreme example, for fusion experiments they produce temperatures of over 11,000,000 degrees C.
For another trivial example, most of us have refrigerators that can transport heat energy from a colder place (the inside of the fridge) to a warmer place (your kitchen).
As to the rest, can't help you there. IANAPP :)
Could be the hottest thing around ...
I mean, if he had even a small working prototype, he could be on the news and gaining investors and traction.
You mean just like all the great inventors of all times? If only life was so fair and rosy.
Hmm... Getting that to work is quite a feat for a kid. Lawn-mower engines usually cannot be operated sideways. I wonder if he was lucky enough to have a 2-stroke motor, or if he managed to keep the engine vertical?
I can understand that the system might work at small scale, making it available for deployment in preference to photovoltaics. But at large scale, surely the efficiency boost that comes from avoiding turbines would be as good for coal-fired and gas-fired generators as for anything else.
What I'm saying is, if you find yourself in the situation where you have a big win, you need to lock away some of that to keep you in retirement. Then, you can go onto your next venture knowing that, if it doesn't work out, at least you won't fall on financial hard times. I honestly don't know why this is so downvoted, so perhaps someone can explain it to me.
Putting something away for the rainy day might be good advice, but it isn't really relevant here.
"There was a time in my life, he says, when I was independently wealthy. But that time has passed"
Sounds to me like he has sunk a lot of his capital into his ongoing research projects.