A ‘Johnson’ in Every Garage

 or… Heroes of America – Part II

“Where a steam engine uses the heat generated by burning coal to create steam pressure and move mechanical elements, the JTEC uses heat (from the sun, for instance) to expand hydrogen atoms in one stack. The expanding atoms, each made up of a proton and an electron, split apart, and the freed electrons travel through an external circuit as electric current, charging a battery or performing some other useful work. Meanwhile the positively charged protons, also known as ions, squeeze through a specially designed proton-exchange membrane (one of the JTEC elements borrowed from fuel cells) and combine with the electrons on the other side, reconstituting the hydrogen, which is compressed and pumped back into the hot stack. As long as heat is supplied, the cycle continues indefinitely. ”

Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Converter…


Great stuff.

[hat tip toward Zappa Remus for the link]

96 Replies to “A ‘Johnson’ in Every Garage”

  1. yeah, sounds like turning lead into gold to me.

    if i remember my high scholl chemistry right, the only reason, in theory anyways, that conductors work is that they have imbalanced valance electrons. so you push on them a little, and you can start moving e’s along a chain of atoms. enough push(potential), they can bridge air space and such, in bursts(lighting and such). so, the idea of splitting atoms with sunlight just seems kinda silly to me. but i’m not prone to wishfull thinking, unless it involves young pussy or chickens in my pot.

  2. So cynical dave.

    well, not so much cynisim as as plain old physics and chemistry. stripping electrons, like this guy seems to be talking about, is wayway, fucking different than breaking and reforming some molecular bonds, as in fuel cell technology. and, fuel cells are batteries, not sources.

    it’s like people still fall for the old cold fusion, even hot fusion and zero point energy tricks.

    anyways, what are you gonna do with this shit even if does work? more monkeys in rolling metal boxes? more internets? it’s just stupid shit as far as i’m concerned.

    so, call me cynical, but please don’t call me stupid; retarded is ok though.

  3. the calculation needed is not er/ei, as many fixate on. the calculation is liebeg’s calculation, not that i, or anyone else for that matter, can do it, i guess.

  4. it’s like a bed in for peace; some people are actually fucking stupid enough to think it might work. but not me. i’m on to thier tricks.

  5. “the calculation is liebeg’s calculation, not that i, or anyone else for that matter, can do it, i guess.”

    Interesting as I had planned to use a chlorophyll reference in my “So Cynical dave” response, but opted out.

    And, I too was wondering which rare earth that the Chinese won’t export might be needed to make this “Johnson” work.

    Still, ya gotta start somewhere. Besides, I am less concerned about new ways to use energy, I am interested in keeping what I have operating. I don’t need new stupid electron tricks, I am content with having the juice to maintain some of my existing ones.

    And I posted the link originally to elicit commentary from more knowledgeable ZKers.

  6. “And I posted the link originally to elicit commentary from more knowledgeable ZKers.”

    No one knows….

    And I posted the link originally to elicit commentary from more knowledgeable ZKers. Cept’n maybe Josh…. ‘n Dave G

  7. And I’m shocked, shocked to learn that world reserves of lithium may pose a future supply problem if everyone elects to drive electric cars!

    Zinc-air, anyone?

  8. Right now photovoltaics get you about 30% efficiency. The claim here is this makes a big leap to 60% efficient. That’s pretty big. Also this is a nice closed loop set-up (which suggests nearly maintenence-free membranes) and there’s no moving parts, so if true, its rather elegant as far as energy contraptions go. Its clean and simple and very efficient. Reportedly scalable. Not sure where any rare metals come into play. Membranes are ceramic. But yeah, we’re talking about running light bulbs and appliances is my guess. That kind of limitation (including battery storage) is where the rub lies. What good are street lights without cars? I haven’t found any technical specs on this, just general chat and hype. Its been around a few years.

  9. Obama needs to lean on this guy Johnson with some serious dough. DOE has spent all this stimulus money and we make busy jobs but no juice. Johnson has done more with squirt gun profits that phony stimulus dollars. Let this dude invent more shit, he’s a nut, and might give us some of the prole-scale options we need. Like how to run a flashlight on poop.

  10. my other invention, a potatoe and lemon in series with a pure zinc anode has much greater potential. i’m keeping the details secret for now. i’m also working on some confusing technical jargon that i can use for press releases. that is the most important part.

  11. so all those electric cars will just need to pull up to thier local potatoe/lemon filling station, geta trunk full, and away they will go, limitless possibilities.

  12. Plain old photosynthesis is mysterious and miraculous enough for me. We don’t need no stinkin’ techno-fix.

  13. you know, photosynthesis is only 10% efficient. that means that 90% of the time, those plants are just hanging around, goofing off. surely we can do something to make those lazy organisms work harder for us?

    if they’re just goofing off most of the time, those potatoes and lemons might as well hang out in the trunk of dave’s car, no?

  14. Y’know Doom, this is the part of statistcs that I just don’t get. Ten percent of what? Efficient for what? And who says? As compared to what?

    At any rate, here’s an interesting piece on Rare Earth Elements you might find interestig.

    China and the Future of Rare Earth Elements

    October 14, 2010


    PDF Version

    Click here to download a PDF of this report
    A recent diplomatic spat between China and Japan has heightened territorial tensions and called attention to China’s growing forcefulness with foreign powers. One of the more intriguing aspects of this development was China’s suspension of the export of “rare earth” elements (REE) to Japan. REE comprise 17 metallic elements with a variety of modern industrial and commercial applications ranging from petroleum refining to laptop computers to green energy applications to radar. China produces roughly 95 percent of the global supply of REE and Japan is the largest importer. China’s disruption of REE shipments to Japan has caused alarm among other importer countries, bringing new urgency to the search for new supplies and substitutes.

    The China Factor
    Chinese control of the base of the REE supply chain has increasingly made China the go-to location for the intermediate goods made from REE. In time, China hopes to extend production into the final products as well. As new REE supplies cannot be brought online overnight, the Chinese will enjoy a powerful position in the short term. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce reports that China has ratcheted down REE export quotas by an average of 12 percent per year over the past five years, further leveraging this position. Reflecting that and the current China-Japan spat, the average price for REE has tripled in the year to date.

    Rare earth elements are not as rare as their name suggests, however. Before the Chinese began a dedicated effort to mass-produce REE in 1979, there were several major suppliers. Pre-China, the United States was the largest producer. Appreciable amounts of REE were also produced in Australia, Brazil, India, Malaysia and Russia. Any sort of real monopoly on REE, therefore, is not sustainable in the long-run. But before one can understand the future of the REE industry, one must first understand the past.

    The story of REE is not the story of cheap Chinese labor driving the global textile industry into the ground. Instead, it is a much more familiar story (from STRATFOR’s view) of the Chinese financial system having a global impact.

    Unlike Western financial systems, where banks grant loans based on the likelihood that the loans will be repaid, the primary goal of loans in China is promoting social stability through full employment. As such, the REE industry — like many other heavy or extractive industries — was targeted with massive levels of subsidized loans in the mid-1980s. At the same time, local governments obtained more flexibility in encouraging growth. The result was a proliferation of small mining concerns specializing in REE. Production rates increased by an annual average of 40 percent in the 1980s. They doubled in the first half of the 1990s, and then doubled again with a big increase in output just as the world tipped into recession in 2000. Prices predictably plunged, by an average of 95 percent compared to their pre-China averages.

    Most of these Chinese firms rarely turned a profit. Some industry analysts maintain that for a good portion of the 2000s, most of them never even recovered their operating costs. At the same time, an illegal REE mining industry ran rampant, earning meager profits by disregarding worker safety and the environment and ruthlessly undercutting competing prices. With an endless supply of below-market loans, it did not matter if the legitimate mining concerns were financially viable. It was in the environment of continued Chinese production despite massive losses that nearly every other REE producer in the world closed down — and that the information technology revolution took root.

    In fact, if not for China’s massive overproduction, the technological revolution of the past 15 years would not have looked the same. In all likelihood, it would have been slowed considerably.

    Before 1995, the primary uses for REE were in the manufacture of cathode ray tubes (primarily used in television sets before the onset of plasma and LCD screens) and as catalysts in the refining industry and in catalytic converters (a device used in cars to limit exhaust pollution). Their unique properties have since made them the components of choice for wind turbines, hybrid cars, laptop computers, cameras, cellular phones and a host of other items synonymous with modern life. Chinese overproduction in the 2000s — and the price collapses that accompanied that overproduction until just this year — allowed such devices to go mainstream.

    With numerous large REE deposits outside China, the long-term sustainability of a monopoly is questionable at best. This does not mean China will not create some destabilizing effects in the medium term as it attempts to leverage the current imbalance to its benefit, however. That its prolific, financially profitless and environmentally destructive production of REE has largely benefited foreign economies is not lost on China, so it is pushing a number of measures to alter this dynamic. On the supply side, China continues to curb output from small, unregulated mining outfits and to consolidate production into large, state-controlled enterprises, all while ratcheting down export quotas. On the demand side, Chinese industry’s gradual movement up the supply chain toward more value-added goods means more demand will be sequestered in the domestic economy. In fact, in the years just before the financial crisis and accompanying recession, global demand outpaced China&rsquo ;s ability (or willingness) to supply the market, resulting in bouts of price volatility. As the economic recovery proceeds, it is no stretch to envision outright gaps in exports from China within two to five years, even without the kinds of political complications the REE market has suffered in recent days.

    Many states already have REE-specific facilities in place able to restart mining in response to this year’s price surge.

    The premier Australian REE facility at Mount Weld plans to ramp up to 19,000 metric tons of rare earth oxides by the end of 2011. The top American site — Mountain Pass in California — aims to produce a similar amount by the end of 2012. Those two sites will then collectively be producing 25-30 percent of global demand.

    Before China burst on the scene, most REE production was not from REE-specific mines. REE are often found co-mingled not simply with each other, but in the ores extracted for the production of aluminum, titanium, uranium and thorium. As China drove prices down, however, most of these facilities ceased extracting the difficult-to-separate REE. There is nothing other than economics stopping these facilities from re-engaging in REE production, although it will take at least a couple of years for such sites to hit their stride. Such locations include sites in Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia, India and South Africa as well as promising undeveloped sites in Vietnam, Canada (Thor Lake) and Greenland (Kvanefjeld). And while few have been exploring for new deposits since the 1970s given the lack of an economic incentive, higher prices will spark a burst of exploration.

    Getting from here to there is harder than it sounds, however. Capital to fuel development will certainly be available as prices continue to rise, but opening a new mine requires overcoming some significant hurdles. Regardless of jurisdiction, a company needs to secure the lease (usually from the central government) and obtain a considerable variety of permits, not the least of which is for handling and storing the toxic — and in the case of REE, radioactive — waste from the mine. Even if the governments involved want to streamline things, vested interests such as the environmental lobby and indigenous groups appear at every stage of the permit process to fight, lobby and sue to delay work. And depending on the local government, successfully mining a deposit could involve a considerable amount of political uncertainty, bribe paying or harassment. Only after clearing these hurdles can the real work of building infrastructure, sourcing inputs like electricity and water, and actually digging up rocks begin — itself a herculean task.

    Another complication is the fact that many of the best prospects are in jurisdictions undergoing significant changes. In the United States, activists are working to reform the federal mining law dating to 1872, which has ensured that U.S. jurisdictions remain among the most attractive mining destinations in the world. Initiatives like the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007 would drastically constrain mineral companies and increase project costs across the board. In Australia, ongoing negotiations over the implementation of a so-called “super tax” has dampened enthusiasm in one of the world’s premier mining jurisdictions and home to Lynas Corporation’s Mount Weld project. The tax, which sought to impose a 40 percent tax on mining profits, has since been watered down, but the debacle has left a discernable mark on the country’s resource extraction industry. And for an industry that is positively allergic to uncertainty, events like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chilean mine collapse only portend tighter regulation worldwide.

    Re-opening an existing mine is somewhat easier since some infrastructure remains in place, and the local community is accustomed to having a mine. Old equipment may need to be brought up to specifications, and the regulatory questions will still affect how miners and bankers view the project’s profitability, but the figuring margins are simpler when the basic geology and engineering already have been done.

    Unfortunately, there is more to building a new REE supply chain than simply obtaining new sources of ore. A complex procedure known as beneficiation must be used to separate the chemically similar rare earth metals from the rest of the ore it was mined with. Beneficiation proceeds through a physical and then chemical route. The latter differs greatly from site to site, as the composition of the ore is deposit-specific and factors into the choice of what must be very precise reaction conditions such as temperature, pH and reagents used. The specificity and complexity of the process make it expensive, while the radioactivity of some ores and the common use of chemicals such as hydrochloric and sulfuric acid invariably leave an environmental footprint. (One reason the Chinese produced so much so fast is that they did not mind a very large environmental footprint.) The chemical similarity among the REE that was useful to this point now becomes a nuisance, as the following puri fication stage — the details of which we will leave out to avoid a painfully long chemistry lecture — requires the isolation of individual REE. This stage is characterized by extraordinary complexity and cost as well.

    At this point, one still does not have the REE metal, but instead an oxide compound. The oxide must now be converted into the REE’s metallic form. Although some pure metals are created in Japan, China dominates this part of the supply chain as well.

    In any other industry, this refining/purification process would be a concern that investors and researchers would constantly be tackling, but there has been no need, as Chinese overproduction removed all economic incentive from REE production research for the past 20 years (and concentrated all of the pollution in remote parts of China). So any new producer/refiner beginning operations today is in essence using technology that has not experienced the degree of technological advances that other commodities industries have in the past 25-30 years. It is this refining/purification process rather than the mining itself that is likely to be the biggest single bottleneck in re-establishing the global REE supply chain. It is also the one step in the process where the Chinese hold a very clear competitive advantage. Since the final tooling for intermediate parts has such a high value added, and since most intermediate components must be custom-made for the final product, whoever c ontrols the actual purification of the metals themselves forms the base of that particular chain of production. Should the Chinese choose to hold that knowledge as part of a means of capturing a larger portion of the global supply chain, they certainly have the power to do so. And this means that short of some significant breakthroughs, the Chinese will certainly hold the core of the REE industry for at least the next two to three — and probably four to five — years.

    Luckily, at this point the picture brightens somewhat for those in need of rare earths. Once the REE have been separated from the ore and from each other and refined into metallic form, they still need to be fashioned into components and incorporated into intermediate products. Here, global industry is far more independent. Such fashioning industries require the most skill and capital, so as one might expect, these facilities were the last stage of the REE supply chain to feel competitive pressure from China. While some have closed or relocated with their talent to China, many component fabrication facilities still exist, most in Japan, many in the United States, and others scattered around Europe.

    All told, a complete regeneration of the non-Chinese REE system will probably take the better part of the decade. And because most REE are found co-mingled, there is not much industry can do to fast-track any particular mineral that might be needed in higher volumes. And this means many industries are in a race against time to see if alternative REE supplies can be established before too much economic damage occurs.


    Affected Industries
    Everyone who uses REE — which is to say, pretty much everyone — is going to feel a pinch as REE rapidly rise in value back toward their pre-Chinese prices. But some industries are bound to feel less a pinch than a death grip. REE applications broadly fall into six different categories, with the first being the least impacted by price increases and the sixth being the most impacted.

    The first category consists of cerium users. Cerium is the most common REE and the most critical for refining and catalytic converters. As the average global crude oil gets heavier, cerium is needed more and more to “crack” the oil to make usable products. As clean air requirements tighten globally, automobile manufacturers need more cerium to ensure cars run as cleanly as possible. Cerium thus remains in high demand.

    Luckily for cerium users, the steady phasing-out of cathode ray tubes means that supplies rapidly are being freed up for other applications. Between the sudden demand drop and ongoing REE production in China, there are actually substantial cerium stockpiles globally. This means that cerium users are not likely to face serious price increases even though their REE has the most inelastic demand. Petroleum and automotive companies use the most cerium, which also is used for polishing agents for glass and semiconductor chips, ultraviolet ray-proof glass, self-cleaning ovens, and some steel alloys.

    The second category comprises non-cerium goods with inelastic demand. This includes items that will be built regardless of cost, either because they are irreplaceable or because they are luxury items. This list includes satellites, which use yttrium in their communications systems; europium, used in LED screens in TVs; lanthanum, used for fish-eye lenses in iPhones; scandium, used for lighting systems in movie studios; and neodymium and gadolinium, indispensable for MRIs. These are all items that people — in particular Americans — would not stop purchasing without a large increase in prices. Luckily, while REE are critical to these devices, they make up a rather small proportion of their total cost. So while the world will certainly see REE price increases, those price increases are unlikely to affect the luxury market.

    The third category comprises defense goods. Somewhat similar to luxury goods in terms of how REE demand and prices will affect them, demand for defense goods is extremely unlikely to shift due to something as minor as a simple price increase. Military technology that uses REE — ranging from the samarium in the guidance module in joint-direct attack munition kits to the yttrium used in the “magic lantern” that locates subsea mines — is going to be in demand regardless of price. Demand for urgently needed military technology is quite inelastic regardless of price in the short run, and militaries — in particular the American military — have robust budgets that dwarf the additional costs of components whose contribution to the final cost is negligible. The only reason STRATFOR places defense uses as likely to suffer a greater impact than luxury goods is that China itself is aiming to be a producer of luxury goods, so such products will most likely have a Chinese supply chain. By contrast, few militaries in the world with the high-end capabilities likely to be impacted by REE prices are interested in purchasing military technologies from China, so there will be a large constituency pushing for alternative production of REE as well as a large market for alternative products. This could turn out to be a boon for the American industry: Anyone seeking to increase REE production is going to find a friend in the Pentagon, and no one can lobby Congress quite like the military.

    The fourth category comprises goods in which REE are a critical component and a significant price impact but that are made by industries with a long habit of adapting to adverse price shifts. A case in point is the Japanese auto industry. There is a long list of vehicle systems that the Japanese have adapted over the years as the price of various inputs has skyrocketed. In 2000, the Russian government banded together the country’s disparate platinum group metals (such as palladium and platinum, critical in the manufacture of catalytic converters) exports into a single government-controlled cartel. Platinum group metal prices subsequently skyrocketed. By March 2001, Honda had announced a new advance that reduced the need for palladium by roughly half. Platinum group metal prices subsequently plummeted.

    In anticipation of this type of disruption, the Japanese have been developing substitutes to REE. Presently, the Toyota Prius uses roughly one kilogram of neodymium. At pre-2010 spike prices, that neodymium used in one Prius cost $20, a marginal impact on the Prius’ sticker price. Should prices rebound to pre-China levels, however, the average Prius buyer would notice a roughly $450-price hike due to magnetic components alone. One week into the China-Japan REE spat, government-funded researchers announced a magnet system design that can completely replace the neodymium used in the Prius.

    This hardly solves the problem overnight; it will take months or years to retool Toyota’s factories for the new technology. Still, consumers of REE are going to find ways of lessening their use of REE. The information technology revolution has proceeded unabated since 2000 in part because REE have been one-tenth to one-twentieth of their previous prices. Absent any serious price pressures, industries have had no need to invest in finding means of cutting inputs or finding substitutes. (REE are so abundant that in China they are used in fertilizers and road-building materials.)

    The shift in prices could well give a much-needed boost to non-REE dependent technologies hampered by relatively inexpensive REEs. For example, the REE lanthanum is a leading component in the Prius’ nickel metal-hydride battery system. (The Prius uses ten kilograms of lanthanum). Toyota has been edging toward replacing the nickel-hydride system with REE-free lithium-ion batteries, but has demurred due to the low price of lanthanum. Increase that cost by a factor of 20, or even the factor of three seen in recent months — and add in the threat of a full cutoff — and Toyota’s board is likely to come to a different conclusion.

    Computer hard drives may fall into a similar category. A major cause of the increased demand for REE has been the demand for neodymium in particular and a specific intermediate product made from it, the neodymium-iron-boron magnet (which also uses some dysprosium). The magnets are a critical component in hard drives, particularly for laptops. But like lithium-ion batteries, a new technology is gaining market share: solid-state hard drives. Currently, the consumer’s cost difference between the two is a factor of four, but sustained price hikes in the cost of neodymium and NdFeB magnets could cause demand to plummet.

    The fifth category comprises goods where the laws of supply and demand are likely to reshape the industries in question. These are goods where price is most certainly an issue, and where consumers will simply balk should the bottom line change too much. Compact fluorescent light bulbs that use phosphors heavy in terbium, LED display screens that use europium and various medical techniques that use erbium lasers all fall into this category. None of these industries will disappear, but they are extremely likely to see far lower sales as none of these products are economically indispensable and all have various product substitutes.

    The sixth category comprises goods for which there are very low ore and metal stockpiles with demand that is both high and rising rapidly, and for which it will take the longest to set up an alternate supply chain. The vast majority of these industries depend on the same type of neodymium magnets used in hard drives, but do not have an obvious replacement technology. These magnets are a critical component in the miniaturization (and convergence) of electronic devices such as cellular phones, MP3 players, computers and cameras. They are also central to the power exchange relays for electricity-generating wind turbines used in today’s wind farms.

    But even within this category, not all products will be impacted similarly. Many of the miniaturized electronic consumer goods manufacturers will face growing pains as they find their supply chain increasingly concentrated in China. But cheaper production costs could offset rising materials costs, and technological innovation will also help lessen the impact. Alternative energy is not likely to be as lucky. Neodymium magnets are critical to windmill turbines, one of the specific areas the Chinese hope to dominate. Each 1-megawatt windmill uses roughly a metric ton of NdFeB magnets.

    For green energy enthusiasts, this is a double bind. First, green power must compete economically with fossil fuels — meaning rather small cost increases in capital outlays could be a deal breaker. Second, the only way to get around the price problem is to advocate greater neodymium production. And that means either tolerating the high-pollution techniques used in China, or encouraging the development of a not-particularly-green mining industry in the West.

    Read more: China and the Future of Rare Earth Elements | STRATFOR


  15. “…which is compressed and pumped back into the hot stack. As long as heat is supplied, the cycle continues indefinitely. ”

    so the compression and pumping happens without moving parts? you dumbass, the compressor is seperate from the JTEC. you will just never be black enough. hit dis motherfucker wit some super soaker and get his fucking dumb ass outta here. dey’s money to be made.

  16. Y’know Doom, this is the part of statistcs that I just don’t get. Ten percent of what? Efficient for what? And who says? As compared to what?

    god you do know how to cut and paste, gotta give ya dat much. anyhoo, what doom is saying is that 10%, on average of of the solar energy which hits a plant is converted into work. in case of a plant, this means predominantly the construction of biomass. transpiration also relies on solar gain, but is not nesiccarily part of photosynthesis. although the water molecules thereby supplied are incorported into the krebs cycle. actuall photosynthetic efficiencies are really around 6% on average, i think.

    of course, when people calaim 30% photvoltaic efficiency, this is also misleading. 30% is a theoretical maximum. i think described by einstien, but i’m not sure. and it dosen’t matter, at least not to me. any, in practice, photovoltaic efficiencies have maxed out at about 15%, from what i know.

  17. anyways, the answer to all our problems is fucking potatoes and lemos, and a little zinc, or some similar e donator, goddamned electrons. so, i got that shit under control. so don’t you fucking get your pantys in a wad or your pussy all excited and shit, unless you sees my rock hard dick comin’ in for some somma dat shit. even then, in case your pussy is too old and shit to get appropriately wet, i always gots some astroglide in my back pocket just such occasions.

  18. but, and dig this ee, if one, yes just one, required component for plant growth is missing, or even just in short supply, that motherfucking plant cain’t fucking grow, not even one motherfucking inch. whatchu tink o’ dat shit?

  19. it’s like jhoon rhee always says to me: “you fucking old. why your dick always hard? i pull weed all day. i tired, fucking asshole ‘merican. you find more, no just one other, but young, girl to fuck. you fucked up” or something those lines.

  20. so here’s where the us pols are really fucking stpid. we have the monroe doctrine, the fucking carter doctrine, and some other shit. what we need now is the fucking chink doctrine. we need to nuke the shit out of squinky eyed slope headed cock suckers while we still can. goddammit, i needs them rare earth shit of my ipod, and shit.

  21. and, fucking dig this shit also. who do you think set it up for nixon to open up china, thus leading to fucking super social capitalist chinks of 2010? dat’s right, your bes buddy, hfuckingk.

  22. Dave, actually the temperature and pressure gradient between the two vessels is the “pump”. There are no externally powered pumps required. Its like a heat engine. Or I guess you could say its a kind of heat engine with bells and whistles. At any rate, once its there, the only thing you need to provide is a heat source to one of the vessels and the system should circulate and generate power idefinitely as long as the other vessel can transfer the heat, and membranes remain unfouled. This source could be anything from a small amount of nearby waste heat up to concentrated solar input via convex mirrors, or whatever to apply high temps.

    The Atlantic article does a poor job of describing the system and how it functions.

  23. Dave, actually the temperature and pressure gradient between the two vessels is the “pump”.

    er, no, this idea is even more wacked. how can you set up a convection loop between 2 seperate vessels? particularly if one is being operated at at a higher temp than the other. the higher temp is needed increase pressure to force protons across the membrane into the lower temp, lower pressure vessel, thus creating a difference in electrical potential between the two vessels, and a resultant flow of electrons, between the two, unless i realyy am retarded. how can lower pressure/temp gas be returned to higher p/t vessel without a pump? i call total fucking bullshit on that. please explain.

  24. yeah, i’m working hard to prove myself wrong. but, the only closed cycle heat engine that i can come up is something like this. it, of course uses a piston to move the working fluid. if there was membrane of some sorts, instead of a valve, it would be even harder to to keep the fluid moving. unless you set up a convection loop, i guess.

  25. OK. Like I said, I haven’t been able to find anything detailed on JTEC, but there are somewhat more detailed descriptions of it than in the Atlantic article, such as the following from “Popular Mechanics” article:


    Here’s how it works: One MEA stack is coupled to a high- temperature heat source (such as solar heat concentrated by mirrors), and the other to a low-temperature heat sink (ambient air). The low-temperature stack acts as the compressor stage while the high-temperature stack functions as the power stage. Once the cycle is started by the electrical jolt, the resulting pressure differential produces voltage across each of the MEA stacks. The higher voltage at the high-temperature stack forces the low-temperature stack to pump hydrogen from low pressure to high pressure, maintaining the pressure differential. Meanwhile hydrogen passing through the high-temperature stack generates power.

    “It’s like a conventional heat engine,” explains Paul Werbos, program director at the National Science Foundation, which has provided funding for JTEC. “It still uses temperature differences to create pressure gradients. Only instead of using those pressure gradients to move an axle or wheel, he’s using them to force ions through a membrane. It’s a totally new way of generating electricity from heat.”

    The bigger the temperature differential, the higher the efficiency. With the help of Heshmat Aglan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Alabama’s Tuskegee University, Johnson hopes to have a low-temperature prototype (200-degree centigrade) completed within a year’s time. The pair is experimenting with high-temperature membranes made of a novel ceramic material of micron-scale thickness. Johnson envisions a first-generation system capable of handling temperatures up to 600 degrees. (Currently, solar concentration using parabolic mirrors tops 800 degrees centigrade.) Based on the theoretical Carnot thermodynamic cycle, at 600 degrees efficiency rates approach 60 percent, twice those of today’s solar Stirling engines.

    /end quote


  26. basically. top valve closed-fluid(gas) is heated below piston. hot fluid goes past piston.

    valve open, hot(high temp) fluid enters cool vessel, reducsing p in hot vessel. piston must drop for valve to close. this would also open cold valve at bottom of hot vessel allowing cold working fluid to enter.

    both valves closed – repeat cycle.

    if someone can do something like this with just a membrane, then they should patent it, sell the patent and live happily ever after. bullshit, i still say.

  27. The higher voltage at the high-temperature stack forces the low-temperature stack to pump hydrogen from low pressure to high pressure, maintaining the pressure differential. Meanwhile hydrogen passing through the high-temperature stack generates power.

    bif, this, again sounds like fucking bullshit, disingenuous taech jargon bullshit. presure, by any reasonable person’s understanding is an attribute that can applied to various forms of matter, liquid, gas even solids. voltage is an attribute of electromagnetic phenomena, commonly movement of electrons through a conductor, often called electricty. the two are fucking unrelated, except through the intercession of a mechanical device, often called a fucking pump.

    so, and maybe i’m wrong, but i doubt, what this sentance wants to say say is that the electrical current produced by the potential between the 2 vessels, is used to run a fucking pump.

    if not, why dont’ these pieces of shit produce an understandable schematic? i’ll tell you why, in case you can’t figure it, cause they’re scaming fucking money that i should be scaming, fer christ sakes, i guess.

  28. and, even if what i say somehow is wrong, how would one even maintain a p differential between the vessels without a valve/ if one tried to use a more pervious membrane to now allow molecules instead of protons to pass, then the hp vessel would back up through that membrane and short circuit the system.

  29. shit, if the ethanol fuckers can scam money, and biodiesel boys can scam money, and the fusion boys(both hot and cold) can scam money, and the OTEC boys can scam money, and the fucking photvoltaic shitheads can scam money, and the car companies and the banks can scam money, and the jtec cocksuckers can scam money, then why not me?

  30. “higher voltage at the high-temperature stack forces the low-temperature stack to pump hydrogen from low pressure to high pressure”

    Whats missing, or not explained here, is the mechanism. “Voltage” forces one to pump into the other. How? The articles do claim the system has no moving parts, no pumps, is solid state. So how?

    The trick here, I think, is you don’t need pumps because you are not cycling the fluid between the vessels but instead only facilitating the passage of hydrogen protons across the membranes. Electrochemical processes (except simple stuff like plating) get beyond the grasp of my monkey brain in a hurry. You’ll have to take it from here!

  31. For all we know, instead of delivering newspapers, Yarra was doing this stuff in junior high school, and raising freshwater prawns off-grid.

    EE, great article on the geopolitics of rare earth elements. Reason #328 for why we’re fucked. Thanks.

  32. “they’re scaming fucking money that i should be scaming”

    Well, there ya go. Righteous indignation, I guess.

  33. Short of buying a whole-house natty gas genset & x-fer switch, I don’t really have good options for long term alternative power.

    Fortunately, I think, my town has it’s own power generating capability, albeit insufficient to provide enough juice for everyone at current consumption levels. Factoring in public safety, the regional hospital and the high-rent district, sans the aforementioned genset, it’s candle power & flashlights baby.

    So, I’m open to some new tech, but not going to ingest the Hopium over it.

  34. Heeeyyyyy – I thought the Japanese were on our side.

    ‘It’s not just rebels in Afghanistan that love the Hilux. “The Toyota Hilux is everywhere,” says Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger and now a fellow of the Center for a New American Security. “It’s the vehicular equivalent of the AK-47. It’s ubiquitous to insurgent warfare. And actually, recently, also counterinsurgent warfare. It kicks the hell out of the Humvee.” Anecdotally, a scan of pictures from the last four decades of guerrilla and insurgent warfare around the world—the first iteration of the Hilux appeared in the late ’60s—reveals the Toyota’s wide-ranging influence. Somali pirates bristling with guns hang out of them on the streets of Mogadishu. The New York Times has reported that the Hilux is the pirates’ “ride of choice.” A ragtag bunch of 20 or so Sudanese fighters raise their arms aloft in the back of a Hilux in 2004. Pakistani militants drive through a crowd, guns high, in 2000. It goes on. Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq—U.S. Special Forces even drive Toyota Tacomas (the chunkier, U.S. version of the Hilux) on some of their deployments. (Click here for a gallery of Toyota trucks in conflict-torn regions.)’


  35. Now this is absurd to the Bernanke power. This is what happens when you have foxes watching the henhouse. At this rate, it’s not my PM I have to worry about, it’s my goddamn vegetables!

    Gomez. Gomez! Order up a bunch more small arms ammo, 2 or 3K per caliber. Yeah, 5.56, 7.62 – Russkie & NATO. And see if they got any claymores. I can trust the locals with my fucking vegetable garden, but not my own government. Jeebus, how shit-stained is that?

    “Morningland Dairy is the latest attempt by the FDA to fulfill the Healthy People 2020 objective to kill raw dairy. Morningland is owned by Joseph and Denise Dixon, who operate the cheese plant and make raw cheese from cows kept right on the property and managed by one of their eldest daughters. They have 12 children, 4 who still live at home, and they have been actively engaged in real food for decades. They were caught up in the Rawesome Raid dragnet and many believe the questionable California Dept of Food and Agriculture tests on their cheese are the legal justification for the multi-agency guns drawn raid at Rawesome.

    In the thirty years of Morningland Dairy operations NO ONE has become ill from consuming their products. Yet they have been ordered by the Missouri Milk Board to destroy ALL of their cheese without actual tests being performed on the cheese stock. This is nearly 50,000 pounds of cheese, or approximately $250,000.”


  36. UR, basal cell tumor, left side, reconstructive surgery today to fill divot with skin from left ear cheek area. Vicodins, no booze for 48 hours.

    After PO breakdown, it’ll be back to gold nose pieces ala Tycho with heat and/or bodyguards to protect it.

  37. http://www.johnsonems.com/?q=node/2

    yeah, thanks au. i don’t know if this qualifies as a schematic or not(not). anyway, it does show work going into the thing on the cold side in order to pump low pressure gas. what supplies that work? i don’t know. how he can seemingly pump h molecules through a membrane ostensibly designed to pass protons only, i guess, i don’t know.

    my further guess is that he doesn’t either, nor does he care, as long as the grant $ flows in his direction.

    alchemists used make whole careers on turning lead into gold. as long as they talked a good game, the king, or whoever, let them keep thier head ansd threw sheckles in thier direction, i guess. some things never change.

  38. i’m sorry ee. i really do like your cut and paste jobs. the drink brings out the devil in me. i’m sure you understand.

  39. So, I’m open to some new tech, but not going to ingest the Hopium over it.

    yes, hope is kinda bad and very stupid, with electrons or otherwise.

  40. anyway, and this my last jtec comment, unless somebody wants to go on about. the thing that really rings my bells about johnson and jtec is the seeming complete lack of 3’rd party review. the whole thing seems to to have 2 players, the check writers and johnson. with johnson going on about this thing for at least the last 7 or 8 years, it would seem to me that some garduate student, someplace, would have been more than happy to write a thesis on it by now. anyhoo, i’m done.

  41. “who do you think set it up for nixon to open up china, thus leading to fucking super social capitalist chinks of 2010? dat’s right, your bes buddy, hfuckingk.”

    “The opera eventually veers away from narrative into the private thoughts of Nixon, Pat, Mao, Madame Mao and Chou. The portrayal of Henry Kissinger is the opera’s one weakness. The imagination of these highly imaginative artists went only so far, and Kissinger was the one character for whom they couldn’t imagine an inner life.”

    “The last act was originally conceived as a final banquet for the exhausted parties, their defenses down. Nixon and Pat dance and retreat into old memories. The same happens to Mao and his wife and to the warmly wise Chou. (Kissinger rushes off to the bathroom and we never hear from him again.)”


    So for my birthday that year, a couple of my jet-setting, cocktail-party-throwing friends treated me to box seats for the DC premiere of “Nixon in China” at the KenCen (remember, this was the ’80s). As we were gliding down the staircase to the main floor for intermission in our opera-attending finery, I turned my head to determine who it was staring at us. At that moment, I knew civilization was doomed when I saw that our ogler, Alan Greenspan, was wearing a kind of cheesy-looking, non-matching pair of plaid pants and jacket with a striped shirt and patterned tie.


  42. “Vicodins, no booze for 48 hours.”

    Doom… hang in there! Watch those Vicodins.

    Just be thankful for basal cell rather than carcinoma. A good buddy of mine just had the same thing on the end of his nose–all the baby boomers are headed toward dementia and basal cell together–and his dermatologists have perfected a method of dealing with it that’s pretty impressive.

    Thanks for the Tycho Brahe link. Truth is so much more hilarious than fiction, don’t you think?

    Tycho’s Moose (Elk)

    Tycho was said to own one percent of the entire wealth of Denmark at one point in the 1580s[citation needed] and he often held large social gatherings in his castle. He kept a dwarf named Jepp (whom Tycho believed to be clairvoyant) as a court jester who sat under the table during dinner. Pierre Gassendi wrote[13] that Tycho also had a tame moose (called an elk in Europe) and that his mentor the Landgrave Wilhelm of Hesse-Kassel (Hesse-Cassel) asked whether there was an animal faster than a deer. Tycho replied, writing that there was none, but he could send his tame elk. When Wilhelm replied he would accept one in exchange for a horse, Tycho replied with the sad news that the elk had just died on a visit to entertain a nobleman at Landskrona. Apparently during dinner[17] the elk had drunk a lot of beer, fallen down the stairs, and died.[13][18]

  43. hope, like some gassy turds, floats, or so they say. the fact that so much of that hope is swirling around the internet and the MSM is yet another sure signpost we pass as we approach the net energy cliff. keeping the internets and all these fragile computers alive for long past the cliff is another bit of hopium for the masses, including us all.

    ee, i read that REE article. it was pretty good. did you or someone you know help write it? just goes to show how clever the chinese can be. they took a valuable but not actually scarce resource and cornered the present world market by using a combination of federal deficit spending (they operated the mines at a loss for some time) and throwing environmental (and i’m sure health & safety) concerns to the winds, so to speak. they gutted the competition by underselling the REE for years, then global dependence evolved through technological innovations that happen to require upon large amounts of cheap REE metals. and, as the article points out, it would now take 5 to 10 years for a non-chinese mine to begin competing again. meanwhile, the chinese look to capture the refined-use technologies such as REE magnets (done) and wind turbines (in progress), etc.

    i think the usa did the same thing with cheap oil back in the 19th-20th century. it worked for about 100 years. when the usa ran out of domestic oil, we were able to arrange with our ME partners to keep the show going for almost another 50 years. petrodollar global dominance that is only now being seriously challenged, as the world runs dry of cheap fuel.

  44. “so, i got that shit under control.”

    That will teach me to ask one of my frustrated rhetorical questions. ; ^ ]

  45. “i’m sorry ee. i really do like your cut and paste jobs.”

    dave, I only do that when I can’t figure out how to link something that’s going to turn into an annoyance for everyone.

    “…the drink brings out the devil in me. i’m sure you understand.”

    I’ve never understood. But I will always empathize.

  46. so, anyways, I guess i’m not done. below is a copy of an email that i sent to johnson’s company. sometimes i just can’t let go.

    god ee, hk must really have boned your little sister. you really do hate that guy.

    RE: JTEC, Low Temp MEA Stack Operation

    To Whom It May Concern:

    In regards to the above, I had two(2) questions that I was hoping someone in your organization could help me out with.

    1. By what principle does the low temp stack operate. In other words, how does the current serve to facilitate flow through the stack and, apparently compress the gas enough to both travel through the heat exchanger and force protons through the the high temp. membrane?

    2. Are there 2 different types of membranes involved? It seems to me that you are pushing protons only through the high temp membrane, and passing H2 molecules through the low temp membrane.

    Thank you for any clarification that you may be able to offer.


    Dave Lysak

  47. hey Bif, i thought a “johnson” was something guys whipped out in front of urinals and frightened, or at least curious, women?

  48. “just goes to show how clever the chinese can be.”

    There seems to be a sense of the long view, no matter how infused with superstition and wrong-headedness it is. Seems to be a fairly common Asian trait.

  49. “hey Bif, i thought a “johnson” was something guys whipped out in front of urinals and frightened, or at least curious, women?”

    I’m talking about a Johnson in every garage…


    …what are you talking about?

  50. remus, if you’re worried about keeping electrical stuff going for a while, why not invest in some sort of pv system now?

  51. dave,

    I have been playing with PV. One of my concerns is where I am at, to expand it (as in scale up) will make La Casa de Remus stand out like wood in a Speedo. More attention is uh, how you say, contraindicated.

    Being as I am in tornado country, a genset is more commonplace and many models even look (well, cursory anyway) like an A/C unit. I’ve already gussied up my power wall to disguise my, how you say, enhanced communications capability, so a x-fer switch won’t be an issue.

    But, I haven’t given up on PV or even wind. We get a lot of wind here. All the other nonsense aside, it is about batteries, storing all that juice and significant changes to how and when power is used.

    I expanded my gardening to the point I needed a building to put all the tools and crap in. Anyway, outbuildings and small barn-like structures are not uncommon here and the building will be designed to house a battery rack and have PV on the roof from day one. It will also be designed to link to the main house to receive future PV generation from there as well as provide power to it.

  52. yeah, if i was real interested in trying to keep shit running i’d buy my pv panels, and anciliaries like inverters and such now, while they’re surplus and cheap. i’d also by some lead/acid batteries and store them seperately. you know, don’t add the acid until it’s needed. it should store pretty much indefinately with the right packageing, i think. fuck, you could even through a little wind genterator into one of those outbuildings. wrap it in some canvas and shit and maybe your kids will find it and use it for a boat anchor or something someday. remus iii: what chu think that shit is remus jr.? remus jr: fucked if i know.

  53. Remus, I have to admit that when traveling about in Honolulu, when a PV-equipped rooftop presents itself, my mind spits out “nice post-collapse target”. Also, unless you’re careful, your lights at night will act like a beacon to all those “have nots” searching about for the “haves”.

    I think dave’s ideas are good, it’s just your location relative to others. In “The Parable of the Sower” walled enclaves were effective, for awhile. They’ll keep out the riff raff, but not determined groups, especially well-armed ones.

    Pb-acid batteries store very well without the acid added. Once that goes in, you got about 5 years or so. Like a lot of useful stuff, the price will soar on them.

  54. ‘unless you’re careful, your lights at night will act like a beacon to all those “have nots” searching about for the “haves”’

    Hence “significant changes to how and when power is used”.

    What I do “have” is not considered of value to most, if considered at all – and I am not talking about tangibles.

  55. Remus jr, as it were, has his own issues living out in the land of Bunn Bunn. But hey, it’s all fun & games till the looting and shooting starts.

  56. “stand out like wood in a Speedo”

    Bif, there’s that “Johnson” again I was referring to earlier.

  57. From Feb. of this year.

    pgs. 24-29

    “During the next twenty-five years, coal, oil, and natural gas will remain indispensable to meet energy requirements. The discovery rate for new petroleum and gas fields over the past two decades (with the possible exception of Brazil) provides little reason for optimism that future efforts will find major new fields.

    At present, investment in oil production is only beginning to pick up, with the result that production could reach a prolonged plateau. By 2030, the world will require production of 118 MBD, but energy producers may only be producing 100 MBD unless there are major changes in current investment and drilling capacity.

    By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 MBD.”

    PDF Warning. http://www.jfcom.mil/newslink/storyarchive/2010/JOE_2010_o.pdf

  58. Oh yeah, h/t to commentor on (that shameless Wall Street shill rag) the WSJ online for the link in my 7:04PM post above.

  59. Those pesky Germans, stirring up trouble in Europe again.

    “A German entrepreneur is bypassing a European Union ban on light bulbs of more than 60 watts by marketing his own brand as mini heaters.

    Siegfried Rotthaeuser and his brother-in-law have come up with a legal way of importing and distributing 75 and 100 watt light bulbs — by producing them in China, importing them as “small heating devices” and selling them as “heatballs.”

    To improve energy efficiency, the EU has banned the sale of bulbs of over 60 watts — to the annoyance of the mechanical engineer from the western city of Essen.

    Rotthaeuser studied EU legislation and realized that because the inefficient old bulbs produce more warmth than light — he calculated heat makes up 95 percent of their output, and light just 5 percent — they could be sold legally as heaters.

    On their website (heatball.de/), the two engineers describe the heatballs as “action art” and as “resistance against legislation which is implemented without recourse to democratic and parliamentary processes.”

    Costing 1.69 euros each ($2.38), the heatballs are going down well — the first batch of 4,000 sold out in three days.

    Rotthaeuser has pledged to donate 30 cents of every heatball sold to saving the rainforest, which the 49-year-old sees as a better way of protecting the environment than investing in energy-saving lamps, which contain toxic mercury.”


  60. yeah, i’m sure no battery expert or anything like that. but these prices look scary (as opposed to anal sex) to me. i think you can get 1000ah worth of lead acid storage for about $1000. also, the demensions and wieghts of those things look a little scary too, that might be my ignorance showing.


  61. Speaking of dirt:

    yeah, that article was pretty encouraging.

    no repley from johnson. this i also find encouraging.

  62. i also find reports like this consistently encouraging. humans have fucked up more farm land by irrigation than any other method, except maybe good old erosion and soil depletion. but, i like the way that the newer irragation schemes have the added benefit of drawing down aquifers and thus, and simultaniously, requireing more ff to power pumps and such shit.

    so, if one forgets about haber-bosch for awhile, we’re nicely set up for a 3 way race to the bottom; water, soil, and ff’s.

    if we could get more people onto bicycles…


  63. dave, last time i checked, which was a few years ago now, there are towns in kansas that pump their water from pipes laid to nearby towns, because they can no longer pump groundwater vertically to the surface. it’s that disappearing ogalala aquifer, a one-time gift of the last ice age.

    once the water’s gone, it’s back to the buffalo out there. it won’t matter how much topsoil is left, or how fancy their gmo crops are, no water is the end.

  64. it won’t matter how much topsoil is left, or how fancy their gmo crops are, no water is the end.

    yeah, this is why i often say things like energyshemergy. it’s the law of the minimum that matters, wich encompases energy, of course. of course one other irony is that gmo crops require more water than than any locally adapted ones do. hence, faster groundwater depletion, more soil degredation, more need for ff’s, more pesticides to spoil the water that’s left, etc. these are all very encouring indicators. marx once said something like: the capitalists will make the rope to hang themselves. i say the same thing about industry. granted, it is a lot more obvious now than it was in the 1860’s. but still say it anyway.

  65. i reckon bicycling has many benefits. it will allow one to get out and witness the apocalypse first hand. the msm has a silly way of candy coating everything, not they would still be transmitting, of course.

  66. EE, I remember that Harpers “oil we eat” article being a topic in the old CFN mosh pit days.

    I think its a horse race between the limiting factors of water, depleting soil structure/fertility, energy cost, and fertilizer cost and availability. Other factors being geopolitics, tariffs/subsidies, managing of crop and livestock diseases, and supply chain systems that only work for industrial modes of ag. Water and energy being the biggies. Combinations of all these should play out differently depending on the geography.

    I agree that water is the big one world-wide and energy cost is about right there with it. So much of ag land and water is about producing beef and dairy, and I’m no expert but prospects for beef production/consumption for the masses seem quite tenuous at this point. Soon who will be able to afford it?

  67. True the bike is not the “answer”. Should there be an early muddling phase (and I think there will be) the bike could be useful. Such as when the bags of people chow are dispensed at the central barter market in the former mall parking lot each morning which is 5 miles from your house. Or perhaps during a period of $6 gasoline and/or periods of super long waits at the pumps? Who can say?

    I think that circumstances in the early phases of the descent could take any number of forms and will be changing constantly, and will vary greatly from place to place, and you’ll have to make do with the tools you have, as long as the tool is useful and works. At least early on a bike could be a very useful thing.

    Bikes, gardens, food storage, water purification, etc to me are all probably good things to know about for confronting the short term circumstances of shock and disruption and adaptation to difficult situations but are not going to take you all the way down the road. All a person can do IMO is prepare for enduring a relatively short period of upset. There isn’t much anyone can do to cover their bases beyond that. Its not even worth agonizing over because its unknown and therefore uncontrolable and unsolvable.

    Having said that I still say that the best set-up for the long term may be a well-made hand cart that can be pulled or pushed by two to four people at a walk or steady trot.

  68. 2010-28 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 19, 2010

    Drought may threaten much of globe within decades


    David Hosansky, NCAR/UCAR Media Relations

    Rachael Drummond, NCAR/UCAR Media Relations

    For additional contacts, see below.

    Note to editors and producers:
    To download world maps showing potential future areas of drought, go to

    BOULDER–The United States and many other heavily populated countries face a growing threat of severe and prolonged drought in coming decades, according to a new study by National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientist Aiguo Dai. The analysis concludes that warming temperatures associated with climate change will likely create increasingly dry conditions across much of the globe in the next 30 years, possibly reaching a scale in some regions by the end of the century that has rarely, if ever, been observed in modern times.

    Using an ensemble of 22 computer climate models and a comprehensive index of drought conditions, as well as analyses of previously published studies, the paper finds that most of the Western Hemisphere, along with large parts of Eurasia, Africa, and Australia, will be at risk of extreme drought this century.

    In contrast, higher-latitude regions from Alaska to Scandinavia are likely to become more moist.

    Dai cautioned that the findings are based on the best current projections of greenhouse gas emissions. What actually happens in coming decades will depend on many factors, including actual future emissions of greenhouse gases as well as natural climate cycles such as El Niño.

    The new findings appear this week as part of a longer review article in Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change. The study was supported by the National Science Foundation, NCAR’s sponsor.

    “We are facing the possibility of widespread drought in the coming decades, but this has yet to be fully recognized by both the public and the climate change research community,” Dai says. “If the projections in this study come even close to being realized, the consequences for society worldwide will be enormous.”

    While regional climate projections are less certain than those for the globe as a whole, Dai’s study indicates that most of the western two-thirds of the United States will be significantly drier by the 2030s. Large parts of the nation may face an increasing risk of extreme drought during the century.

    Other countries and continents that could face significant drying include:

    * Much of Latin America, including large sections of Mexico and Brazil
    * Regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea, which could become especially dry
    * Large parts of Southwest Asia
    * Most of Africa and Australia, with particularly dry conditions in regions of Africa
    * Southeast Asia, including parts of China and neighboring countries

    The study also finds that drought risk can be expected to decrease this century across much of Northern Europe, Russia, Canada, and Alaska, as well as some areas in the Southern Hemisphere. However, the globe’s land areas should be drier overall.

    “The increased wetness over the northern, sparsely populated high latitudes can’t match the drying over the more densely populated temperate and tropical areas,” Dai says.

    A climate change expert not associated with the study, Richard Seager of Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, adds:

    “As Dai emphasizes here, vast swaths of the subtropics and the midlatitude continents face a future with drier soils and less surface water as a result of reducing rainfall and increasing evaporation driven by a warming atmosphere. The term ‘global warming’ does not do justice to the climatic changes the world will experience in coming decades. Some of the worst disruptions we face will involve water, not just temperature.”

    —–A portrait of worsening drought—–

    Previous climate studies have indicated that global warming will probably alter precipitation patterns as the subtropics expand. The 2007 assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that subtropical areas will likely have precipitation declines, with high-latitude areas getting more precipitation.

    In addition, previous studies by Dai have indicated that climate change may already be having a drying effect on parts of the world. In a much-cited 2004 study, he and colleagues found that the percentage of Earth’s land area stricken by serious drought more than doubled from the 1970s to the early 2000s. Last year, he headed up a research team that found that some of the world’s major rivers are losing water.

    In his new study, Dai turned from rain and snow amounts to drought itself, and posed a basic question: how will climate change affect future droughts? If rainfall runs short by a given amount, it may or may not produce drought conditions, depending on how warm it is, how quickly the moisture evaporates, and other factors.

    Droughts are complex events that can be associated with significantly reduced precipitation, dry soils that fail to sustain crops, and reduced levels in reservoirs and other bodies of water that can imperil drinking supplies. A common measure called the Palmer Drought Severity Index classifies the strength of a drought by tracking precipitation and evaporation over time and comparing them to the usual variability one would expect at a given location.

    Dai turned to results from the 22 computer models used by the IPCC in its 2007 report to gather projections about temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind speed, and Earth’s radiative balance, based on current projections of greenhouse gas emissions. He then fed the information into the Palmer model to calculate the PDSI number. A reading of +0.5 to -0.5 on the index indicates normal conditions, while a reading at or below -4 indicates extreme drought.

    By the 2030s, the results indicated that some regions in the United States and overseas could experience particularly severe conditions, with average readings over the course of a decade potentially dropping to -4 to -6 in much of the central and western United States as well as several regions overseas, and -8 or lower in parts of the Mediterranean. By the end of the century, many populated areas, including parts of the United States, could face readings in the range of -8 to -10, and much of the Mediterranean could fall to -15 to -20. Such readings would be almost unprecedented.

    Dai cautions that global climate models remain inconsistent in capturing precipitation changes and other atmospheric factors, especially at the regional scale. However, the 2007 IPCC models were in stronger agreement on high- and low-latitude precipitation than those used in previous reports, says Dai.

    There are also uncertainties in how well the Palmer index captures the range of conditions that future climate may produce. The index could be overestimating drought intensity in the more extreme cases, says Dai. On the other hand, the index may be underestimating the loss of soil moisture should rain and snow fall in shorter, heavier bursts and run off more quickly. Such precipitation trends have already been diagnosed in the United States and several other areas over recent years, says Dai.

    “The fact that the current drought index may not work for the 21st century climate is itself a troubling sign,” Dai says.

    The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research under sponsorship by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

    -The End-

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