FEEDBACK NOTE NO. 5
RESPONSE TO A JOURNALIST
Copyright, Harold Aspden, 1999
On February 5, 1999 I received a brief E-Mail message from 'a Pennsylvania journalist working on a story about the twentieth anniversary of the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island, site of the nation's worst nuclear disaster.'
She stated 'I would like to discuss future alternatives to nuclear power and the burning of fossil fuels. From your Web site, it seems you would have much to contribute to this discussion. I'd love to hear more about your findings - in layman's terms.'
I do not know at this point what I will send to her as my message in reply and it has occurred to me that it may help to clarify my own thoughts if I draft this Feedback Note and then review it to see if it warrants entry on my Web site. I certainly do not see this note itself as that reply - it is just an aide memoire to reconcile a few points from my own perspective.
It may seem presumptuous to offer one's personal views on what might appear on the future horizon concerning viable energy alternatives that can make us independent of nuclear methods of generating electricity or methods that do not burn our fossil fuel reserves. Why should my opinion be of interest?
My early academic and industrial background was spent in electrical power engineering. My main career pursuit has been concerned with the development of the technology that fed the computer industry, but from the viewpoint of its patentable merit and the risks of patent infringement. That has little relevance to the alternative energy topic. However, I believe I know enough to know the borderline between what is practical and what is non-practical and I know enough about the ways of the scientific community and the business community to see things from a sensible viewpoint.
Added to this I bring to bear something quite unusual, the dimension of having, since my Ph.D. research years, a deep conviction founded in my experimental pursuits which says that there is something lacking in the physics taught concerning how electrical energy is stored in our immediate space environment. This includes the conviction that energy radiated into space as heat does not go off on an endless journey in search of infinity but is absorbed into the fabric of space in the early phases of the journey. That energy becomes part of an unseen quantum dance routine taking place in the vacuum that we imagine as 'nothing', yet it is the basis of quantum physics and that quantum dance is revealed in the regulating interplay between atoms and that unseen quantum world. Many of the secrets that can affect our energy future lie in the related field of ferromagnetism.
In layman's terms the problem which our scientific community faces is one of opening one's mind to consider something as being possible which 19th century physics assured us was impossible. The scientific community can justify spending enormous funds on projects that they know conform with standard physics but will not spend one cent or one moment of their time on projects that they 'think' are out of tune with their past experience of physics. Yet invention thrives on surprise! One cannot be surprised if all one does is stay in a conventional rut. Surprise comes from exploring new fields and, I submit, also by not just looking at new ground, but probing deeper and deeper into old and explored territory, just in case one has missed something and encounters the unexpected.
Well, back in the 1950-1953, I delved into the problem of an inexplicable energy loss that occurs all the time, even today, in all of the electrical transformers that are used in the distribution of electricity by power companies. Three years of research did not reveal the true answer and, to this day, there is no answer of public record, save that which I, forty years on, later discovered by, as I say, 'digging deeper into explored territory'.
The loss is small in relation to the overall electrical power transmitted, being of the order of no more than 1%. That is not important. After all, what is a billion dollars worth of power loss set against a hundred and more billion dollars of power that gets through to its destination? What is important is the cause of that loss and the fact that power engineers do not understand it. If they did then they should be able to see the way forward and see prospect for turning that loss into an escalating bonanza for the future of energy generation.
To digress just a little, a topical example of large scale funding in efforts to pursue alternative energy research is the presently topical claim that Russia has put a large mirror into orbit in space with the object of reflecting sunlight to illuminate a part of Siberia. It will save the cost of lighting that region at night and make the region more habitable. What I have not seen mentioned in the fact that the mirror must also connect by reflection the rest of Earth with the vastly large area of outer space not taken up by the solar disc. Outer space is very cold and mirrors can reflect cold as well as light and heat, so that mirror must cool the Earth overall. So we see here the prospect of redressing to a small extent the problems of global warming as well as illuminating parts of Siberia. But is that really worth the cost? So much more can be achieved by getting researchers to dig deeper into the sacred ground that forbids what might, in fact, be scientifically possible, once we avoid mixing up thermodynamic effects and electromagnetic effects!
Reverting again to layman terms, that loss problem in power transformers arises because loss caused by electrical current flow produces heat and, inside the transformer, that heat is being converted back into electricity by the magnetic deflection of heat flow. In the transformer this enhances the parasitic current flow and escalates the loss, but our scientists have seen the symptoms but not understood the cause and so cannot exploit that knowledge. You see, the factor of the loss anomaly is not just a few per cent. In my own research I was seeing a six-fold factor of loss, and a factor of ten was later recorded by independent researchers. That is a mammoth rate of energy conversion of heat into electricity, given that the temperature difference in parts of a transformer core are little more than 40o C. The second law of thermodynamics, sacrosanct to physicists generally, says this is not possible. So there you are. What is sacrosanct cannot be changed. That loss remains a mystery, not to me, but to the rest of the world, and yet here may lie the secret of our energy future.
It is a secret I could not solve at Cambridge in England where I did my Ph.D. because, being conventional and well trained academically, it never occurred to me even to think that my research was encroaching on the holy ground of that second law of thermodynamics. Yet, once that law is breached we can expect to produce useful electrical power from ambient heat and so let our air conditioning technology generate rather than absorb electricity.
That statement, given that I am saying that the mystery loss in power transformers does breach that law, is enough for the orthodox scientist to classify me as a crank and ignore what I say. However, one day, when the scientific community wakes up to some of these realities, they will find that they really can begin to solve the world's energy problems. In the meantime, all I can do is wave a flag and explain myself in the formal language that scientists should understand.
There are, I now know, other ways of making progress in breaking through the barriers on the energy frontiers. Those barriers are mainly mental barriers, not technological barriers. They preoccupy the minds of many as one can see by the stream of reports of record in the periodical Infinite Energy. However, I think it best to forge ahead by concentrating on technology familiar to electrical engineers generally to get those who design the electrical alternators of the power industry interested in knowing what they are missing. Yes, they should have their attention drawn to that transformer energy loss, a loss occurring under their very noses without them even knowing what is happening in their equipment. If they have never heard of the 'eddy-current anomaly' then it is time they brushed up on their training! I first heard about it when I was an undergraduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering at university back in the years 1945-48. Yes, I know designers get by using test specification data supplied by electrical steel manufacturers. They let the test data concerning loss suffice in their design calculations, but that does not excuse the academic community generally for their ignorance in not having addressed and solved the mystery of that anomaly.
My message, in simple layman terms, is to demand that those who fund research in academic institutions pay attention to what I have said above. In turn they must demand that efforts are made to solve the mystery of the anomalous loss in power transformers. It may well be possible to devise a kind of transformer that taps ambient heat and generates electrical power without the Carnot efficiency constraint. One therefore needs to challenge what professors of mechanical engineering teach concerning that second law of thermodynamics and its broader application to energy in the magnetization process, a subject within the province of the electrical engineer!
What more can I say? I will try to supplement these thoughts as I write more on this, my Web site, but if the academic world is looking to me to prove my case by demonstrating a commercial product before listening to common sense then I may be dead before that day comes and the world will, no doubt, live on for a while consuming fossil fuel and generating nuclear pollution until death comes to all!
February 7, 1999
Footnote This Web page was edited on March 24, 2001 by removal of an erroneous end section. The correction is reported in FEEDBACK NOTE No. 7.