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How to Power the Planet? "Use the Force, Luke."

(Quote shamelessly borrowed from Star Wars via Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Tokyo EnergyThere’s a basic law of physics that everyone can agree on: you can’t create energy from nothing. So when an invention comes along and seems to do exactly that, scientists are skeptical. Some get downright prickly. The problem is, these inventions exist, and everyone who looks at it agrees: it works.

Fortunately, no laws of the universe were harmed in the making of this device, though Star Wars geeks like myself could have reason to rejoice.

The Dark Side

The idea stems from some of the most bizarre, puzzling, and dark corners of Physics, specifically Quantum Physics. Here’s the very basic idea: there is energy/matter everywhere in the universe, even the deepest, emptiest depths of space. Since there’s almost no normal energy/matter in the deepest, emptiest depths of space, the fact that all that space exists (and is expanding) means that it must be filled with something. Enter Dark Matter/Dark Energy. It is believed to exist everywhere in small amounts, but since it fills the universe, that means that there’s A LOT of it – as close to infinity as you can get. While this matter/energy is not literally “dark” in any sense of the word, it does prove that energy exists everywhere, and that it affects normal matter so that (in theory) we could use it. (Watch a video for more details about this concept)

What if you could tap into that?

This is the part where mainstream physicists and scientists start shaking their heads (unless, of course, your name is Tesla). The quantities are so small they have a hard time measuring it in a lab. How would you even harness it? There’s also the not-so-small issue that scientists barely understand the forces at work, much less how they work. Mayeb that’s why they call it Zero Point Energy: it seems to come from nothing and nowhere. Normally I would join them and file this idea away as a big “Maybe” for the distant future. But then something changed my mind:

Working prototypes have been popping up independently around the globe.

One has been demonstrated by a scientist in Bangladesh. Several companies are trying to produce them in the United States.

Oh, and Magnetic Power Inc. want to sell you a self-powered toy next Christmas. (Source for above statements: Radio Interview with Mark Goldes)

Energy in the AirSo what is Zero Point Energy?

This is where details start to get sketchy. I wouldn’t blame an inventor for perfecting his design in secret before unveiling it to better weather the inevitable criticism, but there’s just not enough information out there. From what I understand, the devices will derive energy from ambient heat in the air, but they could produce enough of it to give cars or planes an unlimited range. And they want to make it cheap and available. But reputable details are few and far between; I can’t even find a picture of one of these devices. The science is hotly contested. Let me admit that we are dabbling on the fringe of science. I don’t have as many sources as I would like for this article, but the idea is nevertheless exciting.

So consider this a “Cool Tech of the Week” with a bit of science tossed in for fun. Like many future technologies, we’ll just have to wait and see. Keep an eye out in 2009 for Christmas toys that power themselves… forever.

Broken Link:

This link was working when I did my initial research. When I returned to the site before the publication of this article, I received this message: Reason for restriction: Forbidden Category “Other” from Sonic Wall. Further investigation revealed the “Other” category to be “Occult”. The article did try to tie the physics into Buddhist philosophy, but their initial scientific explanation was more accessible (and of comparable quality) to my other sources.

Question for readers: why can Sonic Wall block my web browsing when I have never subscribed to their services?

(Tokyo Energy by D-D-T via Flickr Creative Commons)

(Energy in the Air by jonasj via Flickr Creative Commons)

For some More Realistic Technology, check out:

Full Size Floating Wind Turbines

Wave Power and Biomimicry

Tiny CFLs

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is an environmentalist who loves to write. She grew up across the southeastern USA and especially love the Appalachian mountains. She went to school in the northeast USA in part to witness different mindsets and lifestyles than those of my southern stomping grounds. She majored in English Lit. and Anthropology. She has worked as a whitewater rafting guide, which introduced her to a wilderness and the complex issues at play in the places where relatively few people go. She also taught English in South Korea for a year, which taught her to take nothing for granted.


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