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Time for Apollo-like Research Program

Cape Town - It is not often one meets a man whose job description once was to go to Mars. Brian O'Leary is a writer and former assistant professor in astronomy, physics and technology, a former consultant to the US House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, and a senior advisor to presidential candidates on sustainable policies. He was in Cape Town to conduct a series of workshops.

His brief was to create awareness about his recently established New Energy Movement, which hopes to use altruistic funding to develop sustainable energy solutions. This scientist and former NASA astronaut believes that if alternative clean and efficient souces of energy are not used in a matter of decades, the global economy could be seriously jeapardized, even to the point of extinction.

O'Leary says the global economy is suffereing from a fossible fuel and nuclear glut. Quoting Bertrand Russell's "Resistance to new ideas increases with the square of their importance," he says sustainable energy devices and concepts have already been researched - and these are not wind, solar or hydrogen-based energy - but the development of these energy sources have been suppressed by vested interests and lack of funding.

Millions of deaths each year to pollution, global climate change, outmoded electricity grid systems that are 19th century tehnology and a consensus that the world is near the peak of global oil production, should all be wake-up calls for business people and governments that an "all-out Apollo-like program is required for energy research", he says.

He adds that a first-year calculus student would be able to work out that assuming a 5 percent annual demand growth for oil and even if oil reserves are double what was estimated originally - this would only add another 20 years to the oil economy, merely extending the period before an alternative becomes necessary.

Hydrogen has been widely punted as the clean energy source of the future. O'Leary says governements and businesses like the idea of hydrogen power because it will require a "huge infrastructure" and one can "retro-fit' it into existing transport and energy systems.

He says while hydrogen fuel cell and combustion technology has been around since the early 19th century and is "a heck of a lot better than burning fossil fuels," the problem with hydrogen is that, from a physics point of view, "it uses more energy to produce than what one can take out of it."

When questioned about other traditional alternative energy sources, such as wind or solar, O'Leary says these also are a fine idea and would be an option if other energy technologies are not available.

Problems associated with wind and solar energy are that they are capital intensive, diffuse, intermittent and require expensive manufacturing materials.

One of the technologies that does present a solution, however, is so-called cold fusion. "When Pons & Fleishmann discovered cold fusion in 1989, within a few weeks the US Department of Energy had appointed a commission of nuclear physicists who objected to it right away. "It was a kneejerk reaction to a perceived threat against the tens of billions of dollars of research funds pouring into nuclear research at the time," says O'Leary.

Cold fusion technology has been replicated "hundres of times in many laboratories around the world," but there is no development work underway. Ironically, a later investigation into the work of the US Commission found it had replicated the technology, but had "fudged" the conclusions, says O'leary.

Another new energy technology is the so-called zero point technology, which is derived from "manipulating the energy available in the Universe in a certain way." O'Leary says this technology has been replicated many times over and in its most basic form involved using magnets on a wheel.

He has visited many inventory and researchers around the world, some who are working alone in remote locations.

The technology is out there. The problem with venture capital is that, in most cases, the development work required for new technology takes too long before a commercial projecty becomes viable, he says.

It is for this reason his New Energy Movement is hoping to attract altruistic funding.

Edward West

References and Notes

1. Printed in 'South Africa's National Financial Daily Business Report' Tuesday April 6, 2004