Jim Thompson
Jim Thompson
By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

The answer to “dirty” energy today seems to be electricity. For mobile transportation, cars and trucks, electricity moves the emissions from many points (tail pipes) to either single points (power stations) or theoretically no points (solar, wind and hydroelectric).

The first thing we need to understand is that our choice of energy is cost, ease of use, and emotions. Notice that glaringly absent from this list is science. Energy choices have long since left science out of the equation.

Arguably, the cleanest source of energy, after hydroelectric, is nuclear. Unfortunately, nuclear carries lots of fears with it. There have been several accidents, largely due to human operator error, and then there is the spent waste. While safe storage areas for the waste can certainly be built, the general population is skeptical, and thus they are not.

Again, nothing to do with science, but only human perceptions.

A few years ago, while listening to a discussion on the development of electric aircraft (and,
indeed, these are under development at the major manufacturers around the world), electricity will become ubiquitous for all uses when (a) it packs the energy density of jet fuel and (b) “filling your tank” takes no longer than it does with jet fuel. These may be the standards of aircraft, but they really apply to everything.

As for the first issue, KW density in batteries is nowhere near (yet) that of jet fuel. For the second, we have all heard how long takes to charge electric car batteries, even on high-speed chargers. So, we have a long way to go.

However, I think we are blind to alternatives other than dirty energy.

Let’s take flywheels, for instance. Flywheels can store energy and do it quite efficiently. In my own neighborhood, I look at the postal truck that comes by our house every day. It has an internal combustion engine which is constantly being accelerated and then, just as quickly, having the brakes applied at the next mail box.

If postal trucks were powered by flywheels, the braking energy could be put back into the flywheel and the acceleration would pull the energy out. If the flywheels were some sort of cartridge device that could be “plugged in” to the truck when fully energized and removed when depleted, there would be minimal fueling time for the truck.

The local post office could have an appropriately sized bank of these flywheel cartridges and charge them with electric motors during the hours of the day when electricity is the cheapest (likely at night).

We have assumed electricity is the solution when others, if well-developed, could be competitors. All the engineering and science for flywheels is known. The system just has to be developed into a friendly and easy to use source.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at jthompson@taii.com.