[Paleopsych] Nanotechnology could promote hydrogen economy

Paul J. Werbos, Dr. paul.werbos at verizon.net
Wed Mar 30 12:46:28 UTC 2005

At 07:16 AM 3/30/2005, Steve Hovland wrote:
>Contact: Carl Blesch
>cblesch at ur.rutgers.edu <mailto:cblesch at ur.rutgers.edu>
>732-932-7084 x616
>Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey <http://www.rutgers.edu>
>NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. - Say "nanotechnology" and people are likely
>to think of micro machines or zippy computer chips. But in a new twist,
>Rutgers scientists are using nanotechnology in chemical reactions that
>could provide hydrogen for tomorrow's fuel-cell powered clean energy

Upon careful analysis of this technological effort, I find it hard to 
silence the voice
which responds in only one word:

The only really serious scientific puzzles are : "How can an organism be so 
Is there any hope for survival for an endangered species which thinks this 
It is not obvious that there is even a qualitative difference in clarity of 
thinking between the
organisms that want to devote their lives to secure feeding tubes for 
corpses and
those who believe in the fundamentalist form of the hydrogen religion after 
all these years.
(Re the former, I had a kind of dream image last night of a kind of church 
singing a hymn praying to have their zombie back, and a smiling 
Frankenstein in the middle...)

Actually, when the purist hydrogen wave was shoved in our faces 
particularly hard a couple
of year ago, I did try to think hard about how to give it maximum possible 
benefit of the doubt.
And -- biased myself by the VERY heavy political pressures -- I did even 
discuss a bit about
the hope for nanotube-based hydrogen storage to solve ONE of the showstoppers,
in the initial version of my energy paper in the 2003 State of the Future.

But... there are all the others, and they don't add up.
For example, see the chicken and egg slide at
And there are those who pretend that thousand year eggs are real...

We don't HAVE a thousand years here.

Furthermore, cost and efficiency problems are overwhelming --
and, above all, there are three long-term alternatives all far more
sustainable, and near at hand. The purist version of hydrogen economy
is an effective rationalization for going to sleep, when we do have ways
to really solve our problems much closer at hand. One wonders who
supports this out of a desire to keep the rest of us asleep.
And indeed, there are certain folks who exploit other fundamentalist lunacies
in a similar cynical way.


There are some perverse nonlinear effects here. The whole is greater than 
the sum of the parts,
and the collective level of insanity is often greater than the sum of the 
insanities of
individual humans. The previous paragraph gives ONE example of how this works:
ambitious people with very narrow blinders (focusing so hard in one 
direction they ignore what's
coming to eat them out of left field) manipulating other socially 
responsive people who
trust the manipulators more than they should. In fact... the total failure 
of the
Clinton-Gore energy independence efforts reflect this same phenomenon, 
albeit in a slightly different way.
In fact,, I have a very vivid memory from 1994, walking out of Gore's house 
(after the first bug
White House PNGV conference)... and hearing an explanation from his key OSTP
on this... of their policy of maintaining a simple party line at all 
times... it was a very conscious
philosophy. Unlike some of the corpse-feeders, they were very very open to 
fun rambling discussions..
which is deceptive... because they were not really open to reality. Good 
vibes... well...
it reminds me of the issue people have raised about trying to balance the 
principles of love and
of truth, and about how people lose it if they  chose one over the other.

In the end, if humanity in general is too fuzzy to take out its mental 
trash on this issue,
on its own, I have a gut feeling that the problem will be taken care of 
anyway... at a price.
At a severe price.

But... the clock ticks...

>In a paper to be published April 20 in the Journal of the American Chemical
>Society, researchers at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey,
>describe how they make a finely textured surface of the metal iridium that
>can be used to extract hydrogen from ammonia, then captured and fed to a
>fuel cell. The metal's unique surface consists of millions of pyramids with
>facets as tiny as five nanometers (five billionths of a meter) across, onto
>which ammonia molecules can nestle like matching puzzle pieces. This sets
>up the molecules to undergo complete and efficient decomposition.
>"The nanostructured surfaces we're examining are model catalysts," said Ted
>Madey, State of New Jersey professor of surface science in the physics
>department at Rutgers. "They also have the potential to catalyze chemical
>reactions for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries."
>A major obstacle to establishing the "hydrogen economy" is the safe and
>cost-effective storage and transport of hydrogen fuel. The newly discovered
>process could contribute to the solution of this problem. Handling hydrogen
>in its native form, as a light and highly flammable gas, poses daunting
>engineering challenges and would require building a new fuel distribution
>infrastructure from scratch.
>By using established processes to bind hydrogen with atmospheric nitrogen
>into ammonia molecules (which are simply one atom of nitrogen and three
>atoms of hydrogen), the resulting liquid could be handled much like today's
>gasoline and diesel fuel. Then using nanostructured catalysts based on the
>one being developed at Rutgers, pure hydrogen could be extracted under the
>vehicle's hood on demand, as needed by the fuel cell, and the remaining
>nitrogen harmlessly released back into the atmosphere. The carbon-free
>nature of ammonia would also make the fuel cell catalyst less susceptible
>to deactivation.
>When developing industrial catalysts, scientists and engineers have
>traditionally focused on how fast they could drive a chemical reaction. In
>such situations, however, catalysts often drive more than one reaction,
>yielding unwanted byproducts that have to be separated out. Also,
>traditional catalysts sometimes lose strength in the reaction process.
>Madey says that these problems could be minimized by tailoring
>nanostructured metal surfaces on supported industrial catalysts, making new
>forms of catalysts that are more robust and selective.
>In the journal article, Madey and postdoctoral research fellow Wenhua Chen
>and physics graduate student Ivan Ermanoski describe how a flat surface of
>iridium heated in the presence of oxygen changes its shape to make uniform
>arrays of nanosized pyramids. The structures arise when atomic forces from
>the adjacent oxygen atoms pull metal atoms into a more tightly ordered
>crystalline state at temperatures above 300 degrees Celsius (or
>approximately 600 degrees Fahrenheit). Different annealing temperatures
>create different sized facets, which affect how well the iridium catalyzes
>ammonia decomposition. The researchers are performing additional studies to
>characterize the process more completely.
>The Rutgers researchers are conducting their work in the university's
>Laboratory for Surface Modification, which provides a focus for research
>into atomic-level phenomena that occur on the surface of solids. It
>involves the overlapping disciplines of physics, chemistry, materials
>science and engineering. Their work is supported in part by grants from the
>U. S. Department of Energy's Office of Basic Energy Sciences.
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