Nuthin new under the sun,
I have been busy this week, trying to get things in order, as is the going trend all around from my gatherings of the spheres. Scrubbed out an 1100 gallon water tank, cut more wood for my pile and a couple of others, not much to write about. Nothing new under the sun.
And that statement led me into a line of thought last night about many things. There is NOTHING new under the sun. I recall a conversation with a friend from a few years back, about the new engine that some Japanese company was working on; one with variable valve timing and some other ‘new’ quirks. Nothing new. Hell, variable valve timing is as old as steam engines; the Corliss variable valve engine was designed in 1800’s for christ sake. The only ‘new’ aspect is that this is computer controlled where the Corliss had to be ‘tuned’ by a mechanic.
And there are many ‘new’ technologies out there that are rocking the world, that are really only variations on the old, typically using the computer to handle the menial aspects of the work. 3D printers are one that is up and coming that will start having a profound impact in our world soon, and is now, seeing how there are lawbreakers lawmakers intending to pass legislation to regulate those, and how they can enforce patent law when anyone and their sister can make whatever they can get a CAD file on.
And that is not new either. Corporate types have been buying up lawmakers for decades in an attempt to keep the power they have in their hands. Can’t have some little upstart taking their money out of their hands, now can they? They can and have used that power to silence and shutdown small companies that have shown promise. Sometimes to the tune of muffling a new technology that could break their hold on things. Battery companies that had a ‘breakthrough’ in design, bought and broken up by a major oil company. Some even bankrupted through IRS red-flagging that ended up being ‘a mistake’. Etc etc. It wouldn’t take long to dig around and find many more examples.
Here is one that I heard about. I don’t know all the details but the company showed a lot of promise. Imagine if you will a valve design for IC engines. One that would improve the thermal efficiency of that engine by 65% and power output by 85%. It wasn’t really ‘new’ seeing how the Corliss (remember that engine, it may make a come back) used similar valve. The valve is a rotary valve. Using modern materials (modern in the way they are utilized, not new to the world) cast ceramics, they were able to make a valve train that was direct acting. The closest design was the Desmo valves used by Ducati, that used a dual cam to lift the valve back in place after being opened by a different cam. Those engines were capable of 10000 rpms: this, in a reciprocating engine. The poppet valve is the weak link in high-speed engines. The new rotary valve doesn’t have a cam, as the valve is driven the same way the cam would be, and the opening and closing of it is controlled the same way the lobes of the cam would be. Imagine what kind of rpms this design could hit. And, Less cooling of the head is needed as the air flow through such is much higher. Better sealing means higher compression ratios, and less drag on the valve train means less need of lubrication. All of that adds up to higher efficiency,
The real question is this; Why would the manufacturers of automobiles want such a thing when we are still putting out push-rod engines on a daily basis? Why would the Oil companies want a more efficient design on the roads?
Obviously, they don’t. Breakthroughs like that are typically squashed. Tucker is a great example of that squashing. Later, (usually after patents have expired) they will leak the new design into manufacture, but at a rate that doesn’t cause lots of retooling of what they have in place. I can understand the not wanting to retool; that can get real expensive, really fast, and I do understand trying to keep profits maximized. (that is why a mom and pop, brick and mortar, fabrication shop can’t make a living on anything but custom one offs at a high price. Each piece is unique due to the fixed tooling they have.)
The problem arises where the technology is an answer to today’s issues of energy needs vs production. Take those batteries for example. We have the means to provide large amounts of electricity through solar and wind. Other technologies are forthcoming, but there is a weak link in the ‘green energy’ area. Storage. We can collect multiple Kw of electricity but we have no way of storing it for later release. Our current grid is set up for On-demand usage and green energy doesn’t work in that fashion. A better storage container is needed. Our current ‘storage’ of high energy on demand is in petroleum products. So far, we have nothing that beats the energy supply of gasoline and diesel for stored energy. Batteries can provide a lot, but not nearly the same amount in comparable weight. Most of our technologies have been in more efficient use of that stored energy, not in the storage medium itself. The gasoline we burn today is no more efficient than what we were burning 20 years ago. The engines are only slightly more so, but at the cost of more weight they are hauling around with all of our toys and safety devices: Zero gain. In addition, the controls are so much more complex, that most people are not able to contemplate basic maintenance (and the manufacturers are trying to make that harder as well, with special tools just to do an oil change (!) on certain vehicles.) What makes it really sad is that the basic concept is the same “suck, squeeze, bang, blow” The only real changes are made in only sections of that concept. A little here, a little there, add up to better operations, but at the cost of user serviceability.
How does one break away from all of that. How does one gain self sufficiency in a world designed and ran by corporate interests. And assuming one CAN break away from that infrastructure, how does one KEEP that self sufficiency when the corporate types start to ‘legislate’ away that ability. These are the types of questions that keep me up late into the night.
Believe me, I am no Luddite. I like my toys, I like my labor saving devices and my computers. I even like my smart phone when I have good signal. But I would like to see the world in a simpler state of grace, where people are more in-tune with their needs and ability to provide for it, without having to depend on big business to do so.
I would like to see someone design a battery that is much more efficient in its operation. One that is capable of “one kilowatt in, one kilowatt out” Not the 4 kw in, 1kw out that we now have. I would like to see an engine so efficient that 90% of its thermal potential is used (just like we now have with electric motors)not exhausted as waste.
There are a lot of things I would like to see, but I am a realist; I know that I won’t see a majority of them in my lifetime (like a good sci-fi novel, there just won’t be that much improvement in one lifetime) I can try to implement some of those ideas into my living though. I try to get off grid, not because I think the grid is dangerous to the environment, but because I think there is a better way to provide for ones self without the danger of being umbilicalled to a system that is essentially 100 years old.
Maybe this post is meaningless to some, maybe it put a bug in someone’s head about where they are in the world and what they can do to ‘get free’. Ain’t nuthin’ new under the sun, if you look hard enough.
No answers either: those questions are ones that inspire me to keep moving ahead on my little world. Maybe they can inspire you as well.