It is not the first time a “yeah whatever” concept I use in a story – for background enrichment purposes – pops up somewhere a bit later.
Working with Paul Harland on a never finished story somewhere in 2002 one of the first pages referred to people leasing their forehead for (removable) advertising tattoos. Advertising wants to be anywhere possible. And it is a simple way to earn money if you have none, was the line of thought there. Only to find a press release a year later mentioning that same concept.
This Saturday, March 26, I was inspired to pick up writing again and dive deeper into one of the characters used in another story that is waiting finalization.
The protagonist in the story is a project manager with a law degree, working in the field of Intellectual property, killing companies or defending companies from being killed. Her first client via the company that employs her is creating fuel cells, used to store solar energy for transport and later use. The main target group of the startup are companies having solar farms in the Sahara.
Line of thought
“So, yeah, I need this startup to do something. Let’s make it something with solar energy. Lets use the solar farms in the Sahara, based on earlier assumptions. So if so, what is relevant? Converting solar energy to electricity, transport it over cables and then store it is less efficient than converting solar energy directly into something storeable. Like splitting water into the base components: hydrogen and oxygen. Water is everywhere and both can be stored in fuel cells and used to create energy.”
It was a “yeah whatever” stream of thoughts, based on some vague notions on solar energy and the concepts of fuel cells used for hydrogen cars. Once I had something that seemed plausible and reasonable as a motive for a startup in the near future, I typed it down. It is like: “yeah, why not use a green lamp in this scene?”.
Here is the part (in its raw form) I wrote Saturday after finishing the line of thought:
It was some setup to store energy more efficiently. Made specifically for the solar plants in the Sahara. I had briefly studied the official documents and did not get anything of it. Bottom line was: solar energy was used to separate seawater into hydrogen, oxygen and some other components and oxygen and hydrogen were stored in their pure form for later use. Since we still had not cracked Tesla’s dream of instant and lossless wireless transportation of energy, doing it this way to get it form “S” (Sahara) to “E” (Europe) made some sense.
The main and unverified assumption made here is that it is cheaper to transport fuel cells than running power cables over long distances. The reference to Tesla is directly related to RASL by Jeff Smith (“Bone”), which I read the week before and is quite a cool story.
These are two quotes from a press release as found at Engadget, published there March 28 and found by me today on March 29;
A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades,” said Daniel Nocera, Ph.D., who led the research team. “We believe we have done it. The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” he said. “One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology.”
About the shape of a poker card but thinner, the device is fashioned from silicon, electronics and catalysts, substances that accelerate chemical reactions that otherwise would not occur, or would run slowly. Placed in a single gallon of water in a bright sunlight, the device could produce enough electricity to supply a house in a developing country with electricity for a day, Nocera said. It does so by splitting water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen.
The hydrogen and oxygen gases would be stored in a fuel cell, which uses those two materials to produce electricity, located either on top of the house or beside it.
It creeped me out.
“Storing” might be changed in “transported” as the logistical challenges of moving physical objects from “A” to “B” in an energy and time-efficient manner are quite big, never ending and provides enough continuous room for startups to use as a niche to jump into.
Now taken that these claims about these “Artificial leaves” are not a hype, we have something mind blowing here. “Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” states the press release. Imagine that with the claim that: “Placed in a single gallon of water in a bright sunlight, the device could produce enough electricity to supply a house in a developing country with electricity for a day” (see the quoted press release in this article).
Why the Sahara?
I used the Sahara as it is – for human use – a completely useless stretch of land. Except for the fact that it is washed by sunlight day to day to day to day. Due to that, it is one of the largest potential generators of energy.
Having the option to produce local energy is cute. But to be able to mass-produce / mass-charge hydrogen/oxygen fuel cells changes the game. With pumps pumping seawater from the ocean to the solar plants in the Sahara, fueled by the Hydrogen/Oxygen that is farmed from that seawater, you can create something close to a perpetuem mobile (yes: the sun is an external energy source, so we cheat a bit).
Long term issues
Fuse two Hydrogen molecules with one Oxygen and you have water (H2O). Do not fuse them, for instance by using either the Oxygen or Hydrogen in another chemical process to generate/release energy, and you slowly drain water resources as the stuff you took (water) is not returned by the process.