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Technology of the Future: Energy Sources

THE load shedding problem has led to some pretty hard times, but it is the hard times that bring the best of things. Even the ordinary people in the streets are talking about renewable energy, and many who are able are seriously considering putting up solar panels on their rooftops. Unfortunately, non-renewable energy sources are still the cheapest to go around. Well, we bring you news about two alternate energy supplies that don't get as much press as they deserve.

First up is Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, a nuclear technology. Now, many people have an irrational fear of anything with the word “nuclear” in it, thinking it might blow up any second; when in actuality nuclear energy is one of the safer energy sources that are around. The incidents of Cheronobyl has scared the bejeesus out of many, but even then that was because of faulty design. Modern nuclear power plants have excellent safety record compared to that of, say, coal or hydro.

Now thorium, as a naturally occurring element, is abundant. More so than uranium, in fact. We have thousands, if not millions of year's worth of thorium lying around, and I literally do mean lying around. It can be easily extracted from sand and in Europe, it costs only 2.2 euro per kg. This one kilogram of thorium can produce energy equivalent to one thousand cubic meters of liquid natural gas (that's CNG, but compressed to the point to make it liquid). You know how much that much LNG costs? U$ 173.

The LFTR approach is better than current nuclear reactors in every way. It cannot be easily used to make weapons and it cannot have meltdowns (because, ironically, the fuel is already melted). It produces thousands of times less in waste and the tiny amount of waste it does produce only stays radioactive for a couple hundred years. The technology is scalable from very small reactors (a few MW) to very large (10 GW). The reactor can also be used to burn up old long-lived nuclear waste and turn it into short-lived waste.

Like other nuclear reactors, this has many advantages over other energy technologies. This directly taps into the strong nuclear force, which is the most powerful and energy dense source of energy humanity can access (that's E in E=MC²). It uses very little land and emits no carbon dioxide or other pollutants during power generation.

Have I got your attention yet?

Next up, is something a little close to home: Solar powered electrolysis. Doesn't ring a bell? Well how about photosynthesis? Artificial photosynthesis?

Remember how I mentioned hard times bring the best of people? Well an interesting research project the stimulus bill funded involved using a special catalyst, carbon-dioxide and water to produce water and energy efficiently. How efficiently, you ask? What if I tell you that you can use just a bottle of water and four hours of sunlight to produce THIRTY kilowatt of power per hour! For reference, your entire house takes in just a little over a kilowatt a day.

Feel the Powah! ©

The catalysts are cheap, and so is the entire setup. So cheap, in fact, that the inventors have no trouble envisioning a day when every house will run on its own energy. The technology, however, is still in its infancy. So we'll just have to make do with splitting atoms into a million parts for now…

It's unfortunate that awareness about such massively useful technologies is so low. You might be thinking they must have some big problem, otherwise you'd have known about them. But really, some technologies just don't have any cons. That's what we call progress. The problem, I'll tell you, is this: technologies of the present have lobbyist; technologies of the future do not.

By Hussain M Elius


Book Review

Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks

Themes that revolve around the occult and the paranormal have their undeniable attraction. If you've ever swapped ghost stories during a power outage on a rainy night, you're bound to have felt the thrill, whether you believe in ghosts, or no. People actually fell for the hype of movies like Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project and managed to scare themselves by anticipating scary developments that never really occurred. Then there are a whole spectrum of fakes and conmen who prey on the superstitious and run off laughing into the sunset, clutching their cool millions.

Christopher Brookmyre steps into the shoes of his foul-mouthed, sneaky, nihilistic, but strangely endearing anti-hero, Jack Parlabane, to poke and probe into the charlatans that make a living off duping the gullible.

The story, told from multiple perspectives, talks about an academic research team testing the purported mystical powers of Gabriel Lafayette, a controversial celebrity psychic. Parlabane, famed skeptic, is roped in to add weight to the investigation, since the results could lead to the opening of a Science Chair at Kelvin University.

Jack, speaking from 'beyond the grave' hints that Lafayette and his sidekick 'Easy' Mathers are responsible for his tumble through a fourth-story window, and the story slowly unravels from here on. Lafayette and Easy have vocal supporters, such as furniture tycoon Bryant Lemuel, and tabloid journalist Jillian Noble, the latter being one of the two other narrative voices. Their biggest detractor is another voice of the dead, a Firefly-loving (no, really) geek, Michael Loftus, who sets out to debunk Lafayette's stage performances, only to end up as an obituary in the local paper. All this being laid out at the early stages, the story first swings back to relate the events that led to the two deaths, before rushing towards a nail-biting finish, where the reader is left wondering if the two villains will get away with their scam.

Where to begin describing the book? Brookmyre does a laudable job of capturing the different personalities of his three narrators. Jill's self-righteous credulity contrasts nicely with Michael's wry humour and Parlabane's scatological metaphors. The author presents these varying perspectives to bring to the public forum the debate about paranormal. With a nod to his penchant for magic, he compares the conjurers of old who claimed they were doing magic, to the new guard who present their artifice as 'science'. Through the voice of Michael Loftus, he neatly touches upon the theme of willing self-deception, quoting magician James Randi, who coined the phrase 'unsinkable rubber ducks' to describe the stubborn believers. Brookmyre wields a practised touch over the elements of mystery, the suspense, the action and the humour that somehow enhance, instead of distracting from the serious political and philosophical implications of the novel.

For those who feel that the author had gone soft after writing 'All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye”, this book is bound to change their minds.

By Sabrina F Ahmad
sabrina.ahmad@thedailystar.net


Nano tales: A May Day Special

Production
The raunchy music of “Jatrabala” waft from the overhead speakers to the product lines below. Humming along with the tune, Shyama inspects the green baby sweaters at the end of the line. She holds one up to check the seam. There's a tiny kick in her stomach. She puts a hand on her belly and smiles. “Soon, babu. Soon.”

Why do today…
Accounts Officer Akhlas was bored. Tired of filling in excel sheets, he opened minesweeper and clicked away lazily. He already had the best scores in the computer. After a few games of minesweeper and solitaire, he started playing hearts. The maternity leave record book lay open as he whiled away the afternoon. There is always a tomorrow.

Dinner call
Mr Khan sat down to eat alone; relieved to escape the melodramatic Hindi serial his wife was having for dinner. As he scooped rice on a plate, the phone rang. Bad news. Accounts Officer Akhlas and worker Shyama Khatun had been run over by a bus near the factory. He rushed out, dinner uneaten. There would be hell to pay now.

By Dr Who

 

 
 

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