Murray Walsh: How to save the planet without going nuts, with emission-free energy system



We have developed most of the features needed for creating and distributing electricity with no emissions and we have one form of emission free transportation fuel in hydrogen.  Electric vehicles (yeah, we’ll call’em EVs from here on) are well into development and are probably going to be cheaper and safer than hydrogen-fueled vehicles.  

I’m not much of a motorhead but the rap against EVs for being boring is just not true for all of them.  Yes, the Nissan Leaf is pretty much a snore, sport-wise, but the Tesla?  That’s a whole different story. They accelerate as fast as any performance car and faster than most.

There is more to the EV phenomenon than just zero emissions. They are quiet. We are seeing larger EVs too, like buses. Soon there will be trucks too. Imagine a city street scene where there is lots of traffic but the only sound you hear is wheels on pavement, wand when traffic is slow, you won’t even hear the tire noise.  

When EVs started becoming a thing, I worried that a city street full of them would have an ozone smell or that it would smell like a toy electric train set but that has not been the case.  There’s no sound and no smell. That sounds cool to me. I hope it does to you too. Just to round out the transportation side, there are at least five small electric airplanes in development, some flying cars and even zero-emission ocean-going cargo ships.

We have talked about one method of carbon-based non-emitting power generation and there are more under study.  The NETPower company, the inventor and marketer of their oxy-combustion power system, has five plants in development around North America in addition to the previously-mentioned 50-megawatt demonstration plant in Texas.  Their system can be used in an existing power plant with modifications and does not require any external water.  

We have been talking about the four carbon-based fuel sources: the three called fossil fuels (because they are old carbon found underground) and fourth, traditional biomass, all of which give up their energy via combustion.  There is, thanks to modern society, a fifth source of fuel and that is emissions from landfills and the high methane content found those emissions.  

There is all manner of useful products and materials that could be had if landfills were mined and processed.  In Scandinavia, solid waste is incinerated which generates heat that is used to make electricity and the waste ash, a metallic stuff called “clinkers” have industrial use.  At the moment, this incineration process does generate some emissions but there is every reason to expect that newer plants will not.

A couple of caveats before we finish:

  • I don’t see commercial or military airplanes as running on hydrogen in the near future.  There are too many complications and risks so let’s just take that off the table.
  • The previously mentioned traditional biomass is the only source of energy for space heat and cooking in many parts of the world.  We can’t expect people who depend on biomass to do something else.   Eventually, if they are willing, third world countries will be electrified as modern technology expands.

A good offset for jet fuel and traditional biomass would be to finally get a handle on wildfires and there are ideas out there for doing so and I would be glad to explore them in a future column but for now, let’s stick to the big picture.

So how do we get to this glorious whisper quiet emission free future? Well, the first step is to stop yelling at each other over climate change.  Hear me, climate activists: it is not necessary that climate skeptics believe you.   Skeptics: you don’t have to require that activists see the light before sitting down with them to solve problems.  What all parties need to do is agree on reducing carbon emissions, for whatever reason, noble or practical, that suits them.

What is also required of all parties is acceptance of the need for carbon-based fuels for the next couple of generations.  Fusion-based electrical generation might become practical in the next 20 years but it will take a lot longer than that to implement it around the world. 

What else does our “strategy” need to go forward? A stated goal would be useful. I would offer something like this: 

A world-wide conversion to emission-free electrical generation and transportation.   

I invite the reader to suggest variations but the general theme should be to set this as a goal.  Note that I am proposing that the goal be expressed as a positive aspiration that nobody is likely to oppose.   This leaves some carbon-emitting activities out of the issue.  I will not propose a ban on the use of barbeque charcoal nor a ban on campfires.  Doing so makes enemies and invites ridicule.  To be successful, the goal has to be a positive expression of will.

This goal has to be understood and accepted by society.  An expression of will by governments is the typical way such acceptance is demonstrated.  The OPEC oil embargo in the early 1970s led to creation of the U.S. Department of Energy and the national goal of U.S. energy independence.  It seemed like we did every thing possible to interfere with achieving that goal but we finally did, just a few years ago.

We can ask our cities and states to adopt this goal as well as national governments around the world.  I would pray that this goal does not become a “thing” that is associated with liberals or conservatives. Yes, the first publication of this series was offered and accepted by Must Read Alaska and there are some media-based reasons for that but I hope it will be re-published in other media and adopted by all elements of society.

Finally, we need a name for this undertaking.  Again, I would welcome suggestions from others.

If there are lots of adherents to this approach, we might end up just calling it “The Plan!”  I hope you are intrigued enough to get on board but whatever your reaction, thank you for reading.

Murray Walsh is part of the extended MRAK writing staff in Juneau.


  1. I detect a definite and dedicated acolyte here in the Myth of Progress. Unfortunately, his dreams are only that. We are on the downslope, civilizationally, and there is NEVER going to be a fleet of electric vehicles, at least not more than a very small fraction of the size of today’s vehicle fleet, due to simple resource constraints and limits. And yes, we DO face limits and constraints.
    While the radical extremist so-called “leftists” like to believe that merely wishing (or mandating) something can make it so, that form of self-delusion is not limited to such people. Many on the so-called right are equally deluded, only about other things, such as the Myth of Progress as we read here.

    • Anyone who believes that modern society couldn’t collapse, and suddenly at that, is badly misguided. Just watch what happens when the power goes out in a large city for several days.

      What we have built is fragile, and becomes more so as population increases. Civilizations have gone extinct in the past, and our current successes are no guarantee that ours won’t, too.

      But in reality we have no choice other than to try to advance, to solve problems as they arise, and to apply technology to that effect. Seven billion people can’t go back to stone, horse-and-buggy, and whale oil.

      • I agree with you here, Whidbey. And you are absolutely correct, seven billion people cannot go back to stone, whale oil and horse-and-buggy. But one billion maybe can, and probably will.
        I do not say that lightly, but for years now I have become more and more convinced that we are heading into a new Dark Age, similar in some respects to Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. We will not see the full decline, nor probably will our great-grandchildren, but as much as I hate to say it, I cannot deny that our decline as a civilization is not only progressing, but accelerating.

        • If you’re interested, read “The Long Emergency”, by James Kuntsler. He makes the argument that current population levels are made possible only by riding on a wave of petroleum-based energy that it is unsustainable in the long run. He may very well be proven correct, but we won’t know for another 100 years or more. As a grandfather, I surely hope that he’s wrong and that current standards of living are not only maintained, but improved. This is the technological challenge of our times. Whether we can rise to it, indeed, if the laws of physics will allow it, remains to be seen.

        • I agree Jefferson. All anyone has to to do to confirm what you have said it to listen to the quarterly World Economic Forum meetings. Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab has mentioned on many occasions about the need for population decline, climate control and corporate global control with unelected billionaires making laws and policies as to world affairs.

  2. Electric cars? Wishful thinking!! Installing the 75. Amp 220 volt service in a typical home, inordinately expensive since the average US home easily gets by on 100 amps. 3-5 k $ to upgrade our home and another 3- 500, $ to install that branch circuit and receptacle. Needs recharge after 100-200 miles!! No thanks!!

    • Thank goodness we can just plug ’em into the 110v outlets that we all have! My ‘iPhone on wheels’ just charges away each night, like my phone or laptop, running up my electric bill by a whopping $15-20 each month. No $40/weekly fill ups, no oil changes, no repairs at all, $10K purchase price, 85,000 miles and going strong. Yes, it’s time for the ole gas horses to be tied up to the hitchin’ post. The words ‘no brainer’ come to mind.

      • The stone age did not end for lack of stone.

        Electrics have so many advantages, and the current shortcomings will be ironed out over time as technology improves. I can’t wait to buy one.

  3. In 1967 I did a science project on the conversion of society to a hydrogen based economy. The solution was simple: massive rows of nuclear reactors producing at 100% 24/7 with the excess energy used to produce H2, which would then energize fuel cells and our lives. The solution was simple then and the solution is at hand now (but the will is not). We don’t need pie-in-the-sky idealism with noisy protests, just common sense and the technology is now.
    And by definition, biomass energy is carbon neutral. Grow the trees and harvest the sunlight captured there. It is just a matter of a fire tonight or allowing rot over ten years. It all goes back to CO2 the same way.

  4. There is nothing non-emitting about NETPower. An examination of their process flow diagram indicates that the normal product of hydrocarbon combustion, CO2, is produced in quantity and is exported from the generation facility. Unless sequestered for the long-term, this CO2 will eventually find its way into the atmosphere (i.e. when people open their soda bottles, or when the dry ice made from it sublimates). Just because it doesn’t enter the atmosphere at the point of production doesn’t mean that it’s non-emitting. In many ways, the process is quite similar to regular combustion processes, when augmented with flue gas CO2 capture via an amine process or other means. The author implies that NETPower is a key to CO2 emission-free energy. This is technically incorrect, and the system is not much of an improvement over conventional systems when outfitted with existing CO2 capture technologies.

    If you’re really interested in carbon-free caseload power production, checkout the ITER project in southern France, that will, if successful, bring us much closer to the Holy Grail of clean, unlimited, fusion-based power.

  5. Skeptic here. Murray, you should have taken my suggestion to look up I love your ideal of people laying down their bipolar swords long enough to talk to each other – but human nature defies your ideal. True believers on both sides are not going to be quiet and work together – it is too important to them to be right. The other factor is cost – priced a Tesla lately? Even IF we get to the point where scale brings the cost per unit down, we’re still talking about a lot of environmentally hazardous activities to create the “quiet, non-polluting vehicle”, producing worse conditions than burning fossil fuels. Most people will buy the most cost-effective (cheapest) vehicle that meets their transportation needs. Maybe America can afford this pipe dream, but most of the world is still crying for cheap energy – the most cost effective is fossil fuels.

    • Yeah, what’s up with that “look at me loudness”? I’ve never understood it. Nor have I understood the thumping sub-woofer crowd. Why are they both always screaming “LOOK AT ME!”?

    • Next time I see you Andrew in traffic I’m going to “roll coal” just to trigger you anger reflexes even more.

    • Stop crashing your Subaru in the ditch while texting and you wouldn’t have to call on Midget Towing Service to Power Stroke your a$$ out.

  6. Murray, I have to say your polyanna optimism is cute. But for me, with no pfd in sight, it’s gonna be wood, wood and more wood all winter long and I hope that makes the fascist hordes gnaw their fists.

    • So big government and social relief programs are bad, but you need a handout from them to heat your home this winter? So much from rugged Alaskan self-reliance!

        • When the gov’t hands out money to anyone that can fog a mirror, it’s a social relief program. If you depend on it to heat your home you’re arguing against yourself.

          • The PFD is revenue that the oil companies agreed to share with the Alaskan Resident, not the people’s tax money reappropriated by politicians to be given back to “less fortunate” ( and I use that term loosely) people in the form of welfare. Just because the government has now deeply and illegally (thanks to Walker) involved itself with the PFD doesn’t mean it’s a hand out. It is money, rightly earned by being a resident according to the Alaskan Constitution. A dividend is not a welfare check and if it is, any investment you have or dividend earnings on your 401k/ retirement earnings should just be given away as a social relief program, especially if you have to rely on it in your retirement years to heat your house.

        • Great, but you still can’t get through the winter without free money, however you want to rationalize it?

          Heat thyself, Fire.

          • Dividends Brian, come from investments you make. And you have likely invested nothing that would earn you a PFD, aside from being in Alaska. It’s a handout to placate the population.

      • I think it is more about poking people in the eye that have the typical “do as I say instead of as I do” attitude. They can break rules and take things away as they make no sacrifice. For example, if government vehicles went all EV, that wouldn’t be government’s sacrifice. That would be a sacrifice taken from taxpayers and the future generations that have to deal with the debt, as the government currently wants to take money out of our PFD to deal with their lack of accountability. And for the record, he isn’t depending on the government to heat his home. He said he’s heating it with wood by himself. You know, he’s self reliant and using wood that he might have gone out to get himself in the “rugged” woods. So ya, that’s the very definition of rugged Alaskan self-reliance.

      • Oh Dawg, it just never ends with folks like you. Yes, there is the rugged Alaskan who does for themselves and the fund, along with the dividends were designed to give the residents a piece of the investment pie to do as they wish; which, if you look at it logically is a very independent thing to do. But, politics now and will always pit us against each other. Those that believe that having a piece of the investment pie for our own use as a trade off for not having mineral rights and those that believe the investment pie needs to go 100% into the government. What’s illogical are those that purport to be “for the people” but against allowing those same people to invest/spend/do as they wish with their piece. Tragic to say the least.

  7. Well! If I ever need a car I will see if Electric vehicle is for me, which probably won’t be for another 10 to maybe 15 years. Maybe by this time EVs will design convertibles.

  8. I don’t need to be a climatologist to remember the politically funded funatical predictions of sea levels rising by now and I don’t need to be a climatologist to look out the window. The sky isn’t falling and I’m not agreeing to drastic measures to reduce Co2 emissions just because some self righteous arrogant professors can never admit it when they are wrong. But I am willing to talk about keeping the planet beautiful with us on it and developing it. I am always willing to have that conversation. And I’m willing to talk about the MAGNITUDE of the effects of man made Co2 in the atmosphere if people are willing to recognize that there has never been a consensus on the magnitude, nor should there be, especially for predicting anything more than a few years from now. I would love to see the wisdom, maturity, and humility to realize there is no reason to claw at each other when trying to predict the climate 50 years from now unless somebody is so sure of themselves that they think their prediction should be heralded as fact. That’s hubris, and those type of people are charlatans and shouldn’t be respected, in my opinion, in any scientific community because what they really want is a fight where they get to puff out their chest, or they’re delusional zealots and won’t be happy until everyone is as freaked out as they are, which doesn’t sound very happy at all.
    But maturity leading the world in this day and age is a pipe dream. This is just going to be push and pull all the way until the end and the end won’t be the planet exponentially warming until we are all dead. The end will be fascism going too far and a global revolution.

    • Justin’s comment is well made. The fact is, the question has never been about whether the climate is changing. Rather it is about how sensitive world climate is to man’s influence. The answer to that will never be clear because science has been politicized…. it is now driven by money.

  9. Yeah, whatever. EV’s aren’t “carbon free or neutral” by any means. Any pie-in-the-sky ideas, weather on paper or in production will NEVER EVER be “affordable” to the common man. Power companies will just pass the expense on to the end user and it will ALWAYS be more than what you pay now, even adjusting for inflation. Here’s the real truth/idea: Let the inventors, producers and market do it’s thing (without tax “incentives”) while the rest of us continue our lives with affordable energy.

    • I am convinced that the push for electric vehicles is, at its heart, a push to eliminate the ability to own and operate a personally-owned vehicle from the vast majority. It is just another part of the globalist’s totalitarian “Great Reset”.

  10. Up until Obama’s administration, technology moved at the speed technology moved, driven by monetary incentives and political policies paralleled it. Now we have political policies that are forcing technology that is not ready at a cost that will economically destroy our nation.
    A decade ago an electric lawn mower was just a novelty. It was not as reliable as the cost would lead you to believe. Run time vs charge time made it ineffective as was the duration of power. Electric power tools were just becoming reliable and now are very much relied on. Technology is working but it requires time, time to develop and time for people to trust the cost benefit. All of this is driven by capitalism, not government policies. Most people want a clean, reliable source of energy, but it must be cost effective. Government policies now are increasing the demand beyond reasonable levels of cost effectiveness and reliability in an unjustified effort to save the planet from an unproven doom.
    The problem is that our government is no longer pro capitalism and pro entrepreneur. They despise the small businesses class and their market of ideas which can be seen through the excessive regulations placed on them. They are moving towards big corporate run globalism which steals the efforts of creativity from the people and the incentives to climb the ladder of economic classes. The middle class stands in their way of their total control. All marketable items will be created and sold by the elite class at a non competitive cost and at a much lower level of availability. If the elites get their way, no lower or middle class person will ever be able climb the ladder of success to be monetarily wealthy. It is just another step in the efforts of putting people in chains.

  11. How soon do we forget the TEXAS travesty of the winter of Jan 2021. Up here in AK it isn’t going to be worth going to electric cars.. I hate being stranded out in the middle of NOWHERE with no way to get to civilization somewhere..

    • Sorry, that was about windmill power not Electricity.. I’m against electric cars due to again that stopping every 80 miles to recharge. You spend your whole trip on recharging hours. The cars do not hold a charge long enough to make a decent trip.

      • Ya, for me there are only 3 scenarios:
        1. I’m a bleeding heart and want to show the world how eco conscious I am so I can “lead by example”. Regardless of how impractical it might be, I am choosing to make the sacrifice for the good of all of humanity and start the moment so people that think like me can start to force everyone to do as I do. In other words, I’m smug as hell.
        2. I love the acceleration and with the government subsidies, a Tesla is the cheapest fastest car you can get.
        3. I already own a fossil fuel vehicle that has a long rang and is incredibly fast to refuel for long road trips and I just want an EV for my daily commutes.
        Only number 2. I can relate with. My family owns two vehicles and they both need to be capable of traveling all over Alaska. Getting a third vehicle just to have an EV for commutes seems to be a waste of not only money but resources too. It really is a lot like California banning plastic straws when 90% of all plastic and garbage comes from rivers flowing out of 3rd world countries that would love to have the same sanitation services that California has. Oh, I know what we should do to clean up the oceans and stop climate change. It’s way cheaper and just as effective. We should all wear bracelets!

  12. One thought about EV’s – where does all the copper and rare earth minerals used to produce the EV’s and EV batteries, come from? Mining. And mines use heavy machinery that run on fossil fuels. Currently, how is the electricity produced to charge the EV’s? Most power plants are run on fossil fuels. These things seems to be always forgotten when talking about EV’s

  13. This four part series was eye opening. People should know a little bit about what they are writing before writing a four part series. I’m sure Mr. Walsh is a great guy, but he knows very little if anything about the subject matter. Why we would follow “The Plan!” when there isn’t a plan makes no sense. If we just want to create slogans, we can do that ad nauseum…I’m going to go with “Get a Plan!”

  14. Interesting that the UK has painted itself into an energy corner with policy makers contemplating nationalization of fossil energy producers because they are not helping enough to bridge the gaps between demand and “green” production. Not to mention their proposals to remotely turn off vehicle charging stations in homes during peak demand hours this coming winter. And is warning of some staple food supply challenges. And is rehabbing fossil fuel generation facilities. Might not hear about all that at the next climate summit. Seems there might be a learning opportunity about how to stop steering for the ditches and appreciate the fossil fuels we have while we look for options that make sense. Did I mention the recent study showing the observed tropical troposphere temps are still way lower than any of the models predicted after several decades? Seems like we have more time than we thought.

    • Like the severity of COVID -19, global climate doom and gloom is more fear mongering to manipulate the people into following mandates that they would normally not have followed in the numbers they needed.

  15. The Inconvenient Truth About Electricity
    Electricity is a specialty product. It’s not appropriate for transportation. It looks cheap at this time, but that’s because it was designed for toasters, not transportation. Increase the amount of wiring and infrastructure by a factor of a thousand, and it’s expensive..
    Electricity does not scale up properly to the transportation industry due to its miniscule nature. Sure, a whole lot can be used for something, but at extraordinary expense.
    Using electricity as an energy source requires two energy transformation steps, while using petroleum requires only one. With electricity, the original energy, usually chemical energy, must be transformed into electrical energy; and then the electrical energy is transformed into the kinetic energy of motion. With an internal combustion engine, the only transformation step is the conversion of chemical energy to kinetic energy in the combustion chamber.
    The difference matters, because there is a lot of energy lost every time it is transformed or used. Electrical energy is harder to handle and loses more in its handling.
    The use of electrical energy requires it to move into and out of the space medium (aether) through induction. Induction through the aether medium should be referred to as another form of energy, but physicists sandwich it into the category of electrical energy. Going into and out of the aether through induction loses a lot of energy.
    Another problem with electricity is that it loses energy to heat production due to resistance in the wires. A short transmission line will have 20 percent loss built in, and a long line will have 50 percent loss built in. These losses are integrated because reducing the loss by half would require twice as much metal in the wires. Wires have to be optimized for diameter and strength, which means doubling the metal would be doubling the number of transmission lines.
    High voltage transformers can achieve 90 percent efficiency with expensive designs, but household level voltages achieve only 50 percent efficiency. Electric motors can get up to 60 percent efficiency, but only at optimum rpms and load. For autos, they average 25 percent efficiency. Gasoline engines get 25 percent efficiency with old-style carburetors and 30 percent with fuel injection, though additional loses can occur.
    Applying this brilliant engineering to the problem yields this result: A natural gas electric generating turbine gets 40 percent efficiency. A high voltage transformer gets 90 percent efficiency. A household level transformer gets 50 percent efficiency. A short transmission line gets 20 percent loss, which is 80 percent efficiency. The total is 40 percent x 90 percent x 50 percent x 80 percent = 14.4 percent of the energy recovered before the electrical system does something similar to the gasoline engine in the vehicle. Some say the electricity performs a little better in the vehicle, but it’s not much.
    Electricity appears to be easy to handle sending it through wires. But it is the small scale that makes it look cheap. Scaling it up takes a pound of metal for so many electron-miles. Twice as much distance means twice as much metal. Twice as many amps means twice as much metal. Converting the transportation system into an electrical based system would require scaling up the amount of metal and electrical infrastructure by factors of hundreds or thousands. Where are all those lines going to go? They destroy environments. Where is that much natural gas going to come from for the electrical generators? There is very little natural gas in existence when using it for a large-scale purpose. Natural gas must be used with solar and wind energy, because only it can be turned on and off easily for backup.
    One of the overwhelming facts about electric transportation is the chicken and egg phenomenon. Supposedly, a lot of electric vehicles will create an incentive to create a lot of expensive infrastructure. There are a lot of reasons why none of the goals can be met for such an infrastructure. The basic problem is that electricity will never be appropriate for such demanding use as general transportation, which means there will never be enough chickens or eggs to balance the demand. It’s like trying to improve a backpack to such an extent that it will replace a pickup truck. The limitations of muscle metabolism are like the limitations of electrical energy.
    Electrons are not a space-saving form of energy. Electrons have to be surrounded by large amounts of metal. It means electric motors get heavy and large. When cruising around town, the problems are not so noticeable. But the challenges of ruggedness are met far easier with internal combustion engines. Engineers say it is nice to get rid of the drive train with electric vehicles. But in doing so, they add clutter elsewhere, which adds weight, takes up space and messes up the suspension system. Out on the highway, the suspension system is the most critical factor.
    These problems will prevent electric vehicles from replacing petroleum vehicles for all but specialty purposes. The infrastructure needed for electric vehicles will never exist when limited to specialty purposes. This would be true even with the perfect battery which takes up no space and holds infinite charge.

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