The recent increase in oil prices has caught the attention of nearly every American that drives or owns an automobile. According to a 1994 report from the U.S. Department of Energy, transportation accounts for 27 percent of the energy consumed and 65 percent of the petroleum used in the United States. Though fuel consumption per vehicle-mile has been reduced by about 40 percent from 1970 levels, the vehicle-miles traveled have more than doubled since 1970. Since 1960, the annual growth rate of the number of vehicles registered has outpaced the annual growth rate of the world's population by about 2 to 1.
The significant increase in the world's dependence on oil over the past 40 years is cause for great concern. Corresponding to this high usage of energy, the transportation industry is said to also be responsible for two-thirds of national CO emissions, and more than one-fifth of NOx and other particulate emissions. Given the EPA's "no holds barred" tactics to implement their emissions standards, alternative fuel sources, such as fuel cells for low-emission vehicles, are gaining acceptance as future energy sources not only for industrial purposes, but also in home heating. Companies such as Proton Energy Systems, Inc., Rocky Hill, CT, and Plug Power, Inc., Latham, NY, are involved in the commercial production of proton exchange membrane (PEM) devices for hydrogen fuel and electricity generation. These devices are currently the most "accepted" alternative fuel sources for the future.
Through the years, there have been many attempts by inventors to develop and market alternative sources of "free energy." Many of these discoveries and devices, developed by such notables as Nikola Tesla, Moray King, Thomas Bearden, Floyd Sweet, Roger Billings, and Pons and Fleischmann, are described in Jeanne Manning's book entitled The Coming Energy Revolution: The Search for Free Energy (Avery Publishing Group, Garden City Park, New York, 1996, ISBN 0-89529-713-2). These devices are said to tap into an unknown and unexplained source of energy and produce more power output than they receive as power input. Many of these have been justifiably labeled as hoaxes or discredited within the confines of accepted laws of physics. My problem with this confinement is that what we have learned about physics over the last 500 years is just the tip of the iceberg in our effort to understand our universe. Many of the boundaries set by conventional Newtonian and Einsteinian physics have been verified, yet there remains a significant body of knowledge that is either untapped or not part of public knowledge. Mankind could suffer greatly from the all too human flaws of conceit and complacency.
While many inventors of "free energy" devices have been labeled as kooks or crackpots, their efforts do not go unnoticed. In many cases, their work has been stolen, destroyed, ignored, forgotten, buried under piles of bureaucratic red tape, or restricted on the basis of national security. Many inventors have encountered numerous legal difficulties and several claim to have received death threats.
It is obvious that restricting the knowledge and use of alternative energy devices is a major concern for those with large investments in our current sources of energy such as hydropower, nuclear power, electric power, petroleum and natural gas. In fact, much of the interference claimed by inventors of alternative power sources can be linked to protecting the interests of energy investors. The rapid development and distribution of alternative free energy devices could destroy economies worldwide. In more realistic terms, it is safe to say that investors just want to ensure they get their cut of any profits that may arise from the invention of such devices. While there are some benefits with regard to efficiency, fuel cells are generally accepted because they need a source of hydrocarbon fuel to generate output power and somewhere along the line someone is getting their cut by supplying the fuel. A "self-sustaining" fuel cell would significantly disrupt the market.
A time will soon come when alternative energy sources will be required to sustain the human population. Investors should begin to gradually shift their financial resources to support research and development into new sources of energy. These "new sources" do not include eco-energy sources (solar or wind) because the capture, containment and distribution of the required amounts of energy, along with other corresponding negative effects on the environment (see Federal Triangle, October 1997), render these technologies unreasonable for mass usage by the world's population. However, considering that the world is 70% water, further research into fuel cells, hydrogen, cold fusion, and magnetic power devices is certainly warranted.