October 18, 2010

Super Soaker inventor poised to revolutionize solar power

This is exciting news. Lonnie Johnson, the inventor of the Super Soaker, which came to be the most popular toy in America, is doing groundbreaking things with his company Johnson Electro-Mechanical Systems (JEMS). From Wikipedia:
JEMS has developed the Johnson Thermo-Electrochemical Converter System (JTEC), which was listed by Popular Mechanics as one of the top 10 inventions of 2008, and has potential applications including solar power plants and ocean thermal power generation. It converts thermal energy to electrical energy using a non-steam process which works by pushing hydrogen ions through two membranes, with significant advantages over alternative systems, and is claimed to be highly scalable.

We are all indebted to genius inventors with groundbreaking, and sometimes wacky ideas. Civilization as we know it wouldn't be the same without them. Inventors are way more important for society than politicians, or economists, or preachers, or anybody, really. I have more faith and trust in Lonnie Johnson and others like him than in Barack Obama and others like him.

Super Soaker inventor poised to revolutionize solar power

By Kevin Hall
October 18, 2010

Back in 1990, inventor Lonnie Johnson (pictured) revolutionized America's suburbs when the first Super Soaker was sold. Now, Johnson could be ready to deliver another gift to the masses: an energy converter that could double the efficiency of solar power, and make it a truly viable source of renewable energy.

Called the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Converter (or JTEC), the device could make solar power rival the kind of output we enjoy from a long-established source like coal, as long as there is heat to keep things going.

From the Atlantic:

Where a steam engine uses the heat generated by burning coal to create steam pressure and move mechanical elements, the JTEC uses heat (from the sun, for instance) to expand hydrogen atoms in one stack. The expanding atoms, each made up of a proton and an electron, split apart, and the freed electrons travel through an external circuit as electric current, charging a battery or performing some other useful work. Meanwhile the positively charged protons, also known as ions, squeeze through a specially designed proton-exchange membrane (one of the JTEC elements borrowed from fuel cells) and combine with the electrons on the other side, reconstituting the hydrogen, which is compressed and pumped back into the hot stack. As long as heat is supplied, the cycle continues indefinitely.
The amount of energy we're able to squeeze out of renewable sources such as solar or wind power is one of the biggest obstacles to having them installed everywhere. Johnson's JTEC may sound like a humble leg up, but Paul Werbos, director of the National Science Foundation, says "It has a darn good chance of being the best thing on Earth."

Continued. . .