Nocera’s Leaf

It makes for an interesting mental exercise, even if we don’t hold together long enough to see it come true: that Daniel Nocera’s “personalized energy” through an inexpensive, materials-at-hand, durable photosynthesis-like process would bring practically free energy to every house hold. Enough energy is contained in a gallon of water (even waste water will do) to power a third world home.

I sent this info to a local friend, whose response at first started me:

“I can’t help think that this would be a bad thing. If we have unlimited energy, we will use it to do business as usual–the same pollution, the same strip-mining of the planet. I worry about this with all alternative energies that might make us indifferent to their ultimate use on sustainability over the long term.”

This energy-production method really does hold promise, and I’ve argued all along that point-of-use energy must be the ultimate objective, forget the grid and nuclear plants and massive solar arrays and windmill farms and the like.

But let’s imagine, unbound by the real world pace of things:

▶ How would we handle, by the year 2016, the advent of basically “free” energy? ▶ What problems would it solve? ▶ What new problems would it introduce? ▶ How would this be opposed by Big Ag, Big Pharma, and Big Oil?

▶ Would efficiency become a non-issue? ▶ Would unlimited energy using the same GNP-based, unlimited-growth-based economic model lead us back to the same brink we face today with regard to tipping points and unsustainable pressures on natural systems?

It remains to be seen that we can adopt the necessary nature-first economic model with our present brains so that this story has a happy ending. But it’s nice to imagine such a world. Links below.

MIT’s artificial leaf is ten times more efficient than the real thing (Wired UK)

Solar power can be tapped through chemistry, Nocera says – MIT News Office

Nocera: Debut of the first practical “artificial leaf”

Dan Nocera: Personalized Energy – YouTube

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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