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Neil Ruzic & Co.
consultants to NASA
developers of "Island for Science"
January 10, 1978
The Honorable olin E. Teague
Dear Mr. Chairman;
Here is my paper as you requested, along with an "Opinion Poll" taken on the subject of my I.D.E.A. among the 100,000 readers of Industrial Research. You may want to publish the results of the poll after the article. Sincerely,
Neil P. Ruzic
(219) 874-5139 · PO. 527, Beverly SHORES, Ind. 46301
An IDEA for an
by Neil P. Ruzic, National Space Institute
MAN's need for energy is expanding so fast that alarming environmental, social, and economic dislocations are being created. Despite attempts at conservation, the most rational forecasts indicate that the United States will--and should--consume more energy between now and the end of the century than it has in its entire history. And while we will almost double our annual consumption, the worldwide demand will almost triple. If you express world energy consumption in electrical terms, assuming all energy is converted into electricity on the basis of one quadrillion British Thermal Units equaling one hundred billion kilowatt hours, you can compare where we stand today and where we are likely to be by the year 2000, barring world nuclear war or other planetary catastrophe. We stand today at a world consumption level of twenty-eight trillion
kilowatt hours a year; by 2000 it will grow to the electrical equivalent of seventy trillion kilowatt hours. The United States annually consumes some eight trillion kilowatt hours today and will devour fifteen trillion
by century's end, decreasing from thirty-two per cent to twenty-one per
cent as the rest of the world tends to catch up in affluence. While these increases may be debatable for the U.S., the desire of people throughout the world for a better standard of living doubtless will force an increase in world energy consumption of somewhere near the magnitude estimated.
Many scientists and engineers, especially those of us involved with the space program, believe it is wasteful to maintain a vast but increasingly unused space technology while at the same time suffering a worldwide energy shortage, without employing the first to solve the second. We also believe that the demand for energy will be sufficiently enormous that only coal, nuclear, or solar energy at an off-planet location can fill the need
for future generations.
Building solar power satellites to supplant a
significant portion of dwindling petroleum supplies is by no means easy job. In the final analysis, after all the feasibility studies are done and pilot satellites launched, it may prove less economical than nuclear energy.
On the other hand, powersats may well solve the world's energy problem for all time--or at least until fusion power is possible-with an inexhaustible, pollution-free, highly flexible, and ultimately cheap energy source. As an international peace-time program of unprecedented magnitude and utility, powersats also may contribute materially
to world peace, or at least to a strengthened Western world.
How are we to know which road will lead to energy freedom?
One way is to begin an International Decade of Energy Alternatives
By devoting the entire decade of the 1980s to international
planning, research, and phasing of the various energy alternatives, we can multiply the chances of achieving energy abundance. Any plan with
the potential of assuring world economic growth and altering the status quo toward peace deserves the intensive debate, international scope, and cost-sharing inherent in the concept of ten years focused on energy
We have had "international decades" before, for geophysics first and now for ocean exploration. These programs were designed to acquire scientific and technological information as an underpinning for resource utilization on a global scale. The emphasis during the International Decade of Energy Alternatives, however, will be on achievement of devices and proved systems rather than mere acquisition of information. (The "International Decade of Energy Achievement" is an alternate acronym.) There is another difference too. Without in any way denigrating the value of geophysical or ocean resources, a decade of alternative energy achievement is of much greater immediacy and world importance. To eval
uate this particular approach to a highly complex set of problems, it is
necessary to ask what are the energy alternatives to petroleum shortages and how can the IDEA strengthen the selection, internationalization, and
implementation of the best of them.
The first alternative is whether to place the major emphasis on conservation, as President Carter would have us do, or on continued
growth, as most industrialists want.
While it is true that the United
States consumes about thirty-tw per cent of the world's energy, we also produce thirty-one per cent of the world's goods and services, and so the
notion that we waste more than other countries is untrue proportionately. There should be little argument that growth of energy, if achievable
. Sulic REPOR
without disrupting our economy, is the safer, wiser, more desirable
Conservation alone can easily lose vital industrial production, diminish our preeminence in world affairs, and force a progressively lower standard of living on future generations. The question is whether continued energy growth can be achieved in the face of dwindling oil reserves; the potential rape of the landscape inherent in strip coal mining, which currently is the most cost-effective way of harvesting coal; and the overriding danger of atomic weapons proliferation through the chemical extraction of plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. Eventually, of course, even coal will be depleted. Technical alternatives to fossil fuels include wind power, sea-thermal and ocean-current energy, biomass energy such as growing bluegreen algae to synthesize oil, extraction of oil shale, and thermonuclear or fusion power. All are possible but none is feasible, either to go on stream by the year 2000 or else, if one can, supply a significant enough portion of global energy needs. But at least five other major energy sources do have that potential. One or more of
them can be readily available by the year 2000, provided we make the critical research and development choices now. A brief description is
offered below, followed by a table showing comparative costs for research, construction, the resultant energy, and associated deaths in operating
each plant over a projected thirty-year lifetime.
From the least complex
to the most, they are:
1 Low-energy coal gasification. In the cleanest coal plant imaginable, coal is converted to low-energy gas which fuels a combined gas
turbine and steam plant.
Almost all (ninety-nine point seven per cent)
of the sulfur oxides are removed from the coal.
This method was chosen
from among other coal plants because it is the cleanest and costs only