New Discoveries For the Universe’s Favorite Energy Source

Ed. Note: On the seventh of every month (unless it falls on a weekend), the FREE Tomorrow in Review e-letter features their “7 Things You Need to Know” series, courtesy of scientific and financial journalist Stephen Petranek. The series is designed to show you the most exciting (and potentially profitable) breakthroughs in the science and technology sector. Yesterday, Stephen kicked off the series with the first two important trends you need know. Below are the next 3 installments. Enjoy…

3. How to Get Your Lifestyle From Here to There

If there is one thing the world can agree on, it’s the shipping container.

The size is standardized everywhere, making each one as cheap as can be to move to any distant port. This phenomenon has already inspired one design — a sloop that fits neatly inside so you can ship it to any exotic location (let’s see, Fiji, La Palma or New Zealand?) without having to go through the horrors of sailing it there.

Far Harbour 39 YachtFar Harbour 39 costs about $250,000 — without the shipping container.

It’s called the Far Harbour 39, and it’s a rugged yet elegant yacht designed by genius naval architect Robert Perry.

(Full disclosure: Perry designed my sailboat, a Passport 470, which I love!)

Far Harbour 39 is built by a company called, of course, Container Yachts, headquartered in Miami Beach.

To give you an idea of how cheap it is to move a container, you can get one to most places halfway around the world for about $5,000.

It would cost, for example, about six times as much to move a 40-foot yacht on a ship from the U.S. to the Mediterranean, even using a ship designed just for moving yachts from place to place (yes, that’s a big business these days).

But now comes an idea — making a shipping container into a makeshift home — that has been used ever since there were containers, but without the rugged results of do-it-yourselfers.

The Dwell Shipping Container HomeThe Dwell is built with sustainably sourced materials, including bamboo.

The Dwell is a standard 39-feet-by-7-feet-9-inch container completely fitted out by G-pod of Hong Kong. The walls and sides of the container use hydraulics to push out of the original envelope, doubling usable floor space to about 400 square feet.

It features a deck, laundry area, bedroom area, kitchen, bath, dining area and office nook. Electric and water hookups are not necessary.

The Dwell has a solar array, a composting toilet and a rainwater collection system. The unit is well insulated, and air conditioning is an option. The standard unit is about $50,000. What are you waiting for?

4. The Killer Weed That Remains Legal

Physicians are almost overwhelmingly united about saying what the most effective thing is that you can do to live a longer and healthier life — don’t smoke.

Yet the plague persists.

According to the American Heart Association, 20.5% of men and 15.9% of women in America still smoke cigarettes.

That’s 42 million adults classified as current smokers. And it’s not going away soon, either, because 18.1% of students in grades nine-12 say they smoke.

At least 70% of all adults say they started smoking before they were 18. And this despite the fact that a pack of Camels at a deli in New York sells for $14.

In 2011, the tobacco industry spent $8.4 billion to promote smoking in the United States. That year, over 293 billion cigarettes were lit up. Philip Morris, Reynolds American and Lorillard produced 85% of them. Nearly 14 billion cigars were sold in the United States in 2011.

The cost to the health care system from smoking-related diseases is about $100 billion per year.

Smoking is directly responsible for 90% of all lung cancers.

5. Move Over, Big Oil: It’s Time for Big Water

Hydrogen made from excess solar or wind production can serve as a kind of battery…

Researchers at Rutgers University say they have discovered a less costly way to undo the strong bond between hydrogen and oxygen that creates water. Undoing that bond frees hydrogen and oxygen as gases.

Hydrogen is the universe’s ultimate energy source.

Burning hydrogen gives us energy to power our stoves and our automobiles.

Hydrogen is the atom we burn in fossil fuels like methane (CH4) or gasoline (C8H18).

But it’s the carbon in those fuels that causes the trouble when it combines with oxygen to form CO2 and CO.

That white cloud you used to see coming out of the space shuttle orbiter’s three engines on launch was pretty much just water vapor from burning pure hydrogen.

Cracking water is pretty easy — just stick an electrode and an anode in water and run electricity through it. Hydrogen and oxygen gases accumulate at the negative and positive electrodes. This process is called electrolysis, and it is energy intensive.

The most efficient, and therefore energy-saving, commercial methods use platinum, a costly and rare metal, for electrodes.

The Rutgers chemists substituted carbon electrodes for platinum. But they didn’t use ordinary carbon. They used an exotic form called carbon nanotubes.

The researchers say it performs almost as well as platinum at far less cost. Even so, water cracking still doesn’t make much energy sense unless the electrical current is produced by renewable and pollution-free sources such as solar or wind.

Water cracking might also answer the problem of how to get energy when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.

Hydrogen made from excess solar or wind production can serve as a kind of battery that can be used at night in a fuel cell to produce electricity.

More to come tomorrow…

Stephen Petranek and Ray Blanco
for The Daily Reckoning

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Stephen Petranek

Stephen Petranek’s career of over 40 years in the publishing world is marked by numerous prizes and awards for excellent writing on science, nature, technology, politics, economics and more. He has been editor-in-chief of the Miami Herald’s prestigious Sunday magazine, Tropic, and has covered a wide range of topics for Time Inc.’s Life magazine. His...

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