Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Can Magnesium Energy Save the Planet?

Did I say in my last post that nuclear energy could save the planet? I meant to say magnesium energy!

I was checking out Time Magazine's 2009 "Heroes of the Environment" and saw an article about Takashi Yabe. Mr. Yabe is a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, who is working with Mitsubishi Corporation to develop an engine fueled by refined magnesium. One of the beautiful things about this engine is that the only waste product is water vapor. No CO2 or other greenhouse gases, no toxic chemicals.

The second beautiful thing is that the energy intensive process of mining and refining the magnesium is powered by free energy from the sun. Not expensive solar panels, but big lenses and solar powered lasers - industrial versions of the magnifying glass we used to start fires with as a kid (or I did anyway). The source of the magnesium is seawater, so there are no destructive and dangerous underground or strip mines. They don't mention what happens to the sea life that needs the magnesium for biological processes, but we will have to keep an eye out so we don't extract too much.

Beautiful thing number three is that once the initial magnesium is refined, it is not "burned" or "used up", but rather recycled. The engine reacts magnesium with water, and the reaction products are hydrogen (burned to create more power), heat (which powers the engine), water vapor and magnesium oxide. The magnesium oxide is broken down again by the solar lasers into magnesium and oxygen.

According to Mitsubishi's website (see above), this was supposed to be commercially available this year, so they are a little behind schedule. But considering how long it takes to get approval for a new nuclear plant, they still might beat the nuclear industry in saving the planet!


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