Here’s something I’ve noticed from the process of participating in a large number of energy-related conversations at the American Chemical Society Conference: some of these subjects, even those receiving funding, have virtually no chance of practical application.
I just ran into a guy who mentors graduate students in microbial fuel cells. In brief, part of a microbe’s metabolic process includes emitting an electron that can be funneled through a circuit, just like the more familiar hydrogen fuel cell. But, where a hydrogen fuel cell can be 40%+ efficient, and thus enjoy some reasonable power density, this feeble rate at which electrons are emitted from whole organisms results in power densities that are ridiculously small. Can this be improved? Sure, but it’s tough. There are obvious limits to which we can increase the temperature (something we would do with inorganic fuel cells), as we can’t harm the organisms.
Bottom line: Does this subject have a reasonable chance for commercial success, i.e., competition against the dozens of other major ideas in generating clean energy? Not in a million years. But, for some reason, it seems to be a darling of someone with some level of authority, because darned if it didn’t rise above the pack in selection process to receiving ARPA-E funding.
With this level of insanity (?) ignorance (?) corruption (?), or whatever it is that lies within the our decision-making, we’re in deep trouble. Solving our energy problems is hard enough with good thinking; with foolishness like this, it’s impossible.