Questions and Answers

 

Listed below are some of the questions we have been asked about our Orca Wave Energy System:


Q.  How well would your barge fleets survive in the open ocean if they encountered high waves, storms, hurricanes, or a tsunami?

A.  Whenever large storms or high waves are anticipated, large ships are sent out to sea, because they have a much greater chance of survival there than they would if they were left in port or anchored in shallow water.  Usually the larger the ship, the greater its chances are of weathering the storm.  Our barge fleets measure 251 feet wide by 3,255 feet long.  That is over twice the length of the largest ship ever built and about three times the length of a large aircraft carrier.  In addition, unlike a normal ship, our fleet is segmented and hinged together so it is flexible rather than rigid and can flow to ride the surface of the waves.  It can flex like a palm tree to absorb the power of the wind or waves.  We all know that flexible palm trees can survive in a storm much better than a rigid oak tree.  In addition our barge fleets can use their computer controlled stiffness adjustments in a survival mode, rather than in an energy recovery mode, to not only roll with the waves but adjust to their changing forces as well.  Since the fleets are maneuverable they can turn lengthwise into the oncoming waves or wind and have only the 200 foot vented bow exposed.  Also since all the barges on both ends of the fleet have below deck tanks for water and fuel they would ride lower than those barges in the middle of the fleet and are also much heavier.  Having only one low deck also gives the barges a lower center of gravity and makes them more stable in high winds than standard ships with many decks or high stacks of containers.


Q.  Wave energy systems in general are considered to be a low efficiency source of renewable energy.  Why should we consider this system over more efficient wind, solar, or biofuel systems?

A.  There are two reasons our system is more efficient than existing wave energy systems and more efficient than existing wind, solar, or biofuel systems.  The first is our unique design and control system, which enables us to constantly measure both wind and swell waves and to not only orientate the fleet to most efficiently recover this power, but also to modulate the stiffness of the connecting links to in effect adjust the physical dimensions of the barges to match the phase and amplitude of the waves being encountered.  Other wave energy systems do not have the ability to reposition themselves nor alter their physical dimensions. The second reason is that we are able to locate our fleets in the open ocean and on the outer continental shelves where the wave energy is much greater than that available to existing wave energy systems, who must operate close to shore, with anchoring cables or fixed mountings, in order to be able to connect to the electrical cables which feed the electricity into the land based power grid.   Given these two factors, our system is much more efficient than existing methods of creating fuel.  In contrast, most renewable and clean energy systems are much more expensive than conventional systems and in the case of solar energy the cost of producing a kilowatt of electricity is twice as high as electricity produced using fossil fuels.  In the case of biofuel, we need to deduct the amount of vehicle fuel and electricity needed to plant, cultivate, harvest, process, and transport a product that constitutes only 10% or less of the resulting ethanol-gasoline fuel mixture in order to assess the net gain from an economic, environmental, and political standpoint.  Also an acre of farmland growing soybeans will yield ethanol equal to 40 gallons of gasoline each year.  Our Orca system produces 250,000 gallons of gasoline per acre of ocean surface each year without displacing crops, forest or pasture land. 


Q.  Your system is not geographically scalable.  It might be alright for states (or countries) which are located on the coastline, but what about those states (or countries) which are located inland?

A.  Using that line of reasoning, the existing fuel market is also not geographically scalable, because most of our domestic oil reserves are located inland or in the north slope of Alaska and yet we seem to be able to harvest, refine, and distribute gasoline to every part of the nation where it is needed.  In fact the AEEA system would balance this inequity by delivering refined gasoline to those areas where oil reserves are not found in great quantities and reduce the expense of gasoline in those areas.  For industrialized countries without any sizable domestic oil reserves, like Japan and England, getting refined gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel from their costal areas would be much more cost effective than purchasing, transporting, and refining crude oil from the middle east.  As far as geography is concerned two thirds of the earths surface is water and most of that has wave activity adequate to efficiently produce fuel using our system.  Compare that with the limited and declining reserves of crude oil.


Q.  Your system uses a patented process developed by Meyer Steinberg over twenty years ago.  This process in not new technology and if it is so great, why hasn’t it been used before?

A.  As an economist, I often quip that to a scientist or an engineer being able to turn gold into lead is just as interesting as being able to turn lead into gold, but to an economist or a businessman there is a world of difference.  It is for that reason that Meyer Steinberg’s method has not been put into practice.  If the electricity necessary to scrub carbon dioxide from the air, break down water into oxygen and hydrogen, and combine the carbon dioxide and hydrogen to produce methanol had to be purchased at commercial rates, the methanol produced by this method would be much more expensive than its current wholesale price.  That is using the current price of electricity in Washington State, which is cheaper than the national average.  Even if the expensive equipment, facilities, and labor were free, the venture would still lose money.  Our system produces electricity at sea from wave action and then uses the Steinberg method to produce methanol at sea and then convert it to gasoline.  This methodology becomes an important step in being able to operate in the open ocean and then deliver gasoline, diesel fuel, or jet fuel to shore.  In other words, the Steinberg process has become effective as an economically viable component of our overall system, because of where and how we convert wave energy to synthetic gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel.


Q.  Why don’t you just produce hydrogen, since it is a more efficient fuel, is transportable, is much easier to produce, and does not emit carbon dioxide when used?

A.  In 2004 the National Research Council and the National Academy of Engineering published a book called “THE HYDROGEN ECONOMY: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs”.  The book was a description of what a group of experts, funded by a Department of Energy grant, discovered as they evaluated what would be required to move the Nation from a petroleum based economy to a renewable and more environmentally friendly hydrogen economy.  They found that the main barriers would be in making major changes to our vehicles and our entire fuel delivery infrastructure.  Part of the problem was safety because hydrogen is highly volatile at ambient temperatures.  Although the automobile industry has toyed with the notion of producing vehicles powered by hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells, nothing much has come of these notions.  The Boeing company has also built a bulbous prototype aircraft which would be powered by hydrogen, but that notion is also far from being viable.


Q.  Why don’t you just use your system to produce methanol and then have it refined into gasoline at land-based refineries?

A.  Current plans call for the production of gasoline, because that option yields the greatest profitability.  This is because the cost of producing methanol would be $0.91 per gallon and the carbon credits for the carbon consumed would amount to $0.08 per gallon.  Thus, the net cost of production would be $0.83 per gallon.  The wholesale price of methanol is $1.38, so the net profit per gallon would be $0.59 per gallon.  However, the same gallon of methanol would produce .4663 gallons of gasoline.  The gasoline, at a net profit of $1.37 per gallon, would yield a profit of $0.64 (.4663 x $1.37), so even with the rising price of methanol, gasoline is still more profitable to produce.  One reason for this discrepancy is that methanol has not yet become a primary fuel, even though it could become so with only minor changes to our vehicles and fuel delivery infrastructure.   By scrubbing carbon dioxide from the air and combining it with the hydrogen, we could produce methanol and have a very stable fuel, which could be used in both internal combustion and turbine driven engines.  However, using the methanol as a feedstock, we could easily produce synthetic gasoline, which could be used to power our existing vehicles.  All of the processes included in this scenario had already been used in industrial settings except the production of methanol.  However, Meyer Steinberg, a renown chemical engineer, had developed & patented a process and equipment to accomplish this task.  This method of producing methanol was also espoused by Dr. George Olah, a Nobel Prize winner, in his book “The Methanol Economy”.  This methanol production process has not been implemented to-date because it is not economically viable.


Q.  The ocean is a very harsh environment.  How well would your equipment hold up to these conditions?

A.  Our system starts out with large ocean certified barges which have been designed and constructed to operate for 30 years in this environment.  To that we plan to use equipment also able to withstand the impacts of the ocean.  All sensitive equipment is to be located inside structures to protect it from the elements.  Also each fleet has four on-board mechanics and eight helpers to continuously provide maintenance and repairs.


Q.  Your system is very complex.  Why don’t you break it up into smaller parts and implement them independently?

A.  Our system is a synergistic one where the sum of the whole is much more effective and valuable than any of its individual components.  As an example, if we were to deploy our fleet close to the shore and connect it to the land based power grid with a cable it would probably not be any more effective, or less obtrusive, than any of the countless other wave energy devices that have been developed.  If we operated it in the open ocean, where the wave energy is higher, we would not have any way to transport the electricity to shore.  If we just did the chemical processing on land, using electricity from the power grid, it would not be economically viable.  Thus, the various ho-hum components belie the gee-wiz attributes of the overall system.


Q.  Your system sounds like an academic project.  Does it really stand a chance of being implemented commercially?

A.  An academic project is one where the focus is on proving a scientific or technical process without regard to its commercial application or economic feasibility.  The term for this kind of effort in universities and laboratories is referred to as "pure research" as oppose to "sponsored research" or "applied research" which is aimed at a specific application to develop or improve its near term implementation.  By contrast our Orca Wave Energy System is aimed specifically at producing gasoline and other hydrocarbon fuels for commercial sale at prices below that economically feasible from the refinement of crude oil and other fossil fuels.  Our system and process produces gasoline with no net pollution since it recaptures the 17.7 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air that is released from each gallon of our synthetic gasoline burned in an internal combustion engine.  Since the gasoline produced by our system doesn't have any of the trace element pollution produced by burning refined gasoline (sulfur, etc.) it is really a zero pollution product.


Q.  A full sized fleet would be very expensive to build.  Why don’t you build a working model and test it an a calibrated wave laboratory?

A.  To date we have built 1/100, 1/70, and 1/25 scale models of a small, four barge fleet.  We have also built a 16 barge static display to show how our floating factory would operate.  However, replicating the system in detail would be next to impossible because of the need to miniaturize the working parts.  The cost to build and test a model system is beyond our ability to fund.  In the same regard, it would be unrealistic to provide a scale working model of a nuclear plant, an off-shore oil platform or a hydroelectric dam.  Yet all of these more expensive systems have been built based on the design and performance data developed by scientific and engineering professionals.  With regard to expense, we estimate that a full sized sixty-four barge fleet would cost $140 million to construct.  However, all large energy producing systems are expensive to build.  For example a one gigawatt nuclear power plant costs $4.2 billion, an off-shore oil platform costs $3.5 billion and a hydroelectric dam costs even more.  For the price of the nuclear power plant we could build thirty of our barge fleets.


Q.  Is what you are trying to do important enough to warrant the interest necessary to compete with the numerous other technical inventions emerging in the world?

A.  It appears to us that the solutions derived through implementation of our Orca Wave Energy system should rank high on both a national and international list of priorities.  In 2010 we were faced with the BP oil spill in the gulf coast area.  This caused headline news and the attention of politicians in that area as well as the President and the departments of interior and energy.  The dilemma was to balance our need for crude oil and energy independence with our concern over our environment and the negative impact on the economy of the region impacted.  This was just the most recent of several oil spill incidents.  In 2011 one of the biggest disasters was the destruction of the nuclear power plant in Japan as the result of the tsunami in the Pacific Ocean.  The impact of this event on the health and economy of the region warranted worldwide reaction and caused Germany to announce that they would be abandoning their nuclear energy projects. This was just the latest of several serious incidents involving nuclear power plants. Throughout 2011 and into 2012 the rising cost of gasoline became a major economic and political concern.  By the end of 2011 gasoline was consuming 8.4% of the average families income, up from the 5.7% average for the proceeding ten years.  Military involvement in the middle east has consumed our national efforts and expenses for the same ten year period and are at least partially driven by our need for foreign oil.  Perhaps our current situation is best summed up in Time Magazines cover story in its April 9, 2012 issue.  That story is entitled The Truth About Oil and the lead in page includes the following statement:  “Extreme oil - from the deep atlantic to the arctic, from fracking in the U.S. to sands in canada- is replacing dwindling supplies.  But it comes at a heavy economic and environmental cost.”


Q.  Some energy firms have special departments or programs orientated toward identifying alternative, innovative, renewable, or environmentally friendly forms of producing and distributing energy.  Why have you not been able to get support from any of these sources?

A.  Our experience to date leads us to believe that these special departments or programs have been given a great deal of guidance and very little latitude to deviate from that guidance.  For example we have been told that we are not far along enough for some programs, because they are looking for something which is ready to be put into production in a very short time period, and too far along for others, who are looking for new ideas at the point of inception not a system which already been refined,  patented, and subjected to various preliminary tests.  We have been told that their purview has been limited to wind, solar, and biofuel and they don’t have the latitude to consider a project outside of those three areas.   We have been told that our system is more complex and costly to implement than they are prepared to consider.  We have never been told that our system will not work as designed nor had the profitability of the system disputed.  In fact we have had feedback indicating that our system appeared to be based on sound engineering design and had great economic potential, but didn’t fit into their specific program criteria at the time it was being considered.


Q.  Just about every politician, or political candidate, is espousing their desire to facilitate our energy independence, reduce our trade deficit, lower the price of gasoline, create jobs, and protect the environment.  Your system does all of these things and is very profitable to boot.  Why haven’t you been able to get a government grant to develop your system?

A.  What is popular on the soap box and what gets funded by federal grants are two separate things, regardless of which party is in power.  Government programs may be developed by politicians but they are administered by bureaucrats who are governed by very specific rules, guidelines and regulations.  Like the private sector programs addressed above, government grants have very specific criteria for what they are looking for and at what stage of development a proposal must be at to be considered.  Many grants are very specific and only consider proposals which address the request for proposal to the letter.  Since our project is not something which has been called for specifically, we have not been able to get a grant to date.  Most government grants also require a significant amount of matching funds by the grant recipient.  For colleges, universities, and large firms, these funding requirements can be met by pledging the use of their laboratories, administrative services, and a portion of the time of their salaried faculty or scientists.  As a former college dean and vice president, I know that grant writing is a skilled trade and those who are adept at that trade can command a nice salary, because they know how to write grants that address all of the things the granting entity wants to see.  In the spring of 2012 we submitted an eight page abstract to the Unsolicited Proposals section of the Department of Energy.  Although there was not enough information available in that document for them to take any action, they posed several questions and invited us to submit a full proposal for their consideration.  Within fifteen days we submitted a full proposal (56 pages) answering all their specific questions and giving them all of the technical information that was lacking in our abstract.  After eight months of review, and almost a year after we submitted our abstract, they informed us that giving us a grant might look like they were going around the competitive bidding process and that we should wait for an opportunity to submit an application for a published grant announcement which addressed our technology.


The US Navy is developing a system to produce jet fuel at sea using a system very similar to yours.  Why don’t you try and get involved with this project?

The Navy Research Laboratory (NRL) has developed a system which produces jet fuel from carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and electricity, just like ours.  It deviates from ours in that it scrubs the carbon dioxide from seawater and removes the hydrogen from seawater as well.  They also plan to use an OTEC system to generate the necessary electricity to do the processing.  Their system is based around strategic considerations, while ours is built around economic ones.  We scrub the carbon dioxide from the air so that we can gain $0.17 per gallon from selling carbon credits.  They scrub the carbon dioxide from seawater.  We use fresh water from the shore because we are already going to shore to deliver fuel and it takes only takes 65.2 kWh to produce a gallon of fuel using fresh water.  They need to expend 77.0 kWh to produce the same gallon of fuel, because of the additional energy needed to desalinate the seawater.  However, they do not have to go to shore and secure fresh water.  We wrote the NRL to point out that they could use their chemical processing system mated to our electricity producing barge system to increase their productivity and substantially reduce the cost per gallon of fuel using the OTEC system they were considering.  Also our barge fleets would be much more maneuverable and could operate in areas where the OTEC system could not operate (depth and latitude).  The OTEC system uses large, deep pipes to harvest energy from the temperature differential between the cooler deep seawater and warmer surface seawater.  The NRL indicated that we needed to go to the Navy procurement people, who had us go through a number of hoops to become Navy vendors.  However, until someone calls for a bid for what we could offer we don’t have any avenue to compete with the OTEC systems proposed by Lockeed Martin or Solar Sea Power, which have already submitted cost estimates for one gigawatt OTEC power systems.


Q.  Why don’t you go around all of the regular channels and present your idea to those political leaders or business executives who have the power to implement your system and the vision to realize its benefits?

A.  Those people at the top of the food chain are extremely busy just keeping up with the problems and decisions which have not been solved at a lower level and those constant political challenges they must deal with to stay at the top of the food chain.  As a result they usually delegate things which can be addressed at a lower level.  This creates a series of gate keepers who try and protect the boss by screening their mail, phone calls, visitors, and electronic communications.  Some of the special programs enumerated above are destinations to which unsolicited proposals are deflected.  Most of the time, however, unsolicited proposals just end up in someone’s waste basket or file cabinet and never make it to the intended recipient nor elicit a reply to the sender.  We have sent letters to the President and our two U.S. senators and never received even an acknowledgement that the letters had been received (we know they were because we sent them registered mail).  This was even after those same politicians had just made political statements asking for the scientific and business community to find solutions to our national energy, trade, and environmental problems.  Early in our development, we were given an opportunity to present our basic concept to a local congressman, but he did not show up for the presentation and one of his aides listened politely, did not ask many questions, and just checked it off his list of things he had to do that day.  I’m sure that if the presentation was to be made by a recognized company or university, we would have been given much greater consideration.


Q.  Private venture capitalists are always looking for opportunities to support new ventures.  Why don’t you try and get capital from this source to further your system development?

A.  Venture capitalists are looking for start-up companies who demonstrate the ability to generate enough profit so that the investor will recoup his investment quickly and stand to make a healthy return on their investment.  As a consequence, most investors will be looking for entrepreneurs who are willing to put up a significant amount of their own capital and work tirelessly to make the new venture work.  As indicated in our business plan (on this site) we do not intend to start an energy company, because we are at the end of our professional careers not at the onset and we don’t have millions of dollars available to start a new company.  However, we have designed and patented a revolutionary new system which produces a product for which there is already a mature and growing market, offers significant environmental benefits, and offers substantial profit as well as opportunity for rapid growth.


Q.  Perhaps your system is just ahead of its time.  If your system is viable today it will be even more viable in the future.  Since your patent is good for 20 years, why don’t you just wait until the supply and price of vehicle fuel dictates the absolute necessity for an alternative such as yours?

A.  One of our four partners lost his battle with cancer in the Spring of 2012 and will never see the work he put into this project come to fruition.  As the youngest of the three remaining partners, I will be 89 when the patent runs out in 2032.  We know that this system will work and have faith that at some point we will find support for our venture.  We also realize that any new idea or invention always runs into roadblocks and detours before they are adopted.  Robert Fulton’s invention of the steamboat was ridiculed and designated as “Fulton’s Folly” until he got Robert Livingston, a wealthy investor and politician, to back his project and build the first successful steamboat in 1807.  Edwin Drake’s idea to sink our first oil well on a Pennsylvania farm was widely ridiculed and designated as “Drakes Folly” until he found enough investors who believed in his project to form the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company in 1859.  Even successful inventors like Nikola Tesla with successful patents for numerous items such as the electric motor and alternating current (AC) under their belt ran into this kind of resistance with each new invention he developed.  Many of his ideas and inventions like wireless communications, x-rays, and the radio would not be implemented until long after they were developed and tested.  Even after their first successful manned and powered flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903, the Wright Brothers would not receive any commercial or government support until 1908 and were regarded here and in Europe as ‘bluffers” until they were finally given a contract to develop flying machines for the military.  Up until that time they continued to refine and improve their flying machine with their own resources.  It is very hard to understand why some of the things we consider so vital and commercially successful today took so long to gain support when they were first introduced.  It is apparently much easier to be a skeptic than a visionary.  We have only started to scratch the surface in our efforts to gain backing and support for our Orca Wave Energy System and like those before us we must be patient and continue to believe in our eventual success.  We are heartened by people in the current day like author J.K. Roland who persevered, even after being rejected by numerous publishers for her Harry Potter books, until she finally found someone who believed in the viability of her work.  She went from living on social security to becoming a billionaire in just a few short years as the result of the worldwide success of her Harry Potter books and the movies, games, and other products based on those books.  A similar situation was faced by Sir James Dyson who spent 13 years tinkering in his tool shed before he was able to introduce his newly patented, dual cyclone vacuum cleaner in the UK.  Even though he had developed a superior product, he had to struggle through over 5,000 prototypes, numerous rejections, lawsuits, and almost bankruptcy before he was able to bring his new invention to market in 1993.  Within 18 months it was the best-selling vacuum cleaner in the UK.  He introduced his invention in the US in 2003 and it quickly became, and still is, a market leader in this country.  He tried to license his patented product to dozens of vacuum cleaner manufacturers around the world and ended up having to produce and brand it himself to introduce it to the market.