Sunday, January 14, 2007

Goodness, Gracious, Great Balls of Fire!

When I was a boy I would spend a couple weeks each summer with my paternal grandmother, who lived in another state. By "another state", I mean she lived in another state of the union (Louisiana), but she also lived in another "state of being." She had some very strange perceptions of reality which were sometimes funny, in an insane way (she believed she once had a bug fly in one ear, buzz around in her head for a few days, then fly out the other ear) and sometimes not so funny (though she was in her late 70's and horribly anorexic, she was deathly afraid of being raped if she went out in public).

One of her fears was that she would be electrocuted by lightning storms. Most people would reasonably fear being outdoors in a lightning storm and getting struck by lightning. She feared talking on the phone during lightning (also reasonable, perhaps), but also taking baths, being near a window, or standing too close to her metal bedframe. Why those last three? Two words: ball lightning. That is, exceedingly rare, brilliantly-lit balls of energy with a life of several seconds, usually about the size of grapefruit, which are formed during intense lightning storms. They hover and fly through the air and have even been seen to bounce along the ground. Any time there was a lightning storm my grandmother would relate the same story to me about how, when she was young, a boy in a neighboring town had been killed when ball lightning came through his window and struck a metal bedframe that he was touching, killing him instantly. I never learned if the story was true, but even though I already figured my grandmother wasn't "all there" I figured I'd give her the benefit of the doubt and stayed near the center of her little house during storms.

Ball lightning has been witnessed and even documented, but it isn't fully understood. Recently some researchers in Brazil managed to recreate it in the lab, as reported in a soon-to-be-released article. If you want the nitty-gritty science details, HERE is another hypothesis for ball lightning.

But what I find more interesting is those amateur science enthusiasts who enjoy playing with high voltage and trying to create ball lightning in their home, shop, or even their microwave oven (and they have step-by-step instructions on the web, though I wouldn't combine the effort with cooking your frozen burritos). I've been known to experiment with high voltage in my own shop (leaving a burn mark or two). Maybe I'll try it some time!

Click HERE for one of those enthusiasts' pages, well worth reading about, which includes some pretty cool video of creating ball lightning and watching it bounce along the ground, leaving burn marks. HERE is another site with similar links.

So my crazy grandma wasn't completely out of her gourd. Maybe I shouldn't be as alarmed that the older I get, the more I seem to be like her. Heaven help me (and my wife), though, if I manage to live to my 70's!

Is that a bug in my ear?


Erich J. Knight said...

After reading your site,I thought your readers would 1) be interested in looking at these energy technologies and EPS's theoretic base for ball lighting.

2)Because of your bio backround checkout these cured mice, (well at least for 4 months, but isn't that like 20 years for us?):

Diabetes breakthrough

3)Terra Preta Soil Technology, more Bio/microbe/bug stuff,

1)Aneutronic Fusion: Here I am not talking about the big science ITER project taking thirty years, but the several small alternative plasma fusion efforts.

There are three companies pursuing hydrogen-boron plasma toroid fusion, Paul Koloc, Prometheus II, Eric Lerner, Focus Fusion and Clint Seward of Electron Power Systems

Vincent Page (a technology officer at GE!!) gave a presentation at the 05 6th symposium on current trends in international fusion research , which high lights the need to fully fund three different approaches to P-B11 fusion

He quotes costs and time to development of P-B11 Fusion as tens of million $, and years verses the many decades and ten Billion plus $ projected for ITER and other "Big" science efforts

Here are the links:

A resent DOD review of EPS technology reads as follows:

"MIT considers these plasmas a revolutionary breakthrough, with Delphi's
chief scientist and senior manager for advanced technology both agreeing
that EST/SPT physics are repeatable and theoretically explainable. MIT and
EPS have jointly authored numerous professional papers describing their
work. (Delphi is a $33B company, the spun off Delco Division of General
"Cost: no cost data available. The complexity of reliable mini-toroid
formation and acceleration with compact, relatively low-cost equipment
remains to be determined. Yet the fact that the EPS/MIT STTR work this
technology has attracted interest from Delphi is very significant, as the
automotive electronics industry is considered to be extremely demanding of
functionality per dollar and pound (e.g., mil-spec performance at
Wal-Mart-class 'commodity' prices)."

EPS, Electron Power Systems seems the strongest and most advanced, and I love the scalability, They propose applications as varied as home power generation@ .ooo5 cents/KWhr, cars, distributed power, airplanes, space propulsion , power storage and kinetic weapons.

It also provides a theoretic base for ball lighting : Ball Lightning Explained as a Stable Plasma Toroid
The theoretics are all there in peer reviewed papers. It does sound to good to be true however with names like MIT, Delphi, STTR grants, NIST grants , etc., popping up all over, I have to keep investigating.

Recent support has also come from one of the top lightning researcher in the world, Joe Dwyer at FIT, when he got his Y-ray and X-ray research published in the May issue of Scientific American,
Dwyer's paper:

and according to Clint Seward it supports his lightning models and fusion work at Electron Power Systems

lightning produces thermonuclear reaction
This new work By Dr.Kuzhevsky on neutrons in lightning: Russian Science News is also supportive of Electron Power Systems fusion efforts .

Vincent Page (a technology officer at GE!!) gave a presentation at the 05 6th symposium on current trends in international fusion research , which high lights the need to fully fund three different approaches to P-B11 fusion (Below Is an excerpt).

"for larger plant sizes
Time to small-scale Cost to achieve net if the small-scale
Concept Description net energy production energy concept works:
Koloc Spherical Plasma: 10 years(time frame), $25 million (cost), 80%(chance of success)
Field Reversed Configuration: 8 years $75 million 60%
(Eric Lerner)Plasma Focus: 6 years $18 million 80%"

Looks like Eric Lerner is moving down the road!!

U.S., Chilean Labs to Collaborate on Testing Scientific Feasibility of Focus Fusion

The learning curve is so steep now, and with the resources of the online community, I'm sure we can rally greater support to solve this paramount problem of our time. I hold no truck with those who argue that big business or government are suppressing these technologies. It is only our complacency and comfort that blind us from pushing our leaders toward clean energy.

3)Man has been controlling the carbon cycle , and there for the weather, since the invention of agriculture, all be it was as unintentional, as our current airliner contrails are in affecting global dimming. This unintentional warm stability in climate , has over 10,000 years, allowed us to develop to the point that now we know what we did and that now we are over doing it.

The prehistoric and historic records gives a logical thrust for soil carbon sequestration.
I wonder what the soil biome carbon concentration was REALLY like before the cutting and charcoaling of the virgin east coast forest, my guess is that now we see a severely diminished community, and that only very recent Ag practices like no-till have started helped to rebuild it. It makes implementing Terra Preta soil technology like an act of penitence, returning misplaced carbon.

Carbon Negative Bio fuels and Fertility Too

This new soil technology speaks to so many different interests and disciplines that it has not been embraced fully by any. I'm sure you will see both the potential of this system and the convergence needed for it's implementation.

The integrated energy strategy offered by Charcoal based Terra Preta Soil technology may
provide the only path to sustain our agricultural and fossil fueled power
structure without climate degradation, other than nuclear power.

I feel we should push for this Terra Preta Soils CO2 sequestration strategy as not only a global warming remedy for the first world, but to solve fertilization and transport issues for the third world. This information needs to be shared with all the state agricultural programs.

The economics look good, and truly great if we had CO2 cap & trade in place:

These are processes where you can have your Bio-fuels, Carbon sequestration and fertility too.

'Terra Preta' soils I feel has great possibilities to revolutionize sustainable agriculture into a major CO2 sequestration strategy.
I thought, I first read about these soils in " Botany of Desire " or "Guns,Germs,&Steel" but I could not find reference to them. I finely found the reference in "1491", but I did not realize their potential .

Nature article: Putting the carbon backBlack is the new green:

Here's the Cornell page for an over view:

This Earth Science Forum thread on these soils contains further links, and has been viewed by 13,000 folks. ( I post everything I find on Amazon Dark Soils, ADS here):

The Georgia Inst. of Technology page:

There is an ecology going on in these soils that is not completely understood, and if replicated and applied at scale would have multiple benefits for farmers and environmentalist.

Terra Preta creates a terrestrial carbon reef at a microscopic level. These nanoscale structures provide safe haven to the microbes and fungus that facilitate fertile soil creation, while sequestering carbon for many hundred if not thousands of years. The combination of these two forms of sequestration would also increase the growth rate and natural sequestration effort of growing plants.

Here is a great article that high lights this pyrolysis process , ( ) which could use existing infrastructure to provide Charcoal sustainable Agriculture , Syn-Fuels, and a variation of this process would also work as well for H2 , Charcoal-Fertilizer, while sequestering CO2 from Coal fired plants to build soils at large scales , be sure to read the "See an initial analysis NEW" link of this technology to clean up Coal fired power plants.

Soil erosion, energy scarcity, excess greenhouse gas all answered through regenerative carbon management

This is the first I've seen of a pyrolysis process like Dr. Danny Day's on the market:

Lehmann at Cornell points out, "systems such as Day's are the only way to make a fuel that is actually carbon negative". and that " a strategy combining biochar with biofuels could ultimately offset 9.5 billion tons of carbon per year-an amount equal to the total current fossil fuel emissions! "

The upcoming International Agrichar Initiative (IAI) conference to be held at Terrigal, NSW, Australia in 2007. ( )
If pre-Columbian Indians could produce these soils up to 6 feet deep over 20% of the Amazon basin it seems that our energy and agricultural industries could also product them at scale.

Harnessing the work of this vast number of microbes and fungi changes the whole equation of EROEI for food and Bio fuels. I see this as the only sustainable agricultural strategy if we no longer have cheap fossil fuels for fertilizer.

We need this super community of wee beasties to work in concert with us by populating them into their proper Soil horizon Carbon Condos.

I feel Terra Preta soil technology is the greatest of Ironies.
That is: an invention of pre-Columbian American culture, destroyed by western disease, may well be the savior of industrial western society.


Erich J. Knight
Shenandoah Gardens
E-mail: shengar at
(540) 289-9750

Angry Lab Rat said...

My goodness, Erich, that's quite a comment. Thank you for your analysis and suggested topics. I might ask, though, that you comment only on the post's topic...