Jet Fuel From Seawater: No longer a pipe dream

by Charlton Stanley

Navy Research LabsThis did not exactly come as a news story to me. I had this discussion with one of my best friends from high school years ago. Normally, a discussion with a former next door neighbor doesn’t amount to much in the total scheme of things. Especially when the neighbors are a couple of teenagers. However, every October I watch the Nobel awards announcements for my friend’s name. Not yet, but maybe one of these days. At any rate, he told me about some of the technology advances not generally known to the public, and that it would only be a matter of time.

I might add that he is of the opinion that none of the current alternatives to fossil fuels are completely environmentally friendly. However, the survival of our civilization makes it incumbent on us to keep looking. In one of our discussions, I mentioned that we have a lot of water on the surface of the globe, and that water comprises the perfect fuel. Hydrogen is pure fuel, and oxygen the purest oxidizer. The only fly in the ointment is that little thing called the First Law of Thermodynamics. The chemical bond between the two elements is one of the tightest possible, and it takes energy to break it. Recombining the two is relatively easy. A physicist once quipped that hydrogen is the perfect fuel, but if somebody wants to set up a pure hydrogen service station, he would prefer to watch the results from the next county.

Navy E-CEM Carbon Capture Skid (US Navy photo)

Navy E-CEM Carbon Capture Skid
(US Navy photo)

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Materials Science and Technology Division has been experimenting with a proof of concept to convert sea water to jet fuel. They built a proof-of-concept carbon capture “skid” which extracts carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas from seawater. A gas-to-liquids process is then used to to convert the CO2 and H2 into jet fuel. An interesting factoid about JP-5 jet fuel. It has about the same flash point as diesel fuel, meaning that it can be used in both high performance jet engines as well as ordinary diesel engines, with no power or weight penalty to either. Tweak the product a little more, rearranging carbon and hydrogen atoms here and there, and you have gasoline.

Taking on fuel while under way (US Navy photo)

The Navy has a particular interest in this technology, because an aircraft carrier that can make fuel for its own jet aircraft won’t have to rely on a supply chain thousands of miles long, or buy fuel in foreign ports. We cannot assume that in time of conflict such ports would be available. Additionally, refueling at sea is a dangerous operation even in good weather, and a carrier is at its most vulnerable when tied to a fuel tender.

The project is still in the proof of concept stage, but is promising. The lab is in the process of moving on to the next stage to make it operational. When the technology is advanced enough to deploy, the Navy estimates that it will cost between $3.00 to $6.00 to make a gallon for JP-5 out of seawater. That may seem like a lot, but to put it into perspective, consider what a twelve-thousand-mile long supply line costs per gallon of JP-5. Besides, at the local airport where I have my office, the current price of jet fuel is $5.29/gallon, and 100 octane low-lead aviation gas is $5.99/gallon.

There is another consideration, and that is the inexorable manner in which technology advances, both physically and economically. When I was in grad school our Department got a new calculator. I was thrilled because it would extract square roots, and we no longer had to use the old Monroe, which had what seemed like 30,000 moving parts. That four-function desktop calculator, which would also extract square roots, cost the department $1,200. Accounting for inflation, that would be $6,593 dollars in 2013 money. A calculator with the same computing power can now be bought off the 99¢ rack at the supermarket.

What does this mean in the long term? It means that as technology advances, a corollary to Moore’s Law comes into effect. The more we learn, the better we get with the technology. The better and faster we make widgets, the price of widgets comes down. Exponentially.

Now to the, “Why am I not surprised department.”

I read yesterday on a news web site that several Republican congresscritters want to block funding for the Navy research of seawater into fuel until it is fully developed. Say what? Block research until it springs full grown from what?

Let’s take a look at the way pure science works in the real world.

Back many years ago, I taught at an engineering school. The head of the Chemical Engineering department was explaining the difference between the Chemistry Department and the Chemical Engineering Department to a visitor. One of the best explanations of the difference between research science and applied science I ever heard.

He explained, “The chemist manages to deposit a little spot of a new compound on the inside wall of a test tube. He then tells the chemical engineer how he did it. It is up to the chemical engineer to replicate the deposit, but make it coat the surface evenly and in a predictable manner.”

About that First Law. An aircraft carrier doesn’t have to worry about it. Nimitz class carriers are powered by two big A4W nuclear reactors. They have power to spare, since they already hold back about 140 megawatts of power as a reserve. Additionally, the process involves more than just electricity. There are catalysts at work, along with electrolysis. It is a mixture of chemistry and biology.

Does the fuel work? Watch this demonstration of fuel made from seawater, and the scientists having fun testing it. This video demonstrates the first use, ever, of gasoline made from seawater in an internal combustion engine.

There are obvious questions about using batteries. The energy density of a battery is only a fraction of that of hydrocarbon fuel of the same mass. Also, batteries don’t last long enough for a patrol plane to fly an hours-long mission, and batteries cannot be aerial refueled.

We are looking at liquid fuel for a long time into the future. One of the things that makes the First Law irrelevant for conversion of seawater into a liquid fuel is the simple fact we have a huge store of renewable, and excess, energy from stationary sources. Those stationary sources are capable of extracting and converting hydrocarbons from sea water. One cannot stuff a wind turbine, nuclear reactor or hydroelectric plant into an airplane….or 18-wheel-truck. But, we can use them to make ordinary hydrocarbon fuel that is cleaner and less polluting than any fossil fuel source.

This is what the Oil Maggots fear. That it will work.

For our science geeks, here is a (relatively) simple explanation of the process. Warning: science and math at the link.

Are there naysayers? Of course. A quick internet search reveals many sites claiming “hoax.” or alternately, if it is real, it will never be practical. Where have we heard that before? In the 1950s, no one could have conceived of a computer smaller than a freight car, or that there would ever be a market for a personal computer.

Back to my old friend. We were high school students, and one summer night we started talking about the possibility of building a cannon that used electricity instead of gunpowder. I started drawing plans for the thing on a piece of notebook paper on the hood of a car. A small coil would accelerate a steel nail to a surprising speed in the distance of a few inches, which was the size of our coil.

We got distracted with other things, like the ham radio club. Then there was the little matter of the mash we had fermenting in an old churn under the stairwell of his house. I am sure his mom could smell it. What surprised us was the amount of mash it took to make a thimbleful of 100 proof. Geek kids are easily distracted.

We should have patented that damn electric cannon.

About Chuck Stanley

Dr. Charlton (Chuck) Stanley is a board certified forensic psychologist, with interests in aviation psychology, peace officer selection and training, ethics and communication skills.
This entry was posted in Big Oil, Biology, Chemistry, Climatology, Education, Energy Policy, Investing, Physics, Uncategorized, USN and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

68 Responses to Jet Fuel From Seawater: No longer a pipe dream

  1. Joy of Fishes says:

    Excellent, Chuck.

  2. bron98 says:

    great article.

    If this was used on a large scale how would the use of CO2 affect mollusk shell production?

  3. bron98 says:

    if I was an “oil maggot” I would be racing to develop this technology for myself. It would be a great deal more profitable to put a pump into the Gulf of Mexico and produce unlimited, green fuel but then the environmental kooks would bitch about draining the oceans or something else.

    “Oil Maggots” are what is fueling the little bit of economy we have.

  4. Bron,
    Good question. The answer can be either ‘none’ or “less than fossil fuel production,” For example, runoff from mountaintop mining probably has more negative effect on aquatic life in one day than a century of production via the Navy technique. We don’t even need to get into issues such as oil spills like BP, the Exxon Valdez and others.

    Then there is fracking. The jokes about California breaking off and falling into the sea are no longer quite so funny, with the increase in seismic activity near fracking sites.

    The oceans are big, and to a large extent, self-renewing. Human activity already has contributed to increased acidification of both ocean and fresh water. This procedure may actually help, but given the amount of water involved, it will only be a drop in the bucket (no pun intended).

  5. bron98 says:

    There are mountains of tar off the coast of California from natural release of oil from the sea floor. A few man caused releases of crude oil is not going to hurt the enviroment. Oil is a product of nature after all.

  6. Bron,
    The more oil that stays two or three miles underground is in a better place than loose on the surface. No matter if it is land or water.

  7. I might also add that the more coal that stays in the center of mountains is better for us if it stays there rather than rip whole mountain ranges apart to get at it.

  8. bron98 says:

    “Bottom-dwelling sea creatures have also adapted to the oil seeps. During a dive last year in a minisubmarine called Alvin, scientists saw a giant mound of tar near a seep. It was 262 feet across and 66 feet tall! It was overgrown with urchins and anemones and encircled by schools of fish.

    Specialized bacteria that “eat” the oil lived nearby in slimy white mats. Clams, barnacles, and starfish that are specially adapted to survive near oil seeps thrived on the tar mountain. The scientists in Alvin had never seen anything like it. They said that the mound was a new kind of seafloor feature and that it probably started growing after an earthquake 23,000 years ago.”

    Oil production is not like coal mining.

  9. James Knauer says:

    Excellent read, Chuck. How many promising (and necessary) energy source projects have met the jaws of Big Oil and been chewed to pieces? We’ve known about them for decades, and it continues to be a hard slog because of the avarice created from monopoly, and the terrible blinders it creates.

    Producing fuel from ocean water would put a lot of oil pipe makers out of bidness. Expect just a wee bit of resistance.

  10. bron98 says:

    “Producing fuel from ocean water would put a lot of oil pipe makers out of bidness. Expect just a wee bit of resistance.”

    Evolve or die.

  11. Bron,
    Your mental gymnastics in support of fossil fuel monopolies never ceases to amaze me. How about getting back to the original story. They have learned how to turn ocean water into kerosine and gasoline with no pollution, no digging in the ground, or boring holes thousands of feet deep. We get the liquid fuel we need for long haul transportation, because of the energy density of liquid fuel. No refineries needed, and we don’t have to kiss a Saudi prince’s ring.

    And then there is that little detail of having an unlimited supply of the source material, with no environmental penalty. We already have a lot of nuclear power plants, that like shipboard reactors, are just loafing along with vast stores of energy to spare.

    There are few things I would like better than to see OPEC become a footnote in history.

  12. blouise says:

    This is fabulous news, Chuck, and something my “no math mantra” would deny me knowledge of so thanks for overriding my aversion.

    To the end of trying to make a constructive contribution, I just finished an email to my senator and representative requesting that when their republican learned colleagues rose to object to the funding that they, my senator and representative, tell them to shut up and sit down.

  13. Mike Spindell says:


    Good show. Many innovations that could lead to engineering breakthroughs get shunted away for reasons fathomable only by the economic needs of dominant industries. In automobiles for instance there were Chrysler’s gas turbine prototypes in 1963 that could run on peanut oil: and of course the electric car prototypes developed through the years and discarded:

  14. bron98 says:

    Dr. Stanley:

    I am all for turning ocean water into gasoline. It is a good idea and I have thought so since I saw my 10th grade chemistry teacher separate H2O into hydrogen and oxygen and blow up the hydrogen.

    I am not sure why you think I am against that? I am against government doing it on a commercial scale and think the private sector should do it. If it was a commercially viable option dont you think someone would be pumping seawater and turning it into gasoline right now? Come on, if Exxon could do it they would, do you honestly think they are stupid? If they could produce a gallon of gas for less money than by drilling for it, they would in a heartbeat.

    How much energy does it take to make a gallon of sea gas? How much energy does it take to make a gallon of regular gas? If the cost to produce is 3-6 dollars, it isnt anywhere near commercially viable at this time. It would be great for an aircraft carrier due to the high cost of supply and the strategic issues but not for a civilian car.

    What these people are doing seems like the holy grail of oil production. It would unleash our economy and create millions of jobs out of water. It is too bad a private company didnt come up with this idea. But then if they had, the government would have squashed them so that Exxon and Haliburton wouldnt go out of business.

    Evolve or die.

  15. Tony C. says:

    Chuck says: I might add that he is of the opinion that none of the current alternatives to fossil fuels are completely environmentally friendly.

    I disagree with that. Thermal solar generates electricity via steam engine, and has no emissions; and electricity can power streetcars (or a train that currently operates on diesel), compress natural air, pump water to high reservoirs for energy storage (by release to lower reservoirs), etc. Or separate hydrogen from oxygen. I fail to see how a thermal solar plant is less environmentally friendly than a nuclear power plant.

    I believe electric roadways would be more environmentally friendly than gasoline engines; and I suspect existing roadways could be retro-fitted to allow the re-charging of electric vehicles (like hybrids) on the road. We have electric subways as an example.

  16. Tony C. says:

    For example, consider Concentrated Solar Towers requires about 3.2 acres of land per GW hr per year.

    We use (in the USA) 25,000 to 30,000 TW hr per year; which would require about 30 million acres to generate by CSP, which is about 47,000 square miles; about 39% of New Mexico, or Nevada, or Arizona, etc. Almost exactly the size of the Mojave Desert, which is entirely in the USA. I haven’t verified it, but my memory from prior research says we could generate all our energy needs (fossil and otherwise) with electricity using about 1/10 the land area of our American deserts and concentrated solar towers; that includes all access and service roads.

    I understand that is not liquid fuel; but it is certainly a viable route to energy independence.

  17. “If it was a commercially viable option dont you think someone would be pumping seawater and turning it into gasoline right now?”

    Not when the people buying the pols (and indeed some of the pols themselves, looking your direction Bush and Cheney) at election time own a lot of oil producing lands and refining and support facilities but don’t own the oceans and the practically free sea water. Commercially viable isn’t the same thing as desirable to the current oligarchs in charge of the oil supply. I suspect they’d do everything in their power to suppress this kind of technology if given half a chance. This could ruin them.

  18. Tony,
    The energy source or land use is not always the issue. Consider the fact that solar panels don’t spring out of whole cloth. In their manufacture, chemicals and compounds are used which you definitely don’t want in your drinking water. Same for CFL light bulbs.

    And as I said, liquid fuel is transportable and efficient. I can conceive of a gasoline or jet fuel that is engineered from pure molecules being cleaner burning than fuel from fossil sources.

    Imagine being a first responder who has to start cutting an electric powered automobile apart in order to extricate a trapped passenger. About 375 volts and who knows how much amperage.

    Want a scare? Watch a LiPo battery explode. Batteries create their own problem. I went out to the shop to get a battery for one of the electric RC planes. I had put it on the charger earlier. When I picked it up, the sides were bulging and bloated. I put it in a metal container and took it to the recycling place–in the back of the pickup truck, not inside the car. This model flyer noticed the LiPo battery in his plane beginning to puff up and got it outside just in time. I now charge mine outside on the bbq grill.

    There is no such thing as a free lunch.

  19. Tony C. says:

    Chuck says: Consider the fact that solar panels don’t spring out of whole cloth. In their manufacture, chemicals and compounds are used which you definitely don’t want in your drinking water. Same for CFL light bulbs.

    I was talking specifically CSP, concentrated solar power, which needs nothing but a silvered surface for collection; like mylar or glass. there are no chemicals. It is possible to boil water to steam well enough to keep a steam engine running, which is as clean as it gets, energy wise. One of the reasons I like this approach is precisely because of the low-tech commonality; it requires nothing but the most common elements on Earth; glass, aluminum, iron, copper, etc. It’s a steam engine, with a boiler that can run at around 1000F.

    The current incarnation of this is the concentrated solar power tower (CSPT); it uses solar power to melt salts (not table salts but also abundant) that retain heat very well; and the whole process is as efficient or more efficient than photovoltaic (17% in some incarnations, 24% in others). The mirrors are simple and flat; controlled by small electric servos.

    There are some limitations on size, the angles required by mirrors on the periphery can be shallow enough that rays get blocked by mirrors closer to the tower. There are good solutions to that, but the most obvious is the simple solution of the hexagonal grid for multiple towers; like a bee’s nest.

    In any case, modern CSPT installations that do NOT rely on any exotic materials whatsoever are just as efficient as photovoltaic installations that do (over 20% of sunlight converted to consumable electricity), and require similar land area, about 3.2 acres per Gigawatt, on the same schedule (about 8 hours of usable sunlight per day, in desert climes).

    The storage problem can be solved with low-tech land use, too, for a total of about 20% loss of the energy stored; the idea there (also actually implemented) is to dig a deep reservoir (as opposed to a broad flat one), and use the material to build a higher reservoir, and use excess electrical energy generated by the CSPT to pump water from the low res to the high res. If the sun doesn’t shine, or it is night, drain water from the high res to the low res through turbines; that is traditional hydroelectric tech, highly modernized and efficient too.

    Chuck says: And as I said, liquid fuel is transportable and efficient. I can conceive of a gasoline or jet fuel that is engineered from pure molecules being cleaner burning than fuel from fossil sources.

    Fair enough; I agree it is hard to beat the energy density of liquid fuel. I doubt it is “efficient” in the technical sense of that word (referring to the percentage of power generated versus a mathematically perfect system with zero internal losses).

    I agree the system you describe is very useful arrow in the quiver; and I was unaware of it.

    My argument was only with the claim that we have no pollution free alternatives; we do. We’ve had hydroelectric dams for a long time; their global warming emissions (including CO2) are about 50 times less than natural gas, about 100 times less than coal. A CSPT is even less; and we can power all of the USA with 50,000 square miles of CSPT; that includes all forms of energy we use. It constitutes about 1.3% of the area of the USA. We could double or triple that if we wanted to use the electricity to manufacture liquid fuel from seawater. CSPT has no necessary reliance upon fossil fuels of any kind; since glass, aluminum and steel can all be produced electrically (aluminum relies so heavily upon electric it is usually produced near a hydroelectric dam) and transportation and construction can be achieved electrically.

    Chuck says: Imagine being a first responder who has to start cutting an electric powered automobile apart in order to extricate a trapped passenger. About 375 volts and who knows how much amperage.

    Yes, that could be dangerous. So are gasoline fires, toxic chemicals released from 18 wheelers or train derailments, etc. I presume first responders would be educated in the handling of electric vehicles and their batteries, just as they are trained now in the handling of gasoline tanks. We are not yet in an electric world, so there are problems remaining to be solved. But I have no doubt we will be in an electric world within a century. I think most of our energy (in the modern world) will begin as renewable electric; and stored in some way.

    If safer batteries are needed, we will find a way to solve that problem; or just choose to live with the consequences. As we already choose to do for the terrific tragedies caused by unsafe cars, unsafe trains, unsafe guns, unsafe factories drugs and banks.

    However, I would also point out that electric streetcars and subways and trains carry no fuel; and personal cars need not carry any fuel, either. High capacity batteries capable of transporting a car hundreds of miles (or even dozens of miles) are not a necessity, and existing roadways can be retrofitted to provide safe power (and charge for it), using straightforward electronics and buried rails. They don’t even have to look different. That could actually be more energy efficient and safer than carrying around 20 gallons of gasoline (125 lb), wouldn’t it? And then first responders could tell the grid to disconnect power in a stretch of road whenever that became necessary, for medical emergency or law enforcement or rescue.


    The tech you describe is cool, I am not disparaging that; in fact I think it is an exciting development that could aid greatly in the transition to an all-electric world without fossil fuels (oil or natural gas or coal).

  20. Tony,
    We are not on opposite poles here (pun intended) but the point my friend made was that with every alternative fuel technology, there is some kind of penalty to be paid somewhere along the line. It may not be obvious at first, but if one looks closely enough, you will find a downside. He is a dense matter physicist, who has been working on the cutting edge of pure science for a half century, and like me, refuses to retire. There are more projects currently in the purely theoretical stage that sound interesting, but not anywhere close to even making to a proof of concept project.

  21. bron98 says:

    how would it ruin them? They would just change the means of production and could make huge profits, no geologists, no rigs, no boats, no roughnecks, no roustabouts, no tool pushers. All those positions and systems would be history, gone the way of the horse and buggy. Quaint relics of a by-gone day when people punched holes in the earth.

    They have the supply chain in place so it would be hard for a start-up to gain market share.

  22. Bron,
    There are just some things that are done far better by governments than by corporations. Pure research on a huge scale is one of them. Stockholders and boards of directors want results right away, and if a project is going to cost many millions, or even billions of dollars for just the proof of concept work, no research will be done. Then there is the matter of corporate greed. We have seen some of that with companies like Amazon copyrighting and patenting things like how to set up a camera and lighting for a studio shot….techniques having been in use for a century.

    They hate it when the government invents something then gives the technology away for the benefit of the taxpayers who paid for it in the first place.

    There are law firms that specialize in going after small businesses who create things. For example, Laminar Research is a smallish software company that developed the X-Plane 10 flight simulator program which has better physics than Microsoft’s Flight Simulator although the graphics aren’t quite as good. It is promising, and a step up for a new generation of professional pilot flight simulator training. Laminar Research has been targeted for a vague patent infringement lawsuit by a holding company that has invented nothing, but is claiming Laminar Research infringed on some patent they bought.

    These are the greedy vultures maggots that stifle innovation.

  23. Tony C. says:

    Chuck: It may not be obvious at first, but if one looks closely enough, you will find a downside.

    No offense to your friend, but as a fellow professional scientist, that sounds like baseless superstition to me. Harvesting energy is not, perforce, polluting or negative; green grass is harvesting sunlight to run its biomechanical conversion of air and soil into more grass.

    Even if I believed that maxim; why wouldn’t it apply to the conversion of seawater into fuel?

    So wouldn’t the issue then be which energy source has the least downside?

    I suppose the downside of most energy usage is waste heat; but that is hardly our problem yet. We can concentrate low level waste heat and convert it (eventually) into mechanical movement, even if it is rather pointless mechanical movement. Our big problem right now is greenhouse gases trapping the waste heat and preventing it from radiating out into space as infrared. Waste heat would not be much of a problem if it weren’t for the mirrors overhead.

    In my opinion, CSP, or thermal solar harvesting, has the smallest possible greenhouse gas footprint; the heat is free and the light was going to hit the Earth anyway and warm something up.

  24. Bron,

    As production costs approach zero, consumers won’t pay “old market” prices for long. This is doubly so when a technology becomes common enough the means of production become less centrally controlled. When every port city has some company in direct competition with Big Oil, they loose another competitive advantage in distribution as the value of tightly controlled supply chains dwindle. Not to mention that countries tired of letting Big Oil interests dictate their foreign policy will jump on the chance to throw them under the bus. Big Oil, by their own history of geopolitical machinations, are players that won’t be given nearly as big a seat at the table (if at all) if seawater conversion becomes widespread. “Ruined” may not be the same as “total ruin”, there may be some survivors, but a non-controllable and vast natural resource like seawater spells the essential end of their monopoly. Their stocks would plummet. Their influence would wane. Some countries, specifically in the ME, would likely see their economies collapse as a result as well. And given those interests actions in starting resource wars over the last 100 years? I say good riddance.

  25. Tony,
    You nailed the operant term: “least downside.”
    I always liked the Arthur C. Clarke quote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

  26. bron98 says:

    the 19th and much of the 20th century technological leaps were the result of private enterprise.

    Government should not be involved in science, just as it shouldnt be involved in economics.

  27. Really.

    Then go throw out your microwave, most of the low volume high R insulation in your house, your computer (or anything with a computer in it like your car), don’t use anything designed on a supercomputer, don’t have an MRI, toss any light high strength plastic plumbing you might have, don’t drink your modern purified water and (if you have one) toss your microwave proof rechargeable pacemaker. And do not use weather forecasts.

    All possible through basic science research done by the government.

    Also try to get the Commerce Clause amended out of existence.

    Good luck with that.

    Your Randian fantasy is just that. A fantasy. Basic science would not get done if it were left to the private sector and their perpetual focus on short term returns.

    And now is about the time for Tony to chime in.

  28. Tony C. says:

    Bron: P.S. Stop using the Internet; that is a direct offshoot of ArpaNet, researched, built and funded by government, specifically DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) as used extensively by myself (and perhaps others here) in the late 1970’s.

    Stop using roads, they are the communal property developed at all levels by governments; including the Interstates developed by Eisenhower for ostensibly military contingency but currently the backbone of the economy.

    I think Chuck might be better to weigh in on flight technology; my understanding is a great deal of the technology used in commercial aircraft is a result of military investment in research. Heck, the offshoots of the space program alone have generated trillions in dollars of profits for the private sector.

    The vast majority of initial genetic research was funded by the government and conducted by publicly funded universities and grants to universities for decades before it became profitable to understand genes.

    I do not think you would object to a large partnership of investors, ruled by majority vote, doing some basic research and developing some technology, to be used by them at cost. The public developing technology and doing basic research that may or may not pay off is precisely the same thing, we have a few hundred million people that can afford to research almost anything with the slightest possibility of payoff; and by making the results public we can share the fruits of the one in ten thousand projects that DO pay off big, and work with the fruits of the seven in ten that pay off small, by adding some new drop of understanding to the swimming pool of understanding; maybe it will hook up with something unimagined by the researcher.

    Is it worth knowing that a certain cell type is preferentially depolarized by a magnetic field alternating around one hertz? Sure, even if we have no idea what to do with that knowledge, even if the researcher that discovered it gets hit by a bus and the research never goes any further, throw it on the pile! In one year or one hundred years, it could be the key to somebody yet unborn understanding something else. Knot theory existed and was refined for over a century before it found any application in physics.

  29. Tony C. says:

    Oh yeah, stop using email. The code that routes it was invented by people working on the Arpanet under government contract; in fact the advent of email changed the entire direction of the Arpanet; see for example href=”″>here. An excerpt follows:

    Despite what the world wide web offers, email remains the most important application of the Internet and the most widely used facility it has. Now more than 600 million people internationally use email. By 1974 there were hundreds of military users of email because ARPANET eventually encouraged it. Email became the saviour of Arpanet, and caused a radical shift in Arpa’s purpose.

    Just FYI; so also scrap e-commerce and much of telecommuting. The modern world would not exist without government funding fundamental research projects with no clear goals. Exploration of the unknown, for the sole sake of revealing it, is at the root of all technology, even today, and the shotgun approach of funding any research that has a plausible chance of learning something new is the only way to find things that are surprising.

    For profit corporations don’t do that, and really shouldn’t do that, they have a financial responsibility to their shareholders to invest prudently in their area of expertise, they should not be gambling on thousand to one shots unless they can afford to fund many thousands of shots. The public can do that, and should, and should reap the benefits of it, more or less equally. As we do, that is why it costs us basically nothing to send our emails, or post to websites like this one. Nobody gets to sue us for sending an email without paying them a royalty.

  30. bron98 says:

    the internet was a quaint little way for academics to contact each other until the private sector got involved.

  31. Let’s consider this. The Wright brother’s flights of Dec. 17, 1903 were all flown at about 26 mph. The first airplanes were what we would call “ultralights” these days, which is about as far as small business technology could go at the time. The speed and utility of airplanes did not increase much beyond a novelty until about 1914. What happened that year? War broke out. Forward looking generals figured out that pictures taken from the air could give them valuable intelligence. When ground troops saw a rickety airplane circling overhead at little more than 45 MPH, they shot at it, usually unsuccessfully. So the other side sent up rickety little stringbags to try and shoot the observation plane down. Given the threat, it was necessary for government to step in and build airplanes that were faster, tougher and more maneuverable. No company would have done so on speculation. In four years, the airplane went from rickety ultralight to a tough, fast, formidable machine because of…..wait for it…..government research and development on both sides.

    Now, exactly a century later, the government is funding pure research for making fuel for airplanes that doesn’t depend on long supply lines, using the most plentiful–and free–raw material imaginable. If they can get the cost of jet fuel down to the lower end of the $3-$6 per gallon estimate, that is half what it costs now. As I pointed out, at our local airport, jet fuel is $5.29 per gallon, retail.

    Why hasn’t the private sector done this already? Because there is money to be made in keeping the status quo, especially if one owns a lot of mineral rights, or can make billions on processing and selling those minerals.

    Remember what Gandhi did? Big international corporations had government make it illegal to make salt. Gandhi violated the law by gathering seawater in drying pans and letting it evaporate, leaving sea salt. The corporate/government reaction was to beat him, kill his followers, and put him in jail.

    The very idea that a skinny lawyer who made his own clothes would cost giant corporations money by using unlimited natural resources to make his own salt.

  32. bron98 says:

    Radar was the genesis of the microwave oven but it took the private sector to create the oven itself.

    Seminal work on radar was not sponsored by any government and was done in the 19th century.

    MRI’s? Built on Tesla’s and other’s work into magnetic fields.

    The integrated circuit? Wasnt that developed by Texas Instruments?

  33. bron98 says:

    there is no money in the status quo? The history of the last 150 years has been about faster, cheaper, more efficient to wring the last penny of profit out of something and to capture market share.

    Civilian air travel used to be very plush and then the government got involved and now its like taking a bus.

  34. Radar systems that wouldn’t have been built but for the government need driven by war.
    MRI’s? The first one was built in the 1970’s by Vladislav Ivanov at the USSR State Committee for Inventions and Discovery at Leningrad based on the work of Herman Carr. Most of the Western work on it was done under the auspices of the NSF and at universities in the U.S. and Scotland that were also funded by government money.
    The very first digital Turing-complete computer? ENIAC, built to calculate artillery firing tables for the United States Army’s Ballistic Research Laboratory.
    The Internet Backbone (the hardware subsystems that run it) was built directly upon DARPAnet infrastructure.
    HTML, the language that runs the Web? Was created by Tim Berners-Lee while he was a contractor at CERN – a multi-government run research facility.
    And that lux airline experience that used to be? Was during the age of heavy governmental regulation of commercial flight, regulations undone under the corporatist Reagan administration.

    Try again.

  35. pete says:

    bron98 says:
    August 1, 2014 at 4:41 pm
    the internet was a quaint little way for academics to contact each other until the private sector got involved.

    and invented TGP porn and a way to erase cookies before the kids get on the computer.

  36. pete says:

    O S

    Had a friend in the Marines for the first bush oil war. He told me they had a problem getting enough diesel for the humvees. Said they had lots of drums of JP-4 around for the Abrams so they started mixing transmission fluid into the JP and using that. Also said they went through a lot of injector pumps before they got the ratios correct.

    A lot has been said back and forth about peak oil and climate change but the U S military is preparing for the future. A hotter future with a lot less petroleum. ( I still think that turbine engine in the Abrams was a bad idea.)

  37. “Civilian air travel used to be very plush and then the government got involved and now its like taking a bus.”
    Nope! Commercial air travel went to hell in a handbasket when Ronnie Raygun started deregulation of the airlines. He and his cronies filleted regulations on routes and fares. More people crammed into less space, cities that had been served suddenly no longer had service.

    I know a guy, former Marine pilot, who made a lot of money in business. He decided to start up a small commuter airline back in the 1980s, serving the Gulf coast. Guess what? Continental started flying those same routes, pricing fares below fuel cost. Of course, he couldn’t compete, so had to file bankruptcy and sell his fleet. The week after he went out of business, Continental abruptly ceased service to those small cities. Sociopaths.

  38. Oky1 says:

    **Gene Howington says:
    August 1, 2014 at 12:30 pm **


    It’s clear to me now that there are many here that are Statist, or call them Commie/Nazis or authoritarians, whatever, it deosn’t matter the handle much, they are not G Washington/Jefferson/Madison/Franklin type Americans, I get it..

    (I find it an Oddity & somewhat amusing since it’s model has Failed so many times in history, but anyway.)

    Yet there other are sub groups who strongly oppose the positions of the both the entrench Establishment Democrats & the Republicans.

    IE: We don’t support the Karl Rove Fakes like Congresswoman Michele Bachmann or Shara Palin, but we do support the Ron Paul/Dennis John Kucinich types.

    Anyway, you are sounding like a Statist to me by your comments so answer me this if you would.

    There are producers in this country this govt uses the threat of force to demand they pay the govt a cut of their profits.

    The Govt then by magic decides who is worthy of having those seized funds Redistributed to.

    A small portion of those funds are allocated towards research & development.

    Discoveries are made & patients are filed.

    So Gene, the question is what is the Return on Investment, or Where Is It, for the citizens that had his property Seized by the govt to original Fund the Research.

    Show me the Accounting of how now the Govt is Collecting Royalty Payments of a Responsible amount for the Inventions produced off of the Seized Funds!

    Let my explain to the readers a bit.

    The US & the States Owe a Duty of Service to the Citizens, the Stakeholders! Among the assets of the Stakeholders Citizens are the Mineral Rights, IE: Oil/Gas/Coal/Etc..

    The States & the Feds should be by Duty collecting a responsible amount of Royalties from those Assets for the Benefit of the Citizen Stakeholders to pay for such things as VA benefits etc… (Govt Expenses)

    1/8. 2/8ths Royalties, on the model I and others are working over seas on one project we are working in co-operation with the govt there the split is 40% to the govt & 60% percent to investors.

    So some wish to be Statist here, well fine, Show us the Accounting of our Communal ROI!!!

    Yea, I didn’t think so.

    Well, close enough, you can’t go anywhere with this anyway.

  39. Oky,

    All forms of government are statist. The question is to what degree. The option of not having a state is called anarchy.

    Most of the rest of what you say is gibberish.


    However, you seem to be under the mistaken impression that governments are supposed to operate like businesses. They are not. Many functions of government are not going to be profitable. They simply cost. In addition, many functions of government are best performed by the government because they are best done on a not for profit basis or the margins are so low that no private sector entity would be interested in pursuing them. The notion that government has to be profitable? Is corporatist. Which is fascism.

    Speaking of not going anywhere (but to Hell in a hand basket) . . .

    Some here wish to be fascists. They just don’t realize it because they don’t know what fascism actually entails. Part of that process is the conflation of business and government as serving the same fundamental purposes in a civilization.

    They do not.

  40. bron98 says:

    you mean the computer that filled a warehouse? That is an apt metaphor for government science: big, slow and can only do a limited calculation. 2 geeks in their garage started the revolution and in 30 years here we are.

    You try again.

  41. Without ENIAC? You wouldn’t have a desktop, genius. The work at TI and Bell Labs that made the IC (and consequently PC) revolution possible all traces back to ENIAC.

    I don’t try. I do. And part of the reason I can is because I don’t get my history from the back of sugar packets at Denny’s or filter it through the poisonous prism of Randian Objectivism.

    Rock. Hill. Get to pushin’, B.

  42. Oky1 says:

    **All forms of government are statist. The question is to what degree. The option of not having a state is called anarchy.**


    I agree with your statement.

    Here below Paul Craig Roberts explains pretty close to where my position is, that we have to have some rules that are Enforced.

    We don’t have that today in the US for major corporations & most govt bodies & I could not be more strongly opposed to this status quo we find ourselves.

    Personally I don’t believe this current system can hold more then another year without a major breakdown.

    The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of

  43. Oky1 says:



    It isn’t gibberish that inside some of these outfits like MIT that there is tech usefully to the citizens that is being withheld from society with the intent to maintain the status quo.

  44. Oky1 says:

    Using descriptive words such as Commie/Nazi, Fascism, authoritarians, etc. is very reasonable within the context of some of these subjects/issues.

    Obama/Demo/Repub leaders have been aiding those in Western Ukraine in a fascist take over.

    Western Ukrainians did aid Hitler in WW2 & now their heirs are back at it.

    The US is spending over a trillions a year in military & other security systems yet there are thousands if millions of illegal aliens flooding across our Southern borders.

    They couldn’t give a damn about viable ideas like Jet Fuel from sea water as if they did a small part of those Trillions would be go towards those Jet Fuel type ideas.

    I should have save Gene/Stanley the current map show the oil pollution left in the GOM from BP & Obama/Dems/Repukes. If I see it again I’ll post it.

    **Company In Which Joe Biden’s Son Is Director … – Zero Hedge

    Jul 25, 2014 … Company In Which Joe Biden’s Son Is Director Prepares To Drill Shale …. Burisma, Ukraine’s oil and gas production holdings, also has the right … news/ 2014-07-25/ company-which-joe-b **

  45. User E. J. Heinemann on Daily Kos just published a very interesting and insightful diary on this exact topic. He is right on point. Recommend all our commenters take a look at it. Well written piece.

    • James Knauer says:

      Excellent read, Chuck. A solid debunking with sound ideas for a constructive approach. The world has really grown too small for the continued Red/Blue constant emergency state of existence.

    • Mike Spindell says:

      “It is totally amazing to me that powerful men such as Alan Greenspan or Paul Ryan could be seduced by such a shallow and inaccurate understanding of the world.”

      Excellent Diary Chuck,

      But the question above it is easy to answer. They bought it because they saw themselves as the “creators” of which Rand spoke. Rand tickles the egos of the egotistical and clueless.

  46. bron98 says:

    The friggen idea was not developed by the government, it was in need of a market. The army provided a market for it. As far as I know, defense is a legitimate function of government.

    • Mike Spindell says:

      “As far as I know, defense is a legitimate function of government.”


      You add that because the article you linked shows quite clearly that their research was done under Army aegis. So what you are trying to do is to unlink the Army from government. Not really possible.

  47. James Knauer says:

    Bron, perhaps you can explain the need for the constant bombardment between the “private sector” and “government”? The Venn Diagram of those two entities overlap to such an extent there is no clear purpose to keep denigrating one over the other. Both are necessary. Both provide unique services to society. Sole invention is not one of them. Edison, Eckert, and Jobs were all nothing absent standing on the shoulders of those who came before them, regardless of the “sector” from which those ancestors arose. These men with egos are but blips; that may sound terribly harsh, and it acknowledges that it takes a whole society to make one.A single mind, even one called a “genius,” is not god.

    Except, being American, mine, of course.

  48. bron98 says:


    No I am not, defense is a legitimate function of government. Some things, like the construction of the atomic bomb, are the function of government. But in general, the government should not be funding science.

  49. bron98 says:


    I dont know of too many people who think they have done it totally alone. But that doesnt mean that society is responsible for Steve Job’s accomplishment, society is a metaphysical given. In that respect we all benefit, I may as well say Steve Jobs benefits from DNA.

    • James Knauer says:

      “But that doesnt mean that society is responsible for Steve Job’s accomplishment”

      Bron, I don’t make that argument. First off, it’s too tempting. I prefer the ground where we acknowledge his DNA within the context in which he arose. Even his “garage” was built by someone else. It seems both are worth supporting with rational budget choices.

      Oh dear, I said “rational,” and with no slight to you Bron, Dear Reader. It’s just the ignoramases (ingnorasnuum? moroni?) that keep essentially electing themselves are the chief impediment to real progress, even if “progress” means “paying the damned bills.”

  50. bron98 says:


    Society is a metaphysical given, it is. It is what we exist in, it is our environment. An individual exists within this given. You may just as easily say the universe is responsible for individual accomplishment because society exists within the universe but that means nothing just as saying society is responsible for an individuals accomplishment means nothing.

  51. Gene,
    It was actually the NASA space program that made Intel the success it became. If it had not been for the influx of vast amounts of NASA money into the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, I doubt anyone would have heard of Intel. Engineers would still be using slide rules and Monroe calculators, and we would be watching 13 channels on TV.

    Should we get into the huge amount of government money that made Kelly Johnson and Lockheed’s Skunk Works possible? Of course, there was only one Kelly Johnson, just as there was only one Steve Jobs.

  52. Interesting….. And you mean the country’s we occupy just for refueling won’t be needed…. My, my the Dulles must be wriggling in the grave….

  53. Oky1 says:

    ** Charlton S. Stanley, PhD, ABPP says:
    August 2, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    User E. J. Heinemann on Daily Kos just published a very interesting and insightful diary on this exact topic. He is right on point. Recommend all our commenters take a look at it. Well written piece. **


    That was a well written piece. He suggest some admirable goals many of which I’m supportive of & as with the past still today it’s only a question/argument of the models we use to attempt to achieve those goals.

    Most of us hope for benevolent leaders, but that isn’t the case with the fake Red/Blue leaders we have today. We just have the remnates of what used to be a functioning govt.

    I’m no expert on Ann Rand so I can’t say whether Alan Greenspan was using pieces of her work in his models.

    Regardless of what else Greenspan was/is it is a matter of public record he ran one of the largest ponzi scams in history & a series of most every kind of financial fraud one can think of.

    The results of those frauds are still with today & they’ve only gotten larger & barely remain hiding from the public by papering them over with more fraud.

    Everyone may recall this decent American below that attempted to stop Greenspan, Rubin, Clinton, House/Senate leadership & Wallst Banks/Insur Scum.

  54. shortfinals says:

    Chuck, you said,

    “There are just some things that are done far better by governments than by corporations. Pure research on a huge scale is one of them.”

    Having lived through the period 1960 to 1990 in the United Kingdom, and having experienced everything from the cronyism (the ‘Gannex Mac’ years) of the Wilson administration to the slash and burn uber-capitalism of the Thatcher era, when anything that wasn’t part of the landscape (and, in some cases, the landscape itself) was sold to benefit her banking friends in ‘the City’, I can say with a great deal of fervour that I agree with your statement.

    As an example I would cite CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), not so much a fabulous research tool for cutting edge physics, but as an exercise in democratic action, with membership now extending to 21 states. (Aside: My niece would be working there now, if not for the fact that they had a rather inconvenient hiring freeze!).

    Not everything in Europe works as it should – look at the French sewerage/waste water system (then again, perhaps not), but in many cases research works well, and the conversion of new sciences into newer technologies continues apace. (The type of insulin injector I use – one of the most common in the U.S.A. – was developed and patented in Germany, for example).

    Chuck, you are quite correct; economies of scale are best managed by governments, not huge ‘for profit’ corporations.

  55. Thanks, shortfinals.
    Glad you could come by and add your (considerable) experience to the discussion.

    BTW, did you watch the video of the guys with the bad LiPo battery in that very expensive RC model? One did not need to know the language spoken to understand what was said.

  56. Tony C. says:

    Bron says: You may just as easily say the universe is responsible for individual accomplishment because society exists within the universe but that means nothing just as saying society is responsible for an individuals accomplishment means nothing.

    That is an incorrect parallel; the universe does not do anything actively or intentionally to aid or retard progress or accomplishment; while society does. Society is other people that are obligated to protect your rights, protect your property, provide you police protection. In our society we also provide roads, court systems, prisons with guards and funds to keep predators away from your business, inspections of buildings, foods, and other businesses to prevent you from being defrauded or exploited or coerced.

    You cannot afford to do all that on your own, Walmart or McDonald’s cannot afford to drop a store in Somalia or Northern Pakistan and make a profit off it (or they probably would). That is not because our land is particularly more productive than Somalia; you will find McDonald’s and Walmarts in New Mexico or Arizona. It is because the collective of our society is greater than the individuals of it, by mutual protection and support and infrastructure we have leverage that makes us fifty or a hundred times more productive than a Somalian or Northern Pakistani or subsistence farmer or hunter-gatherer. That productivity is entirely due to society, and the excess thus created is what Walmart lives on, what all the consumer-serving corporations live on. They would not exist without the constant active assistance of society.

    The same goes for the erstwhile Steve Jobs; he was a brilliant designer that would have likely died digging an irrigation ditch or harvesting a crop if born five hundred years ago; there is certainly no evidence that his skills would have been transferably valuable in 1514 or made him rich, and there is quite a bit of evidence that he was lucky to be born in the right time to be the right age to take advantage of other people’s inventions and ideas when there was low hanging fruit to be picked. Jobs did not invent the 6502 microprocessor the Apple I was based upon; and neither Jobs nor Wozniak invented the very idea of a personal computer. It occurred to Jobs, involved in the Homebrew Computer Club, that making personal computers was difficult and technical enough that he and Wozniak could sell them. That is hardly a genius insight, people have been commercializing complicated expertise for centuries.

    Society DID build Steve Jobs, it’s excess productivity is what created his market, the ability of people to earn enough money to tinker with tech is a direct result of our collective bargain with each other for national and local protection, court systems and contracts, roads and inspections and safety. The universe does not actively protect us and create an environment in which some things are given freely, like our Rights. Society does that.

  57. bron98 says:

    Society is a metaphysical given just as the universe is a given. It just is. If there was no society, there would be no Apple. If there was no universe there would be no Apple either.

    You cannot say that the universe is responsible for Apple and you cannot say society is responsible for Apple.

  58. bron98 says:

    I further think that to say society is responsible for the creation of Apple is like saying the universe is responsible for someone walking across a field. To say society is responsible for the creation of Apple is correct to a point, that point being that Apple would be impossible outside of a technological society. But our society is a given and everyone has the possibility to create Apple just as everyone can walk across a field. Some people choose not to walk across the field, that is not the fault of the universe. Just as not creating Apple is not the fault of society. If not creating Apple is not the fault of society, how can creating Apple be the result of society?

    The action an entity takes is the sole province of the entity, the universe does not cause the entity to act. The action is part of the nature of the entity.

  59. Tony C. says:

    bron: Then you misunderstand what I said. Society is responsible for enabling Steve Jobs to use whatever talents he had in creating Apple. Society is a partner in Apple, much as a venture capitalist is a partner in the businesses he funds, even if he has no particular skill in business or management or entrepreneurship; like some medical doctors I know that have funded successful businesses with nothing but money. Society provides the economic, political, legal and infrastructure environment that people like Jobs succeed in, paid for by our taxes and taxes on the citizens before us, secured by and protected by our lives and blood and children, maintained by the taxes on our labor, our property, and our purchases.

    The Universe provides no service to Jobs, Society does. They are not equivalent in the least. Society is a partner in Apple that would not exist without the will and agreement and sacrifice of people (past and present); the Universe is a given that exists whether or not people do a damn thing. They are not equivalent.

  60. gbk says:


    “Society is a metaphysical given.”

    A society of some some form is a given for humans; however the form a society takes is far from given, Bron. This statement of yours says little, it is just a gloss of “nice sounding words,” that really mean nothing if you take another step.

  61. bron98 says:


    I think you are right, the form of the society does matter. A company like Apple has a far better chance of coming into existence in a society dedicated to individual liberty than it would in a society like North Korea.

  62. gbk says:


    Don’t misconstrue, Bron, for the purpose of fitting me in your script.

    I said the form of a society is not a given. Your, “[s]ociety is a metaphysical given,” statement has no meaning.

    You’ve really become a zealous asshole, proud of your ignorance and inability to recognize and employ honest argument.

  63. bron98 says:


    I really didnt mean to be an asshole, actually I was agreeing with you. The form of society is not a metaphysical given as you correctly point out. All I am saying is that a corporation like Apple probably would not be created in a society like North Korea.

    Since North Korea does have infrastructure and intelligent people there is more going on than just society in the creation of Apple or any company for that matter.

  64. bron98 says:


    I think maybe you have as well. I merely suggested there is more to the creation of a company like Apple than mere infrastructure and you go ballistic.

Comments are closed.