Bill Gates and gravel batteries...

Something you likely didn't know and wouldn't guess is that Mary Lee and I are environmental wackos. Our home is a Touchstone/Energy Star home with a HERS raing of 52--geothermal with an ERV and all that.

The first two cars we bought were diesel VW Rabbits. The summer of 1979, one pulled a trailer weighing 1,950 pounds from Madison to Boulder. If I'd touched the brakes we would have crashed. Used third gear the whole way at 55 MPH and averaged 37 MPG!

Anyhow, here's a fascinating video...

of the latest idea in energy storage now being funded by Bill Gates. (TB)


Haven't rich people funded perpetual motion machines for a very long time... I wonder if he has an alchemy project in the hopper as well.

al sends

Gates' startup is doing something that's actually fairly old--on the west coast of Michigan, there has been a reservoir for over 25 years that uses the excess power on the grid (e.g. from nuclear plants like Cook and coal fired plants) to pump water into the reservoir during the night, letting it back out during the day.

That said, I'm not quite sure what the effectiveness of Gates' plan is. Certainly it would be easier in arid areas to use rock instead of water, but all that rock is going to pour grit into bearings--maintenance on that one is going to be hard. Never mind that environmentalists aren't totally keen on moving large piles of rock (or huge amounts of water) to begin with. It crushes (or drowns) the marmots on those mountain-tops.

I'm not against saving energy--my home has about 40 CF light bulbs (those before the mandate no less), high efficiency heat/hot water heat, and 6" outside framing. It probably scores about a 70-75 on the scale referenced. I just doubt that Gates' gravel scheme passes any ROI "giggle tests" once you price the capital needed.

A comment on this post then I'm going to comment on your March 26 post--sorry I'm a bit late to the game.

Your mention of the VW diesels of the late 1970's is something most people have forgotten. Some of those diesels were pushing 60mpg. Even "regular" 4 cylinder engines were delivering 48mpg. Today, auto makers are crowing about 33mpg. The U.S Department of Energy conducted a study a few years ago which demonstrated the theoretical max mpg of an internal combustion engine could exceed 300mpg. There was a guy in Florida recently who figured out how to modify his car engine to run on hydrogen he produced from a device that could efficiently extract it from water. Four ounces of water yielded enough hydrogen to run his car for 150 miles. If only the Illumanati weren't running the show...

As to your Faithful are the wounds of a brother post, introspection is always a problem. The fact that the church member that needed discipline had money may have never consciously figured into the discussion. David W. was the guy who could take a couple of steps back and see what the deal was.

People attend church every week, consider themselves devout Christians, and smugly assume they will be with God in paradise, yet scripture tells us the gates are narrow. The biggest reason people will not get to glory, who could have had the opportunity to get there, is the lack of objective introspection.

People today also have the problem that they are just infantile minded emotional candy asses who can dish out criticism, but can't take any. WAH...WAH....WAH.. I can recall a guy who was constantly dogging out our son for misbehaving. His issues were valid and we have tried to take action to correct them, however, HIS son was well on the road to being a little cannibal spawn of Satan. His kid would joyfully sink his choppers into peoples toes and was otherwise routinely up to no good due to the fact that daddy thought that minisatan was an angel. He simply refused to believe HIS kid had problems.

It is this lack of introspection that is the main problem.(Whether individuals or church leadership) People in our church who have accepted discipline and have looked inside themselves and discovered that the stated criticism was valid have done well. Others who have refused to acknowledge they have an issue have not fared so well.

I guess the bottom line to my comment is that introspection is the key and the church should hand out discipline where necessary and every effort should be made to get the person to really see where the problem lies. If they take the hint, great, if they don't it's God's will. A faithful church can overcome any temporary hardship the loss of a member causes.

It seems to me that with so many moving parts there will be enormous amounts of energy lost to friction within the system; but maybe that energy loss is comparable to the energy lost in the internal resistance of batteries.

I remember a physics teacher describing how energy is stored as rotational momentum in fly wheels, and wondering why that hasn't been applied on a large scale. There is only one point of friction in a fly wheel (as opposed to dozens in each gravel-bucket assembly). If friction can be minimized at that single point, maybe through magnetic suspension, the fly wheel can be very efficient, and store energy for a long time. I suppose that the logistical problem is that to maximize energy-storage potential in a fly wheel it must have a large radius, with most of its mass stored in its circumfrence. You think Mr. Gates would fund research for that?

That's awesome! That's exactly what I had imagined: wheels floating on magnets, sealed in vacuum chambers. It seems to me that it's a more efficient way to store energy than piles of gravel--except, of course, for when it explodes.

Abram, Joseph; brilliant example of the trouble with flywheels. Until you get to some very high speeds--9000mph rotationally-- the mass of a flywheel doesn't carry nearly as much energy as fossil fuel does.

That said, it is cool (unless you live nearby, or unless you're a taxpayer paying for the boondoggle) when they fall apart, I guess.

Knowing that it typically takes 4-10kG of fossil fuel to make a kG of metal or composite, I think my preference will be for lower tech options that better use the Carnot cycle like diesel and cogeneration (heat recovery from power plants--gets Carnot efficiency to about 60% vs. standard 40%).

In answer to Mikes comment about diesels: I really wish more four cylinder diesels were available in the U.S. I have a buddy who has figured out how to swap old unrestricted Mercedes-Benz diesel engines into Toyota trucks. He's running his on vegetable oil which he gets for free (the exhaust smells like french fries!) He says a buddy of his is running on used automatic transmission fluid. The old unrestricted diesels are more accepting of various fuels (kerosene, moonshine, lamp oil, whatever will burn). It's a bit unorthodox and a difficult project to undertake on your own, but it certainly is a solution to the high fuel prices.

I'm hopeful that the kinks can be worked out. It looks like they just had a hiccup in the manufacturing process.

I like oil. I like old fashion light bulbs. Recycling is a pain.

Salvation is a gift for my faith... Interspection cannot earn it.


Abram; maybe. Probably closer to the truth is "it's hard as anything to get something spinning that fast without having it fly apart." In other words, it's not just a manufacturing defect, but physics working against you.

You guys are great! Asking all the right questions, making all the right conclusions.
You might begin by asking why anyone is interested in gravel batteries anyway? The answer is that solar and wind power are "green" but come in bursts and generally at the wrong time. Without a way to store their energy, only a small fraction of the "installed power" is available for use. For wind, it is around 12-18% of installed capacity, making it about 4-10 times more expensive to use wind energy than coal. Ask the British homeowner what he thinks of his electricity costs recently. In the US, coal power runs 6-8 cents a kilowatt-hour. In California, we are talking about 23 cents per kwh (to subsidize wind). Britian is still climbing.
Hence the need for energy storage, and gravel batteries.

Okay, back to the story line.

1) Water makes a wonderful gravity-battery. The Swiss buy up French electricity when it is cheap--since the French use nuclear power that has two positions ON/OFF and thus must make it when it isn't needed--and pump water up into high alpine lakes. Then when the price of electricity is high--during the daytime or in the summer--they let the water back out of the lakes and sell it to the French for more than they bought it for. Calvin's capitalism would be proud. The Swiss benefit from not having to build nuclear power plants, the French benefit from not having to build peak-capacity plants. But the French press, on the other hand, thinks that the Swiss should provide this service free-of-charge...
The gravel batteries are merely the same idea using a rough approximation to water--finely ground rock. As many people have pointed out, it has moving parts, axles, bearings, friction, and is unlikely to make a profit. So why is it being proposed instead of water? The EPA. They don't like hydropower right now. Hence the crazy replacements. I vote for liquid mercury. Thirteen times the density of water, and no bearings, axles, ...

2) Why aren't there more diesels on the road? In America there's a craze for hybrids like the Prius. But the batteries in the Prius will likely last only 3-5 years. The car gets about 40-50mpg and diesels already outperform that. In Europe, they've been driving diesels for 20 years. So why did Obama push the Volt and not a Diesel? Because he isn't for conservation, he's against hydrocarbons.

And this is the big mistake everybody makes. There's a world of difference between being "green" and being anti-oil. It's the difference between being pro-life and anti-abortion. Europeans would ask, "If the conservatives in America are pro-life, then why are they not anti-death penalty?"

3) So is it necesary to build big hydropower batteries or gravel mountain batteries to store power so that we can go green?

Of course not. Oil is the best energy storage mechanism we know, and even hydrogen, which burns to H20 without making CO2, isn't as good as hydrocarbons in energy storage. But more importantly, CO2 is the gas of life. The more CO2 the atmosphere has, the greener the planet. It helps regulate the temperature, encourages growth of plants, makes plants more drought resistant, buffers the oceans, and is all around a good thing. It is God's great gift to man, and the oil deposits are proof that there is a God in heaven who loves us.

So conserve as much as you can, we are stewards after all. But do not despise the gifts God has given, and the benefits he has arranged. The "green" movement is dominated by misinformation, propaganda and godless idolatry. Don't be misled.

Rob, I think for the link under your name you meant (instead of .net)

>>You might begin by asking why anyone is interested in gravel batteries anyway?

Dear Rob,

All the things you've written were behind my posting of this gravel battery piece. You've added stats and details and I thank you.

The post assumed Christians who read Baylyblog know why money is being put into purportedly green technologies. One regular commenter here who's an IU prof has been providing good links showing the errors of anthropogenetic global warming for years:

Hope that reassures you.


Brothers Bayly,

Do you have any recommendations on books or websites that approach the environmental issue from a more Biblical, not so liberal, anti-hydrocarbon basis? I've done my fair share of research into the issue but I have grown exceedingly tired of all the global warming propaganda that is used, and have pretty much given up on such things. Though I suppose its now climate change since they can't ignore the fact that the planet is actually in a cooling phase right now... Oh to have a car that got 50 miles per gallon.. Especially since I expect gas to be well over $5 this summer in my small mountain town...

Soli Deo Gloria

>>Do you have any recommendations...

I've responded to your question here, brother:


Add new comment