Scientist Dreams of Freedom From Oil

So the whole idea kind of died, except in the mind of Gene Wescott. As he told me a few days ago, he just couldn't see letting all that energy "go to waste."

As the years rolled by, the world grew even more dependent on fossil fuels, and we grew somewhat more aware of the real cost. Fossil fuels produce greenhouse gases that many scientists believe are making the planet warmer. That could have a devastating impact around the globe. And some day, by the way, those fuels are going to run out.

In recent years, Wescott has returned to the idea of building geothermal power plants in the Aleutians, and using that electricity to produce hydrogen. The hydrogen could be liquified, he says, and shipped to Asia or the west coast of the United States. One of the largest geothermal resources he found in his earlier research is near the major port deepwater port of Dutch Harbor, making it almost seem as though providence planned the whole thing.

So Far, Oil Is Cheap

Wescott approached several government agencies with his idea, but so far, nothing has come of it.

"They said there's no market" for the hydrogen, he says.

True enough. You still can't buy a car that runs on hydrogen, although that day may not be too far away. And there aren't any power plants that run on hydrogen, although if the gas were available, there might be.

And who knows what it would all cost. Oil is still cheap, compared to nearly all other alternate energy sources, and nobody wants to put big bucks into a product that's going to be undersold by an industry that already has a huge constituency.

So Wescott's great idea remains just that, a great idea. Take energy from some place where it isn't needed, transport it to a place where it is needed, and convert it into a product that could help clean up our skies and improve our lives.

That's the stuff that legends are made of. And for now, that's where this remains, a legend. But one of these days, this old world will get so messed up that we'll start listening to people like Wescott. Let's hope it isn't too late.

Lee Dye’s column appears weekly on A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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