Let’s cut through the fog of politics to address a real-life problem that affects us right where we are. Pete Seeger, in “The Power of Song,” said “The place most important to you is right where you are.” “Act locally and think globally.” To solve the energy problem, we must act locally and think globally. The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.

Tunis Wentick, Jr., of the University of Alaska, has studied wind patterns in Alaska, planning for the generation of electricity from the power of clean, renewable winds. Certainly the power is there — and it leaves no carbon track! Wind power has been used for thousands of years as people moved to the four corners of the earth. Just recently I learned two European nations plan to reduce nuclear reactors by 50 percent in favor of wind generated electricity.

How might electricity generated in Alaska benefit us where we are? Farmers in three states say fertilizers and fuels are two greater expenses. Electric power applied to nitrogen in air and water (both in Alaska) can be used to “fix” nitrogen in a form useable for many, many purposes. Nitrogen gas in the air is inert and at one time considered unusable. Now we know that all life would cease if there were not ways to activate nitrogen. Nature itself has done this in many ways. In 1910, Lord Raleigh discovered that an electrical discharge in nitrogen gas has produced “active” nitrogen. A great deal of energy is required to separate the two atoms of nitrogen bound together as nitrogen gas. Once the nitrogen is fixed, the stored energy is potentially releasable (as in gun powder, dynamite, fertilizer, foods, vitamins, etc.), according to Wikipedia.

The biggest use of man-made fixed nitrogen is for fertilizer. Nitrogen gas under extreme pressure and temperature generated by burning natural gas, nitrogen and hydrogen atoms combine to produce ammonia. Unfortunately, this process (known as the Haber process) leaves gigantic carbon tracks which endanger the environment.

Ammonia is produced in nature by bacteria growing in association with higher plants such as legumes (soybeans, clover, alfalfa, peanuts, peas,, etc.) and some other plants. Interestingly, Dr. Shaukat Ahmed discovered that trace amounts of cobalt increased the ability of soybean plants to fix and use nitrogen resulting in up to a 14-fold increase in growth of the bean plant. I was working in that lab when this discovery was made. Shaukat is now working at the atomic Energy Commission in Karachi, Pakistan.

Now imagine driving a car powered by fuel generated by the wind and stored as fixed nitrogen. It’s powerful stuff.

 

— Jim E. Dale, La Cygne