Impossible 10/2/21

Science with Richard Bleil

More and more, I’m seeing vague claims trying to sell people miracle items or inviting them to invest in a device unlike any other.  “The entire nation of Ablagoogastan (usually it’s a real nation) is now energy independent because of this trick…”  The claims are always very appealing, and usually energy related, and the explanation vague.

For example, I was very curious about one of these claims and decided to waste a little time watching the video.  The commentator was standing in a garage in a video that was way too long to watch all the way through as he spoke of his uncle working on electric vehicles in the automobile industry and his experimentation on free energy.  His uncle, of course, had passed away (as would be necessary or his uncle would be giving the narrative) but he was an expert in his field, and his aunt let him have his uncle’s notes.  Looking at one of the most promising entries, he decided, on his own, to build the device using easily obtainable items available for around forty dollars (it has to be cheap, or nobody would be interested in building their own).  He hooked up a battery and put in just a little bit of energy to get it started, and what he got out was way more energy than he put in.  It was amazing and now he’s free from the electrical company, and wouldn’t you like to be?

Of course, they never tell you the secret.  You have to buy that secret for only ninety-nine ninety-five or whatever the price was, and they’ll send you complete instructions for you to do it yourself.  There was, however, a photo on the ad.  It had what looked like a standard electric motor on one side, and what I assume was a generator on the other, and what looked to be a flywheel in between the two. 

A flywheel is a good way to preserve some of the kinetic energy put into a system, but it certainly won’t produce energy and always loses it thanks to friction.  So, for example, if you put a flywheel in an electric vehicle, then it should, in principle, continue spinning as the car comes to rest, say at a stoplight, and that kinetic energy can be used to start the vehicle moving when the light turns green.  Some of the energy then is reused rather than lost, but there are problems.  First, flywheels have to be very heavy to be effective, so you might save energy at a stop sign, but you’re spending more energy driving around with it because of this added weight, not to mention the energy lost to get the flywheel spinning.  Second, as I’ve said, with internal friction, it will always slow down.  You can do a lot to reduce friction, and I could see some flywheels continuing for a significant amount of time (depending on the design and weight, maybe even a day or two), but it will lose energy to friction and eventually come to a stop.  This is why flywheels are not in electric cars.  In mine, for example, they help conserve some electrical energy by having a secondary braking mechanism that is actually attached to a small electric generator, so when I use that braking mechanism some of the kinetic energy is converted back into electricity, but it’s still less than perfect.  Even here, some of the braking momentum is lost.  It’s simply impossible to have a perfect system to recover in its entirety all of the lost energy. 

Will people fall for the scam?  Of course, they will.  How often have students complained about science or math saying, “I’ll never use this”?  Those are the people who don’t understand even rudimentary physics and will be likely victims of this scam.  They may even go so far as to get the necessary motors and equipment only to build a dangerous device that cannot work.  If sued, the scammer (assuming he can be tracked down) will likely claim that it is making more energy because he used a 12 volt car battery to put energy in but is getting 220 volt electricity out of it.  Sounds like more energy, but the volt does not measure amount of energy.  It takes sophisticated equipment to accurately plot wattage in and out over extended time to actually verify if it is generating its own power or not (not volts, watts), and I can guarantee that it won’t measure up.  What he built, if he actually built anything at all, is a mechanical step-up transformer.

Understanding math and science matters.  Recently, I was watching a Canadian comedy series where in negotiations, the slow man insisted on taking one fifth of the profit as his payment, and the intelligent woman said she’d bump that up to ten percent.  Of course, he did the math, and ten is twice as much as five so it’s a better deal, right?  The reality is that one fifth is twenty percent, so she is paying him half of what he wanted. 

If you don’t think this could happen in real life, consider two competing fast-food chains (which you may or may not recognize).  One has been selling, for a very long time, the quarter pounder cheeseburger.  To compete, the second offered a third pounder.  A quarter pound is twenty-five percent, while a third pound is over thirty-three percent, but the third pounder never took off.  Most Americans thought, well, four is larger than three, so why would I want a third pounder.  The third pounder has been taken off of the market. 

Still, though, I guess those people who said they’ll never use math in the real world were correct.

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