National Geographic News
Cyclists ride on a road in heavy smog in Ganyu county, Lianyungang city,

Cyclists ride through heavy smog in eastern China's Jiangsu province last week. The top U.S. environmental official, Gina McCarthy, sees public outcry over air pollution paving the way toward progress on climate change in China.

Photograph by Imaginechina, AP    

Marianne Lavelle

National Geographic

Published December 10, 2013

The state-run air quality monitoring station in Beijing isn't new. It has been operating since 1974. But last year for the first time, it began to make public hourly pollution data across the 6,500 square miles of China that the station covers, readings that often have spelled bad news for the 25 million people in and around the capital. China began releasing data from other cities earlier this year. (See related, "Harbin Smog Crisis Highlights China's Coal Problem.")

Beijing's air quality monitoring station was the first stop Monday for Gina McCarthy, the top U.S. environmental official, in a weeklong trip to China for talks on how the world's top two greenhouse gas polluters can work together to tackle climate change.

With no global treaty to reduce carbon emissions in sight, the trip is an effort by President Barack Obama's administration to demonstrate that efforts at bilateral cooperation hold promise. But headlines leading up to McCarthy's visit seemed to send a different message, with the financial center of Shanghai so shrouded in acrid haze last week that schools were closed, flights were canceled, vehicles were ordered off the road, and factories were powered down.

Levels of PM 2.5—the particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter that pose grave respiratory health risk—were more than 24 times higher than the limit recommended by the World Health Organization. (See related story: "Coal Burning Shortens Lives in China, New Study Shows.") The levels also indicate off-the-charts coal and diesel fuel burning that has helped China overtake the United States as the world's top source of carbon dioxide emissions, with per capita emissions now closing in on those of Europe. (See interactive map, "Four Ways of Looking at Global Carbon Footprints.")

Given the seriousness of China's pollution problems and its imperative to extend jobs and energy to its 1.4 billion people, what hope is there for progress on climate through collaboration with the United States, its top customer for its goods as well as one of its key economic rivals?  (See related story: "Climate Change Action Could Save 500,000 Lives Annually, Study Says.")

McCarthy and other U.S. officials see hope in three key areas.

Truth-Telling on Air Pollution

McCarthy blogged that the Beijing monitoring station was an important stop on her tour because of the role of information and understanding as a "first necessary step" in developing a long-term climate strategy. An indirect prod from the United States prompted China to begin releasing its own hourly air pollution data last year; the move followed controversy that erupted over the U.S. embassy monitoring Beijing air quality and tweeting the readings.

The U.S. embassy was aiming to inform its own personnel in the capital, but the resulting change in Chinese government  practices could change that nation's dynamic on environmental protection, McCarthy said in a speech last week on the eve of her trip at the Center for American Progress. "We know public outcry in the 1950s and the 1960s led to significant change," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator said. "China also is facing significant public outcry . . . The good news is we have been there before. We know the technologies that are available, and we know what planning can do. We think they can learn lessons from us and leap frog, and do it in a way that they can continue to build a clean energy economy." (See related, "Climate Change: China Puts Kibosh on New Coal Plants.")

Ramping Up Renewable Energy

Although coal fuels 70 percent of China's energy consumption, the state has invested aggressively in renewable energy to meet its 12th Five-Year Plan's goals of increasing non-fossil energy to 11.4 percent, up from 8.3 percent in 2010. (See related Quiz: What You Don't Know About World Energy.) One of China's tools in this drive—big government subsidies for renewable energy developers—has stirred ire among some manufacturers and unions in the United States and Europe, who have charged that they are employing an unfair trade practice that put other countries' renewable industries at a disadvantage. The European Union just last week reached an agreement to curb Chinese solar panel imports in an effort to settle the dispute. Over the past year, the U.S. and China each have slapped tariffs on the other over the solar energy dispute.

Even as the trade dispute is playing itself out, worldwide prices for solar panels have been plummeting in part because of the effort of the world's leading renewable energy investor, China, with more than $66 billion in spending last year. Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, believes it is significant that China appears to have doubled its pace of renewable capacity in the first ten months of this year. "As a response to their air pollution challenge they have significantly increased their renewable goals in recent months," Schmidt blogged. "We expect even more renewable energy action to be unveiled in the coming months." (See related interactive, "World Electricity Mix.")

Cutting Refrigeration Gas Pollution

Hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, are super-potent greenhouse gases used to cool both people and food. And they are becoming a significant contributor to climate change, due to staggering growth in air-conditioning, refrigeration, and insulation in China. The gases are substitutes for the ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, that were banned by the Montreal Protocol. For the past four years, the United States, Canada, and Mexico have been proposing an amendment to the Montreal pact to phase down production and consumption of HFCs, but China refused to address the issue due to concerns the move would impede the nation's economic growth.

But when President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in California this summer, the two signed a little-heralded agreement to work together for the first time on phasing down production and consumption of HFCs. Such a phase-down could reduce 90 gigatons of CO2 equivalent by 2050, equal to eliminating roughly two years worth of current global greenhouse gas emissions, and buying the world more time to address the far more difficult task of reducing fossil fuel emissions. In her speech last week, McCarthy cited the HFC agreement as a key example of U.S.-China climate cooperation.

Certainly, the U.S.-China rivalry also might get in the way of progress on climate change. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, the U.S. coal industry group that has been critical of EPA policy to reduce coal emissions from U.S. power plants, blasted McCarthy's views on China. (See related, "Amid U.S.-China Energy Tension, "Clean Coal" Spurs Teamwork.") "McCarthy's optimism about China—the world's largest polluter—adopting similarly stringent policies as the United States to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions is also especially troubling and represents yet another example of the Administration's global crusade to take coal offline," said ACCCE spokeswoman Laura Sheehan in a statement.

McCarthy acknowledged conflict between the two nations, but said it was crucial that both act on climate change. "We know there's economic competition between the two—that's healthy—but we do share the same climate and we are well positioned to begin to work together in greater depth." (See related "Pictures: A Rare Look Inside China's Energy Machine.")

This story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visit The Great Energy Challenge.

Michael Brown
Michael Brown

Very true Kelfin, National Geographic is right but your point defiantly brings up a good point and it makes me realize what this world is doing to us. You are going to continue reading this because you have already started reading it so you don't want to waste your time right? But my final point is that this is a very arguable article and brings up many good points. Have a great night.

Sincerely, Michael Brown

Kelfin Planck
Kelfin Planck

Mark Goldes, starting in the mid-seventies, engaged for several years in the pretense that his company SunWind Ltd was developing a nearly production-ready, road-worthy, wind-powered "windmobile," based on the windmobile invented by James Amick; and that therefore SunWind would be a wonderful investment opportunity.

After SunWind "dried up" in 1983, Goldes embarked on the long-running pretense that his company Room Temperature Superconductors Inc was developing room-temperature superconductors; and that therefore Room Temperature Superconductors Inc would be a wonderful investment opportunity. He continues the pretense that the company developed something useful, even to this day.

And then Goldes embarked on the pretense that his company Magnetic Power Inc was developing "NO FUEL ENGINES" based on "Virtual Photon Flux;" and then, on the pretense that MPI was developing horn-powered "NO FUEL ENGINES" based on the resonance of magnetized tuning-rods; and then, on the pretense that his company Chava Energy was developing water-fueled engines based on "collapsing hydrogen orbitals" (which are ruled out by quantum physics); and then, on the pretense that he was developing strictly-ambient-heat-powered "NO FUEL ENGINES" (which are ruled out by the Second Law of Thermodynamics).

But of course, the laws of physics always make an exception for the make-believe pretenses of Mark Goldes.

Goldes' forty-year career of "revolutionary breakthrough" pretense has nothing to do with science, but only with pseudoscience, pseudophysics, and relentless flimflam.

Kelfin Planck
Kelfin Planck

Mark Goldes' "Aesop Institute" has engaged for many years in the very dishonest and unscrupulous practice of soliciting loans and donations under an endless series of false pretenses, that it is developing and even "prototyping" various "revolutionary breakthroughs," such as "NO FUEL ENGINES" that run on ambient heat alone - or run on "Virtual Photon Flux" - or on "Collapsing Hydrogen Orbitals" - or even on the acoustic energy of sound from a horn.

Aesop Institute's make-believe strictly ambient heat engine is ruled out by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This has been understood by physicists for at least 180 years. There is no "new science" that has ever determined such an engine to be possible.

Aesop Institute's make-believe "Virtual Photon Flux" engine is based on the idea that accessible electric power "is everywhere present in unlimited quantities" - which we know to be false.

Aesop Institute's make-believe "Collapsing Hydrogen Orbital" engine is based on Randell Mills' theory of "hydrino" hydrogen, which every scientist knows to be false.

Aesop Institute's make-believe horn-powered engine is based on the pretense that a magnetized tuning rod could somehow "multiply energy" - a ludicrous notion, which is obviously ruled out by the law of conservation of energy.

Aesop Institute has never offered the slightest shadow of evidence that it is actually developing or "prototyping" any of these make-believe physics-defying "revolutionary breakthroughs." All it has ever offered are mere declarations that it is doing so - unsupported by any proof whatever, of any kind whatever.

There are no "energy breakthroughs" described on Goldes' "Aesop Institute" website. There is only pseudoscience, flimflam, and empty claims of engines that are ruled out by the laws of physics.

Kelfin Planck
Kelfin Planck

Let's look at another example of Mark Goldes' wonderful offerings in "revolutionary new technology:"

The amazing "POWERGENIE!"

One of the most laughable of Mark Goldes' many pseudotypes is his "POWERGENIE" horn-powered generator. The brilliant idea of this revolutionary breakthrough is to blow a horn at a magnetized tuning rod, designed to resonate at the frequency of the horn, and then collect the electromotive energy produced by the vibrations of the rod.

We're not making this up.

POWERGENIE tuning rod engine explained - from the patent:

[The device incorporates] "an energy transfer and multiplier element being constructed of a ferromagnetic substance... having a natural resonance, due to a physical structure whose dimensions are directly proportional to the wavelength of the resonance frequency...

"In this resonant condition, the rod material functions as a tuned waveguide, or longitudinal resonator, for acoustic energy...

"Ferrite rod 800 is driven to acoustic resonance at the second harmonic of its fundamental resonant frequency by acoustic horn 811..."

- But the patent doesn't tell us who will volunteer to blow the horn at the rod all day. Perhaps it will come with an elephant.

Mark Goldes claimed in 2008 that this wonderful triumph of human genius would bring his company, Magnetic Power Inc, one billion dollars in annual revenue by 2012. Magnetic Power is now defunct, having never produced any "Magnetic Power Modules" - just as Goldes' company called "Room Temperature Superconductors Inc" is also now defunct, having never produced any "room temperature superconductors."

Kelfin Planck
Kelfin Planck

In Mark Goldes' patent application for his ludicrous "POWERGENIE" horn-powered tuning-rod engine, he described the tuning-rod as "an energy transfer and multiplier element."

But of course, for the tuning-rod to "multiply" energy, it would need to disprove the law of conservation of energy.

Goldes' use of the term "energy multiplier element" reflected his pretense that the "revolutionary breakthrough" of the amazing "POWERGENIE" could disprove the law of conservation of energy, by presenting the world with a working "energy multiplier."

Goldes even claimed in 2008 that the POWERGENIE had been demonstrated already in an electric car, driven 4800 miles by his energy-multiplying horn-powered tuning-rod.

But it seems that most people, for some reason, had difficulty accepting the notion that the law of conservation of energy could be proven false.

And Goldes no doubt noticed that the Second Law of Thermodynamics - that "the entropy of an isolated system tends to increase with time and can never decrease" - is much less clear to most people than the conservation of energy.

So now, after leaving aside the pretense that he could somehow "multiply energy" with a magnetized tuning-rod, Goldes has chosen to focus, instead, on the pretense that he can disprove the Second Law with an engine powered only by ambient heat.

There is no "new science" in any of Goldes' "revolutionary breakthroughs." There is only pseudoscience and pretense - and nothing new, at all.

Kelfin Planck
Kelfin Planck

Mark Goldes' proofless claims regarding his make-believe strictly ambient heat engine do not represent any new technology, or even a new pretense - they merely represent a rather old pretense.

"Before the establishment of the Second Law, many people who were interested in inventing a perpetual motion machine had tried to circumvent the restrictions of First Law of Thermodynamics by extracting the massive internal energy of the environment as the power of the machine. Such a machine is called a "perpetual motion machine of the second kind". The second law declared the impossibility of such machines."

"A perpetual motion machine of the second kind is a machine which spontaneously converts thermal energy into mechanical work. When the thermal energy is equivalent to the work done, this does not violate the law of conservation of energy. However it does violate the more subtle second law of thermodynamics (see also entropy). The signature of a perpetual motion machine of the second kind is that there is only one heat reservoir involved... This conversion of heat into useful work, without any side effect, is impossible, according to the second law of thermodynamics."

Goldes' make-believe strictly ambient heat engine would be a perpetual motion machine of the second kind, as defined above. Goldes is not developing any such engine; he is merely developing a pretense - as usual.

Kelfin Planck
Kelfin Planck

The Kelvin-Planck formulation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics may be stated as follows:

"No cyclic process driven simply by heat can accomplish the absorption of the heat from a reservoir and the conversion of such heat into work - without any other result (such as a transfer of heat to a cooler reservoir)."

Now, as you will see, the Clausius formulation of the Second Law may be stated with fewer words:

"No process is possible whose sole result is the transfer of heat from a cooler to a hotter body."

In fact, we can show that the Kelvin-Planck formulation may be deduced from that of Clausius. In the words of Enrico Fermi:

"Suppose that Kelvin's postulate were not valid. Then we could perform a transformation whose only final result would be to transform completely into work a definite amount of heat taken from a single source at the temperature t1. By means of friction we could then transform this work into heat again and with this heat raise the temperature of a given body, regardless of what its initial temperature, t2, may have been. In particular, we could take t2 to be higher than t1. Thus, the only final result of this process would be the transfer of heat from one body (the source at temperature t1) to another body at a higher temperature, t2. This would be a violation of the Clausius postulate."

Can anyone make a teapot that boils water by absorbing heat from blocks of ice?

Kelfin Planck
Kelfin Planck

Max Planck, in his "Treatise On Thermodynamics," explains how the Second Law of Thermodynamics "may be deduced from a single simple law of experience about which there is no doubt." Here is the "single simple law of experience" he proposes:

"It is impossible to construct an engine which will work in a complete cycle, and produce no effect except the raising of a weight and the cooling of a heat-reservoir."

This "law of experience" is very similar to a principle suggested by William Thomson (Lord Kelvin):

"It is impossible, by means of inanimate material agency, to derive mechanical effect from any portion of matter by cooling it below the temperature of the coldest of the surrounding objects."

The "simple law of experience" offered by Planck is therefore commonly known as the "Kelvin-Planck statement" of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. But we see from Planck's "Treatise" that Planck himself did not quite regard it as a statement of the Second Law, but rather as a "starting point" or postulate from which the Second Law may be deduced.

Here is Planck's rendition of the Second Law itself:

"The second law of thermodynamics states that there exists in nature for each system of bodies a quantity, which by all changes of the system either remains constant (in reversible processes) or increases in value (in irreversible processes). This quantity is called, following Clausius, the entropy of the system."

Kelfin Planck
Kelfin Planck

The Second Law of Thermodynamics rules out strictly ambient heat engines.

Expecting an ambient heat engine to do any work, with only one heat reservoir, is exactly equivalent to expecting a teapot to boil water by absorbing heat from a block of ice.

Both processes are ruled out by the very same law - the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

"It is impossible for any device operating on a cycle to produce net work from a single temperature reservoir; the production of net work requires flow of heat from a higher temperature reservoir to a colder reservoir."

In a strictly ambient heat engine there are not two heat reservoirs at different temperatures; no reservoir would be available at any temperature other than the ambient temperature. Therefore the engine would have to DECREASE the total entropy - and therefore we know for certain that the engine will disappoint us. It will never be able to do any work.

Flow of heat from a block of ice to lukewarm water would also result in a DECREASE of the total entropy.

Once again: Expecting an ambient heat engine to do any work, with only one heat reservoir, is exactly equivalent to expecting a teapot to boil water by absorbing heat from a block of ice. Anyone who claims to be developing a "prototype" of such an engine is only developing a pretense, and nothing more.

Keyto Clearskies
Keyto Clearskies

Mark Goldes' latest adventure in flimflam is to declare that a "FUEL-FREE TURBINE invented by a Russian scientist runs on atmospheric pressure."

But when we read the patent application, we find that actually the turbine does NOT run on atmospheric pressure - it requires compressed air. This is clearly indicated even in the article by Kondrashov posted by Goldes on his flimflam website. Kondrashov says:

"To create a sample of such an engine, you can use ready-made devices, such as a load-bearing element - a low-power turbine module turboshaft turbine engine, and to compress the air... any type of compressor..."

Kondrashov filed his patent application in 2003. No patent was awarded.

The proposed turbine was dependent on an external supply of compressed air - not just air at atmospheric pressure. Kondrashov's basic idea was to use part of the power of the turbine to produce additional compressed air to be used to supplement the external supply. Is there any value in this idea? No. It will actually result in a net loss of energy rather than a net gain. It is exactly analogous to trying to use a generator to power a motor to spin the generator to power the motor to spin the generator. It doesn't work.

Mark Goldes assures us in his note prefacing Kondrashov's article that "We understand the science behind this jet engine." But since he incorrectly describes it as an engine powered by "atmospheric pressure" - which it certainly is not - in fact he shows that he doesn't even understand that the engine requires a supply of compressed air in order to spin at all.

Vic Steblin
Vic Steblin

Spend your research money on geothermal and solar. Stay away from wind and especially the silliness of burning wood! And wear layers of clothes to heat the individual instead of this central heating silliness.

Mark Goldes
Mark Goldes

China and the USA can both benefit from breakthrough new technology.

NO FUEL PISTON ENGINE and FUEL-FREE TURBINE at describe engines that need no fuel and open the door to decentralized power, as well as hybrid cars that have unlimited range - paying for themselves by selling electricity to utilities.

The challenge is to accelerate the prototyping, development and mass production of these hard-to-believe new technologies.

These engines will utilize two huge sleeper sources of green energy - namely atmospheric heat and atmospheric pressure.

Nikola Tesla suggested the use of atmospheric heat in 1900. Jacob Wainwright, an unsung American scientist, wrote paper after paper starting in 1902 showing how it might be done. Both were ignored until recently.

An American inventor has designed a piston engine (patent pending) that uses atmospheric heat. A Russian inventor developed the early version of the turbine designed to utilize atmospheric pressure.

Imagine the impact on the global economy by both nations becoming early markets for these highly improbable innovations.

Once these engines prove the sleeper sources of green energy can readily be tapped at competitive cost, fossil and radioactive fuels will be superseded as fast as mass production of breakthrough technology will allow.

Recent Energy News

See More at The Great Energy Challenge »

The Big Energy Question

Share Your Opinion »

The Great Energy Challenge

The Great Energy Challenge is an important National Geographic initiative designed to help all of us better understand the breadth and depth of our current energy situation.

Energy News, Blog and Interactive Features »