The Holcomb Hallucination

Dr Robert R Holcomb was in Wellington in January to announce a technological breakthrough. Before an audience of New Zea-land government, business and environmental leaders, he announced for the first time a revolutionary new technology, Electron Stream Carbon Dioxide Reduction (ESCO2R), commonly called the Carbon Dioxide Converter, that goes to the heart of the global warming problem. The converter is patented.

“The unique technology of the Carbon Dioxide Converter permanently splits the molecular structure of carbon dioxide into its basic elements — carbon and oxy-gen,” said Dr Holcomb.

Nobody seems to have noticed in all the excitement that coal is mostly carbon, so if Holcomb is right we can produce unlimited power forever by recycling the same bucket of coal. But then if he is right, why should he trouble to come to Wellington to make such an earth-shattering announcement? And who looked after his day job — he is a paediatric neurologist — while he was away?

This is a no brainer — scientists have known for 180 years that such “perpetual motion” tricks are impossible. It is like the Irish lady who cycled to church every Sunday and returned by a different route: “It’s downhill both ways.”

However, there is a device that does everything Dr Holcomb claims, except that the carbon it produces is mixed up with other combustible material. Like Dr Holcomb’s process it absorbs energy, but it uses low-grade energy from the environment and does not have to burn coal. It is a bit slow but it does at least obey the laws of physics. It is called a tree.