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infinite energy

Issue 74
July/August 2007
Infinite Energy Magazine
Table of Contents

Rewriting Geology? Challenging Existing Models of Science
Bill Zebuhr

Richard Moody’s article on geology might seem out of place in Infinite Energy, but there are several reasons it is within our scope. One is the connection between geology and oil, coal, and heat energy sources known as geothermal energy. The other is the fact that the science of geology—like the science of physics and chemistry—is subject to getting stuck in existing models and held back by the human issues involving becoming attached to a theory for irrational reasons.

Moody has worked in the field of geology for decades and has observed a lot of data. He began to see that the current theory of plate tectonics did not fit a lot of the data and that it looked more and more to him that geologists were clinging to the theory because of a perceived mathematical elegance rather than its ability to explain the observed data. His theory does not totally dismiss plate tectonics and the Wilson Cycle of plate movement, but modifies them in significant ways in an attempt to keep the good and replace the weak points with better explanations. A better understanding of the dynamics of the earth’s crust will lead to improved understanding of the origin and nature of oil deposits and other materials of value derived from the earth. When more fully developed, it may greatly improve the ability to predict earthquakes and long-term trends in topology, such as mountain building. It will also help to understand the nature of the thermal energy that heats the interior of the earth and can be a useful source of energy.

Geothermal energy is a virtually unlimited source of energy as far as human needs are concerned. The problem is an economic one, as with other energy sources like wind and solar. The advantage over wind and solar is that geothermal energy is always there and the problems of storage and backup are eliminated. The other problem of capital equipment to access it is formidable, however. Simple geothermal systems suitable for homes typically involve drilling a well and using the water as a source of heat. Since the water is almost always cooler than the desired temperature of the house, a heat pump is used to elevate the temperature to a useful value. The heat pump is fairly efficient even in the north but it uses electricity, which is often two or three times the price of oil or gas. If electricity is generated using coal or possibly nuclear and remains fairly fixed in cost as oil and gas increase, geothermal-assisted heat pumps will become more cost effective.

Large power generating stations using geothermal energy are for more difficult because of the high temperatures needed to generate high pressure steam and produce mechanical power. In most locations very deep wells, maybe thousands of feet deep, would be needed to get the temperatures required. Large quantities of heat must be transported via water in long pipes and steam generated, often with water that is quite corrosive and mineral laden. These systems would be very expensive to build and maintain. However, thanks to the oil industry, deep wells are being drilled at ever lower cost and the equipment that can be put into such wells is getting quite sophisticated so that it may be possible to generate electric power almost anywhere in the future using the earth’s heat. We at IE hope and believe there are better ways to get low cost energy in the future, but how far away is that future?

As mentioned, Moody’s theory of plate dynamics is significantly different from the current model. His theory may or may not be readily accepted by the mainstream but there is reason to believe there will be resistance because of the history of not only geology but science in general. A few decades ago there was great reluctance to accept plate tectonics, but now that it has become the new paradigm it has taken on a great inertia of its own and mathematical models have been constructed to make the theory more quantitative and predictable. Unfortunately, it seems the mathematicians have taken over and ignored the science. Of course, the science of geology is far less mathematically tractable than physics and one would not expect a few equations would unify everything, but there does seem to be a similar problem with mathematical theory versus science. The tendency seems to get some data, create a theory that fits, refine the theory, declare it the new model, and ignore the later data that does not fit that model. In physics a single real data point that falls outside the model can destroy the model but often the model is modified in some way to justify the data in a way that begins to weaken the model. More and more new fixes are inserted, such as new particles and unexplained dark matter, and a new round of justification is started to fit in with the fixes. Complex theories can be worked on for decades—such as string theory—which eventually contain very sophisticated mathematics but bear less and less science. Moody’s thoughts on geology may expose some of the problems with the current model and move the science ahead.

IE works hard to encourage new energy technology and the science that relates to it. In an orderly world, science would come first and then the technology to exploit it (such as a generator) would follow. Often, though, a device is invented without full knowledge of how it works. Cold fusion and other possible new energy technologies seem to fall into that category. IE has recently been emphasizing new science more because we believe the technologies of new energy will ultimately be developed faster if a significant amount of energy is first devoted to the foundation science even if the connection to a potential new energy source is not seen. It is with this spirit of helping to forge new science that we publish Moody’s paper.

Read Richard Moody's "Beyond Plate Tectonics: 'Plate' Dynamics"

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