The west has been relatively stable for about 40 years, more than enough time for us to forget that progress and security require a constant vigorous effort to sustain. Additionally, the exponential advancement of technology in that time means that we can do irrevocable damage to the world in an increasingly shorter and shorter time frame. These are problems we have no human instinct to deal with, and by the time those of us in first world countries really feel their effects on our daily lives, it’s far too late to address them.
We face many issues of this nature today. Some of these are hard to quantify due to having a huge range of debatable parameters and potential impacts. However, a large portion of these issues stand out in plain view and perfect clarity: we’re running out of energy and destroying the world’s ecosystem in the process. Aspects of this can be viewed in isolation (energy scarcity, climate change, clean water scarcity, famine) but it all boils down to one core problem.
All the comforts we enjoy today are made possible by modern technology. I’m not talking about Instagram and email, I’m talking about trains, air conditioners, water filters, lights, tractors, production lines, antibiotics— the list goes on and on. All of these have one major thing in common: they all use a lot of energy to make, maintain, and operate.
For more than a century, we’ve powered the vast majority of this technology with fossil fuels. Using fossil fuels was a decent temporary solution, but wasn’t scalable for two reasons:
- There is a limited amount that will be completely depleted within the next 20-30 years.
- Extracting energy from fossil fuels emits CO2 which insulates the earth from natural heat loss, causing it to warm up over time.
If only one of these issues existed, continued use of fossil fuels would lead to an unprecedented economic and/or ecological disaster. Together, however, the threat becomes one that jeopardizes the foundations of human society.
Climate change doesn’t only cause drought, it also causes mass extinction: an ecological crisis resulting in infertile land and devastated ocean life. This, of course, leads to a lack of available food, even more so when coupled with an ever decreasing supply of clean water. Lack of water can be easily offset using recycling, filtration, or desalination. The problem is that cleaning water takes a ton of energy, so much that it can never be economically feasible if the source of that energy is fossil fuels. Even if it was economically feasible, you’d only be amplifying the initial problem because burning fossil is what caused it in the first place.
Keep in mind: at the same time that climate change issues are accelerating, we’re running lower and lower on fossil fuels. If we are going to use fossil fuels to power technology that would offset the effects of climate change, we wouldn’t be able to do it for long. When we do run out, we obviously won’t be able to mass produce food or water because we’ll have no energy to power the massive infrastructure necessary. Many people won’t even have the option of resorting to becoming hunter-gatherers because climate change will have done irreparable damage to the environment. The small amounts of remaining fossil fuels will probably be highly (most likely militarily) contested by every power on earth as there hasn’t been anything close to adequate alternative energy infrastructure put in place. It’s a perfect storm that poses the very real threat of wiping out a good chunk of life on earth and sending most of the remaining humans back to the bronze age.
This is not hyperbole. It’s not hard to see, and if we don’t completely change our approach to solving these problems they’ll reach critical mass faster than most people realise. None of what I’ve said here is new information. Climate scientists, ecologists, and energy infrastructure experts around the world have all realised these inevitabilities for years. We need to completely revamp our energy infrastructure to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels, and we need to do it now. About 85X more solar power is available for gathering every single year than the total amount of all fossil fuels remaining on earth. It seems like switching should be easy, but it turns out we’re moving remarkably slow.
So far our approach to this transition has been to take existing technology and slightly modify it to create standalone patchwork solutions for what we viewed as isolated problems. This approach has led to a slow trickle of progress as we deploy low-flow toilets, low-energy light bulbs, and reduce the cost of solar panels by 10% over 5 years. It’s not anywhere near enough. We try to get these solutions adopted in order to wain our dependency on fossil fuels but their high costs and/or narrow focus make them an extremely tough sell. We need to be making improvements in orders of magnitude, not tens of percents, if we’re to successfully tackle this challenge. It was in this vein that Tenkiv was founded.
Our original goal was to see if it was possible to make, at the very least, a power system that would allow solar energy to serve as a complete replacement for fossil fuels for less money. Making a complete replacement meant we needed to make a single system that could power anything, day or night, with minimal modification and effort from the user. Doing this for less money meant we needed to make a system massively less expensive and more efficient than existing ones. To do this we didn’t have the luxury of iterating off existing technology, we had to start with nothing but the core of thermodynamics itself. What ensued was an unprecedented 7 years of meticulous, fundamental R&D spanning many disciplines of science and engineering. The result was worth it: something that is finally capable of tackling one of the greatest challenges in human history.
We made what we call the Tenkiv Nexus: a modular, scalable, solar power system for everything. It takes heat from the sun and sends it to one of any number of modules that then uses that heat to perform a task such as filtering water, cooling or heating a room, converting to electricity, etc. The Tenkiv Nexus is based around a new way of handling thermal energy in variable complex systems called the Phasic Integrated Isolation (PII) Thermal Circuit. This is where all the magic happens— it’s what enables this order of magnitude type of improvement. The PII Thermal Circuit is the minimal set of structural properties that if perfectly implemented in a hypothetical system would yield the maximum thermodynamically attainable efficiency. Now we’re not claiming that we were able to implement these properties perfectly, so we’re not claiming the Tenkiv Nexus has perfect efficiency, but having a theoretical set of ideal properties as a base as opposed to existing technology enabled us to try and build our system as close to that theoretical maximum as possible in order to make true breakthroughs in a relatively stagnant industry.
We can still fix these looming global catastrophes but there is no remaining margin for error. It’s time to get serious. Join us, and let’s get this done.
☼ Written by Zack Juhasz, systems engineer at Tenkiv.
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