Electric Fluid Energy Gets Another Shot

MAGNETOHYDRODYNAMICS IS beguilingly simple in principle: Electricity can be generated by passing a conductive fluid through a magnetic field. But the extreme temperatures and fluid velocities needed for large MHD generating plants damage components. The Energy Dept. pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into MHD until 1993 without building a plant that produced more electricity than it consumed.

LM Manufacturing Ltd., a six-person company in Marysville, Wash., says it can succeed by thinking small. It hopes to build modest MHD generators that use liquid metal as the conductive fluid and produce just 5 to 250 kilowatts of power. The initial market is farms, where deregulation is permitting competition. In one scenario, a farmer burns natural gas to heat a liquid metal that mixes with a liquefied gas. The mixture speeds past a magnet, generating power. The Energy Dept. gave LM surplus test gear from the Hanford (Wash.) nuclear site. In return, it will receive stock in LM and royalties on any generators sold.

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