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To most people, hydrogen power might sound like something out of Star Trek, but not to Roger Billings. Known to many who follow his exploits as Dr. Hydrogen, Billings is an affable inventor who has been promoting hydrogen since he was in high school. He has built hydrogen cars and a hydrogen house.
SPECIAL NEWS BULLETIN
AMERICAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCE
Paul Harvey News
Friday, October 19, 1990
“What of today’s news is of most lasting significance? Maybe this: (First a little paragraph of background.) We can run automobiles with nothing but water in the gas tank, you know. We can run cars on hydrogen made from sea water; limitless supply; burns clean. Dr. Roger Billings demonstrated the feasibility of a hydrogen-powered automobile twenty-five years ago, but it was too costly.
Today, Dr. Billings announces a breakthrough which he says makes it cheaper to burn water in your car than to burn gasoline. He calls it the LaserCel™. The hydrogen fuel cell would replace the conventional internal combustion engine. Sixty to eighty percent of the hydrogen energy put into the cell comes out as electricity. No moving parts. Now, electricity produced by the fuel cell would then power an electric motor which would run the vehicle. The hydrogen fuel cell technology has proved itself in our space ships and most recently in our space shuttle, but until right now, the space-age version of the cell was not adaptable to ground transportation. Now Dr. Billings says it is. With a special electrolytic fuel cell fabricated by a high-power laser, it doubles the 150-mile range of his previous hydrogen-fueled car to 300 miles, and it cuts the cost in half. Billings projects that the LaserCel™ reduces fuel cost to the gasoline equivalent of $1.12 a gallon. He is preparing now to license the technology for commercial use.
Ambrose Manikowski of Lockheed Missiles and Space Company has seen a prototype. He says, ‘The Billings fuel cell is an innovative design, and it may provide a viable alternative to the internal combustion engine and to batteries in undersea applications’.
In a prototype being built for the Pennsylvania Department of Energy, the hydrogen is stored in powdered metal hydride form. That means it is utterly safe. Chemistry professor, Dr. John O’M. Bockris of Texas A&M, speaking of the LaserCel™ said, ‘Roger Billings has come the closest to bringing to reality the DREAMS about which I have talked and written. Billings’ laser fuel cell sounds to me as though it puts America ahead again.'”
More Paul Harvey Coverage:
By Ron Tepper
To some, Roger Billings is a scientist. To others, he’s crazy. But to most, Billings, 33, is admired as a determined young man who has made his dream a reality, and in doing so he’s put together one of the most promising energy- and computer-oriented companies in the country.
“The ideas I had for an energy company were strong enough to sell to private investors. I could never have sold those concepts to bankers.”
If, however, there is one thing that can be said with certainty about Roger it is that he is not an orthodox businessman. He’s a scientist who mixes business with experimentation. He’s a researcher who believed in a concept to such an extent that he built his company without the aid of any bankers or lending institutions. Yet, he started with barely enough money in his pocket to make a telephone call.
Today, when Billings is asked where he got the money to launch the multimillion-dollar Billings Energy Corp. in Independence, Missouri, he smiles and says simply, “The ideas I had for an energy company were strong enough by themselves to sell to private investors. I could never, however, have sold those concepts to bankers. Bankers are people who come along when you don’t need them anymore” — encouraging words to the many entrepreneurs who have ideas and dreams but have never been able to persuade lenders of their validity.
Like many investors Roger Billings was in the same boat. And although he was young (25) when he finally launched the company, he’d struggled with the dream for many years.
Roger’s idea — at least the one he’d had since he was a ninth-grader—was to convert an automobile so it could run on hydrogen instead of gasoline. He succeeded; as a high-school senior, he converted his father’s Model A pickup truck to hydrogen and won a science award, along with a scholarship to Brigham Young University.
Six years later, fresh out of school with a background in systems and engineering, Roger won the 1972 Urban Vehicle Design competition with the least polluting car, his hydrogen vehicle. That award brought him to the attention of Bill Lear, creator of the Lear jet and one of the most innovative entrepreneurs in the country.
Lear hired Billings to design the hydrogen car for mass production but things never worked out. Bankers and others talked Lear out of the project, forcing Billings to make one of the most difficult business decisions of his career.
“I went home that night and discussed it with my wife. We had a comfortable lifestyle, good benefits, but we had to make a choice. I said to her, ‘We have a decision to make. They won’t let us pursue our dream so either we change the dream or go somewhere else.”
His wife didn’t hesitate. The next day he left Lear and went out to sell his dream and create a company.
“I was a dreamer and still am. But I look at things this way. Some people have the ability to see tomorrow better than most.
I see us moving to a hydrogen and electricity economy by the year 2000. We’ll have pollution-free automobiles. I also see the elimination of overhead power lines and other technologies being developed. All will be due to rising costs of energy.”
It was, in fact, that type of vision along with a firm belief in his product that enabled Billings to launch his company eight years ago. His initial funding came from a research grant. He then sold a group of doctors another chunk of the company. But his business kept demanding more and more cash for the enormous amount of research and development that was going on.
It was that demand that led him into a number of creative ways of financing. Once, when he sold off another small portion of the company for $1 million, he bought land with the proceeds. The land appreciated substantially and for years, whenever Billings needed additional funds, he just sold off another chunk of real estate.
Jockeying and speculating with land would not, of course, have enabled Billings to build a firm company. In 1977 he expanded the company into the personal-computer field. Today a good portion of the company’s revenue comes from computer-oriented sales but Roger’s thoughts are still dominated by his belief in that hydrogen-powered vehicle.
“Basically,” he says, “I’m not motivated by money. I have both short- and long-term goals. In the long run I would love to make a real impact on the world with something like the hydrogen-powered vehicle. In other words I would like to introduce or utilize some kind of technology that will make a real difference.
“Then, of course, I have short-term goals. This company has to continue and that’s why we launched the computer division. That’s what is producing our revenue. We are competing against some of the best companies in the world but I love that competition and believe our products will succeed because they offer a better solution.”
Roger, however, knows that business is a long battle. “I’ve learned a great deal since I opened the doors. I don’t think, for example, that there are many who have a natural ability for all phases of business. I shine in technical research and development; there’ve been times when an idea I’d developed helped save the company.
“Some people, on the other hand, may not be strong on the creative side. Perhaps they know accounting or sales. It takes a full team to run a successful operation. From the beginning I realized I had to bring people in to help where I needed it. That’s critical. If I would have tried to do it myself, it would not have worked. I wasn’t skilled in every area. Entrepreneurs should remember that.”
Running a company, of course, requires numerous decisions and, since launching Billings Energy, Roger has made hundreds. “The most difficult is managing people.
“You’ve got to be able to read them and empathize with employees. It’s difficult, but an employer must also try to understand their motivations — what makes them tick.”
Thus far, Roger has been capable of not only understanding his employees but his business as well. Still, there are those around who look at him, study his dreams of hydrogen-powered cars and just shake their heads.
“I know,” Roger answers, “that even with $10 million in sales, some people still think I’m crazy — I just hope they’re not right.”
Copyright © 1982 Entrepreneur. All rights reserved.
His fuel of the future can be drawn from your faucet
By Kenneth Jon Rose
In Missouri there’s a man who likes to drink his car’s engine exhaust in front of company. He sips slowly, relishing its flavor as if he were sampling fine wine. Then he passes it around to his wide-eyed guests. Most of them politely decline the offer, but there’s always someone curious enough to taste it. Anybody who does is amazed at the discovery “It’s water!” the person exclaims. “Plain, ordinary water!”
That’s usually the reaction Roger Billings gets when he offers his guests a sip of exhaust from his hydrogen-fueled car. It’s been that way ever since he converted his first car to hydrogen when he was sixteen years old. Since then he’s converted just about every kind of engine, from car engines to tractor engines, to run on hydrogen. He’s even built, and lived in, a hydrogen-powered home.
Billings is a man with a vision. He sees hydrogen as the fuel of the not-too-distant future, and he’s been spending his time and energies coming up with a technology that makes it easier to use, whether for fueling the vehicles we drive or heating our homes or generating electricity.
At the age of thirty-three, Billings is a director of the International Association for Hydrogen Energy, an organization that includes some of the top hydrogen researchers in the world, and he’s the president, chairman of the board, and director of two corporations: Billings Computer Corporation and Billings Energy Corporation.
Fresh out of college with nothing more than $400, he formed the Billings Energy Corporation in 1972. At the beginning it had only one employee: himself. Today it employs more than 250 people, including George Romney, a former governor of Michigan and former head of American Motors Corporation.
In its short life the Billings Energy Corporation has become one of the most respected and most successful hydrogen-technology companies in the United States –so successful that several oil companies have tried to buy it, without any luck. “We want our technology to be bought, but we don’t want to be bought,” Billings says. “Roger Billings and his little crew of creative people are just not for sale.” Since he built his first hydrogen-powered car, Billings has nurtured a dream of seeing the United States become energy independent. The fuel that’s going to give us that independence, he’s convinced, is hydrogen. He has been devoting his expertise, and the profits from his computer corporation, to bringing that about. His is a fervor that impresses his colleagues. “We see hydrogen as a fuel for the distant future. Billings sees it as being used more immediately,” physicist Walter Stewart says. Stewart is a hydrogen fuel expert at Los Alamos Laboratory, in New Mexico.
As a future fuel, hydrogen has a lot to offer. It’s the most abundant element in the universe. On Earth it is mostly bound up in water, which makes it almost inexhaustible. It’s also highly efficient. It produces more energy per pound than fossil fuels do. Best of all, hydrogen can easily be substituted for natural gas, diesel fuel, and gasoline.
“Hydrogen is not a fuel
you convert a home to. It’s a system you
convert a community to.”
Up to now the greatest problem has been how to store it. Once it could be put only into a pressurized bottle in its gaseous form, or cooled to -253°C (-423°F), at which point it becomes a highly explosive liquid. But in the last 15 years there’s been a breakthrough in what are called hydrides, metal alloys that absorb hydrogen gas the way a sponge does and release the gas when they’re heated. Both the safety and the limitations on the amount of gas that can be squeezed into a container have been improved so that it’s now possible to build hydrogen-fueled vehicles.
While just a high-school senior, Billings converted his father’s old Model A Ford (“he wouldn’t let me touch his new Chevrolet”) to run on hydrogen. That feat won . him the Gold and Silver Award at the 1966 International Science Fair, in Dallas, Texas, and a scholarship. His fascination with hydrogen continued when he studied systems engineering at Brigham Young University, in Utah. While there, he continued his work on hydrogen technology with a grant from the Ford Motor Company.
Today much of that has paid off in the work he’s done on hydrogen vehicles. One of his pet projects has been to take a compact car, a Dodge Omni, and make it a two-fuel car that can use either gasoline or hydrogen. In addition to a regular gas tank, it has a hydride tank specially designed by the engineers at the Billings Corporation. About the size of a spare tire, it fits snugly under the trunk and has enough fuel capacity to take you about 100 miles.
To make you go farther, Billings installed a simple switch on the car’s dashboard. Flick it one way and you’re driving on gasoline. Flick it back and you’re on hydrogen again. Billings made the cars dual-fueled for the simple reason that it’s tough to buy hydrogen at your neighborhood service station. “If a driver happens to go on vacation, he’s got to have some other fuel. So this is a way of being able to get one foot in the door with-out converting the whole world,” he explains. So far he’s converted ten automobiles to his dual-gasoline-hydrogen system.
As a car fuel, hydrogen can’t be excelled. It’s clean, and the engine also wears better. “The gasoline engine,” Billings says, “operates at almost the same efficiency on methane, methanol, or gasoline. But when you convert the engine to run on hydrogen, you get a forty percent boost in efficiency.” The Environmental Protection Agency rates the Omni’s overall fuel economy at 30 miles per gallon of gasoline. The hydrogen-powered Omni averages 44 miles per gallon and can hit a top speed of 80 miles an hour.
Billings plans to sell his two-fuel Omnis to anyone willing to pay the steep $30,000 price tag. After the first 10 have been tested out in the marketplace for a year, he hopes to build 100 more, at less than half the original price. In the meantime he’s designing conversion sets for those who want to change their engines to run on hydrogen. The kits might be out by the mid-1980s.
Meanwhile the news has got around that what Billings does, works. “We have a lot of people who write us letters, saying, ‘I want to convert my car today. I want to convert my helicopter, my boat. How much will it cost?'” He’s even been contacted by the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, asking him to help convert the engine of a Buick Century so it could run on hydrogen fuel.
Billings has designed a ready source of at-home hydrogen. When the driver wants to refuel, he simply connects his car to a Billings electrolyzer. Overnight the unit splits water coming from the tap and pumps hydrogen into the tank. By morning he’s ready to go. But-making hydrogen with house current is expensive —more expensive in most places than getting gasoline at the pump. That would change if the country converted to a hydrogen economy.
Today the most exciting break in hydrogen technology might come from solar-energy research. For instance, at the third International Conference on Photochemical Conversion and Storage of Hydrogen Energy, sponsored by the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI), scientists announced that it may soon be possible to produce hydrogen from sunlight.
For example, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Melvin Calvin, from the University of California at Berkeley, announced that he had developed a synthetic chloroplast, a man-made copy of the part of the plant cell that is responsible for photosynthesis, converting solar energy into stored energy in the form of a sugar, glucose.
In nature, the plant chloroplast uses the energy of sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen then fuses with carbon dioxide from the air to build carbohydrates, and oxygen is set free into the atmosphere. In Calvin’s design, the man-made chloroplast produces molecular hydrogen instead of carbohydrates. Calvin has a way to go before his process can be used commercially, but solar experts are convinced that he, or someone equally ingenious, is going to come up with a system that will effectively extract hydrogen from water, using sun power. One SERI official adds, “We’re almost there.”
Meanwhile Billings has grand energy plans of his own. With the help of an old technology, he hopes to make this country totally energy independent by the turn of the century. Billings calls his master plan for this self-sufficiency Project Liberty.
A sort of modern-day Manhattan Project, Project Liberty is Billings’s answer to OPEC. Since we have vast coal reserves in this country, Billings wants to build coal-gasification plants to change coal into hydrogen. The 40 coal-gasification plants now operating throughout the world make only synthetic natural gas, with hydrogen as a by-product. Not only is it more energy efficient, Billings says, to gasify coal into hydrogen, but it’s also cheaper.
By the year 1990 this hydrogen-minded Johnny Appleseed wants to sprinkle the country with enough coal-gasification plants to offset all foreign oil imports. He figures that it will take 50 hydrogen plants to replace just the gasoline made from imported oil and that another 50 will be needed to eliminate foreign oil imports completely by the year 2000. “We could do it faster than that. And I’m unhappy to say,” he adds, “that we could have done it at least ten years ago.”
The U.S. government bears much of the blame for frustrating Billings’s dream. There is a tinge of bitterness in his voice when he talks about the Department of Energy. “The DOE is a joke. It really is,” he complains. “Government research is so much less efficient than industrial research. If a company were to spend money like that on research, it would go broke. When I see all those resources wasted, it really, really bothers me.”
Other nations, however, are more enlightened. India has established a Hydrogen Energy Task Force as part of its governmental effort to reduce oil imports. Japan is planning to produce commercial hydrogen; first it will use nuclear energy in the 1980s, then solar energy in the 1990s. West Germany already has hydrogen-fueled buses in service in both Stuttgart and West Berlin, and the West Germans are involved with newer hydrogen technology as well. Three years ago the West German government sponsored an international symposium on hydrogen in air transportation, at which aerospace experts discussed developing a small fleet of hydrogen-fueled wide-body jets.
Not one to be easily discouraged, Billings is not waiting for our government to get going. In 1980 he moved his corporation from Provo, Utah, to Independence, Missouri, to begin Phase 1 of Project Liberty: a hydrogen-powered community. He is in the process of changing 20 homes and 100 vehicles in Independence to run on hydrogen. Even the mail delivery vehicles, donated with the blessing of the U.S. Postal Service, will be hydrogen-fueled. Since there isn’t any coal-gasification plant in Independence, his company is going to supply the city with hydrogen by piping it in from firms in the area that produce the gas as a manufacturing by-product.
Billings is modeling the homes after the one he and his family lived in for two-and-a-half years before they moved to Missouri.
Everything in it, from the hot-water heater and the barbecue to the garden tractor and the family car, ran on hydrogen.
A computer system that the Billings Computer Corporation manufactures monitored the hydrogen production and storage as well as the inside controls for heating and cooling and even the security of the place. Besides the 19 homes he is converting in the community, Billings is building a new hydrogen home for himself; this is not something he recommends to the individual homeowner. “Hydrogen is not a fuel you convert a home to,” he says. “It’s a system you convert a community to.”
Project Liberty is a small step in that direction. His next project is a wholly hydrogen-powered town in Iowa. A few years ago the town leaders of Forest City, Iowa, heard of Billings’s work. They wanted some kind of inexpensive energy alternative. They couldn’t produce their own electricity because the town’s generating plant needed expensive, hard-to-get diesel fuel. Their only alternative was to buy the electricity they needed, at high rates, from another utility system. They told Billings about their situation. He went in and looked the place over and decided to build his first Project Liberty coal-gasification plant in their town.
Iowa coal is so cheap that Billings estimates it would be the equivalent of producing gas at 50 cents a gallon. The hydrogen-fueled plant is expected to provide all the industrial and domestic electrical needs of Forest City’s 4,000 residents and still have power to spare to heat every home there and to fuel every car. Billings is confident that his plant is going to be up and operating by 1984.
Further in the future he has grander hydrogen dreams: a mammoth hydrogen/electrical complex, where he will gasify coal and pipe it to facilities 2,000 miles away, and another large plant he wants to construct in southern California.
There he envisions a hydrogen-powered Los Angeles: a city that has no energy shortages, no gasoline lines, and, ultimately, no smog. —
For Further Reading:
Bova, Ben, “Hydrogen Fuel,” The High Road, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1981.
Escher, W, “Hydrogen Energy: Readying a New Energy Option,” Technology Tomorrow, Vol. 2, No. 2, April 1979.
Hydrogen Progress, Billings Energy Corporation, 18600 East Thirty-seventh Terrace South, Independence, MO 64057.
The International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, official journal of the International Association for Hydrogen Energy, P.O. Box 248266, Coral Gables, FL 33124.
“Light Cleaves H2S: A Profitable Split?” Science News, Vol. 120, No. 10, September 5, 1981.
Copyright © 1982 Omni. All rights reserved.
With the exceptions of Ted Turner and a few politicians, nobody who has power or is seeking it wants to say so. It’s unseemly. When people learned that NEXT was planning to cite them for their likely roles in shaping this country’s future, their reactions ranged from “I just work here” to a disingenuous “Do you really think I’ll have that much power?” Even the President of the United States customarily grumps about the growing power of Congress, the press and the special-interest groups.
So who’s really running things around here? The answer seems to be: many people. Just as the country cannot expect another Churchill or de Caulle on the international scene, it also should not look for a dominating individual at home. Power will be scattered. A kind of decolonization is taking place domestically as well as internationally. There are now 163 nations in the world instead of 40, and at home there are countless groups struggling for power formerly held by a few.
All this is not necessarily bad news. The people leading the various struggles may be less well known and individually less powerful than their predecessors, but they suggest that this country is in for a lively future. Even when they work in traditional organizations, the new leaders are hardly plodding or tradition-bound, and their approaches to power are often strikingly original. A Tom Wilhite can go from Keswick, Iowa (population 300), to running Walt Disney’s film operation at the age of 28. A Lewis Lehrman can build one of the world’s largest drugstore chains, then chuck it all at age 35 to form his own think tank. These flexible, unpredictable people sometimes seem to lead nine lives and to have an influence in each of them.
Talking with them produced two somewhat contradictory impressions about the future of power in the United States. First, smaller and even more specialized interest groups will proliferate; they will be adept at marshaling their supporters for action. Second, there will be an increasing concentration of power in America’s most central institution, the corporation.
Several trends will decentralize power in the years ahead:
• Local and regional issues will attract more world-beaters and earth-shakers. When John F. Kennedy had to choose between running for Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts or the United States House of Representatives, he remarked that he didn’t want to spend his life haggling over sewerage contracts—and headed for Washington. Over the next few years, more politicians are likely to opt for the sewerage contracts because of the inconstancy of political power in Washington, residual bad feeling over Watergate, local chauvinism (expressed not just as a love for home but as an unwillingness to submit to such centers of power as New York, Washington and Los Angeles) and, finally, the satisfaction of being a big fish in a small pond. After four years in Washington, Jimmy Carter may not be sure of what he accomplished. But Joe Riley Jr., Mayor of Charleston. South Carolina, knows that he brought the Spoleto Festival—and $24 million in tourism in a single two-week period—to what was once ridiculed as the “Sahara of the Ozarks.” Says Margaret Hance, the Mayor of Phoenix, “Cities are the jurisdiction closest to the people . . . the rewards and punishments are the swiftest and the surest. I don’t feel that going to the Senate, for example, is necessarily an advancement.”
The competition for local and regional office is becoming at times almost comically intense. In New Jersey, with the election still six months off, at least 18 people have declared themselves gubernatorial candidates. At the state’s big Democratic fund-raising dinner during last year’s Presidential campaign, the chairman asked, “Will all those who aren’t candidates for governor please stand up?” Nobody stood.
President Reagan, the self-described “Sagebrush Rebel,” will foster regionalism if, as promised, he turns back power from the Federal Government. A struggle will then be likely between the cities—which have long enjoyed a special and remunerative relationship with Federal grant-makers—and the states, led by Lamar Alexander, Governor of Tennessee, who argues that past Presidents have reduced them to little more than “administrative agents.
•Despite efforts at forming new coalitions, the generation between 20 and 40 years of age will remain politically diverse; different groups will go different ways. But those groups are showing sophistication in exploiting an unusual array of politicaltools to further their diverse ends. They will change the way people and corporations behave. Some examples: The Moral Majority unleashed a direct-mail attack to talk Warner-Lambert out of sponsoring a television show it found unsuitable. A Missouri union, rather than rouse opposition with a television ad campaign, used directmail to get its partisans out to defeat a right-to-work law. Wisconsin activists pushed through a law enabling a citizens board that was monitoring the utility company to use the utility company’s monthly bills as a fund-raising vehicle. Finally, in one of the more imaginative variations on the political poll, Douglas Schoen of New York overcame Venezuela’s high illiteracy rate and predicted his client’s narrow victory in the presidential race through a poll using flash cards coded with colors and political party symbols.
Sometime later in this decade, cable television, two-way computer communication and user-activated information distribution systems may rejigger the whole scheme of power in this country. How will it affect the networks if there are suddenly 140 television stations in Atlanta? How will it change Yale or Stanford if their entire libraries become available at the push of a button to a dropout in Dubuque?
The possibility is that the familiar centers of power will become less important, and peripheral areas, which are often more daring and experimental, will regain their attraction. The new technology will encourage people like David Gockley, who is trying to Americanize and popularize opera—not from Lincoln Center but from Houston and some of the sleepier towns of the Southwest. And the people who will wield the technology may not be just Atlanta’s Ted Turner or Boston’s Bob Bennett, but a hundred Turners ind Bennetts in a hundred once-sleepy communities.
Here, however, is the contradiction: While power is being dispersed to peripheral areas and organizations, it will at the same time probably become more concentrated in large corporations. The country elected Ronald Reagan not just to whittle away at the Federal bureaucracy and turn back its power, but also to unfetter overregulated industries and stimulate corporate investment in new plants. The mandate was not just anti-Government, but pro-business.
How the Reagan Administration will carry out that mandate has already been widely discussed, and the reactions are predictable. Herb Schmertz, vice president of Mobil Oil, argues that the change will promote “individual freedom” by getting Government off everyone’s back. And while he agrees that power will flow back to the corporations, he says that it won’t be “concentrated in any particular corporation.” Ralph Nader, on the other hand, argues that the executive and legislative branches of Government will become “extraordinary prisoners” of corporations, to the detriment of workers, consumers, motorists and the environment.
The Reagan White House is deliberately corporate not just in substance but in style and structure, and that may provide a model that furthers corporate power. “My guess is that an increasing percentage of college presidents will be business executives,” says Robert LeKachman, professor of economics at Lehman College in the City University of New York. “And I suspect that an increasing percentage of new union presidents are going to be managerial types. Because it’s unwise ever to underrate the sheer demonstration effect of success in capturing the White House.”
Even in such unlikely precincts as Harvard (where Derek Bok, the president, still wants to get the university into the genetic engineering business) and the University of California (where Herbert Boyer of Genentech remains a professor), the notion is regaining acceptability that the business of America is, in fact, business.
The corporate model of power and authority may be gaining importance simply because that’s where the money is. LeKachman argues that the continuing influence of corporate political action committees will be at least as great over the next few years as that of the Moral Majority. He portrays the new crop of conservative Senators and Congressmen who were elected with millions of dollars in corporate aid as “people who are not only indebted to corporate contributions, but more than that, who have corporate models internalized, who themselves act as nearly as they can in politics like middle management in corporations.”
Corporate money will also become more important outside politics as other sources of funding disappear. First, the Government will become tighter with handouts. Richard Cyert, president of Carnegie-Mellon University, predicts that science-oriented colleges will lose money for basic research at one end, but gain it back in defense contracts (often directly tied to corporations) at the other; liberal arts colleges will simply lose. Second, foundations will continue to be weakened by a 1969 law requiring them to pay out all of their earnings each year to the Government thus preventing them from building their endowments to match inflation. That means that cultural, educational and civic organizations will have to rely increasingly on business support. Corporate managers will gain influence outside the traditional corporate bailiwick.
How then to make sense of these two contradictory trends in power? Governor Jerry Brown argues that the “tension between the periphery and the center, between the hick and the city slicker” will be the – fundamental power conflict of the 1980’s. And the people who shape the future may be those in the middle. People like Camille Haney in Chicago, who brings together corporations and consu-merists and gets them to compromise. Or like Federal Appeals Court Judge Amalya Kearse. (Ralph Nader predicts that the Federal courts, now dominated by Carter appointees, will become the chief battleground for public-interest groups). People like Brown himself, who seems to root for those on the peripheries of power while aiming for the center. Or like Reagan, who can simultaneously appeal to the localists and to the multinational corporations. Perhaps it will be that ability—to seem a part of the old and the new, the center and the periphery, and to mediate between the two—that will be the crucial quality for those who would wield power in this country’s future.
For many people, the line between science and religion is as distinct as the difference between night and day. Not so for TOYM honoree Roger Billings!
“Many of my most interesting mental experiments have come as results of things I have read and pondered in the scriptures, things the prophets have said. I consider that my religion has given me real scientific insight toward true principles which are the laws of the universe,” says Billings.
Both religion and science play important roles in Billings’ life as president and chairman of Billings Energy Corporation. “I find as I pursue my religious studies, as I pursue my scientific studies, they lead me toward the same conclusions,” he says. He characterizes both as a quest for truth.
Billings became interested in science at an early age. As a ninth grade student in a science class in Provo, Utah, he became enthused about the idea of using hydrogen as fuel. “The idea of burning hydrogen—creating energy and powering a car while producing water—was very intriguing to me. The idea of a pollution-free automobile was really kind of exciting. The idea of a fuel system that could be renewable— you split water to make hydrogen and you burn the hydrogen and get the same amount of water back— that whole concept was very beautiful,” he says.
Billings set to work on the problem. He was just 18 years-old when he successfully converted an old Model A truck to hydrogen power. His work in hydrogen fuel technology has since earned him seven patents and numerous awards.
The progress and the awards might not have come if Billings had not started his own company on a shoe-string budget of S400 after completing his work at Brigham Young University.
“Large political organizations—mainly governments, but also to a certain degree large industries—stymie creativity. If I had gone to work for the U.S. Department of Energy, or for that matter, for a large petroleum company, the ideas that we are now able to show are good ideas with regards to hydrogen energy would have never been nurtured,” he says.
“One of my life goals is to create an environment where (scientifically creative) people can come out of college and not be so structured, but can develop freely and achieve some great things for tomorrow … There’s a little of it in the university environment now, but even there they don’t have the resources to get their good ideas over the hump into reality,” he says.
There are other, more personal dreams he is still pursuing too. “I consider myself a very happy person, I really enjoy every day, I enjoy life fully,” he says. “I would hope that if I can have any impact in the way of an example for my fellow man that it might be in that area. That someone might look at me and learn some of the secrets of the universe that relate to personal happiness. That I might motivate his life to be just a little bit different, just a little bit happier. If that were done I would consider myself to be very successful.”
Despite the success he has enjoyed in his career, Billings believes that he is still in a state of trying to accomplish. “I haven’t stopped many imports of foreign oil just yet and haven’t cleaned up the pollution in very many cities. But I’m still pursuing a dream …”
Billings, 32, his wife, Tonja, and five daughters have recently moved to Independence, Missouri. Billings is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers as well as of Rotary International. He has earned recognition as Western Region Winner of the Ford Future Scientist of America, as Mr. Free Enterprise from the Provo chapter of Sertoma International and as the Provo Jay-cees’ Outstanding Young Man of the Year. He has also been a Gold and Silver Medal Award winner at the International Science Fair, and has earned a citation for outstanding work in electronics from the U.S. Air Force as well as a Certificate of Achievement from the U.S. Army.
by Alene E. Bentley – The Enterprise – 19 August 1975
“Inspiration and genius – one and the same.” ~ Victor Hugo
It was the same old story the day the Wright Brothers rolled down the runway in some rickety contraption they called an airplane. “You’ll never do it,” people said. “If man were meant to fly, he’d have wings.”
“It’s impossible,” his teachers warned. “You cannot burn hydrogen in a combustion engine.
“Those were the proudest days of my life. Driving that truck on a fuel they said would never work.”
That did it. That was enough to inspire a defiant 15-year old scientist to prove he was right. Working for nearly three years in a makeshift basement laboratory, Billings finally emerged with a hydrogen powered lawn mower engine that ran. He nearly backfired himself out of existence — or at least out of his neighbors’ good graces, but he was, nevertheless, encouraged.
Near the end of his senior year at Provo High, he brought forth what is believed to be the nation’s first hydrogen powered automobile, a Model A Ford.
Today, at the ripe age of 28, Roger E. Billings could be named the Father of Hydrogen Technology.
No Obstacles, Just Problems
“I never saw the big obstacles in developing a hydrogen powered engine,” Billings said, “like the fact that I wasn’t supposed to be able to do it.”
“After I got it to run, I had to give it power. If I wanted to live in the same neighborhood I had to get rid of the backfires. I next learned to control the pollution, and finally, we’ve now overcome the question of hydrogen storage. To me, they weren’t obstacles, just little problems I overcame one by one.”
Billings took the same confident, casual approach to his “formal education” at Brigham Young University too. “I knew all along I wanted to have a company working to develop hydrogen technology so I took all the classes I thought I would need . . . Chemistry, physics, engineering, business, journalism (for dealing with the ever curious press), etc. At the end of five years I went to my counselor and said, “I’m through. I’m ready to graduate.”
Looking over his transcript, his counselor said,”You’re kidding. You don’t have enough hours in any one subject to graduate with.”
“Well, I’ve learned what I need to,” he said. And left.
Billings said a special Interdisciplinary degree has now been created at BYU and he will soon receive a bachelor’s degree. He also announced his acceptance at an unnamed university to complete a doctorate degree in engineering.
Billings admits that his youthful age has been a handicap at times. “It’s difficult to manage a company of which I am the youngest employee,” he said. “But on the other hand, youth carries the blessing of enthusiasm and energy – both of which I needed a lot of in the beginning.”
Being so young, he is confident he will live to see development of hydrogen technology on a large scale basis too.
Roger Billings believes the greatest rewards of developing hydrogen technology will someday be the knowledge that he personally helped to solve some of the world’s most critical problems – energy supply and pollution. Development of hydrogen technology could feasibly prevent bitter wars, he says.
“And if I never do solve those problems completely, I’ll at least have the satisfaction of knowing I tried.”