*This is something I wrote back in 2010, and I just found while going through my files. I thought it was still relevant, and a good first post for a new year. I cleaned it up and added some pics and links and here it is. Click pics and sources if you want more info.*
The issue of finding energy sources to replace fossil fuels is one of the defining elements of our era. When the historians of future generations look back on these years will they see a time of uninhibited innovation and progress towards novel solutions or one of willful ignorance and complacency fuelled by unwillingness to change established industries? Humanity is on the cusp of this change and it is up to us to explore every option available wholly and without pre-judgment. It has been proven over and over again that innovations in, at the time for their development, seemingly trivial products and technologies can lead to huge shifts in the way our society behaves as a whole.
Examples can be seen in the earliest versions of the internet (1), the internal combustion engine (I.C.E.) (2), the television, the telephone, the radio, or navigation and time-keeping instruments… the list goes on and on. It’s a well-worn hypothetical situation, but if you could tell the average person in America in 1900 how differently their world would look in 50 years in large part because of the development of the I.C.E. powered automobile, that person would likely think you completely insane. Similarly, if we try to predict what fledgling innovation or technology will lead to the next upheaval in our society we can often be very wrong, as marketing and commonly held beliefs or misconceptions will always influence our thinking. It is crucial to recognize the impossibility of predicting all the future industrial and sociological consequences that can result from even the smallest innovation or discovery. It would be a mistake to discount a technology because it is not perfectly efficient in its current form. If it is possible to do something at all, then it is usually possible to do it more efficiently, given proper resources and time.
The following is a list/guide to some of the ways I think we can move towards new ways of generating and thinking about energy.
Using compressed air to store extra power generated by solar panels, wind
turbines, tidal screws, etc. can make up for inconsistencies in power
generation inherent to those methods.
The idea of turning waste materials into fuel is very attractive. There are
drawbacks due to production efficiency issues, but research and
development can help improve this.
The production of fuels like diesel by plants at a cellular level could
become a viable solution, however the process still needs development to
become more efficient.
Not everything needs to be huge. If we more precisely match power needs
to generation capability we can save energy. In this way we could replace
fossil fuel users with alternative power sources. This could be applied
from personal transportation to power generation sites.
This is the most important part of energy generation and should be the
highest priority when developing an energy generator.
Efficient designs are focused in their functionality with a minimum of
unnecessary features. Applying this concept to all products would reduce
the consumption rate of fossil fuels used in plastics production.
Using heat from the earth to produce electricity via steam is renewable and
low-impact. Limited by location and initial setup cost, but valuable in many scenarios.
Hydrogen powered vehicles are well on their way to becoming a viable
alternative. The downsides relate to production and storage, and
innovation and development are all that is needed.
Isomers are elements whose nuclei can be made to release energy by firing
x-rays at them. This technology is in its early stages still, but as a slow
release type of generator it appears to be a possible alternative to
Journeyman, of Energy Efficiency
Creating a profession around evaluating, improving, and repairing
efficiency enhancement aspects of consumer and commercial products
could make the drive towards efficiency more prevalent in society and help
reduce the overall need for energy.
Using kites and balloons to gather weather information has been done for
a long time, but what other ways can we use them? As recording
equipment becomes smaller and lighter, kites and balloons could provide
alternatives to traditional traffic helicopters or provide coverage of
Anything that requires power can be made more efficient by removing
weight from the right places.
Materials and Manufacturing
By evaluating the basic materials we start with and use in manufacturing
processes and researching all possible alternatives we can find ways to
reduce the use of fossil fuels in manufacturing. For example, using hardier
plant varieties that require less fertilization/water and using
recycled materials that don’t require as much initial processing.
When one end of a microscopic carbon nanotube is coated with a reactive
fuel then ignited by a laser, a wave of heat moves through the tube and
forms a significant electric current. Prototypes show a 100 times greater
energy density than lithium-ion batteries and they don’t lose any charge
over time. (4)
This is just one of the ways that batteries are improving, and one of the
only things holding back all electric vehicles is batteries. While EVs do
not completely solve the fossil fuel problem, as the electricity in the
batteries must be generated somehow and their manufacturing is
somewhat fossil fuel-heavy, removing petroleum products from the power
generating process at the end product would be a huge step forward.
From the end user to the conceptual designer, from the design and
manufacture to the consumption and disposal of a product or service,
every person involved must keep an open mind to alternative and
sustainable ways of doing things.
Progression towards less established but more efficient practices instead of
relying on established but less efficient methods is essential if we are
going to find a viable alternative to fossil fuels.
The most efficient solar cells on the market convert less than 20 percent of
the sunlight energy that hits them into electricity, and this type of silicon
cell has a theoretical maximum efficiency of around 30 percent. By using
nano-scale lead selenide crystals that are able to trap more of the energy
and absorb it in the cells researchers at University of Texas are developing
cells that could theoretically convert 66 percent of the light that hits them
into electricity. (5)
Improving the quality and quality control in manufacturing and design will
reduce the number of inferior and redundant products that use up
unnecessary resources. Supporting companies that have high quality
control is a consumer level action that can support this as well.
The negative aspects of solar power generation relate to efficiency, land use, cost,
and inconsistency. The positive aspects of complete sustainability, very
low impact, and relative simplicity far outweigh the negative ones. This
area needs research and development to overcome its obstacles, but is
assuredly part of a viable solution.
Using the tidal forces from the ocean to generate power has been done for
centuries on a relatively small scale, and we should be taking advantage of
this to a much greater degree now.
Piezoelectric generators create power when force is applied to a crystal.
All roads, sidewalks, bridges, walkways, residential and commercial
indoor areas-essentially all flooring, should be made to take advantage of
this property. Imagine a carpet underlay that is soft, insulates, and
generates power every time it is walked on.
For fossil fuels to be replaced, their replacements must fulfill the values
that are in place in our society, and our values must change to recognize
the need for the replacement.
Air moving as wind can generate power in a multitude of ways, and in
fact, the “Faster Than the Wind” team developed a prototype vehicle
capable of moving 2.7 times faster than the speed of the wind that is
powering it. (3)
Wind generated power is sustainable, low impact, simple, and should be
utilized to the greatest degree possible. With more efficient batteries and
other storage methods being developed all the time, this type of generation
is more attractive than ever.
X, Y, Z…
Who know what discoveries will emerge in the decades to come?