Alternatives

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*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.

 

Air

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.

 

Biofuels

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.

 

Cellular Production

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.

 

Downsize

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.

 

Efficiency

This is the most important part of energy generation and should be the

highest priority when developing an energy generator.

 

Focus

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.

 

Geothermal 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

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, Atomic

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

traditional batteries.

 

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.

 

Kites

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

sporting events.

 

Lightweight

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.

 

Nanotubes

 

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.

 

Open Mind

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

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.

 

Quantum Dots

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)

 

Reduction

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.

 

Solar

 

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.

 

Tidal Generators

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.

 

Underfoot

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.

 

Value

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.

 

Wind Power

 

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?

 

1. http://www.isoc.org/internet/history/brief.shtml

2. http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/localhistory/articles/auto_tourguide.asp

3. http://www.physorg.com/news194851568.html

4. http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2010/thermopower-waves-0308.html

5. http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/solar-wind/quantum-nextgen-solar-cells