- Posted June 10, 2014 by
Palo Alto, California
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Future of Green Tech in 2014
One of the most popular and buzz-worthy topics we consistently hear about are the exciting new forms of green energy and technology. Whether it’s because of technological advancements, the declining prices of solar panels, influential giants like Bill Gates demanding changes or sexy electric cars, it’s a topic that is bound to remain in the forefront of discussions of all your exciting work conversations.
With that in mind, here are 10 examples of green technology that could change the world in the very near future.
1. Sustainable Architecture
Whether it’s a housing development, sports stadium or office building, there has been a more conscious effort in architecture to not only reduce the energy needs of buildings, but to also increase their ability to capture or generate their own energy.
This is achieved in a number of ways. For example, buildings can be constructed from recycled or second hand materials. Buildings are also equipped with anything from solar panels, wind turbines, or geothermal heating. Also, these structures are well-insulated, such as with the use of double or triple glazed insulated windows. A final example would be south-facing windows to collect direct sun, if located in the Northern Hemisphere.
If you believe that organizations are afraid to embrace sustainable architecture, then look no further than the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. Thier stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, features 11,000 solar panels and 14 wind turbines to generate power. Furthermore, the team also uses recycled paper products for all tissues, converts cooking oil into biodiesel fuel, offers a digital version of the cheerleaders calendar and has compostable packaging for food items. And, the Eagles are not alone. CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks (NFL) and Seattle Sounders (Major League Soccer), contains 3,750 solar panels. Target Field, the home of the Minnesota Twins (MLB), collects rainwater for use in washing down the seating area. The Miami Heat (NBA) and AmericanAirlines Arena use a reflective roof and underground parking to beat the heat and cut energy costs. Finally, the San Francisco 49ers new home in Santa Clara will contain solar panels and a green roof of soil and plant life that will provide insulation for the luxury suites.
2. More Efficient Electric Automobiles
The electric car has had an uphill battle, just take the time to view Who Called The Electric Car? and will understand the struggles that it’s against. However, there have been some improvements. The Tesla S, for example, proved that an electric car can be sharp, advanced and a whole lot of fun. However, the biggest concern is with the use of lithium-ion.
Instead of using lithium-ion, which can be dangerous in metallic form, automobiles could become equipped with 'supercapacitors’ which can store and release energy. This means that the recapture of brake energy would improve, as well as, faster charging times. In Japan, supercapacitors are used to store solar energy in streetlights.
3. Inductive Roads
Did you know that the same technology used to charge your phone or toothbrush could be used to charge vehicles? This is already happening in places like South Korea, Germany, Italy and Utah. The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, for example, developed a system where magnetic charge plates were placed beneath roadways with a counterpart inside the bus. So, when the bus passes over the plates, “the two magnets become “tuned,” and current flows to charge the on-board battery.”
Even more interesting is that batteries used on these buses are about a third the size of that in an electric car. Better yet, there’s an 85 percent charging efficiency from 100 kW from the road to the bus. Just imagine if all public transportation, and all automobiles at that, used this technology.
4. Carbon Capture and Storage
Carbon Capture and Storage, or Carbon Sequestration, is a low carbon technology in which carbon dioxide (CO2) is captured from the burning of coal and gas for power generation. This also applies to other industrial facilitates, such as those which manufacture steel and cement The captured carbon dioxide is then transported by either pipeline or ship, and stored underground. This prevents it from entering the atmosphere and contributing to anthropogenic climate change.
CCS is already taking place in Germany with the Spremberg plant. It’s been said that the carbon emissions from the plant are 90% less than traditional facilities. By 2015, twelve commercial scale demonstration plants are hoped to be in operation throughout Europe. In the United States, the Kemper plant in Mississippi recently opened.
5. Algae as Fuel
Instead of burning fossil fuels, how about using algae?
The benefits of using algae as a biofuel are numerous. For starters, it closely resembles the composition of crude oil. In fact, it’s so close that scientists turned algae into a crude oil in less than an hour. Furthermore, it’s cleaner and more efficient than petroleum and can be quickly grown all-over the world. And, it doesn’t take up a lot of space to grow mass amounts.
Unfortunately, we’re at least 25-years from this becoming mainstream. As of now, it’s expensive to produce and faces an uphill battle against established petroleum based fuels. However, it’s an extremely promising alternative.
6. Enhanced Geothermal Systems
This seems like a simple idea. Why not harness the heat naturally generated by the Earth to produce electricity? It’s a process that has been researched and tested in Australia, Germany, France, Switzerland and the U.S. But, how does it work?
Basically, wells are drilled into high temperature basement rock where cold water is then pumped into the fracture network. This absorbs the heat of the rock as it passes through. Once it surfaces in the connected wells, the heat is captured and converted into electricity through the use of steam turbines.
The benefits of EGS are encouraging. The have the capability to produce power 24 hours a day, produce zero carbon emissions and cost less to set up than a new clean coal burning power plant. The first magma-enhanced Geothermal System in Iceland has already proven to be a success. Another interesting alternative for the future.
7. Advancements in Solar Power
As you’re already aware of, solar energy is one of the best sources of renewable energy. It doesn’t release noxious gasses into the atmosphere, is plentiful and requires little maintenance once installed. However, the manufacturing and operational costs of solar panels can be expensive.
To cut down on these costs, there have been companies who have created low-costprintablesolar cells, such as Nanosolar. This not only cut down production costs from $3 per watt to 30 cents per watt, they also maximized the transfer of sunlight into power since they don’t use silicon. More affordable solar panels should make easier for consumers to convert their homes or businesses.
Another advancement in solar power would be concentrated solar power. This is a practice that has been in existence for centuries, think of the the ancient ‘burning mirrors’ used by the Chinese all the way back in 700BC. However, the modern form would feature solar farms in with rows of mirrors that will concentrate the sun’s rays onto a fluid-filled vessel. This in turn powers generators or steam turbines. Best of all? These plants could transfer the energy from Africa to Europe through a high voltage direct current (HVDC) super grid.
This could be a cost-effective and efficient alternative that could very well save humanity.
8. Nuclear Fusion
This is a simple concept. Squeeze hydrogen atoms hard enough and they fuse together in helium creating the same process that powers the sun. However, it’s extremely difficult to achieve. In fact scientists have been working on this for decades with little hope in sight. Until recently.
Omar A. Hurricane and his team successfully used lasers to fuse hydrogen atoms and produce flashes of energy. It wasn’t much - about the same amount of energy that a 60-watt light bulb uses in five minutes - but it was a start. If successful, nuclear fusion could become a clean and safe alternative that could create a large volume of energy.
9. The Use of Wastewater
With the dwindling amount of natural resources, why not make use of one of the most renewable sources on Earth? Human waste. It may sound disgusting, but it does offer a potential energy source.
In 2012, Engineers at Oregon State University invented a hybrid electricity-generator. Essentially, this used waste water to produce electricity. Not only would this power water treatment plants, it could help contribute in powering the main grid.
10. Recycling and Reusing More Than Plastic, Glass and Paper
Recycling is an important task that we all should be a part of. However, we can begin to look at recycling more than just throwing our water bottles into a blue bin.
For example, Brussels-based company Umicore has been recycling photovoltaic cells and computer circuit boards in an effort to recover metals like tellurium. Why is this important? These rare metals only make up 0.0000001 percent of the earth's crust. And, they’re used to make solar panels. These metals are also used to make fluorescent bulbs, which is why replacing them LEDs are important.
Besides recycling precious and valuable metals, we could also turn biomass waste like paper, grass or wood chips into gas and eventually ethanol. This low cost alternative would not only use renewable energy, but would also mitigate greenhouse gases and improve soil quality by returning nutrients back to agricultural land.