Crisis, crisis! Who cried crisis? It was probably the EU (AKA EUSSR), and although the world is not facing an immediate energetic crisis, even a hedgehog understands that without a breakthrough in science, we’ll be struggling to satisfy our energy cravings.
So, while we’re sitting waiting for the breakthrough to happen, let’s look at some ingenious alternatives to the old and boring energy sources we’ve used for the last few centuries.
Did I hear you say “sustainable”? Well, according to British Petroleum (the company that thinks their petrol is 4 pence better than Tesco’s petrol), there is no future in wind energy.
Having invested more than 4.5 billion dollars in the so-called wind fields in the USA, they recently decided to pull out and sell the whole big shenanigan for 1.5 billion dollars only to perform a U-turn a couple of months later and adjust their message to confirm that they’d hold on to their wind farms. They’ve however, stressed that this move doesn’t reflect a change in strategy.
At the same time Germany has announced that the other huge energy source – nuke – is not considered efficient. Yes, compared to coal plants, the nuke is cleaner. You may disagree with the German policy (and I think it is about politics in this particular case) in the short term but I kind of understand that building more nuclear energy plants is not a sustainable long-term strategy.
What’s left then?
It looks like snow but it’s not actually. It’s hydromethane – a solid substance with a high methane content hidden in specially formed water crystals. It’s very easy to extract methane form this substance. The good news is that there’s a boatload of the stuff available. The bad news is that it’s hard to get to. But wait, isn’t hydromethane a carbon-based fuel? Erm… it is actually.
Hydromethane deposits occur deep below the water bodies. Especially, where the water is cold. There’s plenty of stuff underneath the Baikal Lake (don’t tell the Russians or they’re ruin the subtle ecosystem of Baikal), in Alaska, also around Japan. But you don’t have to look far to find people keen to explore hydromethane – a Lithuanian-based company SG dujos Auto has opened a lab to research hydrogen fuel.
Now, Japanese scientists think they’ve found an economically efficient way to extract hydromethane. Commercial extraction is going to start as early as in 2016. If Japanese are successful, China and USA are likely to follow suit.
Science fiction? Well, not really! NASA started talking about extraterrestrial solar satellites in the 1970s during the onset of the infamous fuel crisis that killed some of my favourite supercar brands – such as Iso Rivolta and Monica (moan, moan!)
The idea of solar satellites is that outside the Earth’s atmosphere the solar radiation is 8 times stronger. By some accounts, it is possible to convert up to 90% of solar radiation into electricity in the space.
The generated electricity would be transmitted back to earth using huge microwave antennae or laser beams. The former would require installing antennae on the surface of the Earth. Some say that this is a bad idea because the receivers would occupy vast areas. Well, almost as if the conventional solar farms didn’t occupy vast areas.
Considering, solar technology has progressed swiftly during the last decade and considering costs of delivering freight into space has fallen significantly, the solar sails is not such a bad idea!
The attempts to harness the tidal power or wave power have been made since the 1980s. There are different sub-types of potential ocean energy generators. You have the so-called clever dams that are installed in the estuaries of big rivers. The ebb and flow creates movement and the dam generates energy. Because such systems can upset the unique ecosystem of a typical estuary, we’ll kind of ignore it.
Similar tidal systems can be installed outside the immediate estuaries but only in places where the ebb and flow movement is significant. These systems are rather expensive.
Another one is the wave energy generator. It looks like a large juicy worm made of several jointed compartments. The monster then lies in the waves and lets the ocean move its joints thus generating electricity. They look atrocious and pose danger to sleepy leisure boaters, however, its impact on the ecosystem is not as significant as with other tidal systems.
A new idea for wave energy conversion has been developed in Australia. It produces both electricity and clean desalinated water.
According to the BBC, the UK could potentially provide 20% of its electricity consumption by employing these magnificent tidal systems. Around 10% would come from Cornwall enjoying especially large Atlantic waves while the remaining 10% would be generated in Scotland (that’s if they decide to vote against independence)
Coal is bad! We all know that. Burning any type of fossil fuel is pretty bad. What if we could create zillions of tiny robots to absorb carbon dioxide to generate green electricity? Well, I don’t know about the robots but by employing clever genetic tricks, it is certainly possible to create microbes that could feed on CO2.
Scientists have already created microbes that can secrete a substance similar to concrete, they’ve created algae that produces biofuel. Can they create microbes that will “fart” methane? Sure they can! Being a person who’s been seen wearing a tin hat, I will have to add that creating organisms that we don’t completely understand, might be a bit dangerous and lead us into an uncertain distopian future with dark skies and mutants lurking everywhere.
Which alternative energy technology do you think will become popular in the next couple of years?
Arvid Linde is an independent SEO consultant, award-winning journalist, MSc in engineering, published author and a technology addict. More info on the about page.