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The Alternative Energy Sources of the Future

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The Alternative Energy Sources of the Future

Image courtesy of: Futurism

The Alternative Energy Sources of the Future

Despite the hype around the progress of renewable energy, many people don’t realize that solar and wind have only made a tiny dent in the energy mix thus far. The good news is that costs are coming down and many people are starting to adopt green technologies, but there is still a mountain to climb if we want to truly get off of fossil fuels on a large scale.

To accomplish this, we’re going to have to think outside the box to come up with new ways to tackle the energy challenge. Luckily, the folks at Futurism have put ten of the most promising alternative energy sources of the future in a handy infographic. Some of these may be long shots, but some may also play a crucial role in the energy mix of the future.

Space-based solar
Most solar energy doesn’t actually make it into the Earth’s atmosphere, so space-based solar power makes a lot of sense. The challenges are the cost in getting a satellite to orbit, as well as the conversion of electricity into microwaves that can be beamed down to the planet’s surface.

Human power
There’s over seven billion people walking around the Earth each day, so why not generate power from the movement of people? Many experts believe that we can harness this energy, and that we could use it to power our devices.

Tidal power
Five countries around the world are starting to operate viable wave power farm operations, but the potential is far higher: the U.S. coastline alone has a wave energy potential of about 252 billion KWh per year.

Hydrogen power
Hydrogen is a clean and potent source of energy, and best of all – it accounts for 74% of the mass of the entire universe. The only problem is that hydrogen atoms tend to only be found in combinations with oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen atoms. Removing this bond takes energy, which ends up being counter-productive. As a result, many people around the world are working on making these processes more economic.

Magma power
The center of the Earth is very hot, so why not try and get closer to it to tap into some geothermal heat? People in Iceland are already doing this with red-hot magma after accidentally striking a pocket of it during a 2008 drilling project.

Nuclear waste
Only 5% of uranium atoms are used in a traditional fission reaction. The rest end up in the pile of nuclear waste, which sits in storage for thousands of years. Researchers and companies are trying to tap into these leftovers for a viable and economic energy solution.

Embeddable solar power
What if every window could be easily turned into a solar panel? Solar window technology turns any window or sheet of glass into a photovoltaic solar cell that harvests the part of the light spectrum that eyes can’t see.

Algae power
Algae grows practically anywhere, and it turns out these tiny plants are a surprising source of energy-rich oils. Up to 9,000 gallons of biofuel could be “grown” per acre, making it one of many potential energy sources of the future.

Flying wind power
Winds are much more powerful and strong at higher elevations. If wind farms could be autonomous and flying, they could go to where the winds are strongest and deliver double the energy of similarly sized tower-mounted turbines.

Fusion power
Fusion has been the dream for some time – but scientists are making baby steps to achieving the power process that is harnessed in nature by our own sun. The ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) is currently being built in France, and it’s one of the most complex scientific and engineering projects in existence.

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Automotive

6 Ways Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Can Help Transition to Clean Energy

Here are six reasons why hydrogen and fuel cells can be a fit for helping with the transition to a lower-emission energy mix.

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Hydrogen and fuel cells

While fossil fuels offer an easily transportable, affordable, and energy-dense fuel for everyday use, the burning of this fuel creates pollutants, which can concentrate in city centers degrading the quality of air and life for residents.

The world is looking for alternative ways to ensure the mobility of people and goods with different power sources, and electric vehicles have high potential to fill this need.

But did you know that not all electric vehicles produce their electricity in the same way?

Hydrogen: An Alternative Vision for the EV

The world obsesses over battery technology and manufacturers such as Tesla, but there is an alternative fuel that powers rocket ships and is road-ready. Hydrogen is set to become an important fuel in the clean energy mix of the future.

Today’s infographic comes from the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (CHFCA) and it outlines the case for hydrogen.

6 Ways Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Can Help Transition to Clean Energy

Hydrogen Supply and Demand

Some scientists have made the argument that it was not hydrogen that caused the infamous Hindenburg to burst into flames. Instead, the powdered aluminum coating of the zeppelin, which provided its silver look, was the culprit. Essentially, the chemical compound coating the dirigibles was a crude form of rocket fuel.

Industry and business have safely used, stored, and transported hydrogen for 50 years, while hydrogen-powered electric vehicles have a proven safety record with over 10 million miles of operation. In fact, hydrogen has several properties that make it safer than fossil fuels:

  • 14 times lighter than air and disperses quickly
  • Flames have low radiant heat
  • Less combustible
  • Non-toxic

Since hydrogen is the most abundant chemical element in the universe, it can be produced almost anywhere with a variety of methods, including from fuels such as natural gas, oil, or coal, and through electrolysis. Fossil fuels can be treated with extreme temperatures to break their hydrocarbon bonds, releasing hydrogen as a byproduct. The latter method uses electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Both methods produce hydrogen for storage, and later consumption in an electric fuel cell.

Fuel Cell or Battery?

Battery and hydrogen-powered vehicles have the same goal: to reduce the environmental impact from oil consumption. There are two ways to measure the environmental impact of vehicles, from “Well to Wheels” and from “Cradle to Grave”.

Well to wheels refers to the total emissions from the production of fuel to its use in everyday life. Meanwhile, cradle to grave includes the vehicle’s production, operation, and eventual destruction.

According to one study, both of these measurements show that hydrogen-powered fuel cells significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants. For every kilometer a hydrogen-powered vehicle drives it produces only 2.7 grams per kilometer (g/km) of carbon dioxide while a battery electric vehicle produces 20 g/km.

During everyday use, both options offer zero emissions, high efficiency, an electric drive, and low noise, but hydrogen offers weight-saving advantages that battery-powered vehicles do not.

In one comparison, Toyota’s Mirai had a maximum driving range of 312 miles, 41% further than Tesla’s Model 3 220-mile range. The Mirai can refuel in minutes, while the Model 3 has to recharge in 8.5 hours for only a 45% charge at a specially configured quick charge station not widely available.

However, the world still lacks the significant infrastructure to make this hydrogen-fueled future possible.

Hydrogen Infrastructure

Large scale production delivers economic amounts of hydrogen. In order to achieve this scale, an extensive infrastructure of pipelines and fueling stations are required. However to build this, the world needs global coordination and action.

Countries around the world are laying the foundations for a hydrogen future. In 2017, CEOs from around the word formed the Hydrogen Council with the mission to accelerate the investment in hydrogen.

Globally, countries have announced plans to build 2,800 hydrogen refueling stations by 2025. German pipeline operators presented a plan to create a 1,200-kilometer grid by 2030 to transport hydrogen across the country, which would be the world’s largest in planning.

Fuel cell technology is road-ready with hydrogen infrastructure rapidly catching up. Hydrogen can deliver the power for a new clear energy era.

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Energy

Visualizing America’s Energy Use, in One Giant Chart

This incredible flow diagram shows how U.S. energy use broke down in 2019, including by source and end sector.

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Visualizing America’s Energy Use, in One Giant Chart

Have you ever wondered where the country’s energy comes from, and how exactly it gets used?

Luckily, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) crunches the numbers every year, outputting an incredible flow diagram that covers the broad spectrum of U.S. energy use.

The 2019 version of this comprehensive diagram gives us an in-depth picture of the U.S. energy ecosystem, showing not only where energy originates by fuel source (i.e. wind, oil, natural gas, etc.) but also how it’s ultimately consumed by sector.

In Perspective: 2019 Energy Use

Below, we’ll use the unit of quads, with each quad worth 1 quadrillion BTUs, to compare data for the last five years of energy use in the United States. Each quad has roughly the same amount of energy as contained in 185 million barrels of crude oil.

YearEnergy ConsumptionChange (yoy)Fossil Fuels in Mix
2019100.2 quads-1.080.0%
2018101.2 quads+3.580.2%
201797.7 quads+0.480.0%
201697.3 quads+0.180.8%
201597.2 quads-1.181.6%

Interestingly, overall energy use in the U.S. actually decreased to 100.2 quads in 2019, similar to a decrease last seen in 2015.

It’s also worth noting that the percentage of fossil fuels used in the 2019 energy mix decreased by 0.2% from last year to make up 80.0% of the total. This effectively negates the small rise of fossil fuel usage that occurred in 2018.

Energy Use by Source

Which sources of energy are seeing more use, as a percentage of the total energy mix?

 20152016201720182019Change ('15-'19)
Oil36.3%36.9%37.1%36.5%36.6%+0.3%
Natural Gas29.0%29.3%28.7%30.6%32.0%+3.0%
Coal16.1%14.6%14.3%13.1%11.4%-4.7%
Nuclear8.6%8.7%8.6%8.3%8.4%-0.2%
Biomass4.8%4.9%5.0%5.1%5.0%+0.2%
Wind1.9%2.2%2.4%2.5%2.7%+0.8%
Hydro2.5%2.5%2.8%2.7%2.5%+0.0%
Solar0.5%0.6%0.8%0.9%1.0%+0.5%
Geothermal0.2%0.2%0.2%0.2%0.2%+0.0%

Since 2015, natural gas has grown from 29% to 32% of the U.S. energy mix — while coal’s role in the mix has dropped by 4.7%.

In these terms, it can be hard to see growth in renewables, but looking at the data in more absolute terms can tell a different story. For example, in 2015 solar added 0.532 quads of energy to the mix, while in 2019 it accounted for 1.04 quads — a 95% increase.

Energy Consumption

Finally, let’s take a look at where energy goes by end consumption, and whether or not this is evolving over time.

 20152016201720182019Change ('15-'19)
Residential15.6%15.2%14.7%15.7%15.7%+0.1%
Commercial12.1%12.5%12.3%12.4%12.4%+0.3%
Industrial33.9%33.8%34.5%34.6%34.8%+0.9%
Transportation38.4%38.5%38.5%37.3%37.1%-1.3%

Residential, commercial, and industrial sectors are all increasing their use of energy, while the transportation sector is seeing a drop in energy use — likely thanks to more fuel efficient cars, EVs, public transport, and other factors.

The COVID-19 Effect on Energy Use

The energy mix is incredibly difficult to change overnight, so over the years these flow diagrams created by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have not changed much.

One exception to this will be in 2020, which has seen an unprecedented shutdown of the global economy. As a result, imagining the next iteration of this energy flow diagram is basically anybody’s guess.

We can likely all agree that it’ll include increased levels of energy consumption in households and shortfalls everywhere else, especially in the transportation sector. However, the total amount of energy used — and where it comes from — might be a significant deviation from past years.

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