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Old 10-26-2009, 09:02 AM   #1
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Default Five Technologies That Could Change Everything

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It's a tall order: Over the next few decades, the world will need to wean itself from dependence on fossil fuels and drastically reduce greenhouse gases. Current technology will take us only so far; major breakthroughs are required.

What might those breakthroughs be? Here's a look at five technologies that, if successful, could radically change the world energy picture.

They present enormous opportunities. The ability to tap power from space, for instance, could jump-start whole new industries. Technology that can trap and store carbon dioxide from coal-fired plants would rejuvenate older ones.

Success isn't assured, of course. The technologies present difficult engineering challenges, and some require big scientific leaps in lab-created materials or genetically modified plants. And innovations have to be delivered at a cost that doesn't make energy much more expensive. If all of that can be done, any one of these technologies could be a game-changer.

SPACE-BASED SOLAR POWER

For more than three decades, visionaries have imagined tapping solar power where the sun always shines—in space. If we could place giant solar panels in orbit around the Earth, and beam even a fraction of the available energy back to Earth, they could deliver nonstop electricity to any place on the planet.


Source: New Scientist Sunlight is reflected off giant orbiting mirrors to an array of photovoltaic cells; the light is converted to electricity and then changed into microwaves, which are beamed to earth. Ground-based antennas capture the microwave energy and convert it back to electricity, which is sent to the grid.

The technology may sound like science fiction, but it's simple: Solar panels in orbit about 22,000 miles up beam energy in the form of microwaves to earth, where it's turned into electricity and plugged into the grid. (The low-powered beams are considered safe.) A ground receiving station a mile in diameter could deliver about 1,000 megawatts—enough to power on average about 1,000 U.S. homes.

The cost of sending solar collectors into space is the biggest obstacle, so it's necessary to design a system lightweight enough to require only a few launches. A handful of countries and companies aim to deliver space-based power as early as a decade from now.

ADVANCED CAR BATTERIES

Electrifying vehicles could slash petroleum use and help clean the air (if electric power shifts to low-carbon fuels like wind or nuclear). But it's going to take better batteries.


Source: EDSRC In a lithium-air battery, oxygen flows through a porous carbon cathode and combines with lithium ions from a lithium-metal anode in the presence of an electrolyte, producing an electric charge. The reaction is aided by a catalyst, such as manganese oxide, to improve capacity.

Lithium-ion batteries, common in laptops, are favored for next-generation plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. They're more powerful than other auto batteries, but they're expensive and still don't go far on a charge; the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid coming next year, can run about 40 miles on batteries alone. Ideally, electric cars will get closer to 400 miles on a charge. While improvements are possible, lithium-ion's potential is limited.

One alternative, lithium-air, promises 10 times the performance of lithium-ion batteries and could deliver about the same amount of energy, pound for pound, as gasoline. A lithium-air battery pulls oxygen from the air for its charge, so the device can be smaller and more lightweight. A handful of labs are working on the technology, but scientists think that without a breakthrough they could be a decade away from commercialization.

UTILITY STORAGE

Everybody's rooting for wind and solar power. How could you not? But wind and solar are use-it-or-lose-it resources. To make any kind of difference, they need better storage.



Source: AEP Battery packs located close to customers can store electricity from renewable wind or solar sources and supply power when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing. Energy is collected in the storage units and can be sent as needed directly to homes or businesses or out to the grid.

Scientists are attacking the problem from a host of angles—all of which are still problematic. One, for instance, uses power produced when the wind is blowing to compress air in underground chambers; the air is fed into gas-fired turbines to make them run more efficiently. One of the obstacles: finding big, usable, underground caverns.

Similarly, giant batteries can absorb wind energy for later use, but some existing technologies are expensive, and others aren't very efficient. While researchers are looking at new materials to improve performance, giant technical leaps aren't likely.

Lithium-ion technology may hold the greatest promise for grid storage, where it doesn't have as many limitations as for autos. As performance improves and prices come down, utilities could distribute small, powerful lithium-ion batteries around the edge of the grid, closer to customers. There, they could store excess power from renewables and help smooth small fluctuations in power, making the grid more efficient and reducing the need for backup fossil-fuel plants. And utilities can piggy-back on research efforts for vehicle batteries.

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Keeping coal as an abundant source of power means slashing the amount of carbon dioxide it produces. That could mean new, more efficient power plants. But trapping C02 from existing plants—about two billion tons a year—would be the real game-changer.

Source: Vattenfall Carbon dioxide is removed from smokestack gases and compressed. It's then pumped deep underground and stored in porous rock formations.

Techniques for modest-scale CO2 capture exist, but applying them to big power plants would reduce the plants' output by a third and double the cost of producing power. So scientists are looking into experimental technologies that could cut emissions by 90% while limiting cost increases.

Nearly all are in the early stages, and it's too early to tell which method will win out. One promising technique burns coal and purified oxygen in the form of a metal oxide, rather than air; this produces an easier-to-capture concentrated stream of CO2 with little loss of plant efficiency. The technology has been demonstrated in small-scale pilots, and will be tried in a one-megawatt test plant next year. But it might not be ready for commercial use until 2020.

NEXT-GENERATION BIOFUELS

One way to wean ourselves from oil is to come up with renewable sources of transportation fuel. That means a new generation of biofuels made from nonfood crops.
Researchers are devising ways to turn lumber and crop wastes, garbage and inedible perennials like switchgrass into competitively priced fuels. But the most promising next-generation biofuel comes from algae.


Source: Saferenviroment Algae grow by taking in CO2, solar energy and other nutrients. They produce an oil that can be extracted and added into existing refining plants to make diesel, gasoline substitutes and other products.

Algae grow fast, consume carbon dioxide and can generate more than 5,000 gallons a year per acre of biofuel, compared with 350 gallons a year for corn-based ethanol. Algae-based fuel can be added directly into existing refining and distribution systems; in theory, the U.S. could produce enough of it to meet all of the nation's transportation needs.

But it's early. Dozens of companies have begun pilot projects and small-scale production. But producing algae biofuels in quantity means finding reliable sources of inexpensive nutrients and water, managing pathogens that could reduce yield, and developing and cultivating the most productive algae strains.

Corrections & Amplifications
One thousand megawatts are enough to power on average about one million U.S. homes. This article on space-based solar power incorrectly said 1,000 megawatts could power about 1,000 homes
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000...ist_smartbrief
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Old 10-26-2009, 03:59 PM   #2
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Capturing more energy from the sun and injecting it into the biosphere is the most definite way to cause global warming that I have heard.

Mark.
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Old 10-26-2009, 04:11 PM   #3
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^That's an infinitesimally small amount of energy compared to the direct impact of solar rays across the entire earth. It would be like adding less than a thimble full of water to Niagra Falls.

And global warming is a crock of ****. The new term is "climate change"... political BS.
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Old 10-26-2009, 04:45 PM   #4
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We don't need to worry about climate impacts from space-based power. It fails for economic reasons long before you get to climatic arguments.

$10000/lb to put mass into low earth orbit... That buys a lot of efficiency.
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Old 10-26-2009, 05:15 PM   #5
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We don't need to worry about climate impacts from space-based power. It fails for economic reasons long before you get to climatic arguments.

$10000/lb to put mass into low earth orbit... That buys a lot of efficiency.
Engineers have bank accounts that are infinitely wide.
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Old 10-26-2009, 05:21 PM   #6
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how would we protect said mirrors against orbital debris. The space station solar panels are constantly pelted. Ask me how I know.
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Old 10-26-2009, 05:41 PM   #7
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how would we protect said mirrors against orbital debris. The space station solar panels are constantly pelted. Ask me how I know.
It's a common known fact that the steel used in the Chevrolet Corvette engine is indestructiable. All you need to do it place a paper thin film of it over top of the panels and done!

Plus, it'll be American and have tons of torques!



/sarcasm
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Old 10-26-2009, 06:20 PM   #8
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Great , just what we want. A possibly weapons grade microwave emitter floating around in space & remotely aimable ( http://www.globalsecurity.org/milita...itions/hpm.htm )
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Old 10-26-2009, 08:42 PM   #9
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Reminds me of Futurama Ep 62.
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Old 10-26-2009, 08:50 PM   #10
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how would we protect said mirrors against orbital debris.
There's far less man-made debris in geostationary orbit than low orbit.

And if anyone really got serious about building SPS, the price of putting them into orbit would be much less than $10,000 a pound; you'd either have to build them in space from asteroid or lunar material, or you'd have to build an entire new launch infrastructure to put that much material into space from the ground. Low flight rates are the biggest reason for current high launch costs because there's no real incentive to develop technologies that would increase development costs but dramatically reduce per-launch costs... if you're suddenly talking about launching thousands of power stations, that's an awful lot of launches to amortize high development costs over.

Even so, I don't see it being financially feasible any time soon. Most likely we'd have to develop said launch infrastructure first for other reasons and then someone would think 'hey, now I can make a cheap source of power by building solar power stations up here'... which won't happen for a few decades yet.
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Old 10-26-2009, 11:24 PM   #11
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how would we protect said mirrors against orbital debris. The space station solar panels are constantly pelted. Ask me how I know.
So! The great mystery is solved! SCRAPPYDO builds space debris and fires it at the ISS all day long.




We're on to you.
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Old 10-26-2009, 11:26 PM   #12
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So! The great mystery is solved! SCRAPPYDO builds space debris and fires it at the ISS all day long.




We're on to you.
shhhh
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Old 10-27-2009, 12:04 AM   #13
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I'm not really, buying the premise:

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Over the next few decades, the world will need to wean itself from dependence on fossil fuels and drastically reduce greenhouse gases.
And even if I did, why no mention of new nuclear power plant design? Even better, breeder reactors to use a lot of the stockpiled "waste" as fuel.
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Old 10-27-2009, 02:14 AM   #14
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<-- doesn't see a fault with the premise
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Old 10-27-2009, 09:18 AM   #15
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So! The great mystery is solved! SCRAPPYDO builds space debris and fires it at the ISS all day long.




We're on to you.
curse you beaverboy, I would have got away with it if it were not for those meddling kids.
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Old 10-27-2009, 11:23 AM   #16
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Over the next few decades, the world will need to wean itself from dependence on fossil fuels and drastically reduce greenhouse gases.
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Originally Posted by Mike Wevrick View Post
I'm not really, buying the premise:
And even if I did, why no mention of new nuclear power plant design? Even better, breeder reactors to use a lot of the stockpiled "waste" as fuel.
Mike is right. I'd bet a large amount of money you will not see much of a reduction in fossil fuel usage over the next 20 years, maybe the next few centuries, but not the next few decades.
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Old 10-27-2009, 12:22 PM   #17
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Mike is right. I'd bet a large amount of money you will not see much of a reduction in fossil fuel usage over the next 20 years, maybe the next few centuries, but not the next few decades.
Worldwide, hard to say. But the US has had 15 consecutive quarters of declining fossil fuel use without actually trying very hard or having a cohesive plan, and the policies to continue this downward trend in demand are becoming institutionalized by things like the northeast's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the new CAFE standards, etc.

[edit]My bad, that was oil use in the OECD (basically the world's top 30 developed economies) that has declined for 15 consecutive quarters.[/edit]

Last edited by Chromer; 10-27-2009 at 09:48 PM.
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Old 10-27-2009, 06:05 PM   #18
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Great , just what we want. A possibly weapons grade microwave emitter floating around in space & remotely aimable ( http://www.globalsecurity.org/milita...itions/hpm.htm )
Yeah then we'd have to worry about this guy getting his hands on it


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Old 10-27-2009, 06:15 PM   #19
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Number 6: Putting air in a bag and charging people to breath.
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Old 10-27-2009, 09:50 PM   #20
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Number 6: Putting air in a bag and charging people to breath.
Been there, done that...

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Old 10-27-2009, 11:21 PM   #21
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Worldwide, hard to say. But the US has had 15 consecutive quarters of declining fossil fuel use without actually trying very hard or having a cohesive plan, and the policies to continue this downward trend in demand are becoming institutionalized by things like the northeast's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the new CAFE standards, etc.

[edit]My bad, that was oil use in the OECD (basically the world's top 30 developed economies) that has declined for 15 consecutive quarters.[/edit]
Gradual decline, sure. Radical change like what some people are proposing as necessary to fight global warming, no way. Remember that the Kyoto Treaty was DOA in the Senate; the vote was 99-0 IIRC.

The irony is that the people who are most concerned about global warming are also often opposed to nuclear power, which is the one technology that is actually proven and ready to go.
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Old 10-27-2009, 11:40 PM   #22
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Capturing more energy from the sun and injecting it into the biosphere is the most definite way to cause global warming that I have heard.

Mark.
Not really.
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Old 10-28-2009, 01:06 PM   #23
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[quote=vudu182;28614130]^That's an infinitesimally small amount of energy compared to the direct impact of solar rays across the entire earth. It would be like adding less than a thimble full of water to Niagra Falls.

And global warming is a crock of ****. The new term is "climate change"... political BS.[/quote Yes but enough people believe in it enough for them to sell a new Carbon tax structure that will effect every part of your life. It's already set up as Chicago mercantile carbon exchange. When you no longer produce any product you have to invent one to make more money and taxes. The average Joe or Jane will pay them directly or in handed down from co's they buy from.
Keep in mind global warming has been happening for over 10,000 years and has opened great farm lands like our Great Plains, the Russian Steppes and made the areas above 35deg latitude livable and farm able. This included cities like NY, Chicago, Stockholm, Moscow, Beijing and pretty much all of Canada etc.
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Old 10-28-2009, 01:59 PM   #24
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The irony is that the people who are most concerned about global warming are also often opposed to nuclear power, which is the one technology that is actually proven and ready to go.
Only if you discount the risks of operation and storage/security of waste. There are solutions under way that don't have the same problems. Unless we blast the waste with a fusion reactor later on.
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Old 10-28-2009, 07:16 PM   #25
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Only if you discount the risks of operation and storage/security of waste. There are solutions under way that don't have the same problems. Unless we blast the waste with a fusion reactor later on.
You don't need to worry about the safety issues, the financial issues kill them before they even get out of the boardroom.

Nuclear is too slow to fix the climate problem. As a utility, propose a plant today, and it'll start generating electricity in 15-20 years. Propose a wind farm today and it's up and running in 3 years, with 100x less financial risk and 1000x less taxpayer money. Help reduce/manage the peak demand of biggest clients and you get the benefits in weeks or months (like you can permanently shut down that oil-fired peaker plant you keep around for hot summer afternoons), with yet another 100x reduction in financial risk.

Customers want what the electricity DOES for them, not the electricity itself. In almost all cases, that end use can be achieved at lower cost with vastly lower power consumption. Unfortunately the status quo has a lot of inertia, and in most states utilities are punished for selling fewer kWh and rewarded for selling more.
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