Demand for energy around the world is greater than ever. While traditional sources of energy, such as coal and oil, have so far kept up with demand, scientists are always looking for ways to harness the power of renewable energy sources. Advancements in technology have allowed researchers to find new and more efficient ways to use renewable sources. In an effort to reduce emissions, the byproducts of fossil fuel have been harnessed for their potential to generate power and create new products. Here are some exciting developments in the energy frontier.
New Ideas for Solar Power
You have probably seen homes with solar panels on the roof or driven past a solar farm with panels in a sunny field. Solar technology is always evolving, though, and the best solar panels are capturing and storing more energy than ever. Researchers at Lancaster University are studying a crystalline material that can capture solar energy. The energy can be stored for several months and released in the form of heat. The material shows promise for supplementing conventional heat or powering off-grid systems in the winter when less solar energy is accessible.
Solar farms aren’t just for land anymore. Floatovoltaics are photovoltaic panels that float on reservoirs, dams and other bodies of water. They make use of unused space, inhibit toxic algae growth and prevent evaporation.
Another surface that’s being reviewed for solar power is the open road — specifically, Route 66. Scientists are conducting tests along segments of the iconic highway with solar technology that can warm icy asphalt and power LED lights on the roadway.
Upgraded Wind Energy Technology
Wind energy has been harnessed for a while now, but the technology is continually upgrading. In 1980, the average wind cost per kilowatt-hour was more than 55 cents in today’s dollars. Now, the price is less than 3 cents per kilowatt-hour in the United States. The average capacity factor, a measurement of power plant productivity, is nearly 35% today, up from 22% for wind turbines installed before 1998.
Today’s wind turbines have taller towers, longer and lighter rotor blades and more reliable drivetrains. Recently, wind industry partners developed an innovative turbine blade called the Sweep Twist Adaptive Rotor to capture energy from slow wind speeds. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is pairing with private and public organizations to use 3D printing to produce wind turbine blade molds. Traditional mold making is time and labor-intensive, and 3D printing saves those resources.
The DOE has also funded a wind energy testing facility at Clemson University. It is one of the world’s most advanced testing facilities. The objective is to speed the development of next-generation wind technologies and help American companies compete on a global scale.
Carbon Capture and Storage
Excess carbon dioxide, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, can be harmful to the environment. While reducing emissions is an important consideration, scientists are working on ways to harness carbon at the source of production. Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is a technology capable of doing that, but the high cost has prohibited its use.
If captured carbon can be used industrially, though, revenue might make the expense feasible. One company is already using carbon to make foam for seat cushions. George Washington University researchers are creating carbon nanofibers to use as a lightweight metal alternative in various products, from wind turbine blades to bicycles. A research team in India is working on an artificial photosynthesis process to convert carbon dioxide to methanol. Methanol is used in resins, pharmaceuticals and other products. New applications for captured carbon are in development, and three areas are promising: power generation, fuel production and concrete enrichment.
The need for energy will always exist, even if traditional power sources are no longer available. Scientists, researchers, engineers and other innovators are continually looking for new ways to power the world. Fortunately, technology and ideas are developing all the time to keep pace with energy demand.