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Of all the problems related to the environment and the finite nature of natural resources, the one which I think has some possibilities to be solved is that of energy.
I'm no expert, but science news maazines are buzzing with updates on new developments that make up a family of possibilities that in the coming years could begin to provide alternative sources of efficient and economically viable energy . I do not think we will see the sudden emergence of a solution to the world's energy problems, for example, the news that a fusion reactor has begun to operate. Rather, I foresee a gradual emergence of new technologies that will be applied in different areas and that will rely less and less on fossil fuels.
I would like to discuss some technologies that I find particularly interesting or, whay not, fun. In several years, we will see how many of these and which new ones are in use.
Biofuels are part of the standard chain of energy production, but they pose some risks because they use plants and crops that normally would be used for food. Algae have several advantages: they grow faster than land plants, have a high triglyceride content and can grow in areas and conditions under which they do not compete with food production (1).
It is difficult to predict when algae biofuel will be commercially available, but the United States Navy has conducted tests with positive results (2). One study, however, questions the possibility of obtaining fuel from algae without environmental costs (3). Let's wait and see.
Integral Fast Reactors
Like many others, I met this idea in an article by George Monbiot (4). integral fast reactors are nuclear power stations which can run on what old nuclear plants have left behind. Conventional nuclear power uses just 0.6% of the energy contained in the uranium that fuels it. Integral fast reactors can use almost all the rest. Too good to be true? Why there are no integral fast reactors out there? There are few news on integral fast reactors, although GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy has proposed to the U.K. government to build an advanced nuclear reactor that would consume the country’s stockpile of surplus plutonium using a technology called PRISM (5). you have more information, I please comment on this possibility
Slowly, it makes progress. Just some quick comments on some developments that I find particularly interesting:
- A team of researchers at the University of Notre Dame has made a major advance toward this vision by creating an inexpensive "solar paint" that uses semiconducting nanoparticles to produce energy (6).
- A new class of transparent photovoltaic cells has been developed that can turn an ordinary windowpane into a solar panel without impeding the passage of visible light (7).
- Researchers from MIT have produced something they’re calling an “artificial leaf”: Like living leaves, the device can turn the energy of sunlight directly into a chemical fuel that can be stored and used later as an energy source. (8).
At least in this area, we can expect an interesting future!!
- Algae for your fuel tank: New process for producing biodiesel from microalgae oil. Physorg.com, 10 de gener de 2012.
- John Vidal, Cargo boat and US navy ship powered by algal oil in marine fuel trials. The Guardian, 13 de gener de 2012.
- Economics, physics are roadblocks for mass-scale algae biodiesel production, study finds. News Services, 5 d'abril de 2011.
- George Monbiot, A Waste of Waste, December 5, 2011.
- GE-Hitachi Proposes to Burn U.K. Plutonium Stockpile. theenergycollective, 22 de desembre de 2011.
- Paint-On Solar Cells Developed. ScienceDaily, 21 de desembre de 2011.
- Transparent Photovoltaic Cells Turn Windows Into Solar Panels. The New Yorl Times, 18 de gener de 2012.
- Artificial leaf' makes fuel from sunlight. Physorg, 30 de setembre de 2011.