I'm a big fan of advancements in energy production, maybe because I spend most of my time in front of the computer, using a variety of devices and traveling. I think most of us think about our energy consumption frequently because it's all around us. We always have a ...
I'm a big fan of advancements in energy production, maybe because I spend most of my time in front of the computer, using a variety of devices and traveling. I think most of us think about our energy consumption frequently because it's all around us. We always have a reminder of this need when we pay our monthly bills or run close to being out of gas.
If we look into the future, it looks like we'll be running way more equipment on electricity, vehicles in particular. Elon Musk and Tesla even recently presented their electric heavy transport vehicle to the public about a week ago. Several car manufacturers are also experimenting with the release and sale of a few hydrogen-based vehicles.
The trend seems to show we'll be using more electricity and less gasoline.
Best however, would be for us to use more hydrogen as a power source for 2 reasons:
- We would still be using combustion engines so not as much would change.
- Burning hydrogen makes only pure water.
The main issue with hydrogen as an energy source is that it currently takes more non-renewable energy to make the hydrogen than what you get in the product.
Many groups have been doing great work at making it less costly through the use of catalysts or specialized electrodes though, which is good. Some groups have been experimenting with solar energy instead of electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gas, which is great because solar is indeed renewable and clean.
One particular group was able to bring the solar to hydrogen electricity to 30% by using composite electrodes. The electrodes however contain Gallium, which is expensive and polluting.
Others have been making efforts to simply separate the hydrogen from the rest of the water (or methane compound) by using a specialized filter, typically also made out of Gallium and/or Palladium, to some success. No sun needed, but the liquid metals needed are still pretty bad for the environment.
One awesome group have been doing quite well by using photosensitive protein enveloped in a bi-lipid layer along with some platinum, a titanium dioxide catalyst, and light, to get hydrogen gas. This one uses metals that are much cheaper and less polluting than others.
Can we do better? I discuss the following solutions further in the video below:
One group out of the U.S. Aberdeen Proving Ground Research Laboratory made a discovery (by mistake) that a certain aluminum allow, when in direct contact with water at room temperature, produced copious amounts of hydrogen gas, until the alloy was completely consumed. This is without light or any energy source. Just spontaneous. Now this is interesting because the resulting aluminum can be recovered and you have a disposable hydrogen battery right there that can be used to power specialized equipment in a pinch.
But the best I've found so far is from UCLA researchers. They've apparently devised a device that can convert solar energy into both hydrogen gas and electricity when water is filtered through. The device is a combination super-capacitor and hydrogen fuel cell. Contrary to the other examples mentioned above, the device only uses very common metals like cobalt, nickel and iron, which makes it cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
This is a very sexy device because cost is always a problem for hydrogen production and having a fuel cell concept, it means that hydrogen can be stored until it is needed and in the meantime, the device is producing electricity from light directly.
Bottom line we probably need both hydrogen and electricity to run our devices cleanly and cheaply in the future. Electricity is very useful for constant work but hydrogen can give way more power when you need it most. It is for this reason why hybrid cars use their combustion engine more when accelerating. There is just more power in explosions than in electric potential.
On other another note, clever engineers have also designed devices that can create electricity for very specific applications where you just can't have explosions (hydrogen or otherwise) going on or where you just can't have enough surface area to have light convert to electricity or where light isn't always in play.
One of the advancements I really like is this device from Seoul that can use heat differentials at a small scale to generate electricity. Great to run wearable devices on clothing. This has been done before, but this one in particular can make electricity from temperature differences as high as 20.9 degrees Celcius. The more temperature difference, the more juice you can get out of it per square centimeter.
This last one of interest I think has great future for tiny devices such as nanorobots: making small infinite amounts of electricity from the natural molecular movement of graphene between two electrodes . The team working on this at the University of Arkansas have tested the concept and it would be enough to run watches forever (same as quartz concepts). This is not useful to produce energy for a home, but anything that needs tiny amounts of electricity could use this without need for batteries, or quartz crystals, which is tremendously advantageous.
As we find better cleverer ways to generate high value energy at lower cash and environmental costs, we'll gradually change our infrastructures to match. It is all in the hands of the entrepreneurs to make the move using the research done on materials and devices mentioned above. The consumers are ready to move away from fossil fuels as long as it doesn't affect their wallets negatively.
I think we're in a nice place to see very positive innovations in the next few years in renewable energies (beyond solar power, which is still extremely interesting and positive).
I've often spoken about decentralizing city services with technologies that could be installed in every home from solar panels to make homes energy self-sufficient, to drinking water production equipment, to wastewater recycling and so on... I believe this is still something that will happen at some point, but I ...
I've often spoken about decentralizing city services with technologies that could be installed in every home from solar panels to make homes energy self-sufficient, to drinking water production equipment, to wastewater recycling and so on... I believe this is still something that will happen at some point, but I also think there are other form factors for larger city subsets like apartment blocks or integrated smart cities that could work rather well. After all, not every area in the world has sufficient land to allow most families to have their own homes.
Thankfully, communities can use some very nice technologies to take care of the inhabitants starting with city planners.
One of my favorite ideas is based with Jacque Fresco's concepts ( The Venus Project ) where communities live in harmony with nature using advanced technologies and social constructs.
As far as I know though, none of M. Fresco's projects have been built according to his vision, yet. However, China likes to experiment with interesting concepts. One of them actually looks like one of Fresco's ideas. The Liuzhou Forest City is planned to be built in the region of Liuzhou, Southern China where it was commissioned and the plan is that it will house approximately 30,000 residents.
One of the main points of the city project is to take little space by building apartment complexes in height but also by making sure carbon emissions and other air pollutants would be completely absorbed by the heavily eco-green concept. Because the Forest City has so much surface area planned to be growing with plants, it is even estimated that it will produce 900 tons of oxygen a year, likely making it very pleasant for inhabitants.
This is a great idea on its own, but if you've been following me, this sort of concept doesn't need to be built on brand new parcels of land and we could transform some of our cities with this concept without destroying any of our current buildings either.
In the video here, I talk about this a bit further:
What I mean is with the self-driven cars, delivery vehicles and public transportation systems coming out in the next 2-5 years, in most advanced societies, it is anticipated that most parking areas in cities can be re-purposed to... something else. In some cities, 20% of the surface area is in fact parking space. Why not growing things there instead? Trees, plans, gardens for in-city fruit and vegetables and so on. Those would also absorb carbon dioxide and toxins as well as producing oxygen for inhabitants. Not to mention most of the self-driven vehicles on the street (moving, almost never parked) will be electric, which means no emissions at all.
Wouldn't that be cool to live in a green city without having to rebuild everything? Costs and effort would be minimal wouldn't it? An idea for you readers that happen to be interested in city planning...
While we're at it, why don't we make our shopping more efficient by having staff-less stores available to us (less people moving around to work is ecological). I've already spoken of Amazon Go .
Here is another concept from Swedish company Wheelys , who has deployed their own self-serve store in China. Sure we can have products delivered to us by self-driven electric delivery trucks or drones, but sometimes you just want to grab something as you walk by, or you want to touch and feel what you wish to buy this time...
Aside from removing pollution we'd still be ejecting in the air just by breathing and living, such cities would need a way to treat water at a fairly large scale, as in for apartment buildings right? Well, one nice find from a while back is the NEWgenerator concept that takes solid and liquid waste from public or large toilet systems, treats it and spews out water you can use to water plants and solid material that can be used as fertilizer directly and bio-gas that can be used for heating and other uses where solar isn't enough. The NEWgenerator has been designed so far for toilet blocks but no reason it cannot be restructured for other large toilet systems to serve a community. In this instance, our water and solid waste from home could be used to feed the plants outdoors that give us nice air, fruit and vegetables.
Finally, as far as neighborhood and apartment security, we could easily use new technologies to ensure every aspect of daily life is covered from:
- walking in the tree-filled streets, by being observed by all manner of street cameras and UAVs such as those built by the Korean Aerospace Research Institute .
- apartment building entry and other semi to fully public areas, by adding facial recognition technology software to CCTV in order to identify who should be in certain places at a certain time and identifying persons of interest that have been flagged as undesirable.
- entering your own private space using your smartphone using smart lock systems. Different models exist and you can already install those in your own home today.
Ultimately, with the freeing of all that parking space in cities, we could resolve some serious pollution problems, make our neighborhoods way more comfortable and nice to live in, and why not in the process ensure we have more efficient and smarter use of resources by recycling apartment waste into plant food?
Smart city? Yes indeed!