The economic tension of our time is between the acceleration of technological progress and the exponential growth of the debt-based monetary system. The former typically holds the promise of a better future while the latter is the harbinger of societal collapse. As I have mentioned many times in the past, depending on where you look and the news of the day, you could argue dystopia or utopia in equal parts.
The sovereign debt created by nations of the world seems like an insurmountable road block to a more prosperous future, that is unless there is a fundamental societal change OR technology can help us out. Economic prosperity could return rather quickly with the development of a radically cleaner and cheaper energy source, or with significant efficiency gains in the modern economy. Not only would this help solve economic problems, we would also have a cleaner environment as a bonus.
While the past week did not herald huge breakthroughs in alternative energy and effciency there was plenty of news to trumpet.
1. Sun Catalytix continues to improve their “artificial leaf”. This technology produces hydrogen and oxygen from sunlight and water. Just put the “leaf” in water, set it in the sun, and hydrogen and oxygen begin to bubble off of the surface. While the dream of hydrogen fuel cell based transportation remains a dream, this technology could find a home in many other fuel cell applications.
2. Electric cars are gaining more traction in the transportation market and are now being helped along by the world’s first ride electric car sharing service in Paris. The “Autolib” program figures to scale up to 250 cars before the end of the year. It makes sense to use electric cars in the city where people do not need to drive as far. It should also help keep the city air less polluted.
3. Electric vehicles would certainly be helped out by better batteries and this is a hot area of research. Just this past week two news releases arrived courtesy of Stanford University research. Both items relate to lithium ion batteries and ways to make them hold more charge. They have used sulfur coated nanotubes and manganese oxide to increase the battery’s power storage capabilities. These are types of breakthrough you can thank a couple years down the road when your cell phone battery lasts a couple days and EVs easily get 300 miles per charge.
4. Here is a potential game-changing technology – super capacitors that hold significantly more charge. Super-capacitors are like batteries in that they store electrical energy. Batteries store energy in dense chemical forms while super-capacitors hold free electrons. Batteries have traditionally been far superior for storing large amounts of electrical power, but engineers and designers would often times rather use super capacitors because you can charge them up and discharge them in a blink of an eye. They theoretically have a much longer life cycle as well. Now researchers have at the National University of Singapore have developed a cheap flexible polymer for super-capacitors that might be able to help them compete with batteries. So far, the new material has a theoretical storage capacity 200 times greater than current capacitors and stores energy 8 times cheaper than current batteries. Seems too good to be true. It probably is. This invention still needs to make it out of the lab and be tested vigorously in real world situations. Can it be manufactured cheaply? We will see. One thing for sure, I think it has a much better chance of making it to the market than anything that might come out of Eestor.
6. Progress is not only coming from “high-tech” research but from older technology as well. Vehicle manufacturers are once again testing out fly wheels and compressed air to make “hybrids”. Instead of using batteries, they use flywheels and compressed air to assist the internal combustion engine. Fuel economy could be increased by a significant percentage using these “old” technologies.
7. Not only are cars undergoing transformation but airplanes as well. NASA just awarded a Slovinian engineering team 1.35 million dollars for winning the CAFE Green Flight Challenge. Their 4 seat airplane flew 200 miles at 100 mph and only used the energy equivalent of a half gallon of gas. Wow! E-planes are a long way from commercial reality but this is a great first step. Some people hope that E-planes will be able to service large metropolitan areas with many micro-airports within the city limits. This could become a reality because E-planes produce hardly any pollution and are much quieter.
8. From the very large to the very small. A Purdue University research team has recently produced a new type of computer memory device that is theoretically 99% more energy efficient that flash memory. Given that more and more of the world relies on computers, mobile devices, the Internet, and large data centers, a development like this could be world changing for the energy landscape of the future.
Have a fun Thursday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
Posted under Alternative Energy, Technology
This post was written by jloew on October 6, 2011