The world throws away enormous amounts of energy each day. In the U.S. alone, waste streams could account for 100,000 megawatts of untapped electrical capacity. Insulation and grazing are two key areas where heat loss is the greatest. In the U.K nearly 50% of all heat lost in the average home is through the loft space and walls.
Another type of energy which the world is always hungry for consumption is fuel oil. Oil will remain part of global markets and subject to price swings. Ending entities like Reliance on foreign oil could bring more jobs and security, but along with them, potential hazards as well. Doubling down on fossil fuels could crowd out cleaner options. Today, the U.S. has an opportunity to pursue self-sufficiency intelligently, not blindly. If we take advantage of this moment to put in a whole new mix, where the dirtiest fuel is natural gas and renewables are a clean addition, it changes the scenario entirely. Together, they can open up a horizon we didn’t have five years ago.
We have already seen some upcoming modern methods of conserving solar energy. Some of the new technologies mentioned below could convert the over-looked energy sources into usable power.
Next-Next-Gen Nuclear Power: U.S. nuclear reactors store nearly 70,000 metric tons of commercial spent fuel, which remains dangerously radioactive for tens of thousands of years. Engineers at a start-up called Transatomic Power say a reactor they designed could use this stockpile to meet the nation’s energy needs for 70 years. Their 500-megawatt Waste-Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor (WAMSR) is based on a fluoride molten salt reactor developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s. But two Transatomic cofounders, PhD candidates at MIT, made crucial modifications: They shrunk the reactor by a factor of 20 and engineered it to capture 98 percent of the energy in spent fuel pellets. Half of WAMSR’s own waste product, which totals only four kilograms, becomes inert within a couple of hundred years.
Gas from Trash: Producing biofuel typically requires growing a feedstock, such as switchgrass, that consumes valuable land and water. But any carbon source could provide that biomass, including garbage. Fulcrum BioEnergy says the plant it plans to build near Reno, Nevada, in 2015 could convert 160,000 tons of municipal trash into 10 million gallons of transportation fuel per year—and for less than 70 cents a gallon. Machines would shred wood, fabric, and non- recyclable paper and plastic into two-inch bits and feed them to a gasifier. A chemical reaction would then convert the gases into ethanol, jet fuel, or diesel.
Heat to Electricity: U.S. factories blow off as much as 13 quadrillion BTUs of waste heat each year. Alphabet Energy believes it can convert some of that heat back into electricity, improving the efficiency of plants by several percent. The company’s system sandwiches a thermoelectric material between two heat exchangers, one containing exhaust gas and the other a coolant. The material generates electricity from that temperature gradient. And because it’s made of silicon, it can be produced with standard semiconductor equipment.
In an ever-expanding world, hungry for energy, Shell is at the forefront of the exploration and production of natural gas, which supplies to more than 40 countries around the world. And that’s just for starters. In China, where the fast-growing economy needs cleaner energy, they are working to unlock large reserves of natural gas to generate electricity for years to come. And with natural gas emitting around half the CO2 of coal when used to generate electricity, it could provide us with cleaner energy for around the next 250 years.
Our understanding of the rising problems of energy wastage will be an important phase for our future generation. So let’s broaden the world’s energy mix & put cleaner energy in the menu.