ADVERTISEMENT

Will Alternative-Energy Growth Tank During New Fossil-Fuel Glut? [Slide Show]

Abundant natural gas may undermine alternative energy sources, whether nuclear or electro-fuels

1 of 15

EXTREMOPHILE:

Another alternative for turning CO2 back into fuel is to harness microbes. The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University is exploring whether a hybrid microbe —combining biological parts from more than three species—can, with a jolt of electricity, take CO2 and turn it into fuel sources.....[ More ]

CO2 TO FUEL:

ARPA–E is one of the few places still funding research into how to capture carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, although the focus has shifted toward making use of that CO2 once snagged. This trailer from Norwegian engineering firm Det Norske Veritas would use solar electricity to convert captured CO2 into liquid fuels .....[ More ]

WASTED:

ARPA–E also showcased technologies for making use of the waste thrown off by engines and motors, whether sound or heat. This sound-based device would generate energy by harnessing that rattle. As physical acoustics researcher Matthew Poese of The Pennsylvania State University says: "It's a one-note samba."....[ More ]

ALTERNATIVE H:

Another idea for hydrogen is to use it store heat, replacing the molten salts currently employed in locations such as solar-thermal power plants. A metal hydride will release hydrogen when heated and then reabsorb it, releasing 95 percent of the heat again for use in generating electricity, according to work done at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.....[ More ]

HYDROGEN ECONOMY:

Cheap natural gas might also make hydrogen more abundant and useful , because the primary method of making the lightest element in the universe is to strip it from methane. That could make life challenging for electrolyzers, like the one pictured here, that make hydrogen by using electricity to split water, but at a higher cost.....[ More ]

NATURAL GAS:

The U.S. now has an abundance of natural gas , sparking interest in using the fuel in vehicles. But storing gaseous fuels remains challenging, which is why CleanNG has built a lighter-weight tank out of composite materials and can store natural gas at up to 405 kilograms per square centimeter of pressure.....[ More ]

POWER ELECTRONICS:

Energy efficiency remains a key focus for ARPA–E. Electricity on the U.S. grid is continuously converted from alternating to direct current and back again as well as from one voltage to another.....[ More ]

PINE FUEL:

To get fuel from nonagricultural lands, researchers at the University of Florida turned to loblolly pine—a commercial tree species used in the wood, pulp and paper industries. By genetically tweaking the trees to produce more of the terpene molecules that can be turned into fuels , scientists hope to improve the efficiency of the process.....[ More ]

ALTERNATIVE FUEL:

The weedy flower known as camelina, pictured here, produces an oil that can then be refined into petroleum products, including jet fuel. The U.S. Air Force has certified many of its aircraft to run on biofuels derived from camelina oil and other plants, although it remains cost prohibitive to do so.....[ More ]

SOLAR SOLDIER:

Lightweight flexible solar panels from companies like MicroLink Devices might help soldiers on the front lines cut down the weight of their packs, which have swelled from roughly 35 kilograms during World War II to more than 55 kilograms today.....[ More ]

BRIDGE FUEL:

Another alternative to batteries as a backup for wind, solar and other renewable energy sources is natural gas. "Natural gas and renewables should be seen as energy allies not antagonists," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.....[ More ]

BETTER BATTERIES:

Scientists continue to experiment with new chemistries to create the low-cost, massive batteries capable of storing cheap electricity for the grid. "I have a chemistry problem ," declared Col.....[ More ]

RARE EARTHS:

Many of the most powerful electric motors require rare earth elements to run. But China controls more than 90 percent of the world's production of these materials, so ARPA–E is investing in research to find viable alternatives for use in the permanent magnets used in everything from electric car motors to wind turbines.....[ More ]

ELECTRIC CARS:

The Tesla Model S pictured here may be the 2013 car of the year but it still costs $50,000 or more, a key barrier for the widespread adoption of electric vehicles, which means lowering the cost of batteries and everything else.....[ More ]

ENERGY INNOVATION:

"The biggest problem that humanity faces is sustainable energy," said serial CEO Elon Musk of SolarCity (photovoltaic installation), SpaceX (rockets) and Tesla (electric cars), who announced his plan to pay back a U.S.....[ More ]

risk free title graphic

YES! Send me a free issue of Scientific American with no obligation to continue the subscription. If I like it, I will be billed for the one-year subscription.

cover image Subscribe Now
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Share this Article:
Scientific American Back To School

Back to School Sale!

12 Digital Issues + 4 Years of Archive Access just $19.99

Order Now >

X

Email this Article

X