With the continuing challenges we face as a result of climate change, the world’s greatest minds are constantly coming up with new ways to reduce carbon emissions as well as make the most of existing energy. If we are to avert climactic disaster, it could be that the solutions are discovered at the ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy) summit. Here are some of the most highly anticipated innovations in green technology from this year’s event.
With an increasing number of cars on the road, and our addiction to fossil fuels showing no signs of abating, it would be a major breakthrough to come up with an engine that can run on alternative energy. The Solar-Thermal Engine on show at ARPA-E runs on sunshine as you’d expect from the name, but it can also operate on synthetic gas derived from rubbish heated to just 260 degrees Celsius. It is the heat produced from these sources that the engine uses to produce steam which then powers the engine.
The secret to harnessing the power of the sun effectively could lie in plants. When sunlight hits a leaf, it splits the water inside it to produce carbohydrates, and this same process can be used to split water into Oxygen and Hydrogen which can be used as a fuel.
The real benefit of artificial photosynthesis is that, unlike other forms of renewable energy such as geothermal or wind power, it could have a real future as a fuel for transportation as it can be produced as and stored in photovoltaic cells as an actual fuel.
The artificial photosynthesis technology demonstrated at ARPA-E could be used to generate energy for the home cheaply.
Airborne Wind Turbines
At very high altitudes the wind never stops, and if utilised correctly could produce a constant stream of energy. On display at ARPA-E was a carbon-fibre “kite” that can circle high in the sky, and transmit that power it harnesses via a tether made of high strength fibres surrounded by conductors.
It works like any other wind turbine, where air rapidly moves across the blades and causes them to rotate, thus generating electricity. However, the AWT has a number of advantages over the traditional wind turbine. Firstly, it can produce power far more cost-effectively, at around half the cost, while it uses a massive 90% less material and is therefore far cheaper to build and install.
One major drawback to wind turbines that will often be cited is that they spoil the natural beauty of the countryside. With an AWT however, this isn’t an issue as they fly hundreds of metres in the air. It’s this altitude that also allows them to access significantly stronger winds.
We are beginning to see the effects of climate change throughout the world, including extended droughts in the planet’s hottest regions, coral reef bleaching and the continued retreat of the ice caps. If we are to avoid these and other problems getting increasingly more damaging, we will need to take significant steps both politically and technologically, and if ARPA-E is any indication, the best minds in green technology are working hard to discover the solutions.
This blog post was written by John Rooney on behalf of SolarTech, experts in delivering renewable energy technology for your home or business in the form of solar panels.