AN ELECTRIFYING FUTURE
TOWNS POWERED BY WIND?
Through continuous research and powered by curiosity, science breaks through and technology evolves. If the Industrial Revolution started an era of breakthroughs, but it also eventually heavily polluted the planet, it was a kickstart. But as human history has a strange way of changing things – and perspectives, mostly – scientists and the world at large slowly realized that it needed a new revolution – one that would allow producing energy in cleaner ways.
The development of nuclear power was a really great start. But sooner than later, researchers realized it is not feasible, as it releases dangerous radiation. But a natural phenomenon known as sonoluminescence could allow us to duplicate the power of the stars. Until then, we still have solar panels as a clean way to produce energy.
Wind power catches up, but it is still not considered as a reliable energy source due to high maintenance costs. Furthermore, there is the ocean thermal energy conversion and the ongoing development of hydrogen fuel cells.
Looking further into the future, antimatter could also be viable solution. Research on antimatter is a priority, as it could provide us with much of the power we need. Too bad that it is very little of it in the universe – but it can be produced in laboratories.
OCEAN POWER AND HYDROGEN FUEL CELLS
Oceans cover 70 percent of the Earth, and water is a natural solar energy collector. OTEC, or ocean thermal energy conversion, aims to exploit this fact and use the temperature differences between surface water heated by the sun and water in the ocean’s chilly depths to generate electricity.
OTEC plants are of three types: Closed Cycle, Open Cycle and Hybrid Cycle. They can double as fresh water sources and the nutrient rich seawater drawn from ocean depths can be used to culture marine organisms and plants. The major drawback of OTEC is that since they operate on such small temperature differences, generally about 36 degrees Fahrenheit (20 Celsius), they are only 1 to 3 percent efficient.
Now, hydrogen fuel cells might seem like the perfect alternative to fossil fuels. They can generate electricity using only hydrogen and oxygen and are pollution free. An automobile running on hydrogen fuel cells would not only be more efficient than one powered by an internal combustion engine, its only emission would be water.
Unfortunately, while hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, most of it is bound up in molecules such as water. That means pure unbound hydrogen must be produced with the help of other energy sources — which in many cases involve fossil fuels. If that’s the case, then many of the environmental benefits of hydrogen as a fuel are negated. Another problem with hydrogen is that it cannot be compressed easily or safely, and requires large tanks to store. Also, for reasons that are not fully understood, hydrogen atoms have a tendency to bleed through the materials encasing them, thus weakening their containers.
ANTIMATTER AND THE POWER OF THE STARS
Antimatter is the twin of matter – and also its opposite – made up of antiparticles that have the same mass as ordinary matter but with opposite atomic properties known as spin and charge. When the opposed particles meet, they annihilate each other and release tremendous amounts of energy as dictated by Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2.
Antimatter is already in use in a medical imaging technique known as positron emission tomography (PET), but its use as a potential fuel source remains in the realm of science fiction.
Energy can be produced by either splitting – a process called fission – or combining atoms – a process known as fusion.
Currently, most nuclear power plants use fission, as fusion requires tremendous amounts of energy to produce and maintain the necessary high temperatures. But a phenomenon known as sonoluminescence could one day provide a means of duplicating the power of the stars—which are themselves just giant nuclear fusion reactors.