Sustainable energy is currently a politically and socially relevant topic. Unfortunately, though most of us know what it is and why it’s important, very few of us care to keep up with what’s new. If that’s you, worry not! Here’s a quick rundown of the latest developments in sustainable energy.
Energy Harvesting Trees
Trees have always provided us with oxygen, but now they’re going one step further.
Scientists at VTT Technical Research Centre, Finland, have developed prototypes using 3D printing technology.
The ‘leaves’ are made of organic solar cells. Each has a separate power converter, enabling it to harvest energy from wind, heat, or the sun.
3D prints of wood-based biocomposites form the trunk. As all the components are organic, these trees are recyclable and pose no difficulties for replication.
Generally, the more leaves there are, the more energy can be produced.
Currently, one tree produces enough energy to run a small appliance. But, in the future, a whole forest of them could potentially power an entire city!
Hydrogen is generally regarded as a cleaner fuel than most hydrocarbons. This is because hydrocarbons yield carbon dioxide or even toxic carbon monoxide upon combustion, whereas hydrogen yields only water.
Though it’s a fairly well-known fact, hydrogen has not yet replaced traditional fuels. Furthermore, it is challenging to generate and store hydrogen; hence, this avenue has not yet been fully explored.
Researchers at Berkeley Laboratory and McGill University may have a solution.
A study conducted at McGill University, Montreal, resulted in creating a stable artificial photosynthesis device.
This device harnesses sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. It can use either salt or freshwater. If recalibrated, this device can also convert carbon dioxide back into fuel.
Scientists at Berkeley have synthesised a polymer related to Plexiglas, which can easily store hydrogen. It is known as ‘air-stable magnesium nano-composites’. Essentially, it can hold and release hydrogen without undergoing any chemical reactions.
Green mobile phones
With the booming growth of cell phones, manufacturers must make the handsets themselves eco-friendly and the charging methodology.
India is working on solar-powered cell phone towers. China Mobile has already set up the world’s biggest solar-energy powered base station.
Nokia is working on powering cell phones using radio waves. The prototype can harness 50mW of power, enough to power the phone on standby mode.
Cobalt, palladium, and tin are some toxic minerals that go into building circuit boards, display, and battery. As a result, careless disposal of an old phone can lead to environmental and health issues.
It is always a better option to repair or recycle an old phone instead of opting for quick and easy disposal.
Microbial Fuel Cells
This technology relies on the catalytic activity of microorganisms.
Organic waste material is processed by taking advantage of microbial metabolism. The cell captures electrons that microbes naturally release as a part of their metabolic cycles.
Wastewater and sewage are processed to generate energy. Naturally abundant microbes are used to avoid upsetting ecological balance.
MFCs serve a dual purpose – they simultaneously accomplish electricity generation and biological wastewater treatment.
Bill Gates has backed scientists in the UK to create an MFC that relies on processing urine.
When optimised, MFCS may become the most efficient source of energy for both developed and developing countries.
Vehicle fuel alternatives
Biodiesel or B100 is a domestically produced, clean substitute for petroleum derivatives. It is manufactured from vegetable oils, animal fats, and recycled restaurant grease.
B100 reduced CO2 emissions by 74% as compared to diesel. However, the amount of CO2 emitted breaks even with the amount of CO2 absorbed by plants processed to make biodiesel.
The Universities of Bath, West of England, and Bristol are working on a £1.4 million project to convert CO2 into fuel.
Carbon dioxide is a significant contributor to global warming. In addition, most vehicles emit carbon dioxide. Reversing this process could be highly effective in bringing pollution levels down.
Hydrogen and electricity are also viable fuels. If researchers can optimise production and storage, they can be implemented on a large scale. As a result, the overall carbon footprint of automobiles can be brought down as such.
Also read: Human cloning: To commend or condemn?
Akshaya is a voracious reader, and a bit of a know-it-all. She is usually found with a book in hand and considers herself a connoisseur of all things nerdy.