Thursday, May 16, 2013

Reports indicate that renewable energy currently accounts for 12% of the power created in the United States. This amount will grow thanks to research and investment combined with government initiatives. In the past 5 years (2008-2013), 35% of all new power produced came from renewable energy sources.

Hydrogen Power:

One exciting development is the creation of biodiesel fuel for zero-emission fuel cells using hydrogen. Green algae hydrogen production promises improved methods of creating renewable energy. If hydrogen can be produced directly from sunlight through green algae or other photosynthetic microorganisms, this will create a renewable and very environmentally friendly energy source.

Algae and Hydrogen:

Researchers located an enzyme that splits water into electrons, hydrogen ions and oxygen more efficiently than natural photosynthesis can. They showed that up to 80% of the energy absorbed by the enzyme goes directly into hydrogen production in the algae. Solar energy caused most of the production of hydrogen. If green algae can be controlled in the future to increase efficiency in hydrogen production, commercial use as a renewable energy source can occur.
Algae farming is becoming a significant source of biofuels. Oil is extracted from algae and converted to fuel that performs like traditional petroleum products. Recent advancements increase the efficiency of algae growing as well as the breakdown of the cells for extracting energy. Algae-based fuels are biodegradable, and algae farming occurs on land not appropriate for traditional agriculture.


Biofuels such as ethanol and methane are more available now as alternative energy sources. Considerable energy waste occurs as evidenced by emissions of heat, light, sound, vibration or movement. Current research focuses on harvesting or scavenging this lost energy, storing it and converting it to energy for consumption. Microelectronics found throughout the Smart Grid of equipment and devices involved in energy generation, transmission, distribution and consumption will benefit from the increased energy efficiency.
We need more research and development in physics, and more experience in piezoelectric, thermoelectric and pyroelectric materials to realize the potential of these harvesters. Nanotechnology will be used for developing materials and manufacturing processes. Advanced ceramic and crystalline materials capture and convert wasted energy to usable energy. Industry and automotive technology already use existing products of thermoelectric developments. In the near future, kinetic energy such as walking on a floor will be converted to electricity by piezoelectric technology.

Solar Energy:

The next generation of solar cells involves organic photovoltaics (OPVs) made from cheap, abundant polymers instead of metalloid material silicon. OPVs convert light to energy less efficiently than silicon but use significantly less expensive materials and manufacturing processes. OPVs are applied to a lightweight, flexible substrate by spray-painting or roll-to-roll fabrication. They require no specialized processes. Integration of solar power in buildings may use OPVs through things such as the use of transparent solar cells instead of traditional window glass. OPVs and traditional solar cells require more research to improve their efficiency.
Singlet exciton fission is one development to boost efficiency of solar energy production. In a standard PV cell, each photon of light knocks exactly one electron loose inside the PV material. Wires capture this loose electron and provide an electrical current. The singlet exciton fission method allows each photon to knock loose two electrons, making the process twice as efficient. This is done with visible light waves and allows many potential uses in solar PV panels.
Researchers see no intrinsic barriers to optimizing the conversion process to allow efficiency of over 30%, compared to today's solar panels with maximum efficiency of 25% at best. Stacking different kinds of solar cells together will also improve efficiency. Using OPV technology as an inexpensive coating on traditional solar cells promises better affordability plus efficiency.

Zinc-Air Batteries:

Another major hurdle in renewable energy right now is energy storage capacity. Zinc-air grid batteries currently under study can provide energy-grid scale energy storage at remarkably low costs. Eventually the maker plans to offer a commercial battery, which they claim, can achieve 75% efficiency with a 30-year lifetime. This is approximately equal to other batteries on the market except the latest lithium-ion batteries already deployed in the energy grid. The zinc-air battery cost should be about 1/3 to 1/5 the cost of traditional or lithium-ion batteries, partly because zinc is much cheaper and more obtainable than lithium.

Wave Power:

Marine renewable energy, or the use of ocean tides and currents as sources of continuous kinetic energy powers turbines, which produce electricity. Current energy extraction is one of the more promising renewable energy technologies at this time. It offers a consistent and predictable power source with no emissions. However, concerns exist about the effects of noise from the generators on marine life. Researchers study how to predict future wave power, which could double the efficiency of the technology. Marine energy provides a large amount of energy per turbine and more turbines can be added over time.

Wind Power:

Large-scale wind power transmission projects are underway in the Midwest, further expanding the use of wind power throughout the country. Airborne wind turbines have been developed which are moveable to where wind is strongest at any given time. Wind harvesters and bladeless wind turbines have also been created.

Underwater Thermal Power:

A U.S. company and a Chinese group are collaborating on an underwater thermal energy factory. The steep differences between surface temperatures and deep waters create energy, and the ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) plant harnesses this for energy. It should be complete by 2017 in waters near China's Hainan Island. The OTEC will power the resort on the island and land there will be marketed as a low-carbon real estate development.
The OTEC application is towable and can be implemented almost anywhere in the world. The technology heats warm surface water, producing steam and driving a turbine generator. Colder water is pumped from 800-1000 meters below the surface, condensing the steam back into liquid water. Several U.S. sites, including Florida and Hawaii, are appropriate for commercial OTEC facilities.

Author Bio:
Peter Wendt is a writer, researcher and green technology enthusiast from Austin, Texas. He is nearly finished building his new net-zero home with the help of Native,Inc.

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