A solar farm or geothermal power plant is merely a power generator to most people. Engineers and scientists see much more potential.
They envision offshore wind turbines that capture and store carbon under the sea, and geothermal plants that produce essential metals to power electric vehicles. The batteries of electric vehicles can also be used to power homes, thereby saving owners money.
With scientists around the world Sounding the alarm about the increasing dangers and costs of climate change, let’s explore some cutting-edge ideas that could transform how today’s technologies Reduce the effects of global heatingThe following is a selection of five articles from The Conversation.
1. Solar canals for power and water protection
What if solar panels could do double duty and produce more power while protecting water supplies?
California is developing the United States’ first solar canals, with solar panels built atop some of the state’s water distribution canals. These canals run thousands of miles through arid areas, where the dry atmosphere boosts evaporation for a state that is often faced with water shortages.
“In a 2021 study, we showed that covering all 4,000 miles of California’s canalsSolar panels could save 65 billion gallons annually by reducing evaporation. That’s enough to irrigate 50,000 acres of farmland or meet the residential water needs of more than 2 million people,” writes engineering professor Roger BalesUniversity of California, Merced. They would also expand renewable energies without requiring the use of farmable land.
Research showsHuman activities, especially those that use fossil fuels for energy or transportation, are a major cause of global warming. The planet is unambiguously warmingExtreme weather is on the rise. Increasing renewable energy, currently at 20% of U.S. electricity, can reduce fossil fuel demand.
The solar panels can also be used over shaded water to improve their energy output. Bales writes that the panels’ temperature is lowered by 10 degrees Fahrenheit (5.5 Celsius) when the water is cooler. This increases their efficiency.
2. Geothermal power could boost the battery supply
Renewable energy cannot be used to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions unless buildings and vehicles can use it. Although batteries are vital, the industry has a supply problem.
Lithium-ion batteries are the most common type of batteries in electric vehicles and utility-scale storage. The majority of lithium used in the United States comes from Argentina, Chile and China. China is the largest producer of lithium.
Engineers and geologists are creating an innovative way to boost the U.S.’s lithium supply at home. Extracting lithium out of geothermal brines in California’s Salton Sea region.
After heat and steam are used to create power, brines are the remaining liquid in a geothermal facility. This liquid contains lithium, as well as other metals like manganese and zinc. It is usually pumped underground, but it can also be filtered.
“If test projects now underway prove that battery-grade lithium can be extracted from these brines cost effectively, 11 existing geothermal plants along the Salton Sea alone could have the potential to produce enough lithium metal to provide about 10 times the current U.S. demand,” write geologist Michael McKibbenUniversity of California, Riverside. Energy policy scholar Bryant JonesBoise State University
President Joe Biden Invoked the Defense Production ActMarch 31, 2022 to offer incentives to U.S. companies to extract and process more critical minerals to power their electric storage.
3. Green hydrogen and other storage solutions
Scientists are working on other ways to boost batteries’ mineral supply chain, too, including recycling lithium and cobalt from old batteries. They’re also Designing with other materialsExplained Kerry RippyA researcher at the National Renewable Energy Lab,
Concentrated solar energy, for instance, stores energy from sunlight by heating molten sodium and using it to make steam to drive electric generators. It is similar to how a power plant that produces electricity from coal. It’s expensive, though, and the salts currently used aren’t stable at higher temperature, Rippy writes. A similar project is being funded by the Department of Energy, which is testing heated sand.
A different type of storage is provided by renewable fuels like ammonia and green hydrogen. They can be transported as liquid fuel and used for rocket fuel or shipping.
Hydrogen is often the focus of media attention. However, not all hydrogen can be considered green. Most hydrogen used today is actually produced with natural gas – a fossil fuel. Green hydrogen, in contrast, could be produced using renewable energy to power electrolysis, which splits water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, but again, it’s expensive.
“The key challenge is optimizing the process to make it efficient and economical,” Rippy writes. “The potential payoff is enormous: inexhaustible, completely renewable energy.”
4. Use your EV to power the home
Batteries could soon transform your electric vehicle into an enormous mobile battery capable of powering the rest of your home.
Only a few vehicles are currently designed for vehicle-to-home charging, or V2H, but that’s changing, writes energy economist Seth BlumsackPenn State University. Ford, for instance, claims that its F-150 Lightning pickup truck can power an average house for three consecutive days on one charge.
Blumsack discusses both the technical issues and the potential for V2H to grow. How people manage their energy use and how utilities store it.
For example, he writes, “some homeowners might hope to use their vehicle for what utility planners call ‘peak shaving’ – drawing household power from their EV during the day instead of relying on the grid, thus reducing their electricity purchases during peak demand hours.”
5. Capturing carbon dioxide from the air and locking them away
Another emerging technology is more controversial.
Humans have put so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the past two centuries that just stopping fossil fuel use won’t be enough to quickly stabilize the climate. Most scenarios, including Recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ReportsAlso, the world must remove carbon dioxide from its atmosphere.
The technology to capture carbon dioxide from the air exists – it’s called direct air capture – but it’s expensive.
Engineers and geophysicists enjoy it. David GoldbergColumbia University is exploring ways to reduce these costs by combining direct-air capture technology with renewable energy generation and carbon storage. For example, offshore wind turbines are built above underwater rock formations where carbon could be stored.
The world’s largest direct air capture plant, launched in 2021 in Iceland, uses geothermal energy to power its equipment. The carbon dioxide is mixed with water, and then pumped underground into volcanic basalt formations. It is formed from hard carbonate through chemical reactions with basalt.
Goldberg, who developed the mineralization process used to extract Icelandic minerals, sees similarities. Potential for future offshore wind farms in America. Wind turbines can often produce more energy than customers require at any given moment, making excess energy readily available.
“Built together, these technologies could reduce the energy costs of carbon capture and minimize the need for onshore pipelines, reducing impacts on the environment,” Goldberg writes.
Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.