In addition to the harm they do to the environment, fossil fuels are a finite resource. Eventually, we’ll run out of oil, coal, and natural gas. Exactly when this will happen is unclear, but as resources run low, demand will eventually make generating energy with fossil fuels financially inviable. In response, research into emerging tech that might help power the future is booming—and producing some promising results.
Na-TECC: Solar Energy from Salt
The average heat-to-electricity conversion efficiency for most sources on the electric grid is 30 percent. Na-TECC, under development by Shannon Yee, assistant professor at Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, could yield 45 percent conversion efficiency.
Na-TECC uses the isothermal expansion of sodium combined with solar heat to generate electricity. This emerging tech is all the more impressive when you consider Na-TECC has no moving parts.
The idea of generating energy from radio frequencies has been around for some time, but limited by range. Manos Tentzeris, professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering may have overcome this challenge. His team has successfully harvested ambient radio frequency energy from a source seven miles away.
Radio energy harvesting is limited in scope, but Tantzeris believes the emerging energy technology could be used to power devices on the Internet of Things. Radio waves could also be used to power smart sensors, wearable electronics, and “smart skin.”
Of all the emerging tech that might help power the future, Lithium-air batteries are among the most promising. High energy Li-air batteries use atmospheric oxygen to generate power and could soon rival gasoline as an energy producer.
Micro Stirling Engines
Stirling engines generate power by compressing and expanding air. Micro Stirling engines are micrometer-sized power generators which could, in theory, be 3D-printed and used with en masse with heat-generating surfaces to produce power.
Power Plants and Emerging Energy Technology
Large-scale emerging energy technology will affect existing power plants, which may need to be retrofitted to accommodate new energy sources and systems. One such change involves replacing steam as turbine fluid with supercritical carbon dioxide (SCCO2).
Currently used in green dry cleaning, SCCO2 is created when carbon dioxide is pressurized above 7.4 megapascals at temperatures above 87 Fahrenheit. Its higher density and compressibility would allow smaller turbines to generate more power than current models.
Equally promising, the use of SCCO2 in solar plants could increase thermal efficiency to 60 percent, although the high operating pressure required is more than existing heat exchangers can take. Heat exchangers capable of withstanding such pressures are in development.
Not every emerging energy tech will stand up to practical applications, but with so much research focused on alternative power sources, the emerging tech that might help power the future is out there. When we find it, the world will finally have an alternative to fossil fuel.
Like this post? Check out our post on the most energy efficient states in the U.S. (2018).