There are thousands of projects underway to change the way the US and the world produces and uses energy. Start-ups are looking to harness the world's ocean waves and build advanced fuel cell that produce data center-class electricity. Vice President Joe Biden and the US Department of Energy recently awarded $106 million for 37 ambitious research projects that run the gamut from building more powerful batteries to making fuels from the E-Coli bacteria. Here we take a look at just a few of the cool energy projects and companies trying to change the world.
10 hot energy projects that could electrify the world
The bloom is on this rose: "Bloom boxes," basically convert gas, biomass, and other fuels into electricity. Through its solid oxide fuel cell technology, Bloom's Energy Server is an advanced distributed power generator, producing clean, reliable, affordable electricity, the company says. Fuel cells are devices that convert fuel into electricity through a clean electro-chemical process rather than traditional dirty combustion. Each Bloom Energy Server provides 100kW of power, enough to meet the needs of 100 average homes office buildings. And the company already claims some pretty big customers from Google and Wal-Mart to eBay and FedEx
A little spin: The Ocean Renewable Power Company is one of a few companies looking to harvest electricity from the tide or water currents. According to the company, its rolling turbine system works on the same principle as a wind turbine, with rotating foils that power a central permanent magnet generator. Built primarily with composite materials, they resist corrosion in fresh and salt water alike. As gearless units, they require no lubricants, and emit nothing into the surrounding water, the company says.
Electric water farm: While Ocean Renewable uses a tubular turbine, Verdant Power uses what looks like an underwater propeller to generate clean energy from the currents of tides, rivers and manmade channels.
The wind grid?: Researchers in part from the University of Delaware's The Center for Carbon-free Power Integration (CCPI) wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, about tying together wind farms from across the globe to create a sort of world-wide wind grid. "World wind power resources are abundant, but their utilization could be limited because wind fluctuates rather than providing steady power. We hypothesize that wind power output could be stabilized if wind generators were located in a meteorologically designed configuration and electrically connected," researchers stated. Problem is, according tot a New York Times article on the research, no offshore wind farms have been built yet. Operators also would need to agree to build the undersea transmission line, which could cost well over a billion dollars.
Generating energy from waste is a concept that has not caught on in the US, but in Europe, the use of advanced incinerators to burn waste and generate energy is growing. One such plant in Denmark called Vestforbrænding incinerates waste in large furnaces, flue-gases then are cooled with water that turns into steam. Steam turns into movement, power and heating in turbines, generators and heat exchangers. Heat is transferred to consumer in the form of hot water through insulated underground pipes; one supply pipe and one return pipe, the company says. Heat from the plant is interconnected with the regional district heating system in Copenhagen.
Biofuels that zap: The idea here is to develop bacteria to use electricity (which could come from renewable sources like solar or wind) to convert carbon dioxide into gasoline. The bacteria would act like a reverse fuel cell: where fuel cells use a fuel to produce electricity, this bacterium would start with electricity and produce a fuel. The Harvard Medical School-Wyss Institute last month got a $4 million from the US Advanced Research Projects Agency to begin developing bacterium and a device that combines features of an electrochemical cell and a microbial fermenter will be developed.
Poo as fuel?: The U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency Engineering gave Ginkgo BioWorks $6 million last month to develop carbon dioxide and water from E. coli into isooctane which can be used in car and truck fuel systems. Others have used the bacteria to produce hydrogen which reportedly can be done cheaply, because the gas emerges naturally right out of the bacteria.
Hot batteries: Lithium air batteries capable of powering a car for 500 miles on a single charge - a five-fold increase over current plug-in batteries are a hot research topic. Recently the PolyPlus Battery Co. got nearly $5 million from the U.S. to develop lithium-air batteries based on proprietary protected lithium electrodes and Corning glass and ceramics. The U.S. Department of Energy and IBM this year teamed up to let Big Blue and a team of researchers use the Department of Energy's supercomputers to develop new materials required for a lithium air battery. IBM is a big proponent of the oft-controversial lithium-air battery. The controversy surrounds the fact that they tend to be expensive and use an energy-dense, highly flammable metal to react with the readily available oxygen in the air.
It's Marine buoy: Technologies that utilize wave and tidal energy are another energy producer that has been around but seems to be catching a new breath of late. Aquamarine Power for example, in March landed the rights to start building wave and tidal energy generation projects off the coast of Scotland. The company's Oyster Wave power device is a buoyant, hinged flap that is attached to the seabed. This hinged flap, which is almost entirely underwater, sways backwards and forwards in the waves. The movement of the flap drives two hydraulic pistons which push high pressure water onshore to drive a conventional hydro-electric turbine. Basically the wave power device is a large pump which provides the power source for a conventional onshore hydro-electric power plant, the company says.
A little wooden truck: OK this one isn't so much alternative energy but alternative transportation. Purdue University says it has developed what it calls a BUV or Basic Utility Vehicle made up of pine. The design can easily be adapted to African hardwoods like mahogany, its handlers say. It could be used for many purposes, such as to haul crops, water, building materials, students or the infirm, in areas where no other transportation exists. The BUV, which is about the size of a Toyota pickup can be built with the most basic tools and skills. It is powered by a 10 horsepower, Chinese-made diesel engine that lets it hit about 20 mph. The all-terrain vehicle can travel on small roads or cross-country and can carry at least eight passengers and up to 1,200 pounds, Purdue stated.
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