Can the world escape mass destruction from global warming caused by human activities? Probably yes! There is no denying the fact that technological progress around the world has come at the cost of environment but technology itself is offering a hope to curb this menace. Here is how emerging technology trends can tackle the energy, carbon, waste and water challenge.
Teleworking to cut energy usage
Telecommuting and e-commerce are going to cut energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions significantly. A report by Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has attributed the USA’s reduced energy use and GHG emissions to these two technological trends. Conducted by Fraunhofer USA Center for Sustainable Energy Systems, the study found the equivalent energy savings from teleworking and e-commerce to be roughly that of as much as three power plants and one power plant, respectively.
“While innovation is constantly developing more energy-efficient consumer electronics, the very use of these devices for activities such as teleworking and e-commerce is also leading to significant environmental benefits,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, CEA. “The more people and businesses who use technology to telecommute and engage in e-commerce, the fewer cars and exhaust we have on the road, the less gasoline and electricity we need every year, and the greater the energy savings from lower production and delivery of paper materials.”
Solar power everywhere
Scientists have attributed most of the global warming to burning of oil, coal and gas for electricity generation. Complete shift to renewable energy sources is therefore critical.
The good news is that “solar could become the world’s main source of energy as soon as 2050”—according to a report by the International Energy Agency last year. As the price of solar technology continues to fall and efficiency keeps improving, it doesn’t look unthinkable. The average global price per watt for solar power has reduced from $76.67 in 1977 to just $0.60 in 2015.
Manufacturers can now reliably measure thin-film thickness during solar panel production. This has reduced costs, making solar panels affordable for average households. Given that currently the grid is not equipped to handle the huge supply of energy generated by solar panels, researchers are devising ways to store the generated solar energy.
Taking cue from biology and the way plants generate energy through photosynthesis, University of California researchers have developed a mechanism that will allow panels to store energy for up to several weeks. The materials in most of today’s residential rooftop solar panels can store energy from the sun for only a few microseconds at a time.
Carbon capture and conversion
Canadian company Carbon Engineering is developing a technology that could directly capture from the air the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by as many as 300,000 cars. The technology is claimed to remove far more CO2 per acre of land footprint than trees and plants, and produce a stream of pure CO2 as its principal output. As it uses a large industrial setup for the purpose, the purified CO2 can be exported to companies for use in industrial applications or for storage deep underground.
The technology integrates two processes: an air contactor, and a regeneration cycle, for continuous capture of atmospheric carbon dioxide and production of pure CO2. The process would be highly energy-efficient: It would run on a natural gas or concentrated solar power energy source that would generate energy on-site so that any emissions incurred can be captured and delivered along with the CO2 from the air.
Power from plastic waste
Globally, plastic pollution has reached an alarming level, threatening the eco-system. The Dow Chemical Company of USA, together with Agilyx, has come up with a successful alternative for plastic waste. It has demonstrated that certain plastics like juice pouches, candy wrappers and plastic dinnerware that are not easily recyclable under traditional models, can be converted into synthetic crude oil for fuel.
Using their patented thermal pyrolysis technology, which is complementary to current mechanical recycling programmes, Agilyx converted the previously non-recycled plastics into high-value synthetic crude oil. The crude oil can be further refined and made into valuable products for everyday use such as gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, fuel oil, lubricants, and even be transformed back into plastic.
This alternative method complements plastics recycling and shows that non-recycled plastic waste can be diverted from landfills, extracted for its embedded energy and put to good use.
Water from poo
Water crisis is the No. 1 global risk based on impact to society (as a measure of devastation), and the No. 8 global risk based on likelihood (likelihood of occurring within ten years) as announced by the World Economic Forum, January 2015. Approximately one in nine people around the world lack access to safe water—according to Water.org.
US-based Janicki Bioenergy has developed a machine to address the water shortage challenge by converting human poo into clean drinking water, producing electricity in the process. Called Omni Processor, the machine was unveiled by Bill Gates in January this year. The developers believe that if the machine finds its way in developing countries, it could save millions of lives every year.
The first commercial model of Omni Processor, S200, will be a stationary combined heat and power plant that converts fecal sludge and other combustible waste streams into electricity, potable water, and ash. The heat from combustion within a fluidised sand bed is utilised to generate high-pressure steam that is expanded in a reciprocating piston steam engine connected to a generator, producing electricity. The exhaust from this engine (process heat) is used to dry the incoming fecal sludge. The water that is evaporated out of the sludge is then treated to meet clean drinking water standards.
Written by: Uma Gupta, contributing author for Technology.Org