- July 19, 2023
- Posted by: Tom Hedge
Di-lithium crystals are a fictional concept in the realm of science fiction, popularised in the Star Trek series. In the Star Trek universe, these crystals are a crucial component of the starship’s warp drive technology, enabling faster-than-light travel.
Warp drives remain theoretical in the real world – however, should we be looking beyond our current investing more in new and promising developments to address the energy crisis?
This article explores such questions, examining why our focus on the renewables available at the moment may not be enough, and what alternatives we have.
The Importance of Diversifying Sustainable Energy Sources
The road-blocking Just Stop Oil protests continue to oppose the UK government’s new licenses for the exploration of oil and other fossil fuels. While we need to reduce reliance on these fuels, the current alternatives are far from perfect.
Renewable sources including wind and solar have been receiving heavy investment from various governments, especially since the war in Ukraine began. Aside from the climate benefits, they provide an alternative to import dependency, enabling countries to diversify their energy mix and mitigate against price changes in the fossil fuel markets.
However, relying solely on our current renewable energy sources is not enough for several reasons. First of all, while their adoption has been growing steadily in recent years, we are still not on track to reach net zero by 2050.
In addition, developing nations still rely on fossil fuels. Given that highly populated countries such as India are not investing in green energy, it won’t matter how much the west funnels into renewables – we will still not reach net zero in time.
Other reasons to reduce the reliance on our current options are below.
With solar and wind comes the intermittency challenge, with variations in weather conditions affecting their ability to consistently meet energy demands. In addition, limited land availability along with other geographical constraints can hinder the scalability of these renewables in some regions.
By expanding our options, we can overcome such challenges, reducing our dependence on fossil fuel backups and optimising energy generation based on regional strengths.
While renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal have made significant strides, diversification beyond these sources allows us to tap into emerging technologies and explore new frontiers of energy production.
Breakthroughs in areas such as advanced nuclear power, fusion energy, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), and next-generation battery technologies offer promising avenues for sustainable energy generation and storage.
Supporting research initiatives and creating incentives for breakthrough technologies helps us to stimulate innovations that may accelerate the transition towards a sustainable future.
We’ll now look at some developing technologies and other initiatives that could help in breaking the reliance on our current options.
Hydrogen fuel can be a clean and efficient energy source that is typically produced through electrolysis or thermal processes such as natural gas reforming. It’s also possible to produce it through nuclear power, biomass, solar, wind and other renewables.
Hydrogen is a versatile option that is appealing for use in transportation and various industrial applications, as well as for long-term energy storage. The US National Clean Hydrogen Strategy Roadmap was recently released, providing a framework for the adoption of hydrogen, and EU initiatives have been in exploration for some time.
Natural gas produces half the amount of carbon dioxide when burnt compared to coal; however, the increase in its production has proven problematic. Cleaning up the process is a necessity, especially since the majority of hydrogen is produced using natural gas (at the moment).
Methane can be released during the fracking process, and clean fracking emphasises the implementation of technologies and practices to detect and address leaks, ensuring that emissions are minimised (along with carbon capture and storage techniques).
There is also the option to replace diesel powered equipment used for drilling with equipment powered by clean sources.
Advanced Nuclear Reactors
While most nuclear reactors in operation today are traditional reactors, advanced nuclear reactors are more efficient, safer, and potentially cheaper. Another advantage is that they can be used to power industrial operations that currently rely on fossil fuels to generate the required high temperatures (which traditional reactors cannot).
Fusion reactors are the safest among the types of advanced nuclear reactors in development. Nuclear fusion would produce energy with next to no carbon emissions and without radioactive waste. However, there is a long way to go before it would be implemented at-scale, with many experts agreeing that 2050 is a rather optimistic estimate.
Recent breakthroughs seem promising, but there are still many obstacles to overcome. With that said, it may be an important player beyond 2050, helping to ensure ongoing sustainability.
Policing Counterfeit Green Fuels
Perhaps more attention needs to go towards policing counterfeit green fuels. The less that these fake green fuels are produced, the less CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere and the more genuine renewables can be used.
From reforestation to carbon capture and storage (CSS), various efforts to reduce CO2 levels are ongoing. There are 18 direct air capture (DAC) plants in operation across Europe, the US and Canada and, while these facilities are small, there are plans for a large-scale US-based plant to open before 2030. DAC is not the most energy-efficient carbon capture method, however.
There are mixed results when it comes to the effectiveness of carbon capture and storage (CCS) at industrial facilities. However, researchers at MIT claim that that it’s possible to achieve 99% efficiency, and 95% efficiency has already been demonstrated in some cases (compared to the minimum requirement of 90%).
The cost of attaining these higher levels of efficiency is significant and, in reality, may become an obstacle. Regardless, carbon capture is an important area to consider and will hopefully expand.
Our current view of energy may be short-sighted, and it is time to consider diversifying. While renewables like wind and solar have received significant investment and offer numerous benefits, relying on them and them alone is not enough to achieve our climate goals. Developing nations still heavily rely on fossil fuels, and the rising costs of minerals needed for renewable technologies pose challenges to their scalability.
To overcome these limitations and optimise energy generation, we must explore alternative options and technologies. While we don’t have di-lithium crystals, focusing more on hydrogen fuel, clean fracking, fusion energy, and carbon capture hold promise for sustainability.
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