By Laura Watson
While we all stay home, there are still some positives to be found, including the news of several recent advancements in cleaner energy which could smooth the way for the energy transition. This is especially important as the energy sector accounts for around 35% of carbon dioxide emissions.
A new way to store hydrogen
Researchers have found a new way to store hydrogen. Gas powered vehicles currently need high pressure to operate, but this is expensive and can be unsafe because hydrogen is highly flammable. While the high-pressure compression involved in older methods limits the amount of hydrogen which can be stored; the new storage method involves an ultra-porous metal-organic framework with a very high surface area. This framework can store hydrogen at lower pressures, making hydrogen storage and thus use as a fuel safer, cheaper and more widespread.
Bigger and more powerful wind turbines
Wind turbines are one example of renewable energy which everyone knows about; but these have the attendant problem that many wind turbines are needed to produce the same amount of electricity that a coal fired power plant could produce. But with some recent technological advancements, this statement may not be true for much longer. The Halide-X 12 MW offshore wind turbine is the world’s first 12 MW offshore turbine, and is both the most powerful and the most efficient offshore wind turbine yet produced. According to typical wind conditions, one Halide- X 12 MW wind turbine could power 16,000 European households. This turbine is currently being tested in the UK and could soon provide a supplement to the UK national grid.
Ways to reduce the impact of cement manufacture
Cement and brick manufacture is a highly energy intensive process, requiring large amounts of raw material extraction (such as limestone) and heat. In combination, these processes are estimated to account for around 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, if there is a way to reduce either of these impacts, it will be a positive step forward in the energy transition.
Engineers in the USA have invented a self-replicating brick that pulls carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by harnessing the photosynthetic power of Synechococcus, a bacteria found in plankton. The bricks are made by mixing sand and gelatine with bacteria in areas with high levels of sunlight. This mixture is then soaked in warm, nutrient rich salt water, and the photosynthesis reaction produces calcium carbonate, as well as glucose and oxygen. The calcium carbonate formed from this reaction can then be used to make cement, without the energy intensive and extractive processes usually deployed. While this material is in its early stages of testing, it does provide hope that we can make the building industry more sustainable.
Another recently proposed way to reduce the carbon impact of cement production is through the use of electrochemical synthesis of cement. This involves the use of neutral water electrolysis to produce calcium carbonate without high carbon emissions. Instead, the process would produce carbon dioxide in such a way that it can be readily separated and sequestered, thus not being emitted into the atmosphere. Other gases produced can also be used to generate energy, meaning that the process would have very little waste. The whole process could also be powered by renewable energy, thereby reinforcing this step in the direction of a zero carbon future.
So what could the future look like?
Mentioned above are only 3 of the many areas in which clean energy technology is advancing every day. With all these advancements in renewable and clean energy technology, the energy transition to a zero carbon world is looking more and more possible.
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OCS Media Team
The latest in climate science, policy, perspectives and more from the OCS team.