Oil For All, From All
One of the foremost environmental tech trends this past year has been the exploration of alternative oil extraction sources. Any carbon-based waste, from turkey guts to used tires, can now, by adding sufficient heat and pressure, be turned into oil through a process called thermo-depolymerization. This is very similar to how nature produces oil, but with this technology, the process is expedited by millions of years to achieve the same byproduct.
According to the United Nations, water supply shortages will affect billions of people by the middle of this century. Desalination, basically removing the salt and minerals out of seawater, is one way to provide potable water in parts of the world where supplies are limited. Working on improving the efficiency of this process can provide people with the opportunity of manufacturing clean water from natural sources.
Hydrogen The Hulk
Hydrogen fuel cell usage has been touted as a pollution-free alternative to using fossil fuels. They make water by combining hydrogen and oxygen. In the process, they generate electricity. The problem with fuel cells is obtaining the hydrogen. Most recently, scientists have come up with ways to power laptops and small devices with fuel cells, and some car companies are promising that soon we'll be seeing cars that emit nothing but clean water. The promise of a "hydrogen economy," however, is not one that all experts agree will ever be realized. If it is, though, it might just turn out to be the superhero that saves our world.
Sunny Side Up
The sun's energy, which hits Earth in the form of photons, can be converted into electricity or heat. Researchers are pushing the limits to more efficiently convert this energy by concentrating solar power by using mirrors and parabolic dishes, apart from the regular solar collectors. Present investment in this technology might lead to a sunnier future for all of us.
An Ocean of Opportunities
The biggest solar collector on Earth is our ocean mass. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the oceans absorb enough heat from the sun to equal the thermal energy contained in 250 billion barrels of oil each day. Ocean Thermal Energy Converter technologies convert the thermal energy contained in the oceans and turn it into electricity by using the temperature difference between the water's surface, which is heated, and the cold of the ocean's bottom. This difference in temperature can operate turbines that can drive generators.
Harness Waves and Tides
The oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth's surface. Waves contain an abundance of energy that could be directed to turbines, which can then turn this mechanical power into electrical. The obstacle to using this energy source has been the difficulty in harnessing it. Sometimes the waves are too small to generate sufficient power. The trick is to be able to store the energy when enough mechanical power is generated. New York City's East River is now in the process of becoming the test bed for six tide-powered turbines, and Portugal's reliance on waves in a new project is expected to produce enough power for more than 1,500 homes. Here the Wavebob, a buoy system capable of capturing the ocean's power in the form of offshore swells is pictured.
Plant Your Roof
It's a wonder that this concept attributed to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of Seven Wonders of the World, didn't catch on sooner in the modern world. Roof gardens help absorb heat, reduce the carbon dioxide impact by taking up CO2 and giving off oxygen, absorb storm water, and reduce summer air conditioning usage. Ultimately, the technique could lessen the "heat island" effect that occurs in urban centers.
Humans’ Little Helpers
Bio-remediation uses microbes and plants to clean up contamination. Examples include the clean-up of nitrates from contaminated water with the help of microbes, and using plants to uptake arsenic from contaminated soil in a process known as phytoremediation.
Bury The Hatchet
Carbon dioxide is the most prominent greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. According to the Energy Information Administration, by the year 2030 we will be emitting close to 8,000 million metric tons of CO2. One suggested method of disposal of this gas is to inject it into the ground before it gets a chance to reach the atmosphere. After the CO2 is separated from other emission gases, it can be buried in abandoned oil wells, saline reservoirs, and rocks.
Imagine curling up on the couch with the morning paper and then using the same sheet of paper to read the latest novel by your favorite author. That's one possibility of electronic paper, a flexible display that looks very much like real paper but can be reused over and over. The display contains many tiny micro-capsules filled with particles that carry electric charges bonded to a steel foil. Each micro-capsule has white and black particles that are associated with either a positive or negative charge. Depending on which charge is applied; the black or white particles surface displaying different patterns.