We are not going to 'consume' ourselves into a future global economy driven by clean energy technologies.
We have to build it using new scientific knowledge based on nanoscale interactions of light and molecules mostly- carbon, hydrogen, oxygen reacting to metals and enzymes.
Energy = Interactions Creating 'clean energy' means using materials that make these molecular interactions that capture and release energy more efficient and less wasteful.
While consumers might be the ones who get the credit for changing behavior, the real heros of our cleantech energy future will be people involved in chemistry, biology, physics and materials engineering.
And the good news is that these scientists are increasingly turning to advanced computers and simulation software to accelerate the development of energy related materials!
Computational Power & Materials Science - Recent Examples for Materials Science
We expect algae to become a mainstream energy buzz word in 2009 as more people become aware of this promising form of energy conversion. But first, leaders must close the great disconnect around the conversation of ‘biofuels’ and the future of bioenergy. The general public is lagging behind in the conversation by the near-term political distraction of corn derived ethanol, while policy makers, researchers and entrepreneurs are already moving forward on next generation biofuels derived from non-food crops like Jatropha and microbes like algae and biofuels. More forward looking bioenergy advocates argue that next generation biofuels will soon make corn irrelevant. Now they must begin the public awareness campaign to bring the public and policy makers into the future.
The idea of bioenergy is simple. Tap power of biology to convert carbon into useful forms of energy. How? By following Mother Nature. Most forms of energy arrived via biology. Coal is ancient ferns and biomass, oil is likely ancient microbes that lived in shallow seas. Both bio systems used the power of sunlight to combine carbon with hydrogen (from water) to form complex hydrocarbon chains. The modern Industrial world is based on capturing energy from blowing up those chemical bonds. Rather than extract ancient bioenergy, the 21st century might be about ‘growing energy’ using those same biological principles.
Focusing on Algae-derived biofuels
The idea of carbon eatingalgae derived biofuels continues to gain momentum around bioenergy researchers and investors. Last month business leaders, investors, and researchers gathered in Seattle, WA for the 2nd Annual Algae Biomass Summit sponsored by The Algal Biomass Organization.
Renewable Energy.com has a short recap of the event including a look at featured speakers and presence of the wider biofuels industry leaders. The number of attendees doubled to 700 from the inaugural conference of 350 people. And the profile of investor star power was raised as cleantech investor Vinod Khosla delivered the event’s keynote.
If things continue to expand, carbon eating ‘algae’ could become a big story in 2009 as investors continue to pump money into startups trying to scale low cost systems.
What if we are being too cynical about China’s eco-future in the transportation sector?
Imagine a future in which China is the secret to moving the world’s auto fleet beyond liquid fuels and the combustion engine.
If they can master electron storage systems of advanced batteries, fuel cells and capacitors- they might surprise the world!
Warren Buffet thinks so. The Oracle of Omaha recently invested $233 into Chinese battery and electric vehicle maker BYD.
Now, we are hearing a similar message from other electrical storage system giants who are needed to transform our global auto fleet. A recent Economic Times article China seen as potential electric car hub describes a vision of Johnson Controls where China changes its course to accelerate adoption of electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
Buffet and Johnson Controls see China’s natural advantages:
-Fewer ‘legacy’ issues of existing infrastructure and embedded interests
-Top down policy control to accelerate changes around infrastructure
-Chinese leaders see cleantech as a growth industry, especially around energy storage and electric motor propulsion systems
-Small cars & scooters are the most likely candidates for electric propulsion systems. China (and India) are prime candidates
- A geopolitical desire to avoid issues of oil’s biggest problem. Lack of substitutability. Oil is the perfect fuel, but you can’t put coal or solar or nuclear into a liquid gas tank*. Electricity and hydrogen can be produced by any energy resource.
Of course, electric vehicles are not entirely ‘clean’ and certainly lead to suburban expansion and loss of rural lands. But the trade offs and consequences of doing nothing are hard to challenge. China’s urban areas would benefit from the removal of millions of uncontrolled polluting vehicles.
Even if electricity production came from coal, it is easier to control carbon emissions at a single point power plant rather than individual cars. And China’s industrial strength is powerful enough to change the direction of electric storage companies as well as automakers.
What if we could print low cost solar panels on pieces of plastic and integrate this energy collecting material into buildings, infrastructure and product casings?
This is the future of thin film solar.
While traditional (rigid silicon substrate) solar panels are a relatively mature platform, we have not yet hit our stride in advancing the efficiencies of thin film solar.
Thin-film, or organic solar is attractive because it is low cost, flexible and can be integrated into existing materials and products. These systems can also be designed to tap broader sections of the light spectrum. Relatively low efficiencies mean that thin film solar will never be capable of providing a majority of our energy needs, but it is certainly part of a broader strategy of new distributed power generation.
Before we start asking when we might see thin film on the shelves at Home Depot or integrated into familiar product designs, the first step is to understand why thin film is different from traditional solar.
The following five video clips help to describe the future potential of thin film solar.
Nanosolar (Palo Alto-San Jose, CA) has long been considered a leading innovator in the field of organic photovoltaics or thin film solar.
Add sports media to the list of early technology adopter companies alongside the military and porn industries!
ESPN and Electronic Arts have joined forces around the ‘Virtual Playbook’ to shake up the world of broadcast media by launching a new era of immersive mass media experiences.
In recent years sports based games have pushed the evolution of 3D experiences, but now ESPN is bringing football analysis into the era of 3D Augmented Reality. This Fall, ESPN commentators will interact live with realistic 3D virtual NFL players. They will stand next to life sized scale 3D players as they demonstrate based offensive and defensive patterns.
Gamers are obviously thrilled and NFL viewers are likely to become bigger fans of sports commentators able to navigate a virtual landscape of players.
Now that we are witnessing the first mass media application of augmented reality, it becomes easier to build a futures road map looking at the convergence of drivers that support augmented mass media experiences.
We can see clear developmental lines of commercialization with 3D software (ray trace rendering, 3D authoring etc.), hardware (terahertz chips and video servers) and display technology (thin film, flexible OLEDs and high def projection systems) and interface standards (gesture, smart object and motion based interactions).
Thanks to ESPN, we have now jumped to major hurdles – viable business models around convergence of 3D software, gaming and virtual world companies with broadcast media. And the biggest barrier with the most uncertainty – People! Specifically mainstream TV viewers.
Entrepreneurs can now start imagining the unique applications. When might students use augmented reality to create reports – immersing themselves in history scenes or building cities? When might kids insert themselves inside a Dora the Explorer adventure? Or aspiring athletes play the world champions in an immersive experience that makes Wii tennis look like 8 bit pong?
When might technicians and engineers use augmented reality to work collaboratively long distance? Could Home Depot or our plumber walk us step by step through the bathroom project?!
The list of mainstream applications is exhaustive. And the convergence of technologies is within sight. There is no need to overstate and ‘hype’ augmented reality, or bow to naysayer skeptics of tech adoption. Augmented reality is much more appealing and functional than a pure virtual world experience. And it could give a boost to TV broadcasters desperate to stay relevant.
3, 5, 7 or 10 years is not too far off for mainstream applications at work and home! But how do we get there?