Despite the widespread disruption of 2020 – and partly because of it – the global transition towards a clean, carbon-free energy future is continuing at pace. This month we highlight 7 emerging clean energy technologies that may prove instrumental to ensuring that this transition takes place within the window of opportunity to tackle climate change closes.
Brilliant and bold: 7 Energy projects poised to accelerate the global energy transition
7 Energy projects set to change energy production forever
Fusion Power – Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS): A spinout of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), CFS claims that the Holy Grail of energy production – fusion power – is within humanity’s collective grasp. With a growing coalition of leading energy firms behind it (including Italian firm Eni who recently threw $50 million into the innovation pot) CFS believes that realising a working fusion pilot plant by 2035-40 is now a feasible prospect. If successful, this could lead to the rapid decarbonisation of energy production midway through this century.
Bladeless wind turbines – Vortex Bladeless: Imagine a wind turbine that doesn’t need any rotating blades. You’ve just imagined the creation from a small Madrid-based startup Vortex Bladeless – a turbine that simply oscillates within the wind range and generates electricity from the vibration. This innovation might be the answer for scenarios where wind is in large supply, but a conventional wind turbine would be too large, disruptive or otherwise impractical to use. The most obvious advantages that Vortex Bladeless’ turbines bring to the table are that they incur no danger to wildlife, and zero noise pollution, as the frequency is beyond that of human hearing. Current models produce between 100 to 200 kilowatts, but the company has plans to scale this up to several megawatts in the near future.
Carbon Dioxide Concrete mixing – CarbonCure: A breakout success in 2018, CarbonCure’s pioneering CO2 technology has gone from strength to strength. The solution allows for stored CO2 to be embedded in concrete, where it reacts with calcium ions from the cement to form a nano-sized mineral, calcium carbonate. This has the dual benefits of making the concrete stronger, while also taking the CO2 out of the atmosphere. CarbonCure’s current aims is to achieve a 500-megaton-per-year reduction in embodied carbon – a CO2 emissions reduction equivalent of that produced by 100 million cars in a year.
Cold Fusion – The Hermes Project: While cold fusion isn’t a new idea, revisiting it with the latest technological advantages might yield better outcomes than in 1989. This is when electrochemists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons failed to replicate their results experiment involving the use of loaded deuterium in a palladium metal to achieve the elusive phenomenon of cold fusion. The EU is throwing around $5 million in funding (alongside private sources) into renewing the attempt, describing the project as “high risk, but high reward”.
Self-contained geothermal energy production – Eavor Loop: This is a wholly new approach to geothermal energy use, which could enable our ability to produce clean, renewable energy literally anywhere where there is space to install the necessary drilling equipment. Canadian firm Eavor believes that by the end of this decade it will have produced the means to create gigawatts of renewable energy anywhere in the world for $50/MWh, a rate that is competitive with coal and natural gas. Their Eavor Loop, which already has a working pilot project, relies on a closed loop of pipes between 3-5km drilled down into the Earth’s surface. Cold water fed into the pipes self-contained loop is constantly heated underground and the heat is extracted at the surface while the liquid constantly circulates without the need for a pump. While many industries had written off geothermal as too difficult to scale up, Eavor Loop is bringing them back to the table. If the full-scale commercialised ventures can achieve an affordable cost of production rate, this could see geothermal energy become as vital as solar and wind in the global renewable energy mix.
Switching Battery – Berkeley: A vastly more efficient battery for electric vehicles might be just around the corner, as the Berkeley School of Law research team led by Professor Kannappan Chettier believe that their Switching Battery technology will be available for sale before the end of 2022. The battery utilises a new technique called "voltage shifting" that makes it more efficient then non-switching batteries, while its compact nature will be invaluable for vehicle designs where space is limited.
Lead-free electromechanical energy harvesters – MetaVEH project: Another EU-funded potential superstar innovation, MetaVEH aims to develop vibration energy harvesters (VEH) that will completely eliminate the use of batteries in all remote smart devices and structures. If realised, this would represent a world-changing improvement in energy storage for wireless systems by reducing the attached ‘toxic cost’ of using and disposing of traditional batteries.
Decarbonising global energy production – No longer a pipe dream
Each of these pioneering technologies is representative of a much larger global effort to harness energy in all its forms safely, cleanly and cost-effectively. From the improvement and scaling up of existing renewable energy approaches, to the realisation of entirely new approaches, this decade is poised for technological breakthroughs that have been repeatedly written off as fantasy.