This week’s episode of Breakthrough: Energy on the Edge showcases a new generation of inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs, who are following in the footsteps of their forebears to find new ways to create sustainable clean energy sources.
With the burning and mining of fossil fuels, climates are dangerously changing and these resources we depend on are rapidly depleting. Recent studies found that replacing fossil fuels would cost one fifth of the total wealth of the entire world, and take decades, or even centuries, of global cooperation. This week we see breakthrough scientists who are seeking alternative energy sources from nuclear fusion, deep drilling, artificial tornado simulation, wind turbines and even waste from beer.
1. Power from brewery waste
One gallon of beer on average creates five gallons of byproduct water waste. Brewing beer is an energy intensive business, but engineers have invented a custom water reclamation plant for beer companies to generate electricity and reduce water waste. MIT graduate and founder and CEO of PurposeEnergy Eric Fitch used his home brewing background to implement a process that converts waste into clean water and renewable energy. PurposeEnergy is a company that specializes in creating sustainable, environmentally friendly production systems for food and beverage manufactures, including clients Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Magic Hat Brewing Company.
2. Artificial tornadoes and vortex engines
Inspired by nature, the Atmospheric Vortex Engine (AVE) is designed to recreate the spiraling force of a small tornado that can be used to generate renewable energy. A specialized structure directs the natural interaction of warm and cool air to spin an energy-producing turbine. AVE inventor Louis Michaud became aware of the possibility of obtaining energy through atmospheric convection when he realized that more energy is produced by the expansion of a heated gas than is required to compress the same gas after it has been cooled. Instead of using land for a farm of turbines, one well controlled tornado could potentially produce 200 megawatts of power, which is enough to power a city of 100,000 people.
3. Harnessing nuclear fusion
The current process of nuclear fusion splits atoms to release electricity, but the process produces hazardous wastes and is susceptible to catastrophic meltdowns. Dr. Tammy Ma from the National Ignition Facility suggests that achieving a sustained nuclear fusion reaction in a lab would be akin to creating a miniature star on earth. Researchers are working to develop sustained nuclear fusion by blasting hydrogen atoms with some of the world’s most powerful lasers.
4. Magma-powered cities
The temperature of lava can exceed 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit, making it extremely dangerous and difficult to study. Conducted by Robert Wysocki and Dr. Jeff Karson, Syracuse University’s Lava Project is an opportunity for scientists to conduct a wide variety of lava-based research in a controlled environment. The man-made lava has been used to test how lava reacts when it encounters different types of barriers, surfaces, and how lava and ice interact. A better understanding of lava could help geothermal energy projects, such as the Iceland Deep Drilling Project to succeed.
5. Solar energy 24/7
The sun is one cost efficient limitless energy resource that we have yet to take advantage of. The main issue is that solar panels do not spin a generator wheel and cannot operate without abundant sunshine. However, one Startup company, Solar Reserve, claims to have perfected a technology that can generate clean renewable solar power, day or night. They secured over a billion dollars to build an entirely new class of power plant – one that rests in the center of a field of 10,000 billboard-sized mirrors.
Do renewable energy sources have what it takes to compete against the destructive fossil fuels that we’ve become so dependent on? Be sure to watch the new episode of Breakthrough: Energy From the Edge, airing this Sunday December 6 at 9/8c.