Solar News
What’s the Most Important Green Technology in the World?
June 28th, 2011

If you could snap your fingers and invent something that would cure a pressing global problem, what would it be?

A cheap way to extract salt from seawater so we can drink it? Several countries are already dealing with the impact of rising populations and shrinking lakes and wells. For example, in Amman, Jordan the pipes go dry on some days due to a lack of water. Droughts in China, Australia and Ukraine have led to crop failures, rising food prices and dwindling grain stocks.

In the middle of the 20th century, the world had about 4,000 cubic meters of fresh water per person per year, according to DHI Water Group. Now we’re close, globally, to 1,000 cubic meters per person per year. 1,000 cubic meters per person per year is defined as water scarcity.

Since 97 percent of the world’s accessible water is in the ocean, inexpensive green technology like desalination—the process of turning seawater into fresh would open up vast new sources. Desalination is the technical term for the process of turning seawater into drinking water.

But from another perspective, industrial desalination—which typically involves building big industrial plants that will convert millions of liters of ocean water into something that can be sent to your home– is really a problem about finding cheap energy . Two-thirds of the cost of converting sea water into fresh water is soaked up by the power budget. (In these plants, water gets pressurized and passed through a membrane) Thus, if you came up with a machine that produced electricity cheaply and cleanly, you’d solve both the water problem and the energy problem.

But what concept or technology holds even a glimmer of hope for inexpensive, ubiquitous power? Nuclear fusion? At Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories, researchers have created a system with 192 high-powered lasers aimed at a chamber about the size of a breath mint. If all works out, tremendous amounts of energy will get released when the lasers fuse the hydrogen atoms to make helium. The problem? No one knows if it will work. While initial testing is promising, a full demonstration may not be ready for more than a decade.

Other technologies for producing power—like wave power—might be more realistic but they don’t offer the same promise.

Another green idea: meatless meat. Beef production accounts for 1.3 percent of calories in the world, but it occupies 60 percent of the agricultural land. It takes 31.5 kilowatt hours and 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat. Grain for human consumption takes less than a kilowatt hour and 25 gallons, according to various estimates. Finding a substitute for ranching would thus cut fossil fuels (consumed in transportation and fertilizer) pollution (manure) water consumption and suddenly give us more land for other purposes. Researchers on several continents are trying to derive synthetic sources of protein that would look like chicken, taste like chicken and be just as good for you as chicken. Famines could subside and demand for fossil fuels, one of the prime ingredients of fertilizer, would fade. Prime real estate could be re-purposed for grains.

We’ve looked at water, food and power. How about petroleum? Peak oil may hit in the next decade and batteries remain expensive. Green living through cheap crude would let us keep conventional cars as well as redraw the map of world power.

Algae proponents generally claim they might be able to produce 5,000 to 8,000 gallons of synthetic, renewable crude per acre per year with microorganisms.

Sounds great, but it would take real estate. We’d need 172 square miles just to grow the algae needed for one day of gas. (8,000 gallons x 640 acres = 5.1 million gallons per square mile; The U.S. consumes 882 million gallons of oil a day.) To meet all our needs, you’d need nearly 63,000 square miles, or the equivalent of Florida and Connecticut combined.

Hyper efficient solar? The sun delivers the equivalent of 22,000 cubic miles of oil to the Earth every year, according to A Cubic Mile of Oil. Humans only use the equivalent of three cubic miles. If you could tap the Sun perfectly, we could harvest all of the energy we need for an entire year before noon on New Year’s Day.

Atmospheric wind turbines? Lighter-than-air travel? What would you like to see?

[Source: ecomagination]


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