Fossil fuels are finite. They will run out one day. Now the fossil fuel industry itself claims that the earth still holds enough reserves in their various forms to provide energy for the foreseeable future, but others have estimated that we may only experience their contribution to the energy sector for another 70 years or so.
Researchers around the world are trying to develop new technologies that will be able to the strain once the age of fossil fuels has passed. CNN recently considered the alternative sources of energy that might produce the Earth’s power, noting that volcanoes, waves, and space-based solar power are just some of the sources that will likely play big parts in the future energy mix.
The idea of space-based solar panels has been around for decades, and just recently interest has started to spike as technological advancements are managing to solve some of the initial problems.
Solar panels in space have several advantages over those located on the Earth’s surface, those most notably being the fact that they can benefit from the sun’s rays 24 hours a day, and they don’t have to worry about cloud cover decreasing the amount of light they receive.
John Makins, a former NASA engineer is working on ways to make this project feasible. “The basic concept of the Solar Power Satellite (SPS) is to deploy a large platform in space near Earth, typically in a high orbit where the sun shines almost constantly, where it would harvest sunlight, convert it into electricity and then transmit it to receivers on Earth for use.”
One of the problems would be transmitting the electricity produce back to earth. Some scientists have suggested the use of lasers to transfer the energy to receivers on the ground, but Makins warns that this could be dangerous, potentially transferring to much energy to a focussed point, and creating a ‘Deathstar’; instead he is working on the idea of using low intensity microwaves.
He estimates that one solar satellite could send between 1,000 MW and 2,000 MW to Erath, enough to power around 240,000-480,000 homes.
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Another idea for large-scale renewable energy production is the use of the planet’s natural heat through harnessing the power of volcanoes. Last year work began to extract heat from volcanos for power production. The companies AltaRock Energy and Davenport Newberry were granted licenses to test their technologies at the Newberry Volcano in Oregon. They intend to inject water into the cracks in the hot rocks around the volcano, and then use the steam produced to turn underground turbines.
Wave energy is not exactly a new technology, already employed at several sites around the world, however CNN expect that it will grow in popularity in the future due to the fact that it is much easier to predict than wind or solar power and therefore easier to integrate into the grid.
Electron Model of Many Applications (EMMA) particle accelerator.
The final technology that CNN believes will play a big part in the future energy mix is tiny particle accelerators; like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, only a fraction of the size. Researchers in the UK are working on the technology, in the belief that it could offer a genuine alternative power source on the scale needed to replace fossil fuels. They claim that their particle accelerator could create the same amount of energy from one tonne of thorium (the fuel) as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3.5 million tonnes of coal.
By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com