Green technology is no longer a niche market – the importance of clean, efficient, environmentally-friendly technology has become a crucial, influencing everything from commercial business and energy production to lifestyle and leisure activities.
In this post, week look ahead to the technologies, techniques and groundbreaking green innovations that are expected to alter the future of energy usage on our planet.
The future of energy production looks certain to feature solar power, but exactly how the power of the sun will be captured presents a selection of interesting alternatives. One of the most attractive is the possibility of artificial photosynthesis – copying the natural process that plants and other organisms use to capture the power of sunlight to create energy. In the natural world, photosynthesis occurs in various ways, but in general terms, plants use carbon dioxide and water in a sunlight-powered chemical reaction that produces sugar and oxygen.
Humanmade photosynthesis is something of a scientific holy grail – the process could result in much more efficient and productive energy than our current solar-powered energy – but already encouraging developments are taking place. Companies such as Joule Unlimited have produced processes that closely replicate photosynthesis to create fuel and electronics giant Panasonic has invested heavily in photosynthesis technology. 2013 could well be the year that this form of green fuel tech really takes off.
Most solar-powered electricity is generated using solar panels, which are assemblages of photovoltaic cells used to directly produce electricity for commercial and residential use, but an important technology for the future will be solar towers. These constructions use an array of mirrors to direct sunlight at a tower, creating a solar furnace to boil water or liquid sodium to power turbines and generate electricity.
There are several existing examples of solar towers around the world including those at Jülich in Germany, the PS10 near Seville in Spain and Sierra Sun Tower in the United States. Several more are completed such as Ivanpah Solar Power Facility and Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, both in the United States, which are designed to be much more productive and efficient than the solar towers that are currently operating.
Another extremely useful way that green technology can harness the power of algae is in food production. Feeding the world’s booming human population is a major problem – but algae could provide the solution. As with algae fuel, the organisms can be grown in land-efficient tanks of wastewater, used to make fats, oils, and sugars or provide fertilizer and animal feed in agriculture, and the process offers the added bonus of fixing CO2 from the atmosphere thus helping reduce greenhouse gases.
Biofuel is recognized as a real alternative to using fossil fuels to power cars and other vehicles, but the problem is that most biofuel has so far been made using corn ethanol. Using corn to produce this fuel is relatively inefficient and uses agricultural land and crops which could arguably be better used to feed people and livestock.
The new alternative to fossil fuels and corn-based biofuel is algae biofuel. Algae can be grown in tanks exposed to the sunlight – meaning much less land is used than in growing corn; the process employs wastewater and is much less harmful if spilled than fossil fuels. Once the algae have grown it can be burnt to power engines. Although the burning process releases CO2, unlike burning fossil fuels this CO2 has been captured from the atmosphere by the growing algae so it has far less impact on climate change.
As we depend more and more on digital technology for all aspects of our lives and work the importance of green IT, also known as ICT sustainability, is a growing concern. In the coming years the way that computers, servers, information systems, and other computing technology is produced, used and disposed of will be increasingly focused on the principles of green technology.
Along with ensuring that we use sustainable materials and processes for making computers, developers are producing software that guarantees that these machines are running efficiently, programs that work in the background to reduce energy requirements and maximize output while reducing environmental impact.
A key element of green IT is recycling e-waste: reusing the materials, plastics, and precious metals that are contained in our computers, phones, tablets and other digital technology.
The rapid turnover of technology as these items are updated and become obsolete means that there is a growing scrap heap of e-waste, and in the coming years, our techniques for recycling these materials will become ever-more important in environmental efficiency.