At the beginning of the month, I posted the first part of a “List of Emerging Energy Engineering Trends in 2008” that illuminated stories I examined in 2008. It also provided some predictions about where the future of energy technology is going. I continue here the second part (of three) of this list.
7. Virgin Atlantic flies a 747 from London to Amsterdam with one engine running biofuel (see Virgin’s Biofuel 747 Flight Foretells of Commercial Aviation Without Fossil Fuel)
To keep commercial aviation aloft in a future where oil is prohibitively expensive, Virgin Atlantic conducted a biofuel-fired 747 test flight from London to Amsterdam. One of the plane’s four engines ran on renewable fuel derived from coconut and babassu oils. Provided biofuels can be concocted that do not adversely impact world food supplies, rising fossil fuel prices will drive more companies to consider alternatives. For ground transportation, there any many possible fossil fuel alternatives, but in the air, combustion is king. Eventually, commercial aviation will adopt liquid biofuels to replace conventional jet fuel.
6. Wireless energy transfer via resonant evanescent coupling (WiTricity) invented at MIT (see “MIT Team Invents ‘WiTricity’ Wireless Energy Transfer“)
Demonstration of this invention caused a small uproar. Some critics complain that WiTricity does not differ from energy “beaming” techniques demonstrated since the 19th Century. Others (including me) point out that energy transfer losses make WiTricity prohibitively wasteful (see: “Although Revolutionary, WiTricity is a Technology We Cannot Adopt“). Nonetheless, the pervasive trend toward making all portable electronics wireless will surely jump from information transfer to energy transfer. In the future, WiFi hotspots will not only connect laptops to the Internet, but they will also charge computer’s batteries (as well as the batteries on cell phones, MP3 players, and digital cameras).
5. Global warming becomes a marketing tool to sell soda and candy (see “Global Warming CAN Sell More Than Candy - Coke, Too“)
Global climate change has become such a pervasive topic in our culture that it is being leveraged to sell all kinds of products - some that have nothing to do with global warming. Green is the new Black (or is it the new Mauve? I can’t keep track), and products that provide the illusion of reduced environmental impact are in. I can understand capitalizing on Green hysteria to sell fuel efficient cars or attic radiant barriers, but when consumers discern between soda and candy products based on how sustainable these items are perceived to be, this trend has gone too far. Nonetheless, the concept that Green is chic continues its rise, and the number of companies that have no business selling their wares as Green products will continue to increase: eco-friendly salt shakers, Green iPods. When will this nonsense end?
4. Lacking regulation muddies the future of hybrid vehicles (see “Enforcement Lacking for Hybrid Parking Spots“)
Hybrid gas/electric automobiles are pervasive, but regulation governing these vehicles is having trouble playing catch up. While cities debate whether special hybrid parking permits are legal, consumers and manufactures wrestle over who should pay for battery bank replacements that might be more expensive than fuel cost savings (see “Behind the Hidden Costs of Hybrids“). Plug-in hybrids have not yet hit the US roads, but they will no doubt suffer similar hick-ups when they arrive. Should employers provide plug-in parking spots at the workplace to extend vehicle range? If so, who pays for the plug and who pays for the electricity? Nonetheless, Plug-in hybrids will solve many more problems than they create. They will shift American energy use for transportation to domestic sources, and they will reduce pollution. In 2009, early policy barriers encountered by plug-ins will continue to be resolved by new regulation, new technology, and new kinds of manufacturer warranties. The way will be paved this year for plug-in hybrids to become a commercial reality in the US.
Stay tuned. This list will soon be continued.