Columbus, OH —How will the world's largest consumer of energy meet its needs in the first decade of the new millennium?
Experts from Battelle Labs and the national laboratories rate the ten energy innovations with the most impact. In order of importance:
A shifting energy industry structure. Oil companies will become energy companies, competing in both the mobile and stationary energy markets, while car companies will develop fuel cells for non-automotive applications.
Hybrid vehicles. Honda's Insight ushered in the first generation of these cars, which combine more efficient internal combustion engines with power from electric batteries. Before long we will see five-passenger sedans that get 80 mpg.
Smart energy management systems. Computers, the Internet, and Global Positioning Systems will increase the efficiency of transportation by reducing congestion and traffic delays. Other applications: HVAC, household appliances, and business equipment.
Distributed power generation. Micro-turbines, internal combustion engines, and greater use of natural gas will supplement the national power grid.
Fuel cells. This technology will provide power at competitive rates, while reducing the environmental impact of power generation.
Gas to liquid conversion. One example: convert natural gas in remote areas to diesel for transportation.
Advanced batteries. Future batteries will be based on lithium polymer chemistry and offer triple the energy of today's technology.
Energy farms. Advances in bioengineering will expand the cultivation of crops to produce ethanol and other fuels.
Solar energy. Advances in photovoltaic cells will finally make solar energy more viable.
Methane Hydrate Crystal Mining. Geologists have discovered rich deposits of frozen natural gas crystals on the ocean bottom.
Design engineers should welcome this greater range of energy options, says Steve Millett, manager of Battelle's forecasts, because of increasing concerns over the quality and reliability of electricity from traditional sources. He predicts that engineers will rely increasingly on mobile power sources for their designs. Says Millett: "It's going to be the era of customized, distributed energy."
In this new Design News feature, "How it Works," we’re starting off by examining the inner workings of the electronic cigarette. While e-cigarettes seemed like a gimmick just two or three years ago, they’re catching fire -- so to speak. Sales topped $1 billion last year and are set to hit $10 billion by 2017. Cigarette companies are fighting back by buying up e-cigarette manufacturers.
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The increased adoption of wireless technology for mission-critical applications has revved up the global market for dynamic electronic general purpose (GP) test equipment. As the link between cloud networks and devices -- smartphones, tablets, and notebooks -- results in more complex devices under test, the demand for radio frequency test equipment is starting to intensify.
Much of the research on lithium-ion batteries is focused on how to make the batteries charge more quickly and last longer than they currently do, work that would significantly improve the experience of mobile device users, as well EV and hybrid car drivers. Researchers in Singapore have come up with what seems like the best solution so far -- a battery that can recharge itself in mere minutes and has a potential lifespan of 20 years.
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