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."
From home enthusiasts to workers on the manufacturing floor, everyone's imagination is captured by the potential of 3D printing. Prototyping, spare parts creation, art delivery, human organ creation, and even mass product production are all being targeted as current and potential uses for the technology.
Solar and wind energy are becoming more viable as a source of energy on the electric grid. For decades, the major drawback to solar and wind was that they’re temperamental. A cloudy day kills solar and a still day renders the wind turbines useless. Automation tools, however, are providing a path to help these renewables become practical.
In honor of Earth Day, the National Security Agency has launched the STEM Recycling Challenge in Maryland schools to encourage kids to think about where the garbage they throw out every day actually goes. The agency has also introduced “Dunk,” a muscular blue cartoon recycling bin wearing shorts and sneakers.
Samsung's Galaxy line of smartphones used to fare quite well in the repairability department, but last year's flagship S5 model took a tumble, scoring a meh-inducing 5/10. Will the newly redesigned S6 lead us back into star-studded territory, or will we sink further into the depths of a repairability black hole?
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