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 a line of ultra-futuristic projects, DARPA is developing a brain microchip that will help heal the bodies and minds of soldiers. A final product is far off, but preliminary chips are already being tested.
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