By Jonathan Haeber
Stepping away from the Neverland controversy (I do promise more images later, folks) — I wanted to make one point more-then-ever-so-abundantly clear: Clean, free energy is attainable. In fact, mark my words, in about 20-30 years, we’ll have a solution in the bag. The question remains: which is the best solution? Currently, I personally see three possibilities on the horizon, and I’m going to review them here, along with their benefits and limitations.
1. Nuclear Fusion
Many may not realize that we have in our hands the technology to create a completely self-sustaining continuous and limitless form of energy. The process basically involves recreating the forces of the sun and bringing them to a large underground Tokamak – basically a big, cylindrical tube surrounded my magnets – to isolate the energy of the reaction and drive that heat energy to turbines.
Fusion energy produces no greenhouse gases; any radioactive byproducts degrade from 50-100 years; and the danger of catastrophic meltdown with fallout – a very real threat with fission – is absent. But there are still limitations. The best performing Tokamak (the cylinder in which the reaction would occur) has only been able to get a ratio of 7/10ths, meaning that for every 7 units of energy that this reactor produces, another 10 need to be injected into the system. Obviously, the technology isn’t completely there, but with the promise of ITER, this ratio could be increased 30-fold. By 2030 or thereabouts, it’s estimated that we’ll have commercially viable fusion energy. Most importantly, the fuels that this energy depends upon are in ocean water.
2. Algael Biofuels
Certain strains of algae have a lipid content as high as 70-80%, which is hands-over-fist beyond the oils present in other forms of bioenergy. In fact, the yield of certain strains is about 5,000 to 20,000 gallons per acre, per year; this represents a 7 to 30-fold improvement over the next best crop (Chinese tallow – 700 gallons/acre/year).
Another rarely recognized truth of algae oil is that it would be grown on land that is generally considered ‘desolate’ and ‘infertile,’ largely because the algae would best thrive in open ponds in the desert. And most importantly, algae eats carbon monoxide like a pothead with the munchies. Therefore, any carbon dioxide produced by burning algae fuel could be circulated back to growing algae in the ponds, creating a near carbon-neutral footprint.
Of course, providing the large amount of water necessary to cultivate this algae is one challenge. It’s estimated that – in order to replace our entire oil consumption with algae fuel – we would need a land area about 1.3 times the size of Belgium.
3. Photovoltaic Cells (PVCs)
Back in the days, everyone gave PVCs a bad rap. But that was when the average cell only captured about 20% of the sun’s energy. Now, cells from Boeing’s Spectrolab Terrestrial Solar Cells can capture over 40% of the sun’s energy. At the same time, venture capital is flocking to solar as new techniques for capturing the sun’s energy are coming up, including ultra-thin films that can be applied to surfaces like a sticker — even a paint-on photovoltaic! The push in investment has made solar competitive with its dirty step-sister, coal in cost per Watt.
Despite all these great strides, the downsides are still present, including the fact that solar still produces negligible amounts of greenhouse gases (currently about twice the footprint of wind turbines), the high use of cadmium in solar power, and the high costs associated with production (which are only recently being cut).