>Americans have been concerned with gas prices and efficiency for years. Four years ago there was an article in the New York Times about a restaurant owner who reconfigured his car–a Ford Excursion with a turbo-diesel engine–so that it would run on the waste vegetable oil his restaurant used for cooking french fries.
Why not? The fuel was free. Otherwise, this oil would have been thrown out at the end of the day. The vehicle ran as smoothly after as before and there was no sign of engine damage. A big plus: very little pollution. You could have called it pollution free if you didn’t mind the faint smell of french fries.
Most fuels have drawbacks. Typically, they’re dirty–coal. They’re dangerous–nuclear fission and to some extent coal. They are running out–natural gas. They are of limited use–hydroelectric.
Now we address the energies that better fit the common notion of what we mean when we talk about alternative energies. These are the energies that come from limitless natural resources, that are renewable, and seemingly nonpolluting. At the top of the list are wind, sun, and hydrogen from water. It is hoped from these will come energies of the future.
Wind Propellers: These kids have the right idea
The entire Midwest part of America is a natural wind tunnel. Some people say if we could harness the wind effectively enough, we wouldn’t need Middle East oil. If we could capture sunlight efficiently enough, we wouldn’t have to worry about global warming. Nor would we have to worry about economic growth or inflation. A lot of problems would be solved.
Most of the above have been with us a long time. For example, think of the Netherland windmills. This, and solar, are the epitome of clean renewable energies. But so far they make up only one-tenth of one percent of all
energy used. It will take massive inputs of money and other resources for us to make the above renewable energies more highly regarded and used in our country and throughout the world.
Today solar energy is used in a wide variety of applications, from solar-powered calculators and watches to emergency radios, from utilizing lightning and the pumping of water to solar panels on roofs of buildings.
By far, the most prevalent bulk material for solar cells is crystalline silicon (abbreviated as a group as c-Si), also known as “solar grade silicon”. Bulk silicon is separated into multiple categories according to crystallinity and crystal size in the resulting ingot, ribbon, or wafer.
I’m not sure how one utilizes lightning. Perhaps one of our scientific readers could enlighten me on that. Between Tampa and Orlando Florida is one of the most active lightning areas of the country–if not the world. If we somehow could harness lightning and convert it to energy, we would be able to power a lot of Florida air conditioners and other machines in the Sunshine state. I don’t know–has anyone ever done it?
The following about lightning comes from research done in Sweden.
|Uppsala university : Faculty of Science and technology :|
Since time immemorial humans have looked at lightning with awe and fear. They considered it as a supernatural phenomenon and assigned it responsibility to mythical gods. In the year of 1753, however, Benjamin Franklin showed that lightning flash is nothing but a very strong electrical discharge taking place between the cloud and ground. Indeed, today we know that the lightning flash encompass much more sciences than electricity.
A complete study of the lightning flash and its interactions requires contributions from Physics (to understand how the electrical energy is converted mainly to heat energy in the lightning channel), Chemistry (to understand production of trace gases in the air heated by the lightning), Mathematics (to model how the temperature and the pressure of the lightning channel vary with time), Meteorology (to understand the charge structure and initiation of lightning), Engineering (to protect the electrical systems from lightning), Environmental physics (to understand how the trace gases produced by lightning affects the atmosphere) and medicine (to understand the lightning caused injuries).
The lightning flash is a natural phenomenon around which all the sciences invented by humans can join hands and make common contributions. At a given time there are about 2000 active thunderstorms around the globe. These thunderstorms produce lightning flashes at a rate of about 100 flashes per second. During a lightning flash the air in the lightning channel is heated to a temperature of about 30,000 Celsius. The energy dissipated during a lightning flash amounts to about two billion Joules and each year they dissipate about 170 Terra Watt Hours of energy in the Earth’s atmosphere. The annual energy requirement of Sweden is about 150 Terra Watt Hours.
The research work carried out on lightning flashes at Uppsala University can be divided into three main parts: a) The study of electromagnetic and optical radiation generated by lightning flashes. (b) The generation of Nitrogen Oxides and Ozone from electrical discharges and lightning. (c) The interaction of lightning flashes with very complex electrical systems.
The concentration of ozone in the atmosphere is influenced by the presence of oxides of Nitrogen. Lightning is one of the main sources of nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere. In order to understand the nitrogen oxide production in lightning flashes, researchers at Uppsala University create electrical discharges at different pressures in the laboratory with various energies and measure the amount of Nitrogen Oxides produced by them. They take part in the measurement of nitrogen oxides from lightning flashes triggered in Florida, USA, by the University of Florida scientists by shooting rockets towards thunderclouds.
One recent discovery in lightning research is the observation of lightning like atmospheric discharges called, sprites and blue jets, taking place between the top of the clouds and the upper atmosphere. Another recent discovery is the detection of X-rays from lightning discharges. Lightning research group in Uppsala is conducting studies to understand the physics behind these observations.
In addition to evaluating the lightning protection systems of electrical networks including power lines, telecommunication lines and railway signalling system, a main research activity of the Uppsala research group is to develop an accurate method to design the lightning protection system for buildings and telecommunication and power distribution systems. Moreover, providing information and advice concerning lightning to the public and industries is an important activity of this research group.
The lightning research group at Uppsala is also responsible for maintaining the only international journal dedicated to lightning research – The Journal of Lightning Research (http://www.jolr.org/).
Florida is also great for solar panels. So are most states, but particularly southern states where it is sunny 12 months of the year. On sunny days these panels can capture the light that falls on them and convert it into electricity that can turn on electric lights, run dishwashers and air conditioners and other appliance. They can be connected to a utility-serviced electric grid. In that case, solar energy becomes the energy source when the sun shines.
The grid takes over at other times. Excess energy produced this way can be transmitted to the utility for dispersal to other customers–further reducing fosil fuel usage and helping to defray costs for the solar-panel-owning homeowner.
Technology to harness sunlight and convert it into electricity requires solar cells, known as photovoltaic or PV cells. The idea is that sunlight is directed onto light-absorbing material in such a way as to “excite” that substance’s electrons and result in electrical power.
Do you recall the old photography light meters. They worked on solar cells. In the 1950s scientists at Bell Labs took the technology a lot further. Using silicon, they produced cells that could convert 4 percent of the energy in sunlight into electricity. In a short time, solar cells were being used in the space program.
Let’s Work On Cost Effectiveness
We have a lot of work to do. We need to reduce the cost of effectiveness of photovoltaic cells. It is essential if solar energy is to play a major role in the future. We have two challenges: First, bringing down the cost of the cells and second, improving their effeciency so that they convert a greater proportion of light to energy. Experts project ahead 30 years before they believe solar cells will be competitive with natural gas and coal. But that’s assuming that the federal government doesn’t come in and make available massive amounts of aid and support to fund this enterprise.
Even if the funds are there, there is no guarantee of results. An additional problem we hope researchers will address is the great amounts of toxic waste that is expelled into the ground and atmosphere when these cells are produced. Authors Richard Rhodes and Dennis Beller, quoting an article in Foreign Affairs of January/February 2000, written buy Physicist Alex Gabbard that says it is believed it will take half a century to really produce a global energy solution, and it would consume a major chunk of world iron production. Given the existing technology, it’s clear that solar energy is nowhere near being ready to meet the world’s need for energy.
Dr. Gabbard also comments on the use of massive amounts of coal. He notes that “collection and processing of coal ash for recovery of minerals…can proceed without attracting outside attention, concern, or intervention.” He believes that coal presents a lesser known problem that it can contribute to nuclear proliferation. He says one good-sized coal-burning electric plant releases enough radiative material in a year to build two atomic bombs. This very serious problem was pointed up in Foreign Affairs noted above. Who needs threat of more nuclear proliferation.
Do We Have Enough Room In America For Solar Power?
It is believed that we would have to set aside an area the size of Nevada to install the free-standing solar instruments and equipment needed to have solar energy take a commanding role in providing this country’s needs. As Stephen and Donna Leeb point out in their 2004 book, The Oil Factor, though this is a large area it is less than one-fourth of the area the country has devoted to roads and streets.
That is a good comparison for the sake of comparison, but it is doubtful we will give up our roads and streets when we become energy independent, or will we? Most experts today are predicting in 50 years we may still be oil dependent and the internal combustion engine is here to stay. Maybe someone will invent an efficient personal airlift to take the wives of America to the supermarket. and we can eliminate the cost of roads.
Maybe what we need is to utilize the moon or some close planet for installation of solar instruments, and then we can beam or transmit our energy to earth without experiencing energy creation pollution problems.