TNB Night Owl – Future Energy

The setting Sun, the ultimate source of most energy on Earth, passes through layers of smoke due to fires in California in the summer of 2016. Photo by Jessie Eastland.

Not to channel Captain Obvious here, but modern civilization does require and depend on large amounts of energy to be, well… modern. From fossil fuels to solar and wind, we use it for everything from transportation to lighting, electronics, heating and cooling. Our appetite for power is never satiated, even as lighting and electronics become ever more efficient, and new products use less and less electricity than older designs.

The quest for more energy to satisfy our craving goes on. In the last century, surveying for new oil fields dominated the exploration for new energy. This century, the trend away from fossil fuels and towards electric power appears to be permanent, but not without holdups. Seems like every year I see yet another slew of articles promising unlimited electricity from nuclear fusion is coming just five years hence. I wish I had a Megawatt for every time I’ve read that one. Still, I earnestly wish for it to become a reality. We could solve many of our problems with cheap, abundant, and clean energy. Fortunately, research into power-producing technologies other than nuclear fusion are ongoing.

Nano Diamond Battery (NDB), a company based in California, has developed a way to generate electricity from decaying nuclear waste. Tiny diamonds are sandwiched in a microscopic cell with radioactive isotopes leftover from nuclear fission power plants. The diamonds draw heat from the radioactive material at a high enough rate to generate a small amount of electricity. By stacking the microscopic cells, NDB can manufacture a ‘battery’ that produces electric power sized for the customer’s needs. Space agencies and other spacecraft builders are expected to be early adapters, as the batteries can be designed to produce electricity continuously for thousands of years thanks to the isotopic half-life of the fission reactor waste material. Less lofty designs in the works include batteries for cellphones and electric vehicles that can run for a decade without needing to be recharged or replaced. The technology is safe in that the radioactive elements are sealed inside the battery and there is no danger of radioactivity escaping. NDB hopes the first commercial products will be delivered within the next two years.

Meanwhile, Georgia Tech researchers have designed a system to absorb excess energy radiated by 5G cellphone towers. While all radio (and television) frequency transmissions radiate power, the new 5G cellular emanation is in a class by itself due to the unusually high radiated power density of the signals. In other words, the energy from 5G is both more focused and there’s more of it per square yard or square meter: much of that power is wasted, but the Georgia Tech system aborbs that wasted electromagnetic signal and turns it into electrical energy that can power a cellphone or many other devices. University engineers believe that when 5G becomes ubiquitous, cellphones won’t even need batteries anymore, they’ll just use free over-the-air energy.

These are just two examples of the ongoing technological progress that’s being made around the world in harvesting new sources of energy for human future energy needs. Because we’re going to need a bigger power supply.

Question Of The Night: What energizes you? (No, not your electric utility company… what gets you excited, happy, and optimistic?)

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About Richard Doud 236 Articles
Learning is a life-long endeavor. Never stop learning. No one is right all the time. No one is wrong all the time. No exceptions to these rules.