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Energy Breakthroughs No One Is Talking About
IAEA

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)

These tiny reactors can produce a whole lot of low-carbon electricity, enough to fuel large-scale power plants. This new approach to nuclear power aims to build more flexible atomic reactors. It’s safer, and more cost-effective than large-scale nuclear plants, but also comes with a consistent source of clean, green energy.

According to the IAEA, “Given their smaller footprint, SMRs can be sited in locations not suitable for larger nuclear power plants. Prefabricated units of SMRs can be manufactured and then shipped and installed on-site, making them more affordable to build than large power reactors, which are often custom-designed for a particular location, sometimes leading to construction delays. SMRs offer savings in cost and construction time, and they can be deployed incrementally to match increasing energy demand.” As one of the most cost-effective energy breakthroughs out there, you’d think we’d see more of this around the world (IAEA).

Energy Breakthroughs No One Is Talking About
Research Gate

Geothermal Binary Plants

It comes as no surprise that the center of the earth is a powerhouse of heat and warmth. That’s where geothermal binary plants come in, which are a turbocharged, eco-friendly alternative to sustainable energy. They operate differently than regular geothermal setups. According to the Energy Information Association, “Geothermal power plants require high-temperature hydrothermal resources—300 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) to 700 °F—that come from either dry steam wells or from hot water wells. We use these resources by drilling wells into the earth and then piping steam or hot water to the surface. The hot water or steam powers a turbine that generates electricity. Some geothermal wells are as much as 2 miles deep.”

They use a secondary fluid with a lower boiling point. This means it heats up faster when it comes into contact with the earth’s heat. In turn, this produces steam, which generates the turbines and electricity. It’s also beneficial because it taps into lower-temperature geothermal sources, which means it’s possible to have more locations around the world (EIA).

Energy Breakthroughs No One Is Talking About
IAEA

Nuclear Fusion

Even though nuclear fusion has been around for a long time, and is considered a limitless source of energy. Scientists made tremendous advancements in its practicality. The IAEA describes nuclear fusion as a process where two light atomic nuclei combine, forming a single heavier one. With proper maintenance and research, it could provide a stable and environmentally friendly source of energy. According to the IAEA, “Fusion fuel is plentiful and easily accessible: deuterium can be extracted inexpensively from seawater, and tritium can potentially be produced from the reaction of fusion generated neutrons with naturally abundant lithium. These fuel supplies would last for millions of years. Future fusion reactors are also intrinsically safe and are not expected to produce high activity or long-lived nuclear waste.” Finally, this could change our future for good (IAEA).

Energy Breakthroughs No One Is Talking About
News Atlas

Ocean Current Energy

With all those currents coursing through the ocean, you’d think we’d want to do something with them. Currents have efficient energy, waiting for scientists to tap into them. Even kinetic energy circulates through the calmest waters. Researchers are developing underwater turbines, like underwater windmills, to churn all that current into electricity. And even during the ocean’s calmest days, these turbines keep on churning.

Japan is already way ahead of the game with its demo generator, called Kairyu, despite the chance of typhoons. According to News Atlas, this generator is “anchored to the ocean floor much like the Orbital O2. But where the O2 harnesses the flow just a couple of meters under the surface and switches directions with the tides, Kairyu is kept steady at around 50 m (164 ft) under the waves. That’s not the most efficient place to harvest ocean current energy – closer to the surface would be better, says IHI, but the area experiences typhoon conditions that can result in waves more than 20 m (65 ft) high, so keeping them deeper underwater is primarily a safety consideration.” And even though we might experience the warming of the oceans, this could have benefits for ocean current energy, since warmer temperatures will cause stronger currents (New Atlas).

Energy Breakthroughs No One Is Talking About
Roland Berger

Space-Based Solar Power

There’s a lot of untapped energy circling space. That’s why scientists have explored the concept of collecting solar energy in space and beaming it back to Earth. While it presents technical and logistical challenges, it could provide a continuous source of clean energy that’s unaffected by weather or location. Only recently have innovators in the UK received billions of dollars to study space-based solar power.

According to The Guardian, this works “Because there is no atmosphere in space, the sun’s light is undiluted, meaning each panel would be able to generate more energy compared with an equivalent panel on Earth. The solar energy would also be more predictable and continuous due to the absence of day-night cycles, cloud cover, and seasonal variations in sunlight.” They predict this energy could power up to 10GW capacity a year by 2050, which is a quarter of the UK’s energy demand (The Guardian).

Energy Breakthroughs No One Is Talking About
Carbi Crete

Carbon-Negative Concrete

Even though builders use concrete in everything, from roads to buildings, it doesn’t mean it’s good for the environment. It releases tons of carbon dioxide into the air that’s harmful and accounts for eight percent of carbon emissions. However, researchers are staying on top of this with energy breakthroughs called carbon-negative concrete. The name says it all. It’s the eco-friendly sibling of concrete, and it soaks by swapping out some of the concrete’s materials for greener alternatives.

According to Spectrum, “They made the carbon-negative concrete by replacing a third of the cement in it with biochar, a kind of charcoal made from agricultural and forestry waste.” This will cut down all those harmful emissions during production. Not only that, but the material will suck up carbon dioxide from the air. Moreover, some other companies are tackling the concrete issue by adding biological materials like algae, blood enzymes, and bacteria to help lessen emissions and pull harmful gases from the air (Spectrum).

Energy Breakthroughs No One Is Talking About
Metropolis Mag

Next-Generation Solar Technologies

We usually see traditional silicon-based solar panels, which have become more efficient and cost-effective. But there are emerging technologies that’ll exceed traditional solar technology, be more cost-effective, and provide more energy. This includes perovskite solar cells and organic photovoltaics, which show potential for even higher efficiency and lower production costs. We might be looking at a revolutionized future of solar energy.

According to Metropolis, we’re already well on our way to sustainable energy. They write, “Designers are already adapting roofs, siding, and even windows for energy generation. San Jose, California’s GAF Energy has developed a solar roofing system that is installed like regular asphalt shingles, while Ubiquitous Energy, based in nearby Redwood City, has developed a transparent panel that harvests light from the invisible spectrum and can be used on windows and other surfaces.” Tons of different solar energy inventions are coming about (Metropolis Mag).

Energy Breakthroughs No One Is Talking About
News Center

Fungi Bioenergy

There’s a fungus among us! You might have heard about all the potential power that fungi have, and that it might be the next biggest thing in the world of energy. Some types of fungi are more efficient than others and can break down wood and organic material efficiently. Recently, scientists switched from oil and gas, which they used for decades, to fungi, which have the potential to produce biofuels.

Professor Neil Bruce said, “We believe this discovery is important as there is much interest in using lignocellulose as a renewable and sustainable resource for the production of liquid fuels and chemicals.” This is way friendlier to the planet, and they do this by chewing on organic material and spitting it back out. And the best part? It’s more efficient than our current methods and incredibly healthy for the environment. Besides, this could help us lessen our dependence on fossil fuels (York).

Energy Breakthroughs No One Is Talking About
Heindl Energy

Gravity Storage

Extra energy is never a bad thing. Imagine using all that supercharged energy left over from sunny and windy days. We can use that surplus of energy and transform it into kinetic energy, which is the energy of motion. This comes in the form of solid-state batteries, supercapacitors, and flow batteries. In turn, this converts back to electricity, which can then power our homes, charge our gadgets, and keep our lives moving forward. This is a breakthrough in technology that can make energy, stored for up to 14 hours, useful again.

It’s described as, “Using electrical pumps, as already used today in pumped storage power plants, water is pumped beneath a movable rock piston, thereby lifting the rock mass. During insufficient renewable power generation, the water under high pressure from the rock mass is routed to a turbine, as in conventional hydroelectric plants, and generates electricity using a generator.” Furthermore, it doesn’t require an elevation difference, uses minimal raw material, and has low operational costs (Heindl Energy).

Energy Breakthroughs No One Is Talking About
ANSTO

Molten Salt Reactors

Molten salt reactors represent a significant leap forward in nuclear energy technology. These advanced reactors employ liquid fuel, a departure from the solid fuel used in conventional nuclear reactors. The use of liquid fuel enhances safety and efficiency, addressing some of the concerns associated with traditional reactor designs. One of the most notable advantages of molten salt reactors is their potential to provide a reliable and sustainable source of energy. These reactors utilize thorium, a naturally occurring and more abundant element than uranium, making them an appealing choice for long-term energy production. Furthermore, molten salt reactors do not experience neutron losses within their structure, optimizing their overall efficiency.

Another promising aspect is their minimal fuel fabrication requirements, which reduces operational costs and simplifies the fuel cycle. Moreover, these reactors have the potential to operate at extremely high temperatures, making them suitable for a wide range of industrial applications. Additionally, the safety profile of molten salt reactors is impressive, as they do not exhibit chemical reactivity with the surrounding air or water, minimizing the risk of accidents and environmental impact. These features collectively position molten salt reactors as a promising avenue for the future of nuclear energy. (What is Nuclear).

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