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Alternative Energy Sources

My Questions

1. What are a couple of viable, alternative energy sources?
2. How much will it cost to fund these energy sources?

I chose these questions because I know that oil will run out, and I want to know what other potential energy sources we can use. After oil, coal, and natural gas run out, if we don't have another way to generate power that meets our needs, we will be sent back economicallly 300 years. I want to know what our options are, and if they can actually meet our electrical needs for the 21st. century.

Solar power

There are two types of solar cells:
  1. Photo voltaic cells
  2. Heat cells


    How a Photo voltaic ( "light energy") solar cell works.

    When light hits a solar cell, which is usually made of a semiconductor like silicon, light is absorbed into the solar cell, which is transformed into energy.The energy of the absorbed light is transferred to the semiconductor. The energy knocks electrons loose, allowing them to flow freely. P.V cells also all have one or more electric fields that act to force electrons freed by light absorption to flow in a certain direction. This flow of electrons is a current, and by placing metal contacts on the top and bottom of the P.V cell, the current can be drawn from the cell to use in powering of other devices.


    Energy Losses

    Light can be separated into different wavelengths, and we can see them in the form of a rainbow. Since the light that hits the solar cell has photons of a wide range of energies, it turns out that some of them won't have enough energy to knock an electron loose from a silicon atom. They'll simply pass through the cell as if it were transparent. Still other photons have too much energy. Only a certain amount of energy, measured in electron volts and defined by our cell material is required to knock an electron loose. It is called the "band gap energy" of a material. If a photon has more energy than the required amount to knock an electron loose fom a silicon atom, then the extra energy is lost. This effect, along with other effects, account for 70 percent of the radiation energy in the light hitting the cell to be lost.


    How a heat cell works.

    A heat cell uses the light from the sun to heat up water or another substance to possibly heat a house, make steam, or save the energy that it takes to make hot water. As light rom the sun hits the cell, it is absorbed and transfered as heat to water, like when the inside of your car heats up in the summer light.


    Solar energy is not that efficient, and we can't get power on cloudy days. Solar energy is a large resource, but it is not the most reliable. There is more light from the sun to power Earth than mankind could possibly use. But if we solely relied on solar power, there would be a black-out whenever a cloud covers the sun. If we take only a fraction of the power we need from the sun, then if it was a cloudy day, we would lose only a fraction of our power, and would not have this problem. Also, we are making more efficient solar cells as we progress, and might one day have very efficient solar cells, and solar power might become a little more practicle.


Water Energy

Hydroelectric power
Hydro power produces essentially no CO² or other harmful emissions, in contrast to the burning fossil fuels, and is not a significant contributor to global warming through CO² . Hydroelectric power is usually less expensive than electricity generated from fossil fuels or nuclear energy. Environmental concerns about the effects of reservoirs may prohibit development of economic hydro power sources. The chief advantage of hydroelectric dams is their ability to handle seasonal and daily high peak loads. When the electricity demands drop, the dam simply stores more water which will provide more flow when it releases it. Some electricity generators use water dams to store excess energy, usually during the night, by using the electricity to pump water up into a basin. Electricity can be generated when demand increases. In practice the use of stored water in river dams is sometimes complicated by demands for irrigation which may occur out of phase with peak electrical demands.

Tide Power
Harnessing the tides in a bay has been achieved in France since 1966, and Canada and Russia, and could be achieved in other areas with a large tidal range. The trapped water turns turbines as it is released through the tidal barrier in either direction. A possible fault is that the system would generate electricity most efficiently in bursts every six hours, once every tide. This limits the applications of tidal energy.

Tidal Stream Power
A relatively new technology, tidal stream generators draw energy from currents in much the same way that wind generators do. The higher density of water means that a single generator can provide significant power. This technology is at the early stages of development and will needs more research before it can become a significant power source. Several prototypes have been used with good results. In the UK in 2003, a 300 kW Periodflow marine current propeller type turbine was tested off the coast of Devon, and a 150 kW oscillating hydroplane device (?), the Stingray, was tested off the Scottish coast. Another British device, the Hydro Venturi, is to be tested in San Francisco Bay. The Canadian company Blue Energy has plans for installing very large arrays tidal current devices mounted in what they call a 'tidal fence' in various locations around the world, based on a vertical axis turbine design.

Wave Power

Harnessing power from ocean surface waves motion could give more energy energy than tides. The reasonableness of this has been investigated particularly in Scotland and in the UK. Generators either attached to floating devices or turned by air displaced in a hollow concrete structure would produce electricity. However, numerous technical difficulties have hindered progress. A prototype shore-based wave power generator is being constructed at Port Kembla, in Australia, and is expected to generate up to 500 MW h annually. The Wave Energy Converter was constructed (as of July 2005) and initial results have exceeded expectations of energy production during times of low wave energy. Wave energy is captured by an air-driven generator and converted to electricity. For countries with large coastlines and rough sea conditions, the energy of waves offers the possibility of generating electricity in amounts lage eneugh to power devices, maybe homes and cities if the country has enough coastline.

My opinion is that I think all water power is very useful. It is new, but it would be possible to extract a large amount of energy in the future. It has absolutly no waste, since it lets water move the parts instead of fuel or electricity. This means it is greatly environmental. The only thing I think might be a problem is that fish, plants, dirt, and shells might get stuck in the turbines, and we would then have to constantly clean the generator.

Wind Energy

Wind is a form of solar energy. Winds are caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the irregularities of the earth's surface, and rotation of the earth. Wind flow patterns are modified by the earth's terrain, bodies of water, and vegetation. The terms wind energy or wind power describe the process by which the wind is used to generate mechanical power or electricity. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in the wind into mechanical power. This mechanical power can be used for specific tasks, like grinding flower or moving water.A generator can also convert this mechanical power into electricity. A wind turbine generates electricity by working the opposite of a fan. Instead of using electricity to make wind, like a fan, wind turbines use wind to make electricity. The wind turns the blades, which spin a shaft, which connects to a generator and makes electricity. Utility-scale turbines range in size from 100 kilowatts to as large as several megawatts. Larger turbines are grouped together into wind farms, which provide bulk power to the electrical grid.
Single small turbines, below 100 kilowatts, are used for homes,
telecommunications dishes, or for pumping water.

Wind energy is clean and efficient, and has no bi-product. It produces a lot of energy, but some consider the propellers ugly. It also takes up a lot of space, but if people can live with the look of them, it is one of the most useful and clean sources of energy.

Nuclear Fusion

Nuclear fusion is the process in which two atoms, usually hydrogen, are are forced close enough for the strong nuclear force to take the atoms and combine them to make helium. This process releases energy because two hydrogen molecules way less than one helium molecule. The matter is lost and turned into energy according to Einstein's E=MC². Two atoms fusing is not a lot of energy, but there are billions of atoms in a pound of hydrogen. This is enough to power a device for an extremely long amount of time.

Disadvantages to Fusion
Fusion is a very good scource of power. However, it prodeces large amounts of radio active waste. This waste must be stored in a contained area, or it will destroy the ecosystem. Also the waste is radio active for along time. For these reasons, nuclear plants have waste pool that wastes stored in. so the pool doesn't over heat. The waste is soaked in coolant that fills the pool. This drastically keeps the heat down. If the waste was not cooled it would cause a meltdown, like at Chernoble. There would be a giant explosion similar to the Hiroshima bomb. This posses a great threat to us if we use this in the future.


Biomass refers to living and recently dead biological material which can be used as fuel or for industrial production. Most commonly, biomass refers to plant matter grown for use as biofuel, but it also includes plant or animal matter used for production of fibers, chemicals or heat. Biomass may also include biodegradable wastes that can be burnt as fuel. It excludes organic material which has been transformed by geological processes into substances such as coal or petroleum. The term biomass is useful for plants, where some internal structures may not always be considered living tissue, such as the wood of a tree. This biomass became produced from plants that convert sunlight into plant material through photosynthesis. Sources of biomass energy lead to agricultural crop residues, energy plantations, and municipal and industrial wastes. Biomass is grown from several plants, including corn and sugarcane. The particular plant used is usually not very important to the end products, but it does affect the processing of the raw material. Production of biomass is a growing industry as interest in sustainable fuel sources is growing. Though biomass is a renewable fuel, and is sometimes called a "carbon neutral" fuel, its use can still contribute to global warming. This is a threat to us if we choose to use biofuel in the future.

Biomass is a renewable fuel, and can be regrown time and time again by humans, unlike other power sources. The burning of biomass does produce CO², however, but the plants we grow also need CO² to grow. If we can collect the CO² from burning biomass, then we can use it directly to grow plants. This would severely reduce the CO² we have to put into the air. If biomass is used to fuel cars, we could contain the fumes and turn them in at a gas station the next time you need to refuel, instead of venting the fumes into the atmosphere. This would reduce Global Warming, and it would save us the trouble of having to pull CO² out of the air when the levels of it get dangerously high.

Hydrogen Power

Hydrogen Power is a process that combines hydrogen with oxygen to create energy. It has no emissions, other than pure water. It has been used in cars as the main power source and has worked greatly. There are a few problems however with hydrogen. If we can solve these problems, hydrogen power is probable the best source of energy I have found.

Problems withe Hydrogen
1. How to create it.
2. How to transport it.
3. How to store it.
4. How to distribute it.
5. How to use it.

Problem 1: Creating Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but there is no pure form of it on Earth. All of it is trapped in coal and other hydrocarbons. The United States already uses about 10 million tons of hydrogen per year for industrial uses, such as making fertilizer and refining petroleum. If hydrogen-powered vehicles are to replace most gas vehicles, we'll need at least 10 times more. The challenge will be to produce it in an efficient and environmentally friendly way.

FOSSIL FUELS: At present, 95 percent of America's hydrogen is produced from natural gas. Through a process called steam methane reformation, high temperature and pressure break the hydrocarbon into hydrogen and carbon oxides — including carbon dioxide, which is released into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. Over the next 10 or 20 years, fossil fuels most likely will continue to be the main feedstock for the hydrogen economy. And there's the rub: Using dirty energy to make clean energy doesn't solve the pollution problem-it just moves it around. Capturing that carbon dioxide and trapping it underground would make the process more environmentally friendly. In July, General Electric and BP Amoco PLC announced plans to develop as many as 15 power plants over the next 10 years that will strip hydrogen from natural gas to generate electricity; the waste carbon dioxide will be pumped into depleted oil and gas fields. And the Department of Energy is largely funding a 10-year, $950 million project to build a coal-fed plant that will produce hydrogen to make electricity, and likewise lock away carbon dioxide to achieve what it bills as "the world's first zero-emissions fossil fuel plant." Whether carbon dioxide will remain underground in large-scale operations remains to be seen. In addition, natural gas is a limited resource; the cost of hydrogen would be subject to its price fluctuations.
ELECTROLYSIS: Most of the remainder of today's hydrogen is made by electrically splitting water into its constituent parts, hydrogen and oxygen. This year, a PM Breakthrough Award went to GE's Richard Bourgeois for designing an electrolyzer that could drastically reduce the cost of that process. But because fossil fuels generate more than 70 percent of the nation's electrical power, hydrogen produced from the grid would still be a significant source of greenhouse gas. If solar, wind or other renewable resources generate the electricity; hydrogen could be produced without any carbon emissions at all.
NUCLEAR POWER: Next-generation nuclear power plants will reach temperatures high enough to produce hydrogen as well as electricity, either by adding steam and heat to the electrolysis process, or by adding heat to a series of chemical reactions that split the hydrogen from water. Though promising in the lab, this technology won't be proved until the first Generation IV plants come on line — around 2020.

Where Will the Hydrogen Come From? President Bush's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative calls for replacing fossil fuels used in passenger cars by 2040. This would require 150 million tons of hydrogen annually. Here's what it would take to reach that goal with any one technology.


Gas station-size facilities using steam reformation
Very High Temperature Reactors providing heat for electrolysis or for thermochemical cycles
Photovoltaic systems providing electricity for electrolysis with 10% efficiency
Turbines producing electricity for electrolysis, assuming they operate at 30% capacity
Gasification plants using steam reformation
FutureGen plants using coal gasification then steam reformation
15.9 million
cu. ft. of natural gas — only a fraction of current U.S. annual consumption
tons of unenriched uranium, five times today's global production
kilowatt-hours of sun per square meter per year, found in the Southwestern states of the Sun Belt
meters per second average wind speed, typically found in many parts of the country
1.5 billion
tons of dry biomass (initially byproducts such as peanut shells, then concentrated crops)
1 billion
tons of coal — which would require doubling current U.S. domestic production
facilities; though a more likely scenario would include a mix of larger central production plants
600-megawatt next-generation nuclear power plants; only 103 nuclear power plants operate in the States today
113 million
40-kilowatt systems, covering 50% of more than 300 million acres — an area three size the size of Nevada
1 million
2-megawatt wind turbines, covering 5% of 120 million acres, or an area larger than California
gasification plants, and up to 113.4 million acres — or 11% of U.S. farmland — dedicated to growing the biomass
275-megawatt plants; only 12 sites were proposed for a DOE demonstration plant — not all met the requirements
Total Cost
$1 trillion
$840 billion
$22 trillion
$3 trillion
$565 billion
$500 billion
Price Per GGE
(Gallon of Gas Equivalent)
CO2 Emissions
measured in tons
300 million
600 million*
600 million

*Zero net emissions because crops pull CO2 from the air. 90% will be captured and stored underground.
Time Frame
There are four fueling stations that now produce hydrogen from natural gas.
The first Very High Temperature Reactor in the U.S. will be built at Idaho National Laboratory in 2021.
Honda built an experimental solar-powered hydrogen refueling station at its lab in California in 2001.
A 100-kilowatt turbine is now being built at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado.
Government funded bio-mass research will be transferred to private industry in 2015.
By 2012, the first FutureGen demonstration plant should be running at 50% capacity.

Other alternative energy sources I have not listed yet:

1. Bacteria Conversion
I have only just heard of this. I will eventually explian it, but basicaly it uses bacteria to consume a asubstance and realease hydrocarbons, that we can burn.


Solar Power

Water Power

Wind Power

Biomass Power

Nuclear Fusion Energy

Hydrogen Power