Alternative Energy Sources

  1. As we know, the United States consumes more power than any other country in the world. The success of the U.S. can be directly related to its power consumption. Most of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels (Coal) that puts Co2 in the atmosphere, this is causing major pollution. The U.S. has refused to take this matter seriously and continues its consumption, and the amount needed in the future will only rise. There are alternative power sources such as wind, solar, hydro. These simply aren't going to meet the demands of the future although will supliment nicely. Even if the U.S. decided to fully try and solve this problem, we don't have the technology to accomplish the goal. There are ideas such as cold fusion, nuclear, and many others. I am writing this thread because I believe that the minds on here can come up with the answer. What is your ideas on this problem and what technology can replace coal?
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2003
  2. jcsd
  3. NOOOOOO....
    We do have the technology.
    We do have the science.
    We do NOT have the motivation.

    People will only turn to alternative energy sources if there is an immediate reason to change their mind. People are like that. If we knew coal was running out tommorrow, say, then we would certainly act. But if it is a few years or decades, then nobody bats an eyelid. If the date is indeterminate, nobody cares at all.

    If we could get the real spending, the preparedness to change government policy, the accepting of responsibility, we would be in that paradise right now.

    Major possibilities:

    Fusion: The main target right now. Few of the disadvantages of fission stations with high power output. Difficult to sustain or control though. Maybe we'll find out the secret of controlled fusion within 20 years. But don't hold your breath....

    Cold Fusion: Well, kinda rejected by science community after various early scandals, and lack of theoretical backing. Still going though. Might be a chance.

    Solar: Can be used NOW. Various countries already use it for water heating. Needs steady sunlight. Possibility of satellite power station - increase output and efficiency.

    Wind: Same. Rather unreliable.

    Hydroelectric: Expensive. Lack of good sites.

    Biogas: cheap.

    A combination of the above can supplement our power needs for quite a while.
  4. I totaly agree, the problem is the fact that we have an abundant source of coal to use and no other significant alternative. I believe if there were a significant alternative the motivation to change would follow.
  5. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    FZ+, what about plain old ordinary nuclear fission? It is clean and safe and inexpensive - and the we don't have to invent any technology to use it. It is an immediate and viable alternative to coal.

    Solar could easily have a big impact if the government gave a tax deduction for installing them on your roof.

    GENIERE 288
    Science Advisor

    Our good friends and allies, the French, generate most of their electric power via fission. The American public is paranoid when the words “nuclear” or “atomic” are used due to the sometimes irrational views of environmental groups. How many people would submit to Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) for a medical diagnosis if they knew it was really Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging? It’s likely that fusion power will be available in the next 30-50 years. Until then, fission technology is best able to supply environmentally clean energy. All energy sources pollute directly or indirecty. The well-known safety and environmental hazards associated with fission power can be dealt with if the public is sufficiently knowledgeable of the pros, not just the cons. Safe storage and disposal of waste, and the de-commissioning of nuclear power stations are problems that have practical solutions.

    A national educational marketing campaign and a name change is needed to counter environmental groups’ propaganda. Fission reactors should be called “PURE” for Power Using Radiant Energy.

  7. well u have to undersatnd americans are mostly morons, no wait let me refrasi that we are iggnerant so nuclear fission is out of the question in america so is nuke-key-lure energy that Bush is always tlaking about.

    But in 2008 i think we finish a laser taht will fuse two hyrdrogen atoms, so it is either that or burning little children soilent electtic
  8. drag

    drag 1,341
    Science Advisor

    Greetings !

    It is not that difficult to cover a small desert
    with solar panels to power the whole of the US.
    It is also not difficult to build enough wind
    and sea power stations that can generate all
    the power that's required. The problem is that
    the supply is changing and a lot more needs
    to be built to make sure power is received in
    the neccessary amount (and solar power is only for
    daytime). In the long run, however, this is bound
    to payoff. The political problems are a mess though.

    Vehicles are a problem but technology is catching
    up quicly.

    One of the ideas I considered and expressed on PF
    before is that the world needs a world-wide network
    of renewable energy sources. It can span continents
    and oceans like the Internet and it will be
    a single market which will allow countries to spare
    money on building too many renewable energy sources,
    reduce the total energy cost and will help
    develop many of the undeveloped countries.
    Again, the problem is politics - international this time.

    Live long and prosper.
  9. LURCH

    LURCH 2,512
    Science Advisor

    Hydrogen fuel cells for automobiles will probably be first. As has been pointed out earlier in this discussion, the key is to supply proper motivation. Currently, producing enough hydrogen to propel a fuel cell driven the car the same distance as one down of gasoline drives an internal combustion car, costs about $2.50. This price will continue to come down rapidly, as new technologies always too. Meanwhile, it has been predicted by some that gasoline will reach a price in excess of $2.50 per gallon within the next year.

    I think that, once the prices are the same, or even close to the same, we will begin to make the switch in earnest.

    As for nuclear power, a do not think we will seriously consider it until fusion has been figured out. Fission is simply too dangerous and there is no practical solution for waste disposal.
  10. I think the paranoia predated environmentalism, but it certainly hasn't helped. Other good examples of this is the criminal lack of food irradiation in the USA, and the hysteria over depleted uranium weapons.

    Speaking of it, any of you guys have a link to some accurate info on the safety/waste risks of fission plants? How big they are, solutions, advances, comparative risks, etc.

    GENIERE 288
    Science Advisor

    As I stated, no energy source is pollution free.

    Solar cells: Huge environmental impact due to paving over millions of acres of desert with silicon. What harmful effects would occur due to the change in libido? Toxic manufacturing processes are used.

    Wind power: Minimal studies done on sonic pressure waves and long-term exposure of flora and fauna. Hugely disturbs the mostly pristine sites these mills would have to be located. Have you ever seen the hillsides about 80 miles east of San Francisco?

    Tidal and ocean current power: Again causes pressure waves with unknown effects. It may be out of sight but the fishes may not like it.

    Beamed energy from space: Too many consequences to list

    Geo-Thermal power may be a possibility.

    What are the long-term consequences of extracting energy from the environment?

    All above may suffice for local needs in some areas with minimal impact.

    Hydrogen is a great fuel, but energy is needed to extract it.

    Right now, fission is only way to go.

  12. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    Could you do some quick math on that? Its a ton more difficult than you think.
    Lurch, since it requires ELECTRICITY to make hydrogen, fuel cell cars actually make our overall energy situation WORSE.
    Fission is NOT dangerous and it is far better to store the waste in drums than say blow it out a smokestack ie coal.
    I don't have any specific links, but I'm sure you know the worst nuclear power accident in the US was at Three Mile Island. There are tons of sites about it and a health study was recently published about the long term health effects on the surrounding community (none whatsoever). For advances, look into "pebble-bed" reactors - an inherrently safe reactor technology (meltdown is impossible).
  13. So you have no problems with say, the North Koreans, setting up their own nuclear reactor? :wink: I think any of these dual use technologies have their inherent danger. And waste is still expensive to store, and hard ultimately to dispose of. But I agree the major problem is that of public relations. People don't like the idea of barrels of material being carted around on highways. Notice the uproar in the past over some nuclear fuel being just flown over a country.

    People will only start to be confident over nuclear power when Mr Burns becomes the Simpsons' hero, and the Springfield Power Plant is a haven of birds and small animals, rather then a vision of harzardous waste hell. It's what I call the Homer factor.
  14. enigma

    enigma 1,817
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    The problem is cost. It costs much more per kiloWatt*hour to get electricity from solar than it does from coal, oil, gas, or nuclear.

    That definately goes against what the environazi's would want you to believe. It's not as simple as: build a huge solar power station, sit back, enjoy the free power. You have to deal with really low efficiencies of the cells, you have to deal with solar cells burning out, you have to deal with keeping them clean (damn birds...), etc. etc.

    Can you imagine the damage to the environment of not only the solar fields themselves, but the landfills FULL of burnt out cells?

    Re: nuclear. The problem is public hysteria. Yes, there is a risk of an accident. An accident has the chance of increasing cancer rates. What people don't realise is that coal, gas, and oil plants can increase the cancer risks also. They spew tons and tons of C14 into the air every year. And that is even without an accident.

    Nuclear waste can relatively easily be sealed in drums and buried deep underground. The problem is, noone wants to be the lucky caretaker of the glowing stuff.

    The hydrogen fuel cell cars will reduce pollution, but they will increase electricity consumption. Power plants are much more pollution efficient than automobiles are.

    This statement however:
    Is blatantly false. If you look at the pollution outputs from factories over the past 150 years, they have gone down and down and down. The chief factor of this is environmental protection laws being passed. The leader of this trend is the US. Our factories are cleaner than anywhere else in the world. People just look at the stats for 'total pollution' and point the finger at us. We have more factories than anywhere else. They are still the cleanest. Who is the worst villain here?
  15. THere are sources of hydrogen production plants right under your feet. just take a bucket of soil, heta it to about 220 degrees F and let it cool. you now have millions of hydrogen producing plants working for only you.
    It is cheep, safe, and clean.
  16. but the bad thing about heating it and letting cool is that you are using energy to create energy which might cancel each other out which would be a waste of time.
  17. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    Like I said to someone else before - do some quick math on it. It is not as easy or energy efficient as people want to believe. Bottom line, if it were as easy as people want to believe it is, people would already be doing it.

    Also, hydrogen producing plants? Huh? Plants don't produce hydrogen, they produce hydrocarbons (and oxygen).
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2003
  18. THe only reason we heat the soil is to kill all the hydrogen consumers without killing the hydrogen producers.
    Not plants, but bacteria!
  19. Fission is only dangerous when not treated properly e.g. Chernobyl. In this sense it is the same as anything e.g. explosives can be used for good things as well as for killing people. Also please note that the nulcear industry has one of the best safety records you can find. Most of the worry is in peoples minds.

    On the issue of renewable I think it's silly to put your eggs in one basket beacuse no one energy source can deal with the energy demands of the modern world. However renewables are limited and so really need to be complented by something else. Fusion is ideal but it's not here yet, maybe 30/40 years off (anybody heard that before ). Perhaps fission could be the stop-gap choice?
  20. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    As a matter of fact, the safety record of nuclear power industry is absolutely perfect for its impact on civilians. No civilian has ever died as a result of a nuclear power acident. Thousands die every year due to complications from air pollution.

    There are tecnologies available now to make them even better. Pebble-bed nuclear reactors for example are incapable of meltdown and can be re-fueled on the fly, increasing productivity and efficiency and reducing the cost of the reactor. However, due to politics (unreasonable hysteria), there hasn't been a single nuclear power lant built in the US in something like 25 years.
  21. Though I agree that nuclear power is presently safe, I don't think this assertion is entirely correct. The fact is, when nuclear contamination causes things like cancer that do occur normally, it is difficult to quantify the full effects of the accident. You can say no civilian directly died of a nuclear accident, in that none of them were blown up or anything, but the statistical cancer and birth defect rate in chernobyl is unusually high, and it probably had a link to the power plant accident.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share a link to this question via email, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook