WASHINGTON — From replicating the process that fuels the sun to harnessing the scorching temperatures beneath our feet, scientists, companies, and venture capitalists are betting on high-tech ways to power the planet without emitting greenhouse gases.
These “moon launch” technologies are likely to be a topic of discussion when delegates meet at the UN climate talks in Scotland, which begin on Sunday, to find out how to speed up the shift away from fossil fuels.
While traditional clean energy sources such as solar and wind are expected to play a leading role in helping countries achieve near-term climate goals, high-tech solutions may be needed to achieve long-term goals.
Making these technologies available will require a lot of research, money, and a little luck. Here are some of the techniques that attract the most attention:
Fusion is the process that burns the sun. It could eventually work on your home.
It works when two nuclei of two atoms are exposed to extreme heat, causing them to fuse into a new, larger atom, releasing massive amounts of energy in the process.
The trick is that the usual hydrogen fuel has to be heated to 150 million degrees Celsius which is a lot of energy in the first place. No facility has yet performed a fusion reaction that releases more energy than it requires. Operating an electric power plant outside of fusion presents additional hurdles, such as how to contain that heat economically.
However, scientists at Oxford University, MIT and elsewhere say they are making progress. The UK government believes that a Prototype by 2040.
Fusion has advantages over fission — used in nuclear reactors today to break apart atoms — including that the fuel is derived from water, not radioactive uranium or plutonium. This means that nuclear fusion does not produce long-lived radioactive waste, which few politicians in their regions want.
Energy companies are excited about fusion. Both are in Italy where are you (ENI.MI) and Norway Equinor They invested. US company Chevron Corp (CVX.N) has invested in Seattle-based Zap Energy Inc, a merger startup.
Advanced nuclear plants will be smaller than today’s massive nuclear reactors. They could theoretically be used in remote locations, or supplement wind and solar power when the sun goes down or the wind dies. And some versions can use nuclear waste as fuel.
But building advanced nuclear reactors is also a challenge. Today’s large light water reactors provide economies of scale, while small reactors can be expensive.
Critics say It would also produce more concentrated waste, and would run on much more enriched uranium than the fuel in today’s reactors. That could make some advanced reactors and their supply chains attractive to militants seeking materials that can be more easily turned into a dirty bomb.
In the United States, Bill Gates wants to build a natrium reactor in Wyoming for about a billion dollars, and has several plants that supply power to the grid in the 1930s. China, Russia and Japan are also working on the technology.
Carbon capture and storage
Last month in Iceland, Climeworks AG partnered with carbon storage company Carbfix to open the world’s largest plant for It absorbs carbon dioxide from the air and pump it underground where it eventually turns into rock, according to the companies.
It is one of 15 direct air capture (DAC) stations in the world that together absorb about 9,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually from the sky. That sounds impressive, but that’s only about how much is coming out of the 2,000-car tailpipes.
High costs within 600 dollars per ton From the carbon dioxide captured, it could limit growth in the short term. But proponents say costs will fall as technology improves. “This is where it gets more interesting,” said Noah Desch, president of the nonprofit Carbon 180 Group. He believes that the DAC will start after 2030.
Even low-tech carbon capture and storage (CCS), in which carbon dioxide is captured on an industrial site instead of in the air, had a bumpy road. Several plants to extract carbon dioxide from coal plants have failed to bury it underground put it on ice.
Tax credits in US legislation would boost the credit for CCS to about $85 per ton. But critics, including the Sierra environmental group, say providing significant credits could encourage plants to continue burning fossil fuels.
Hydrogen has long been used in rocket fuel, and can be mixed with natural gas to make a cleaner fuel, or used in a fuel cell vehicle, releasing water vapor as exhaust. It can also be extracted from ammonia as fuel for ships.
The Holy Grail is called clean hydrogen produced using wind, solar or nuclear power, since today’s “gray hydrogen” is made from fossil fuels. But that costs about four times as much.
Another option, blue hydrogen, is made using natural gas plants that capture carbon, but Some scientists say this process can release methane Making hydrogen is no cleaner than natural gas itself.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, plans to build a $5 billion plant in its futuristic city of NEOM to produce clean hydrogen.
geothermal power plants
Geothermal power plants take advantage of heat of up to 700 degrees Fahrenheit (370 degrees Celsius) far below the Earth’s surface to generate steam and turn turbines that generate electricity.
Countries such as the United States, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Kenya lead the generation of electricity using geothermal energy. But technology needs to be massively intensified to play an important role in providing an alternative to fossil fuels.
The United States has the capacity to generate 10% of the country’s current energy demand through geothermal energy, higher than 0.4% Today as high initial costs hamper investments. Countries with few fossil fuel resources, including Japan and Singapore, aim to develop geothermal energy.