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The Most Exciting And Strange Energy Tech Of The Year

Energy Tech

New energy tech is undergoing a metamorphosis at breakneck speed, whether it’s the stock-boosting driverless Apple car or even masks for cows. Sometimes it’s simply mind-blowing and other times it’s sheer comic relief. More often than not, it’s lucrative, either way because clean energy is the buzzword that keeps attracting all the big money.  

And the buzz--for better or worse--is around these top 8 new energy technologies of this year, and next:

#1 Apple’s Driverless Vehicle

The tech giants haven’t sorted out the battery conundrum yet that would catapult EVs above their ICE peers in popularity, but they are putting resources into developing driverless car tech nonetheless. This week, Apple has announced that it plans to introduce its new electric driverless vehicle by 2024. If successful, it would certainly be a major tech breakthrough, but is the world ready for this tech?

#2 Repurposing Landfill Gas

Headway is being made into capturing landfill methane--a gas that is particularly detrimental to the climate--and private firms seem to be leading the way. Fortistar, a privately owned incubator for companies focusing on solving climate challenges, announced this month that it was building a new facility that will capture and concern 1,900 dekatherms per day of landfill methane to renewable natural gas (RNG). For perspective, this is enough to offset the emissions from 7,500 passenger cars. 

In this process--and there are many projects like this one--naturally occurring methane is collected from a solid waste landfill. The methane is then converted to pipeline-ready RNG, and then used to fuel natural gas vehicles or any other natural gas application. There are approximately 175,000 natural gas vehicles on the road in the United States, and 23 million worldwide. 

RNG could play a role in limiting methane emissions, and landfills seem like the best option for gathering the methane. Unfortunately, like most climate-friendly alternatives, RNG is pricey. However, RNG could be cost-competitive with the drive to electrify buildings, such as in California. And it’s making inroads despite the cost, as pressure from utility shareholders mount to move toward greener solutions. RNG’s share of natural gas supply in California’s transportation sector grew from 10% in 2013 to 70% in 2018, according to the EIA, precisely because RNG is considered a negative emitter and California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standards are tough. 

#3 Are You Really Going to Eat That?

Can industrial carbon emissions really be used as food? Researches say yes, at least if you’re an animal. UK biotech company, Deep Branch, is working on creating a protein made from microbes that transform industrial CO2 emissions into a protein source for poultry and fish food. The protein source, called Proton, has a nutritional profile similar to fishmeal, so we don’t recommend adding this to your diet. Deep Branch just secured $3 million in funding to scale up its production of Proton and allow feed manufacturers the chance to test it out. 

What’s cool about Proton is that if successful, it will create a new sustainable way of producing animal food that reduces CO2 emissions by more than 90% compared to traditional protein sources.  

#4 Squelch that Belch

Masks are not just for people. A cow muzzle currently in development has the power to trap that methane that is typically released into the air when cows burp. Cow burps are responsible for anywhere from 10% to 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions--but now we could all be saved from the cowpocalypse. Zelp Ltd--the UK-based company working on the device, says it will turn methane into cleaner air, reducing emissions by as much as 60%. Zelp hopes to have the device available sometime next year. 

#5 Cow Manure as Nat Gas

And speaking of the cowpocalypse, if you live in California, you will now have the privilege of paying extra for your natural gas if you would like it to come from cow manure. Just this last week, California regulators signed off on a three-year plan to sell renewable natural gas, similar to the second item on our list, that comes from capturing methane from manure lagoons at dairy farms, or from landfills. The environmentalists aren’t having it, however, claiming that it does little to address the environmental impact of dairy farms, and that it is merely a distraction from the lobby that would otherwise end natural gas in the golden state. 

#6 The Hydrogen-Fueled Plane

According to ZeroAvia, the hydrogen-fueled powertrain for aircraft is just a few years away. ZeroAvia just received $21 million in funding by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund. ZeroAvia says that the hydrogen-fueled plane will generate lower noise, require less fuel and less costly maintenance, and be cheaper to fly overall. By 2023, ZeroAvia expects to have 500-mile-long commercial flights with anywhere from 10-20 seats. 

#7 The Super Battery

Will you remember the year 2020 as the year of the superbattery? While this tech might be noteworthy, it is unfortunate that 2020 will likely be remembered instead as the year the wheels fell off the world and the year oil prices went negative. While this is not a new tech, the cost of the lithium-ion battery fell to roughly $100 per kWh, which some analysts say will allow EVs to be in price parity with ICE vehicles. Some have debated some of the premises behind the math. But one new battery tech did come to light in 2020, and that is a new anode containing pure metallic lithium, which has created a mad dash of automakers to use this superbattery in their EVs first.  

#8 Stunt Kite

Another recent development in the energy world uses an apparatus similar to a stunt kite to harness tidal power in the Faroe Islands. The project, called DG100, was installed back in October, with electricity being sent to the grid in a power purchase agreement between Sweden-based Minesto and the Faroese utility SEV. The stunt kite harnesses the underwater current, creating a hydrodynamic lift force on the kite’s wings, which generates movement. As it moves, water flows through the system’s turbine and generates electricity. 

By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com

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