At this point in time, practically everyone is searching for the holy grail of clean energy. Solar, wind, biomass, geothermal... the list goes on. But one area is showing enormous potential and has been arguably overlooked for decades now; water. Also known as hydropower, the clean energy that is generated from water sources has great promise going forward. In fact, scientists from Stanford University are building upon the solid renewable energy foundation of water, creating what's now known as "blue energy."
Luckily for all of us, this technology doesn't discriminate. It can work by using both freshwater and saltwater sources, which expands the potential even further. The scientists behind the idea are looking to incorporate the water from coastal wastewater treatment plants. These are facilities that have hardly been considered tools for energy, let alone potential major players in the quest for clean energy.
Blue Energy Technology: How it Will Work
On their own, wastewater treatment facilities account for a large amount of energy usage. In order to complete the process from start to finish, the plants rely on energy from the power grid. Depending on power outages and natural disasters, the plants may or may not be able to conduct their treatments. Plus, being tethered to the power grid also means energy usage, which equals harmful emissions.
Scientists from Stanford propose that these facilities be made independent. No longer would they rely on the energy of the power grids. Instead, they would be self-sufficient, generating energy from the natural phenomenon that occurs when salt and fresh water meet.
The catalyst for the energy production process is a battery designed by the Stanford team. This battery will harness the power of the two water types by releasing sodium and chloride ions from the battery electrodes. The current then flows from one electrode to another, and the result is an electric current. Even though the battery needs to release energy into the solution, the reaction essentially recharges more than it spends, resulting in a net gain.
Coastal wastewater facilities like this one in Portland are the ideal locations for blue energy harvesting
Technology-wise, this battery is certainly impressive. But the real kicker here is the price; blue energy is actually a surprisingly affordable clean energy solution. The materials needed for the battery to work (Prussian Blue and polypyrrole) are both relatively low cost. For now, the hurdle then remains the scalability. So far, the trials have been successfully conducted on a small scale. The concern, however, is that the beginning stages of this technology are still only generating small amounts of energy per electrode area. On a larger scale (like a full wastewater plant), the energy earnings are still unknown.
What Clean Energy Means for the Future
Clean energy, also known as renewable energy, is an energy that does not produce greenhouse gases or pollution-causing emissions. Aside from their absence of emissions, clean energy sources are also inexhaustible; something that fossil fuels can't offer. When put into action correctly, clean energy sources will be able to generate the energy needed for people around the world, without the drawbacks of fossil fuel exploitation.
Aside from the environmental benefits, clean energy also holds economic power. By relying on fossil fuels, the economy takes part in a vicious cycle of economic loss. While there may be a temporary economic boost, it will only last as long as the resources do. Politics are heavily involved in these fossil fuel expenditures as well, but the fact is that these sources of energy are fleeting, and it is time to turn to renewable sources.
Clean energy is not only a cure for climate change, but it is also a promising step forward for the economy. Through the transition into clean energy technology, the job growth potential will be exponential. Right now, fossil fuel jobs are reportedly less labor-intensive than clean energy jobs. As technological innovation moves upward, so will the demand for those who work at the forefront of the industry. Plus, the actual equipment to harness the clean energy will create the demand for construction and building jobs.
The clean energy sector shows promise for economic improvements and increased job opportunities
The future of clean energy is looking bright, thanks to blue energy. Just like the other sources of clean energy, blue energy serves as a way for our country (and countries around the world) to harness the energy that we need, without the harmful side effects of fossil fuels. It is also worth noting that blue energy requires limited infrastructure; the wastewater plants along the coastlines already exist. The only missing elements are the batteries themselves, and the energy conductors and storage.
The problem for now remains the process of transitioning our energy sources. As of now, we have tons of facilities and resources to work with fossil fuels. For years, we've been relying on these forms of energy to power all of our day-to-day lives. But in the wake of environmental turmoil, it's time to switch to clean and renewable energy sources.
To do so will require a huge amount of change. The population will have to transition to environmentally-friendly alternatives, such as reusable containers and electric cars. This may or may not result in the difficulty of the population's adoption and adherence to the process. Then, there's the issue of funding; these alternatives won't come cheap. Where will the funding come from? Will the transition to clean energy become a mandatory and legal process?
Only time will tell. There are many unknowns in the renewable energy equation, but one thing is for sure; the decision to move in this direction is a smart one. Our planet and our economy will thank us.