Impactful Green Technologies of the Future: Geothermal Energy and Advanced Biofuels

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The wide range of green technologies under development is staggering. Alternative energy technologies, in particular, are receiving billions of dollars of support from venture capitalists, corporate investments, and government grants. With all the hype and noise in the alternative energy sector, a key challenge is separating the substance from the fluff.  For what it is worth, here are my thoughts on two green technologies that will truly have a large impact over the next one or two decades.

Number one on my list is geothermal power. In my humble opinion, geothermal heating and cooling is currently the most underutilized technology in the world. The principle behind geothermal technology is well understood.  No new science is needed. If you have ever gone into a cave or a traditional wine cellar, you know that below about 6 to 8 feet of depth, the temperature is relatively constant 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Geothermal technology simply makes use of this constant temperature underground to provide your home with cooling in the summer and heating in the winter. The technology is straightforward.  By circulating water or another suitable liquid through pipes buried in your backyard, the heating or cooling can be brought into your home. By setting up a heat exchanger inside your home, this relatively constant temperature source underneath your yard can be tapped into, becoming a heat sink in warm months and a heat source in cold months. Electricity and gas requirements for heating a cooling can be decreased dramatically.

We have all the technology in hand right now to exploit geothermal heating and cooling. This energy is essentially limitless and available for us to use. I expect to see more implementation of geothermal heating and cooling for homes in the future.

The second technology on my list of impactful technologies is advanced biofuels. I need to clarify that by the term advanced biofuels I mean transportation fuels other than ethanol. Ethanol can be produced now and it reduces our dependence on imported petroleum, but it is inferior fuel for cars and trucks, containing only about 60% of the fuel value of gasoline or diesel. Ethanol also has problems that include its corrosivity and tendency to absorb water, rendering it less compatible with existing engines and pipeline infrastructure for transportation. Advanced biofuels, in contrast, will approach or equal gasoline in their fuel value and will be produced largely from cellulose and non-food crops rather than corn. By avoiding the use of food crops and land that can be used to produce food, the pressure on food prices will be lessened. By being better fuels, advanced biofuels will serve as drop-in replacements for petroleum-derived fuels, seamlessly replacing fossil fuels. As a domestic source of fuel that directly replaced petroleum-derived gasoline and diesel, advanced biofuels will have a large, positive impact on our energy independence.

These two technologies – geothermal heating and cooling and advanced biofuels – will be transformative in the years ahead as countries all over the world move toward greater use of renewable energy resources.

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August 2011
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