Off the coast of California, the idea is usually in which someday tiny robot submarines will drag kelp deep into the ocean at night, to soak up nutrients, then bring the plants back to the surface during the day, to bask within the sunlight.
The goal of This kind of offbeat project? To see if the item’s possible to farm vast quantities of seaweed within the open ocean for a fresh type of carbon-neutral biofuel in which might one day power trucks in addition to airplanes. Unlike the corn- in addition to soy-based biofuels used today, kelp-based fuels would likely not require valuable cropland.
Of course, there are still some kinks to work out. “We first need to show in which the kelp doesn’t die when we take the item up in addition to down,” said Cindy Wilcox, a co-founder of Marine BioEnergy Inc., which is usually doing early testing This kind of summer.
Ms. Wilcox’s venture is usually one of hundreds of long shots being funded by the federal government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. Created a decade ago, ARPA-E right now spends $300 million a year nurturing untested technologies in which possess the potential — however remote — of solving some of the entire world’s biggest energy problems, including climate change.
This kind of week at a convention center near Washington, thousands of inventors in addition to entrepreneurs gathered at the annual ARPA-E conference to discuss the obstacles to a cleaner energy future. Researchers funded by the agency also showed off their ideas, which ranged by the merely creative (a system to recycle waste heat in Navy ships) to the utterly wild (concepts for smaller fusion reactors).
Consider, for instance, wind power. In recent years, private companies have been aiming to build ever-larger turbines offshore to try to catch the steadier winds in which blow higher within the atmosphere in addition to produce electricity at lower cost. One challenge is usually to design blades as long as football fields in which will not buckle under the strain.
At the conference, one team funded by ARPA-E showed off a fresh design for a blade, inspired by the leaves of palm trees, in which can sway with the wind to minimize stress. The group will test a prototype This kind of summer at the Department of Energy’s wind-testing center in Colorado, in addition to ARPA-E has connected the team with private companies such as Siemens in addition to the turbine producer Vestas in which can critique their work.
While there are no guarantees, the researchers aim to design a 50-megawatt turbine taller than the Eiffel Tower with 650-foot blades, which would likely be twice as large as the most monstrous turbines today. Such technology, they claim, could reduce the cost of offshore wind power by 50 percent.
Or take energy storage — which could enable greater use of wind in addition to solar power. As renewable energy becomes more widespread, utilities will have to grapple with the fact in which their energy production can fluctuate significantly on a daily or even monthly basis. In theory, batteries or various other energy storage techniques could allow grid operators to soak up excess wind energy during breezy periods for use during calmer spells. yet the current generation of lithium-ion batteries may prove too expensive for large-scale seasonal storage.
the item’s still not clear what set of technologies could help crack This kind of storage problem. yet the agency is usually placing bets on everything by novel battery chemistries to catalysts in which could convert excess wind energy into ammonia, which could then be used in fertilizer or be used as a fuel source itself.
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At the summit, Michael Campos, an ARPA-E fellow, also discussed the possibility of using millions of old oil in addition to gas wells around the Midwest for energy storage. One idea would likely use surplus electricity to pump pressurized air into the wells. Later, when extra power was needed, the compressed gas could drive turbines, generating electricity. A few facilities like This kind of already exist, though they typically rely on salt caverns. Using already-drilled wells could conceivably reduce costs further.
“This kind of is usually a very early stage idea,” Dr. Campos told the audience. “I’d love to hear by you if you have ideas for producing This kind of work — or even if you think the item won’t work.”
various other projects focused on less-heralded problems. A company called Achates Power showed off a prototype of a pickup truck which has a variation on the internal combustion engine in which the item hoped could help heavy-duty trucks get up to 37 miles to the gallon — no smaller thing in a world in which S.U.V. sales are booming. Several various other ventures were tinkering with lasers in addition to drones to detect methane leaks by natural gas pipelines more quickly. Methane is usually a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Looming over the conference, however, was the murky future of the agency itself. The Trump administration, which favors more traditional sources of energy such as coal, has proposed eliminating the agency’s budget altogether, arguing in which “the private sector is usually better positioned to advance disruptive energy research.”
So far, Congress has rejected these budget cuts in addition to continues to fund the agency. yet the uncertainty echoed throughout the conference, even as Rick Perry, the energy secretary, sent along an upbeat video message lauding the agency’s work — a message seemingly at odds with the White House’s budget.
“We are at a crossroads,” Chris Fall, the agency’s principal deputy director, told the attendees. “yet until we’re told to do something different, we need to keep thinking about the future.”