Radical, Audacious Energy Technologies

Energy is a complex topic that exists at the nexus of technology, policy, economics, and social behavior. Many impactful technological solutions already exist for decarbonization, electrification, and clean energy resilience and access, but there are regulatory and economic hurdles that prevent their implementation. These problems are best solved through policy and the creation of new business models.

At XPRIZE, our specialty is true technological innovation. If we are trying to solve a problem that requires activism or creative finance, we may not be thinking audacious enough, or looking far enough ahead.

What are some nascent or conceptual technologies that could have an enormous impact on decarbonization and other problems beyond? What’s not getting the attention it deserves? What could benefit from the push that an XPRIZE provides? Look for something that’s up to ten years down the road, but you’d be excited about if it was a reality today.

Hi @tedsargent, @paulaf, @SPSBadwal, @AnthonyMburu - Do you know of any nascent or conceptual energy technologies that could have an enormous impact on decarbonization and other problems beyond? Please share your thoughts.

Hey @oscarr, @electriqpower, @Sharif, @thomasferguson85, @b0bbybaldi, @KeithDPatch, @dgoldber, @ajmvyc, @Lanaagha, @eaguilam, @JimGaston - Have you come across any nascent or conceptual energy technologies that you feel will have an enormous impact on decarbonization or any other energy related problems?

Hi @Shashi thanks for reaching out back again.

There are many options for carbon capture to decarbonize the modern global economy, and many of those are actually outside of the energy industry such as dealing with the impact of livestock with plant-grown meat as people from Impossible Food Labs are doing. Nevertheless, in Energy I see that there a few clear pathways to speed up decarbonization 1) Provide incentives to existing technologies and solutions (which I see the trend moving in that direction) 2) Incentivize development of high uptake potential solutions.

These solutions, which are related to your question related to technologies will be largely dependent on the application and geographical location for which they are intended. For the united states, which is the largest carbon emitter in the world I would say that molten salt reactors paired with hydrogen production through electrolysis seem to be a winner technology solution, in all honesty far more than current alternative energy sources, due to the availability of resources from local communities which that in itself would create a benefit in a reduction of carbon from logistics. The second-largest emitter which is China is rather complex as the main issue here is with transparency so that a proper strategy can be formulated, but fixing this is rather harder and might not be feasible unless there is direct cooperation with their local government. For India which is growing fast I believe that decarbonization can be achieved rather quickly by implementing better environmental rules and metrics, and also making people accountable for those (perhaps through incentives such as carbon credit trading), for example using carbon capture for carbon electricity plants (which is more realistic than expecting all energy to go solar overnight).

Thanks @b0bbybaldi for sharing these solutions, we’ll take a note of it. Among the solutions you have mentioned, which according to you is the most neglected one and has great potential to create maximum impact.

Hi @nastben, @honghong, @pyliew, @akb, @anis, @X3EM, @grhoffman7, @Shepard, @skunsman - Curious to know if you have any inputs to share on any nascent or conceptual energy technologies that has the potential to have a huge impact on energy related problems in future.

Hi Shashi, My area of expertise is not on the energy source but rather the system control and protection to make sure the generation is able to safely and efficiently be transported from source to consumption. Unless the new technology is consumer or community based, utilization of the existing utility infrastructure will be essential and this electrical grid was not designed for the influx of distributed energy resources or other forms of non-traditional bulk generation. If the generation is community based, then there are additional benefits to be explored to improve reliability and resiliency especially during severe whether including islanding into a microgrid to support the local community during the abnormal conditions.
Regards,
Steve

Hi @Shashi there are many potential technologies that might come to the rescue for energy generation, storage and distribution. For example, some categories are included below.

Generation

  • **Solar power** collected on land, on water (floating platforms), and in space (Earth orbit)
  • Wind (land, sea and stratospheric)
  • Tidal (guaranteed daily source)
  • Geothermal
  • Fusion (but not fission - too expensive, dangerous, and waste and security issues)

(continued)…
Storage

  • Heat stores
  • Pumped hydro-electric (reservoirs above and below ground (e.g. old mines))
  • Compressed gas / air
  • Kinetic energy (e.g. rotational momentum)
  • Chemical energy and electric batteries
  • Physical state change
  • Electromagnetic (an innovation in superconductors)

Distribution

  • Smart networks (local, national and international)
  • High voltage DC networks [not required if the following is achieved]
  • Zero resistance cables (superconductor innovation)
  • Compact mobile energy units (e.g. the size of a container lorry)

An area often overlooked, but with great promise, was proposed in the energy document (http://bit.ly/cleanEnergyDoc): innovative technology to accelerate the rate of deployment, and to reduce the cost of deployment.

For example, imagine solar powered autonomous robots roaming a desert turning sand* into low cost solar panels, and robots connecting these panels up into a smart growing network.

  • Sand is the raw ingredient for silicon semiconductors.

Thanks @skunsman for your thoughts.
@akb - Thank you for listing out those amazing potential technologies solutions. In your views, where area would benefit or would have maximum impact from the push that an XPRIZE provides. Also which solution you think people should work on to get maximum impact globally.

Hi @huaiwang, @paolo_mattavelli, @Cemalbasaran, @aphhuang, @curranc, @kpalanisamy79 - Would love to hear your thoughts on any nascent or conceptual energy technologies that has the potential to have a huge impact on energy related problems in future. Also on the comments so far. Thanks.

The best way to reduce our dependence on energy, is to use less of it. That can only be achieved by Power Electronics. Electric switches are one of the most energy consuming components. We developed a all Graphene Nano Ribbon switch. It reduced leakage by 4 orders of magnitude.
US Patent # 10,593,778 B1 Electrostatic Doping Based All GNR Tunnel Field Effect Transistor.
March 17, 2020

Thanks @Cemalbasaran for sharing your thoughts.

Hi @jmathieu, @MarianoMM, @gzissis, @Magneto, @grhoffman7, @johnyale - What are your thoughts on this discussion and the comments so far?

Hi @Shashi - all of those areas are useful for renewable energy solutions but a lot of progress is already being made in energy generation and/or a lot of research and funding is already being invested. Perhaps additional effort is required for energy storage. In addition to daily weather fluctuations, addressing the seasonal fluctuations in solar (and perhaps wind) power in temperate latitudes could be very challenging.

The seasonal aspect could also be addressed with an international power network. A breakthrough in ambient temperature superconductors for a power network would be fantastic - and worthy of an XPRIZE.

Plus an XPRIZE for the rapid deployment of power resources (energy, storage and/or distribution) at low cost would be very welcome given the immediate global challenge (climate change). [e.g. an automated/robotic solution]

A few thoughts there:

  • Energy storage is key, but targeting seasonal storage (and energy carriers) has received relatively little attention.
  • Distribution energy + storage; disruptive approach compared to traditional utility model. All sorts of fun there from gen/storage tech to IoT/DR/comms, etc.
  • Fungible energy carriers. It's all fine and dandy to hypothesize a future that's e.g. H2 based, etc. But we've only got 10yrs to make a massive transition. Tech options have to be compatible today and into the future. What are the best options for doing that transition, not just the best efficiency, etc. Mirrors @akb above on the rapid deployment piece

Thanks @akb and @curranc for sharing your inputs. This would help in finalizing a design direction.

Amazing feedback here @akb and @curranc, thank you so much!

@akb an XPRIZE in ambient temp superconductors would certainly be very exciting and highly audacious. In your personal opinion as a true veteran of the XPRIZE ecosystem, do you think such a goal would also meet the audacious**+achievability ** metric?

@curranc, I’m curious to unpack here with you more on what you would consider disruptive approaches to distributing or storing energy, compared to the traditional utility model. I know you listed some example categories, but would love to understand more specifically, especially when also taking into account your last comment on balancing technology with current capabilities vis-a-vis higher efficiency.

@JessicaYoon Good point. It is certainly audacious. Is it achievable within say five years? I’m not sure. There is certainly a significant amount of research being conducted into the physics of superconducting materials. Recently it was announced that room temperature superconductivity had been demonstrated. The catch was that it requires extremely high pressure (meaning that specific approach isn’t viable for practical purposes). At least it does demonstrate that progress is being made. Perhaps an XPRIZE would speed up such research. Perhaps with the aid of supercomputers and AI we might achieve such a breakthrough.

“The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.”