Energy | 29. March 2010 | posted by Jan Oliver Löfken

Energy question of the week: How can coal be converted into liquid fuel?

When oil becomes scarce, fuel for aircraft and cars will have to be produced from other sources. Since Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch invented the Fischer-Tropsch process in 1925, synthetic fuels can also be derived indirectly from coal. Countries with large coal deposits, such as South Africa and China, make extensive use of this process. But how does the process work? read more

Energy | 22. March 2010 | posted by Jan Oliver Löfken | 2 Comments

Energy question of the week: Has the Emirate of Abu Dhabi overreached itself with its 'Zero Emission City' of Masdar City?

By 2016, the world's first climate-neutral city - Masdar City - is set to emerge from the sands of the Arabian desert. By that date, 50,000 people in Masdar City should be able to meet their energy needs from solar power stations, to move between their 'intelligent-design' houses in electrically-powered cars, and to recycle all their household waste. Nevertheless, isolated cases of Masdar managers resigning their posts are starting to fuel rumours that this ambitious project may, quite literally, be running itself back into the sand. Were the goals of this 22-billion-dollar project perhaps set too high? read more

Energy | 15. March 2010 | posted by Jan Oliver Löfken | 8 Comments

Energy question of the week: Can lasers unleash the Sun's power to create a fusion reactor?

Low-cost, safe, climate-friendly and inexhaustible – many energy experts view nuclear fusion as the power source of the future. Having said that, scientists believe that it will take another 40 to 50 years before the first fusion power station is in operation. Hot plasma, trapped within a strong magnetic field is currently the most promising way forward, and Europeans in particular are focusing on this concept. However, might it not be much simpler and quicker to find a way to unleash the fire of the Sun by means of powerful lasers that American physicists are working with? read more

Energy | 08. March 2010 | posted by Jan Oliver Löfken | 2 Comments

Energy question of the week: What makes a power grid intelligent?

A closely-interconnected grid of power lines and wires 1.7 million kilometres in length and running from power stations to wall sockets delivers a reliable power supply throughout Germany. It has evolved and been maintained over decades, extended in leaps and bounds, and virtually no-one gives any real thought to the interplay between generator and consumer, power frequency and high voltages, sub-stations and transformers. Now, in response to the rising proportion of electricity generated from renewable sources, the term Smart Grid (the 'intelligent' power grid) is now coming into common parlance. Was, and is, our existing power grid really so 'dumb'? read more

Energy | 01. March 2010 | posted by Jan Oliver Löfken

Energy question of the week: How can electricity be generated from hydrogen?

Fuel cells are surely the most elegant way of converting energy-rich fuels into electricity without emitting any carbon dioxide or other exhaust gases if hydrogen is the type of fuel used. Back in 1838, the German-Swiss chemist Christian Friedrich Schönbein successfully generated an electrical voltage from hydrogen and oxygen for the first time, using two platinum wires to accomplish this feat. Since then, many different types of fuel cells have been developed to a commercially marketable standard. What underlying principle do they all have in common? read more