Articles for "Question of the week"

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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

Energy | 22. February 2010 | posted by Jan Oliver Löfken | 5 Comments

Energy question of the week: How much electrical power can be harnessed from tides?

Under the influence of the Moon's gravity, the water of Earth's oceans rises and falls twice a day. Powerful forces are at work all over the globe between every low and high tide – forces that can be harnessed to generate electrical power. Just how mature is the technology and what is the potential that tidal power stations could unleash? read more

Energy | 15. February 2010 | posted by Jan Oliver Löfken | 5 Comments

Energy question of the week: are large hydroelectric power stations genuinely good for the environment?

After decades of planning, Belo Monte - the third largest hydroelectric power station in the world, will now be constructed in the Amazonas region of northern Brazil. When the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, IBAMA, approved the plan in early February, it was met with vociferous criticism from environmental conservationists and spokespersons for indigenous groups. So just how green are gigantic hydroelectric power stations really? read more

Energy | 08. February 2010 | posted by Jan Oliver Löfken | 4 Comments

Energy question of the week: How does one turn a T-shirt into a power station?

Whenever the battery in a mobile phone, laptop or MP3 player goes flat, the desperate search for a power socket begins. A power source that everyone can carry with them at all times will provide more independence in the future – their own shirt. That your electronic equipment could ever be recharged by a piece of fabric does sound rather like a fairy tale. But is the 'T-shirt power station' really such an impossibility? read more

Energy | 01. February 2010 | posted by Jan Oliver Löfken | 7 Comments

Energy question of the week: How long will our crude oil reserves last?

The global economic crisis has also had a positive side – the consumption of crude oil fell slightly in 2008 and 2009. Yet before long, it is likely to rise again to about 85 million barrels per day. The International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2009 report states that demand will rise by a further percent each year to 105 million barrels per day by 2030. For how long can we meet this growing demand read more

Transport | 25. January 2010 | posted by Jan Oliver Löfken | 5 Comments

Will we be driving only electric cars in twenty years' time?

The first, purely electrically-driven compact and sports cars are already on the market, but they are much more expensive than their classic diesel or petrol engine counterparts and have a range of no more than 100 kilometres. Only light, high-performance and cheap lithium-ion batteries will help electric cars achieve a breakthrough. Will such electricity storage devices reach production standard in the near future? read more