A quick note on the sustainability of electric vehicles
“How effective are electric vehicles at promoting sustainability?”
Electric vehicles are often touted as one of the drivers of the frontier of sustainability. However, one should keep in mind that electric vehicles draw their power from the grid, and if the grid is not powered by sustainable sources then electric vehicles will not be sustainable either. So one when we continue the battle against greenhouse gases in transportation, we must keep in mind that we must not limit our efforts to only one field.
Pumped hydrogen storage
“How can we use a gravitational potential to store energy?”
If you have ever taken an introductory physics class, then you know that anything with a mass at some distance from the Earth has an energy potential associated with it given by the equation P.E = mgh, with m being the mass g being gravity and h being the height. So logically speaking, if we were to vastly increase the mass then we would also vastly increase the potential energy. So if we have a large enough mass, we can store enough energy for an electric grid!
This is the exact idea behind a technology known as pumped hydrogen storage. Pumped hydrogen storage takes two water reservoirs at a height gradient, and discharges energy to the grid by moving the water through a turbine and stores more energy by using a grid powered pump increase the level of water on the top layer
Solar Communications Security System
“Can solar powered grid systems have security systems in place?”
Solar power is often fused to the surrounding energy community through the use of smart grids. However, such systems are prone to cyber attacks. After realizing the potential consequences of such actions, researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, United Technologies Research Center, and Pacific Northwestern National Laboratory have joined forces (with a hefty 900,000 USD grant from the U.S Department of Energy) to develop a generic cybersecurity system for monitoring communications between distributed resource energy generators (such as solar). This would ensure the safety of customers when using such systems, and can galvanize electric utility providers to switch to clean and sustainable energy!
Air pollution sensors
“How can we monitor air pollution?”
With the advent of industrialization, air pollution has become a significant issue in many parts of the world, inducing grievous health issues and productivity impairments. As such, governments and independent organizations are taking action to reduce this nefarious trend. However, before we can take steps to eliminate pollution, we must first know how much needs to be eliminated. To do this, engineers have developed air pollution sensors which can analyze the atmosphere for certain elements (ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrous oxide) for human analysis
How to make faucets more sustainable
“How can we make our faucets more sustainable?”
I want you to think about something. What exactly do you use to clean yourself after you have used the restroom? Well, if you live in a developed country, then you probably immediately think of faucets. Quite simply, without faucets, we would be unable to function in our daily lives! However, as engineers, we must always think more critically not just about the outputs of a system but the inputs as well. Specifically, faucets use water for their operation. And since water is an increasingly finite resource (especially in dry areas such as California), how can we modify these mechanisms to be more sustainable? Well, believe it or not, there is a very simple solution for this, having the faucets use less pressure! When less pressure is used, a smaller volume of water will be transported, thereby using less water!
Landfill Gas to Energy
“How can we convert landfill gas into energy?”
Landfill gas is often left to rot and waste the environment. However, would it be possible if we could actually do something with this corrosive material? Well, let’s use our engineering mindsets to think about this. We know that gasses are transported through piping systems to provide energy. So what is we were to replace these glasses with the methane gasses released by landfills? This system is known as landfill gas to energy and is often used for generating electricity, replacing non-renewable resources, cogeneration, and pipeline gas
“How does our trash pollute the atmosphere?”
Humanity has a problem. When municipal solid waste (trash thrown out by the public) gets thrown out in landfills, it will slowly decompose. After nearly a year of being in a landfill, methane producing bacteria will begin to emerge and releases a gas known as landfill gas, which is composed of half methane and half CO2. Landfill gas is so potent that it can actually trap heat at a rate of 28-36 times that of CO2 over a 100 years period!