Likely Power Sources in 2010

Scientists from the national laboratories, participants in crafting America's energy resource options for tomorrow, recently predicted changes in the energy arena and how they could affect our lives.

"We're on the cusp of some major, fundamental changes in energy. In fact, it's already starting," said Steve Millett, forecast manager for Battelle. The Battelle Memorial Institute is a federal government contractor operating four of the nation's energy laboratories.

No Jetson Jetmobiles

The group of scientists from the national energy laboratories identified the top ten most economically impactful energy innovations by the year 2010 as part of a regular process to analyze present and future developments in a number of industries, including energy.

The ten new energy innovations likely to impact the lives of Americans the most in the next ten years:

1. A Shifting Energy Industry Structure: Substantial innovations in the energy industry and its energy technologies are occurring. Deregulation of the natural gas and electric utilities will continue, resulting in more competition and more mergers. Small, independent utilities will decline and be swept up into the emerging super utilities. Oil companies will become energy companies, competing in both the mobile and stationary energy markets. New players, such as automobile companies, may emerge as formidable influences in the energy industry. The convergence of the electric, gas, telecommunications and water industries likely will result in one-stop shopping.

2. Hybrid Vehicles:
With $2 a gallon gas prices still fresh in the minds of consumers, the idea of hybrid cars doesn't sound so bad. Mileage of seventy-miles-per-gallon will create a lot of converts. The first generation of these vehicles is already here in a sporty two-seater from Honda. Hybrid vehicles use smaller, more efficient internal combustion engines and use power from electric batteries for an extra boost during acceleration. "U.S. automakers have produced a next-generation of hybrid concept cars that will pave the way to 80 miles per gallon, five-passenger sedans," said Tony Schaffhauser of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. However, while making progress in the next 10 years, full transition may require decades.

3. Smart Energy Management Systems: In the way that computers and the Internet are radically changing our economy today, they will change energy systems even more so in the future. Computers, the Internet and Global Positioning Systems will increase the efficiency of transportation. They will reduce congestion and traffic delays and be used in heating, air conditioning, household appliances and business equipment and play vital roles in efficiency of energy production and distribution systems such as pipelines, refineries, power plants and transmission lines.

Fuel Cell Car
4. Distributed Power Generation:
Some experts are saying the current national power grid may not be able to meet skyrocketing demand. Power grids of this scale are on the way out. Major blackouts due to storms and overloading of the grid will become a thing of the past. "People and businesses are demanding more reliable power sources," said Bobi Garrett, from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Power may be generated locally for neighborhoods and individual residences and businesses. This will be done via micro-turbines, internal combustion engines and fuel cells. There will be an increased use of natural gas because it is clean, cheap and available.

5. Fuel Cells: There has been a lot of progress in fuel cell technology over the past 10 years, but much more needs to happen over the coming decade. Fuel cells will become increasingly popular for transportation and for portable and stationary power generation over the next decade. Before being accepted by the public, fuel cells must be made smaller and cheaper.

6. Gas to Liquid Conversion: Scientists predict the development of chemical engineering processes to transform hydrocarbon compounds from gases to liquids. This will permit more flexible use and storage of fuels. One example is the conversion of natural gas to diesel fuel for transportation. "Gas to liquids technology offers an exciting, economically attractive opportunity to convert natural gas from remote locations - which otherwise would be wasted - into easily transported and inherently clean fuel," said Denny Stephens, a research scientist for Battelle.

7. Advanced Batteries: Batteries will continue a 20-year trend of advancements into the next decade. These next-generation batteries will be based on lithium polymer technology and will have about three times as much energy capability as those currently on the market. These developments will play a more crucial role as we make the transition to hybrid and electric vehicles. Consumers will also see better batteries for laptop computers and cell phones.

8. Energy Farms:
The use of bio-engineered crops for fuels will be hurried along by the genetic revolution that permits cultivation of crops to produce fuels such as ethanol. "We will grow gasoline, so to speak, to lessen our dependence on imported oil," Millett said.

9. Solar Energy: We have heard about this for a long time, and it is still hanging tough. That is because it is considered the ultimate sustainable energy form. It is also difficult to capture and store large quantities in a cost-effective manner. But Battelle experts see substantial improvements over the next decade.

10. Methane Hydrate Crystal Mining: Geologists have discovered rich deposits of frozen natural gas crystals on the ocean bottom. "Tapping this reserve would be a quantum leap in our ability to provide energy for the future. Although some new government programs are exploring recovery methods and associated ramifications, there haven't been any commercial attempts to retrieve this vast reserve," said Gary Brawley, a Battelle manager. It is expected that this energy source will emerge in the next decade to add to our natural gas production.

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