Still, most people think biofuels will only supply a fraction of our transportation needs (“Briefing: Transportation”). To eliminate carbon emissions and drastically curtail petroleum consumption will require plug-in hybrids (“Driving the Volt”) and other electricity-powered vehicles (“Nissan’s Leaf: Charged with Information”). Advances that could double (or more) the energy capacity of batteries and lower their costs could one day make such vehicles affordable to the masses. These include new formulations such as lithium-sulfur batteries (“Revisiting Lithium-Sulfur Batteries”), metal-air batteries (“High-Energy Batteries Coming to Market”) such as lithium-air batteries (“IBM Invests in Battery Research”), and batteries that rely on nanowires and silicon (“More Energy in Batteries”). A novel concept for super-fast charge stations at bus stops could make electric buses practical (“Next Stop: Ultracapacitor Buses”).
Getting the electricity to charge these vehicles–without releasing vast amounts of carbon dioxide–could be made easier by a number of advances this year. A new liquid battery could cheaply store energy from wind turbines and solar panels for use when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing (“TR10: Liquid Battery”), making it practical to rely on large amounts of renewable electricity. Vast arrays of mirrors (“Solar Thermal Heats Up”) are being assembled in the desert to convert solar heat into electricity, and photovoltaic solar farms for converting light directly into electricity (“Chasing the Sun”) are getting a boost from the federal stimulus money. And researchers are finding ways to increase the efficiency of solar cells (“More Efficient, and Cheaper, Solar Cells”) and are discovering new photovoltaic materials to make solar power cheaper (“Mining Fool’s Gold for Solar”). And although progress on nuclear power is moving slowly, some advances on the horizon could help this low-carbon source replace fossil fuels (“TR10: Traveling-Wave Reactor”). Researchers even fired up the world’s largest laser system–one that’s the size of a football stadium–for experiments that could lead to a new form of fusion (“Igniting Fusion”).
Last, and almost certainly least, researchers have decided to look beyond the conventional sources of renewable energy–solar, wind, and waves–to hamsters. Researchers at Georgia Tech fitted the rodents with zinc-oxide nanowire jackets (“Harnessing Hamster Power with a Nanogenerator”), and watched as they generated an electrical current while scratching themselves and running on a wheel. See a video of the powerful hamsters here.