In the 21st century, the quest for sustainable and environmentally friendly energy sources has become a pressing global concern. As the world grapples with the challenges of climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions, the search for greener solutions to produce energy has taken center stage. In this article, we will delve into five promising initiatives that hold the potential to revolutionize the way we generate clean energy: osmotic energy, solar energy, bioluminescence, nuclear fusion, and green hydrogen.
How to produce energy in an environmentally friendly way? This is the question of the 21st Century. As we navigate the challenges of the century, the search for greener solutions to produce energy has become paramount. Many companies are investigating this area and developing initiatives to revolutionize the way we generate electricity. In this article, we have selected five promising technologies across various areas that hold great potential.
1/ The Power of Osmotic Energy
Osmotic energy, also known as salinity gradient energy, utilizes the natural phenomenon of osmosis to generate electricity. By exploiting the difference in salt concentration between saltwater and freshwater, osmotic power plants can produce clean and sustainable energy. Through the use of membranes, the movement of ions across these barriers creates a pressure difference that drives turbines, generating electricity. This renewable energy source has immense potential, especially in coastal regions where rivers meet the sea, offering a promising solution for clean power generation.
French start-up Sweetch Energy has achieved a remarkable milestone by converting delta seawater into electrical energy. With preparations underway for a pilot site near Marseille, this groundbreaking innovation holds immense potential to fulfill the energy requirements of the city, which is home to nearly one million residents. The start-up’s accomplishment was further bolstered by securing 6 million euros in funding last September.
For Nicolas Heuzé, the founder of the company:
“Our focus is on the large-scale deployment of osmotic energy in deltas and estuaries, starting in the Rhône region of France. The potential for installation is approximately 500 megawatts, equivalent to half a nuclear power plant, which could power around 1.5 million people. The pilot plant, located near Marseille in Port Saint Louis, is expected to be operational by the end of this year or early next year, generating tens of kilowatts of power. The initial investment for this phase is three million euros. The goal is to quickly validate the technology, its functionality, and its real-world performance.
2/ Illuminating Possibilities with Bioluminescence
Bioluminescence, the natural phenomenon of light production in living organisms, offers a unique avenue for clean energy generation. Scientists are exploring ways to harness the chemical reactions that occur within bioluminescent organisms, such as fireflies and certain marine species, to produce sustainable light sources. By incorporating bioluminescent proteins into lighting technologies, we could potentially reduce energy consumption and rely less on conventional electric lighting, leading to a greener and more energy-efficient future.
In a partnership that began in 2019, the city of Rambouillet in France has joined forces with Glowee, a French startup focused on harnessing the potential of bioluminescence to develop sustainable lighting technology. This innovative company has devised a method for cultivating bioluminescent bacteria, known as Alivibrio Fisherii, which emit a natural bluish glow without being toxic or pathogenic.
The bioluminescent microorganisms are housed within specially designed plastic tubes that function like miniature aquariums. By providing the bacteria with sufficient nourishment and oxygen, their bioluminescent metabolic reaction is activated, producing light. Conversely, the light can be “turned off” by restricting the airflow into the saltwater tanks, causing the organisms to enter an anaerobic state and extinguishing the light source.
As a demonstration of its feasibility, the startup installed curb lanterns utilizing this technology in Rambouillet’s André Thome Square in January.
Woodlight, another French company, has embarked on another endeavor: transferring bioluminescence from marine microorganisms to plants. Established in Illkirch in 2018, Woodlight is currently in the research phase, working towards bio-engineering plants capable of emitting sufficient light to potentially replace traditional public lighting systems in cities.
3/ Embracing the Sun’s Potential with Solar Energy
Solar energy has emerged as one of the most abundant and accessible renewable energy sources. Photovoltaic (PV) panels convert sunlight directly into electricity, while solar thermal systems harness the sun’s heat for various applications. With advancements in solar technology, such as improved efficiency and reduced costs, solar energy has become a viable option for both large-scale and residential use. By harnessing the power of the sun, we can tap into an inexhaustible source of clean energy and significantly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
Tunis-based renewable energy company TuNur is spearheading a transformative solar energy project that aims to generate 4.5 GW of power. Through the implementation of three submarine cables connecting Tunisia with Italy, France, and Malta, the electricity produced will be seamlessly integrated into the European grid. This substantial capacity has the potential to supply energy to approximately two million European households.
The TuNur solar complex will encompass approximately 180 square kilometers of land. It will feature an extensive arrangement of parabolic mirrors, solar photovoltaics, and solar cells, strategically positioned to capture and concentrate the intense sunlight of the Saharan desert. Concentrated solar power (CSP) towers, towering up to 200 meters, will utilize this concentrated sunlight to generate electricity. The towers will store heat in molten salts, which will subsequently heat steam, driving turbines and producing power. Thanks to the salts’ exceptional heat retention capabilities, electricity generation can continue even after the sun sets, ensuring a steady and reliable energy supply.
The initial phase of the project entails the construction of a 250 MW CSP tower and the installation of the transmission cable to Malta. This stage is estimated to cost around 85 million euros, with an additional 1.6 billion euros allocated for the cable infrastructure.
We had the opportunity to speak with Daniel Rich, CEO of TuNur, who shared insights into the project’s progress. Rich revealed,
“We anticipate reaching the final investment decision for the project’s initial phase by 2024. Commercial operation and the delivery of the first power into the European network are projected to commence by the end of 2027. We have already secured a preliminary agreement with a leading electricity buyer in the European market.”
Last week, French railway company SNCF announced the creation of SNCF Renouvelables, a new subsidiary that expands its scope into the field of solar energy production. The group has identified one thousand hectares where it plans to install photovoltaic panels by 2030. These ground-mounted solar power plants could potentially meet 15 to 20% of its current electricity needs. Further advancements in solar panel technology could lead to an additional 9,000 hectares by 2050.
4/ Unlocking the Power of Nuclear Fusion
Nuclear fusion, often referred to as the “holy grail” of energy production, holds tremendous promise as a clean and virtually limitless energy source. Unlike nuclear fission, which is currently used in nuclear power plants, fusion releases energy by combining light atomic nuclei, such as hydrogen isotopes, under extreme conditions. If successfully harnessed, nuclear fusion could provide a sustainable and abundant source of power without the drawbacks associated with traditional nuclear energy.
While fusion generates vast amounts of energy, it is more stable than fission and produces significantly less short-lived radioactive waste. The challenge lies in achieving the extreme temperatures required for fusion reactions, exceeding 100 million Celsius on Earth. Different technologies, such as magnetic confinement and inertial confinement, are being explored to contain and control the superheated plasma.
While Europe has been a hotspot for these initiatives, a significant breakthrough last winter has recently emerged from the United States. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility in California (LLNL) has achieved a remarkable milestone, producing 1.5 times more energy than required for the fusion reaction.
Traditionally, nuclear fusion experiments consumed more energy than they generated. However, the LLNL physicists successfully generated 3.15 megajoules of energy using 192 lasers, while only requiring 2.05 megajoules to trigger the reaction. This unprecedented net energy gain holds significant promise for the development of a safe and sustainable energy infrastructure.
5/ Green Hydrogen: Fueling the Future
Hydrogen, known as the universe’s most abundant element, holds great potential as a replacement for oil due to its emission-free properties. However, the majority of hydrogen currently used in industries is derived from fossil fuels. An alternative method involves producing hydrogen from electricity generated by nuclear reactors. While not considered entirely green, this process is decarbonized as it does not directly emit carbon dioxide.. Green hydrogen, produced through the electrolysis of water using renewable electricity, is emerging as a key player in the transition to a greener energy landscape.
France and Germany are participating in the HYFLEXPOWER project, a European initiative aiming to provide the grid with green energy derived from hydrogen. The project, funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 Framework Program, involves a consortium of organizations including ENGIE Solutions, Siemens Gas and Power, Centrax, Arttic, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and four European universities. Together, they will construct the world’s first power-to-X-to-power industrial demonstrator equipped with an advanced hydrogen turbine.
Gaël Carayon, ENGIE Solutions Project Manager for HYFLEXPOWER, explains the project’s objective:
“The goal of this project is to advance research on hydrogen applications in the industrial world, as part of the energy transition and to show that it is possible to store electricity in a chemical form, in this case hydrogen, and to return this stored electricity to the network with short lead times and high power. We will use a new technology which is the combustion turbine.”
The HYFLEXPOWER consortium, including Smurfit Kappa, has successfully completed the first stage of its research project on renewable energy at Smurfit Kappa’s Saillat paper mill earlier this year.