Technology Direction May Change Over Time

There are times when there is an established technology that undergoes a modification.  There are also times when different technology approaches compete.  In the early days of distributed electricity, Direct Current (DC) came to forefront.  It was understood and built on knowledge from working with various types of sources, some of which we variations of the battery.  Alternating Current (AC) had a more complex insertion into every day life due to the fact, that AC did not have the mathematics that would enable the creation of a supply system for AC power.  Nikola Tesla created the ideas and the rationale on how to develop the AC system in existence.  Reference 1 provides a background on Nikola Tesla.

The first automobile, which was gasoline powered, was patented by Carl Benz [Ref. 2].   The first electric power vehicle ran using a lead-acid battery and was introduced in 1888 [Ref. 3].  The first steam powered automobile was introduced in 1769.  The vehicles were restricted to people with significant funds, until Henry Ford created the mass assembly line.   By this time, the ability to have fuel sources accessible and the reliability of the vehicle power system created the use of the gasoline engine. 

We have two similar situations that involve sources of energy.  The current growth in demand for electrical power to drive both cloud storage farms and provide enough energy for the genAI computational efforts are straining the existing energy system.  The other challenge is the electric vehicles and their need for energy but require a substantial time to refill the depleted batteries.

The sources of energy are mentioned first, because without that source, batteries can not be replenished.  If one considers the various types of environmentally friendly operation, there are four types.  Solar uses the energy from the sun and creates DC, which can be converted to AC.  Wind power employs capturing energy from wind moving a turbine to generate electricity.  Hydro power (dams) use the natural flow of water in a river or other stream of water, to turn turbines to create electricity. 

Of these four types, there are only two that are continuous, water and nuclear.  Granted that water generation does require the stream to be flowing.  There was the completion of a new nuclear power plant in Georgia [Ref. 5].  As has been the history of nuclear power, the cost overrun and time delay from the original estimate.  This power plant is capable of continuously supplying enough power for 500,000 homes for 60 to 80 years.  One issue is that it takes too long to obtain all the permits and actually build a plant. 

A different type of nuclear reactor is being developed and are called Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) [Ref. 6].  The advantages the SMRs are many in the fact the unit is smaller, has the ability be to located in smaller areas, can be linked with adjacent reactors to increase power, and can have much of the construction done separately.  Currently, there are more than 80 of these type units being developed in countries around the world.  There are also other types of nuclear reactors being developed from research accomplished in the 1980s.

That still leaves the issue of energy storage once it is received.  Much work has been done on Lithium based batteries.  Various chemical compositions are being investigated to reduce the current issue with Lithium based batteries.  One large disadvantage is the time to recharge the batteries.  There is an alternate storage material being investigated: iron-air batteries [Ref. 7].  The advantage of the iron-air battery is that it can have a slow discharge of days.  That provides the potential for employing this type of battery to capture solar and wind generated power and keep it stored for days, which Lithium based batteries can not.  Iron is heavy and seems to indicate that the most favorable application would be stationary power storage.  Weight aside, the iron-air battery can be recharged with much higher power levels than other types of batteries.  Is this another evolution similar to DC to AC?    


  7. Llewellyn King Column

About Walt

I have been involved in various aspects of nanotechnology since the late 1970s. My interest in promoting nano-safety began in 2006 and produced a white paper in 2007 explaining the four pillars of nano-safety. I am a technology futurist and is currently focused on nanoelectronics, single digit nanomaterials, and 3D printing at the nanoscale. My experience includes three startups, two of which I founded, 13 years at SEMATECH, where I was a Senior Fellow of the technical staff when I left, and 12 years at General Electric with nine of them on corporate staff. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, an MBA from James Madison University, and a B.S. in Physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

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