The quest for an alternative to fossil fuels is possibly the greatest challenge of our generation. The effects of our fossil-fuel economy on the environment have been clearly documented and, if we take no action, we face an uncertain future. It is therefore vital that we all apply our best efforts to reversing the effects of climate change to protect our world for the generations to come.
Figure 1: The quest for an alternative to fossil fuels is possibly the greatest challenge of our generation.
For centuries, our industrialised economy has relied on the burning of non-renewable resources. Coal, oil and gas are extracted at great cost, and their use introduces enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It is this carbon dioxide that is creating the climate change that we must fight.
Searching for Alternatives
In the search for alternatives to traditional fuels, one of the greatest sources of free energy is our sun. The energy that we receive from the sun creates weather, and its gravitational effects are responsible for tides and waves. These are all sources from which we can obtain clean electricity, and this energy is central to our future efforts.
The All Electric Society has at its heart the clean energy that can be obtained from renewable sources. Replacing conventional power stations, this energy can be harnessed by huge solar or wind power installations, using the established electricity distribution network. This is not the only source, however, and new technology is allowing users and consumers to take greater control of their own energy needs. The rise of microgeneration enables homeowners and businesses to play an active role in the energy economy. The All Electric Society takes this even further with the concept of sector coupling, which sees the breaking down of the barrier between energy producers and consumers.
However, simply creating clean energy cannot provide the complete solution. Electricity is not always the best energy source for all applications. A perfect example can be found in the transportation industry. Petrol and diesel are useful fuels for vehicles because they provide a high energy density. They can deliver a lot of energy from a relatively small volume and weight.
The Limitations of Batteries
Modern battery technology is providing the energy density that makes electric vehicles a realistic and practical alternative to fossil fuels. Today’s automotive manufacturers are creating electric vehicles that rival conventional cars in both range and performance. Fast charging technology has made electric a practical choice for family cars, and manufacturers are creating networks of dedicated stations, capable of charging electric cars quickly. With these technologies, we are seeing huge growth in the adoption of electric vehicles.
However, other sectors of the transportation industry require energy densities that makes battery solutions impractical such as shipping aviation. However, the All Electric Society creates other, exciting opportunities for the future. Batteries charged with clean electricity do not represent the only solution. Instead, clean electricity will form the core of the energy economy. Electricity will be used to electrolyse water to create hydrogen, sometimes known as e-hydrogen.
The Usefulness of Hydrogen
Hydrogen is a clean alternative to fossil fuels. When used as a fuel, hydrogen is very clean, combining with oxygen to create pure water. However, hydrogen offers even greater utility. Hydrogen can be combined with carbon extracted from captured carbon dioxide to create a range of more convenient power sources. These fuels, such as methanol, kerosene or ammonia, can be stored in liquid or gaseous form. This means that they are more suitable for use in sectors such as heavy transport and aviation, where the energy density provided by such fuels makes them a more attractive solution than batteries.
The portability of e-fuels also makes it easier to deliver power to places where generation of electricity is difficult or inefficient. Using pipelines or bulk transport, e-fuels can be carried to remote locations and used to create power in a process known as re-electrification. In this way, consumers can benefit from low-carbon energy even in applications that that cannot create their own solar or wind electricity.
Figure 2: Electricity can create the solutions for the All Electric Society
The foundation for the All Electric Society is therefore that electricity can provide the power we need, whether in the form of batteries, hydrogen or more complex chemicals created with carbon captured from the atmosphere. The result is a circular economy that will greatly reduce our reliance on non-renewable sources and minimise the pollution of our atmosphere.
Adopting New Technologies
While we can all play a role as individuals by choosing how we satisfy our energy needs, it will take concerted action by businesses and governments to affect the greatest change. Phoenix Contact is a manufacturer that is committed to the All Electric Society. Not only is Phoenix Contact pursuing the reduction of its own effects on our environment, but its technology is providing the efficient connectivity that will be vital to making sector coupling become a reality.
Figure 3: Liquid-cooled connectors for fast charging of electric vehicles from Phoenix Contact
The All Electric Society offers a genuine vision of the future, a future in which our impact on the environment will be significantly reduced even as our demand for energy increases. Making this vision a reality will require partners who share these goals and ideals. Phoenix Contact has always been a corporation with a strong sense of the environment and a desire to act upon its responsibility to protect our fragile planet. Click here for more information about The All Electric Society.