1. Solar Glass
America would need to find a space the size of Rhode Island just for wind turbines if it were to run on natural power alone. But what if we didn’t need that much space?
Solar glass will let us turn every window into a source of clean and natural energy. Every building window, car door, patio sliding door, and bus terminal wall has the potential to capture energy already beating down on Earth every day.
The beauty lies in how much glass we already use. We can phase in solar glass without making any significant changes to our infrastructure or lifestyles. Who knows—we might even be able to power our phones this way, given enough time. Source: Extreme Tech
2. Solar Lamps
A more specialized version of solar panel technology, solar lamps represent one of the most intuitive ways to make infrastructure power itself. Imagine how much energy it takes to power our highway system, let alone an entire city. A single lamp running on solar energy could save anywhere from 8-12 hours of energy per day.
Don’t start counting the lamps on your street… but you get the idea. Solar lamps are also great for the home, and they’re affordable. Like all revolutionary technologies, that’s the key to spreading an idea across the world—automobiles, computers, and the Internet. It’s about access, and solar panels have nailed it. Source: The Guardian
The unsung heroes of world-changing technology, LED lights have significantly improved society’s energy consumption levels without us even realizing it. Light sources account for 15% of the world’s energy consumption and 5% of greenhouse gas emissions. Now imagine cutting that down by 75% just with LEDs. It’s so simple in execution that many people don’t even realize they use LEDs.
Just remember the number “25.” These light-emitting diodes (LEDs) use around 25% of the energy it takes to power traditional incandescent light bulbs, and they can also last up to 25 times longer, too. Sources: SF Gate Home Guides and The U.S. Department of Energy
4. Nuclear Fusion Power
In a world struggling to abandon its dependency on fossil fuels, there’s one technology in development that almost sounds too good to be true: nuclear fusion. Fusion power offers vast amounts of clean energy with a near limitless fuel source and virtually zero carbon emissions. There are teams of researchers around the world and billions of dollars being spent on making sure it will kick off.
It is planned that by around 2021, Wendelstein 7-X, a test reactor in Germany, will be able to operate for up to 30 minutes duration. Sources: Phys.org
Who thought the slimy green stuff underneath the lakeside pier could help save the world? Even stranger—that this nasty stuff could curb excessive carbon dioxide emissions? Not so much a technology as an accidental saving grace, a team of British scientists discovered that melting ice caps released iron into the ocean currents, spreading it around the world.
That iron feeds algae, which sucks up carbon dioxide before sinking to the bottom of the sea, locking away the substance for centuries. That’s not a permanent solution by any means, but the pattern could buy precious time for humanity to find one.
Even better: Florida-based company Algenol plans to create affordable energy by extracting ethanol from algae—much in the same way that we extract ethanol from grapes. In fact, algae produces ethanol approximately 50 times faster than land plants, according to the company’s CEO, Paul Woods. Sources: CNBC and Daily Mail
6. Osmotic Power
Imagine that could not only pull freshwater from saltwater, but also generate energy in the process. That’s exactly what osmotic power does. Make no mistake—desalination is both possible and scalable.
Why not create power in the process of bringing fresh water to the world’s population? This is a classic example of how the world’s changing environmental, energy, and consumption needs can be solved with multiple solutions working in tandem. Sources: Phys.org and Hydro Quebec
7. Carbon Capture
Canada turned on the world’s first carbon capture plant in Alberta. It still burns fossil fuels, yet it’s projected to cut emissions by 90%.
That sounds like an oxymoron, but the plant traps the carbon dioxide underground before it has a chance to escape into the atmosphere.
The first power plant could reduce carbon emissions by one million tons per year, equivalent to removing 250,000 vehicles from our roads. Imagine how many proverbial cars we could take off the road with more plants like this around the world? Source: The Guardian
8. Passivhaus Principles
“There’s around 48 million people living below the poverty line. In a given month, if it’s too cold, they might need to choose between heating and eating.” – Dan Hines, DC Habitat
That’s a powerful statement, and it doesn’t even account for the rest of the world living in similar conditions (or worse).
The core idea is that houses conserve heat just like a Thermos. The heat stays inside the house to keep energy consumption at an all-time low—and the associated costs, too. The Passivhaus principles could reduce that consumption by up to 90%. What began as a project for low-income families could become a standard practice for house designs of the future.
125.8 million American households existed in 2016, according to Statista. If every house followed these principles, they could all run on enough energy for 12.58 million households. Source: National Geographic
One of the fundamental problems with energy is that you lose it while transmitting it over great distances. That’s why we need power plants close to major population centres. But a new kind of cable may just let us connect distant power sources with cities that need the power—and for pennies on the dollar when combined with cost-efficient energy sources, like wind turbines.
In fact, Oklahoma plans to export its wind-generated energy to nine million electrical consumers in the Tennessee Valley with a 684.5 mile (1,100-kilometre) cable. And that’s the basis of the supergrid. We can generate massive amounts of clean energy in remote areas of the globe for use in more habitable areas. It could change the way we create infrastructure for the world. Source: The Economist
10. Water From Poop
It’s the only crappy technology on this list, but for good reasons.
All joking aside, two billion people use latrines that are never drained properly—in turn spreading waterborne diseases that kill upwards of six to eight million of them. It’s a serious hazard to the quality of life for a huge chunk of the world’s population, and this technology can take significant steps toward solving it.
The Janicki Omniprocessor, a steam-driven, self-powered waste processor takes the one thing no one really wants (poop) and turns it into the one thing everyone needs (water…duh). 783 million people lack access to drinking water as well. This technology could solve both problems at a regional level by turning the liability of poor sanitation into the advantage of access to drinking water. Source: Gates Notes and the United Nations
Since you’re probably in the middle of a bathroom break as you read this and what you just deposited in the toilet now has you thinking you might be able to help save mankind, here’s your reward: three astounding bonus technologies you might see helping you and your neighbors out in the not-too-distant future.
Just one atom thick, graphene is the strongest known material in the world and conducts more electricity than copper. Here are some proposed uses for the new material:
- Filtering salt out of ocean water to make it drinkable
- Creating lightning-fast electrical chargers
- Nearly unbreakable touch screens
- Revolutionizing biomedical procedures and implants
Like the Bronze and Iron Ages, graphene’s strength and wide applicability might come to define an era. From life-saving devices to better headphones, graphene could come to underpin everything we know. Sources: Manchester University and Gizmodo
Geo-engineering is one of the riskiest technologies on this list. While not quite as cutting-edge as it sounds—and yet to be proven as a positive force for humanity—there is far too much potential to ignore.
The core idea is to alter certain patterns or environments of the planet to ensure its long-term survival (and ours). Here are some examples of what geo-engineering would look like:
- Cooling the atmosphere by spraying sulfur into the atmosphere, mimicking volcano ash
- Cooling the Arctic circle by injecting aerosols into the air, keeping ice caps in tact
- Making our clouds more reflective to manage the Sun’s UV rays
- Planting more trees on a global scale
- Depositing dissolved rocks into the ocean to trap more carbon dioxide
But there are serious concerns with geo-engineering. If we block UV rays from the sun, this could directly impede agricultural production in certain parts of the world, or dry out entire regions of the world.
Anywhere from 1.2 to 4.1 billion people could see negative effects from geo-engineering, even if it does save the world from a disastrous four-degree rise in global temperature. Despite the consequences, we might need to begin geo-engineering the planet’s atmosphere anyway. Sources: Scientific American, BBC News, and The Oxford Geo-Engineering Program
13. Underwater Turbines
The ocean’s currents are powerful, and now we have the technology to harness it. Scientists in the UK successfully delivered energy to a power grid in 2007, and companies exist to develop the technology for commercial scalability—companies like Aquantis.
Wind and solar energy dominate the headlines, but our oceans could cover 9% of America’s energy needs by 2030. Ocean power could catch on faster than solar and wind technologies now that we’ve seen they can work at an affordable level. Keep an eye out for ocean turbines in the news! Sources: New Scientist and Bloomberg
Think we should add a world-changing technology to the list? Let us know in the comments below.