How can we better use technology to preserve the environment?

I'm part of a "Technology Battle Royale" that will be hosted by the Ninja from "Ask A Ninja." One of the questions for this event is "How can we better use technology to preserve the environment?"

Yes, I know this sounds ridiculous, and it is. More links once the website is live.

In the meantime, what do you think? Help me answer the question.

This is the second of two questions for this week, the first is here.

The battle site is now live here:
Disclosure: The FM site is being sponsored by Toshiba, who is also an advertiser on Instructables.

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More rockets flying into the sun for safe disposal of nuclear waste. Let's use that fusion-powered trash can of light!
Just an FYI, it's more energy efficient to send nuclear waste to an infinite orbit (ie, a parabolic orbit where the waste has 0 velocity relative to earth) than it is to send it into the sun. Eric, I don't think the issue is to get technology to help the enviroment - that already happens in that engineers and designers have a (albeit nonaltruistic) motivation to make their products more efficient: efficiency sells. The real issue is how do we get that new technology into the hands of the people. It makes no difference if you can create a car that gets 100 mpg if no one drives it.
100 mpg i would drive it in a heartbeat!!!
Kiteman10 years ago
It's about thoughtful application of a range of technologies, with less emphasis on profits.

"People" (the mass-media-led-sheep) tend to expect "Them" (the lab-coated scientists portrayed in the media) to invent a single cure-all invention in the nick of time to cure global warming, lower sea levels and wash whiter-then-white all at the flick of a single switch.

Take my favourite big-bear, energy:

"People" know that we need to use less fossil fuels (GW debate aside, we know they're running out). However, they only ever see one cure at a time to the problem. Ask a random passer-by how to use less fossil fuels, and they will say "wind power", because it's visible, in the press, in the landscape, wind turbines are an iconic image.

But wind power doesn't work without the wind, same as PV doesn't work at night. The best answer is to use a range of energy resources, most of which use proven technologies, each to fill a niche, each to help a little bit -

  • wind
  • off-shore wave (eg Pelamis)
  • on-shore wave (eg Limpet)
  • tidal barrage
  • deep-ocean turbine
  • hydroelectric dams
  • tap landill for methane
  • ferment methane from sewage (animal and human)
  • I found out recently that some people in Africa collect poo sticks - animal dung on sticks - as fuel for home fires and stoves. Having sat around an elephant dung campfire, I know that works.
  • solar electric
  • solar thermal - water heaters, green houses, solar chimneys
  • geothermal
  • biomass (burning food-crop wastes - stems etc)
Plus increasing efficiency of existing technologies.

Why do we never hear about all of these at once, though? Business. Even though the purveyors of these alternative resources are genuinely trying to help, they also need to turn a profit, which means they need to promote their own scheme at the expense of others.

"People" need to be told about all the possibilities, and shown how to exploit them easily and cheaply, in order for technology to preserve the environment.
LasVegas Kiteman10 years ago
The problem with wind power is that it can only supply a maximum of 10% of the grid without adversely effecting its quality. That is, if there were enough practical wind zones to supply that much.
Kiteman LasVegas10 years ago
See what I mean? That could easily be read as "we shouldn't bother with wind because it's not up to the job", when it should be read as "wind can do part of the job, and these other things can do the rest".

It also depends on context - hydroelectric is probably a waste of time in Texas, but a huge part of the solution in Scandinavian countries.

In the UK, wind (esp offshore) and wave between them could provide the whole of the UK's requirements, until a spell of calm weather.

So, use wind for 10%, surround the country in Pelamis snakes, cover the desert in solar chimneys, cover the roofs in PV, put lids on all the landfills to trap the methane, ferment all the shed-bred livestock manure for more methane, incinerate waste for more energy and bury a huge geotheral plant under Yellowstone (which cool down the megavolcano a bit as well).
LasVegas Kiteman10 years ago
I didn't mean it that way. Wind power is great, but it could never find itself on the top of the list. Wind could not supply the whole of the UKs requirement for the very reason I mentioned. Wind cannot supply a constant supply even in the most ideal locations like Hawaii, where it's used more than anywhere else.
hawii wind only? geothermal wave tidal hmmm make hawii a powerplant all in one place.
Kiteman LasVegas10 years ago
I knew that, but my point was that the less-than-scientifically-literate tabloid-public could easily be led to believe you did. The answer is, and always will be, to use a broad mix of resources.
tap kansas windy as hell here all the time
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