Here are several groundbreaking technologies that could make our society much greener. Whether or not they are enough to solve our problems is a question you’ll have to decide for yourself.
1. 3D Printing
Manufacturing has made many incremental developments since the dawn of Industrialization, but few complete revolutions. Manufacturing might be ready for a major change with 3D printing. Instead of starting with a block of material and cutting away to the final product, “additive manufacturing” is far more efficient in its use of materials. The materials for the final product are simply loaded in cartridges like laser toners and the printer lays it down where it is needed. 3D printing could also allow manufacturing “on-site,” decreasing one major environmental problem — transportation.
If 3D printing takes off, the most complicated part of manufacturing right in your home might be finding where to buy printer ink. On the largest scale, huge 3D printers are now capable of extruding concrete, making it possible to construct buildings without the huge waste that has been necessary.
2. Solar Cells
Powering our lives with solar energy has been a dream for decades. Progress has been made as prices slowly fall through advancing technology and increased production. Still, solar power has never come close to delivering on its potential or even making a significant difference on the power grid. One company figured out how to spray on metal nanoparticles embedded in a transparent material that functions as a solar cell. The material is even transparent, making it possible to turn existing windows into solar cells.
Another company reconfigured solar cells into small, sparkling units. The goal is to turn solar cells from eyesores into a decorative material. If they actually look good, maybe people will consider adding more solar cells to their houses.
3. Geothermal Reconfigured
Ever wondered why you pay to heat your house all winter and then pay to cool the same space a few months later? An innovative campus in Switzerland pumps their heat underground in the summer, only to use the heat again in the winter. The result is an improvement on geothermal, limiting waste during both seasons of the year through wise energy investment.
4. Liquid Metal Batteries
This technology has existed in some form for a long time, but one researcher is now reconfiguring the concept for large scale use in the power grid. Because renewable power generation like solar and wind has large peaks and troughs, liquid batteries could store power for low times, reducing waste and eliminating dirtier power generation like coal. These liquid metal batteries are also very cheap and made from elements that are readily available. If they could be deployed on a large scale, the positive impact on the power grid and on the environment would be immense.
Each of these technologies exists already and they are growing quickly. None have yet reached anything near their full potential, however. This is what makes them exciting for the future, and another reason to keep a close eye on progress as time goes on. As these and other green technologies have an impact, our world could begin to look like a very difference place!