Portable electronics and electric cars both need a steady supply of lithium, and while the world has plenty of it (at least for the foreseeable future), hardly any is produced in the U.S. That is about to change, as a California startup aims to produce lithium from the waste product of another 21st century new-energy technology: Geothermal power plants.
Masayoshi Son, entrepreneurial founder of Softbank, Japan's third-largest mobile network, and according to Forbes, the nation's richest man, unveiled a vague but undeniably ambitious plan to completely change Japan's energy infrastructure. His plan, which relies heavily on wind and geothermal power and abandons nuclear, would, he says, shift the majority of Japan's energy sources to renewable energy by 2030.
Common geothermal electricity setups generally involve extracting hot water from subterranean rock formations deep inside the Earth’s crust and using that heat to turn turbines. Common carbon sequestration schemes involve pumping carbon dioxide from the surface deep into the ground to prevent it from becoming atmospheric CO2. I think you can see where we’re going here.
Hoping to take advantage of its violent volcanic heritage, Iceland is contemplating building the world’s biggest undersea electric cable, so it can sell geothermal power to other European nations. If it works, it could export enough electricity to power 1.25 million homes.
A Navy-funded thermal engine bobbing off the coast of Hawaii is accomplishing a rare feat -- it produces more energy than it consumes. Though it's not quite a perpetual motion machine, it could provide scientists or the Navy with a perpetual presence on the seas. The engine is attached to an unmanned underwater vessel, called SOLO-TREC (for Sounding Oceanographic Lagrangian Observer -- Thermal RECharging), and uses the energy of the ocean to derive a practically limitless energy supply.
SOLO-TREC is outfitted with a series of tubes full of waxy phase-change materials. As the float encounters warm temperatures near the ocean's surface, the materials expand; when it dives and the waters grow cooler, the materials contract. The expansion and contraction pressurizes oil, which drives a hydraulic motor.