Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What invention do you want to see most in the future?

So Science week day 2. Todays question is

What invention do you want to see most in the future?

Inventions of the future is a very tricky question to answer. Because it takes place in our current understanding. Back in the 19th century a futurologist predicted that the streets of New York would be at the current rate of growth be 6 feet deep in horse dung. The thought that a invention such as the motorcar could come along and totally change the way we travel could not be seen. Much of science is involved in improving what we know about. Take laptops.

At the moment one of the many trust of research on laptops is about trying to get longer life out of the batteries, This is done by cutting down on the power need to work the computer. And this has been successful. But the interesting thing is that the obvious avenue of progress i.e actually improving the battery has been slow. The dry cell battery that we use in most products to day has been pretty much the same since it was invented in 1800 by Volta (Guess what the called after him) and hasn't changed much since then.

More so then ever do we need batteries. With climate change and energy security so vital in the world today. Renewable energies are big news. However they have a major flaw. They are variable energy sources. Some days the wind blows other days the wind does not. TO over come this batteries are needed. The main type of energy storage used is pumped storage which Ireland has one at Turlough Hill in Wicklow. At night time less energy is used then during the day, but it is inefficient to turn down power stations. So the solution is to use the energy to pump water up a hill to a reservoir at night, then drop it back down through some turbines during the day to get back the energy. To use this however to cover all our renewable energy would be impractical. Basically we would need an awful lot of these stations.

But there are other types of storage systems being developed around the world. Flow batteries which work a bit like car batteries save with the ability to once charged pump the chemicals out so they can be stored in cheaper tanks. Hydrogen Cells which are the big favs at the mo would basically be using electricity to split water in to hydrogen and oxygen. And then re-combing them, (for instance by burning) to get back the energy.

There are other storage forms of energy that are being investigated such as flywheel storage. Basically storing energy in rotating disks. Superconducting Magnetic Energy Storage(SMES). Storing energy in superconductors. But all these have advantages and disadvantages and as of yet none seem to be offering the super answer.

So to answer the question. What invention would I like to see in the future. There is many inventions I would like to see. A room temperature super conductor for one. Much of the problems of all energy sources is the losses and resistances that they have. If super conductors could be used much of this would be not lost. Also indeed the SMES type battery would lose it is major impediment. It would revolutionize the world we live in. Everything these days uses power to minimize that power needed, would do so much for the world.

But That is the thing with science we don't know where it can take us. My choice of future is based very much on the past and the present. Like the guy in the 19th century my take on the question is based on my take on the present. But Science is not about the present it is not about the future. Most science is not invention it is discovery the answers to most of our problems are out there we just have to find them. So I can speculate all I want about the future but what happens in the future, what the greatest invention of the future maybe be, maybe be something we can never imagine. But some day someone will imagine it.

1 comment:

Thriftcriminal said...

I'd like to see the invention of an economic system that is not reliant upon the false assumption of endless growth being available to drive it. Do none of these people believe in equilibrium? Is it all lag, log, stationary, decline?