Ever since I got my first solar-powered LCD watch in the late 1970s, I’ve been a fan of solar power, but what has amazed me in the 40’ish years since then is the rather pathetic advances we’ve made in solar panel efficiency. In 1954 Bell Labs achieved an energy conversion efficiency rate of 6%, then 25 years later we about doubled that, but in the 40 years since, we’ve only really seen another 50% increase to about 19% although more expensive panels can now get you 25%-30% with the super expensive ones that go into space getting nearly 50%. Another problem with solar panels and “green energy” in general is that the ecological impact of the manufacture and disposal of the components has a devastating environmental impact.
Electric vehicles have an incredibly large environmental impact from the mining and refining of the elements required for the battery and the lack of electrical infrastructure that uses clean energy, which Nuclear power is the cleanest but is often vilified. Then you get to the end of life for the battery and while there is always talk about recycling these batteries, there actually isn’t much that is currently happening and the breakdown process for these elements is likely going to have a very high environmental impact itself, which usually gets ignored when evaluating the cost.
These things have gotten me interested in alternatives like ultra/supercapacitors for use in hybrid style vehicles as the capacitors don’t have nearly the environmental impact and have a much longer life. I was initially very interested in EEStor and their solid state polymer capacitor for electricity storage that was supposed to change the world, this was back in 2004 and the company just never seemed to deliver, it was very bizarre to watch year after year of promises. Over some years, the early electric car maker ZENN Motor Company saw the potential and invested in EEStor and eventually took it over in 2013 and changed its name to EEStor in 2015 to reflect their change in focus to energy storage from electric cars. In November 2019, EEStor announced a merger with UK based FWG who had been working for some years on a patented “Ink” that enabled a carbon-based framework for replacements to lead-based batteries and supercapacitors.
So the key to a real “green” energy revolution is to look at the entire ecosystem around electrical-based replacement systems. California for many years now has had rolling brownouts during the summer when too many A/C units are running due to lack of capacity. Shutting down existing nuclear plants, not approving new ones, killing natural gas off as an option is just contributing to the lack of power on the grid. Now to make matters worse, electric companies are turning off power when we get a strong wind. How are you going to drive out of the fire zone in your Tesla if it is out of power and you can’t charge it?
The government wants to force us to go from step 1 to step 10 without working through the intervening steps. Jumping to electric vehicles when there isn’t the infrastructure for it or any concern with the huge environmental impact of those lithium-ion batteries or the solar panels they are hoping to charge them with, is foolhardy. This is what fascinates me so much with FWG and what they have been building with simple to create graphene components in their supercapacitor and lead battery replacement technology. They are literally printing these sheets on a printing press and you can stack them to get more energy density.
This is the kind of thing we need to focus on as part of any “green” efforts, first make the components as cleanly as possible so that their creation or destruction isn’t a massive burden on the environment. Then, look at how you power it because electricity isn’t free and if you don’t build infrastructure to generate the power for all the electric cars you want to have, then you make the problem even worse. A more intelligent hybrid engine design makes more sense than trying to jump to full electric and innovative ways to store power that are friendlier to the environment is how we should be thinking. What Tesla and Samsung and various Solid-State Battery initiatives are doing is just more of the same frankly. These rare earth elements are exactly that, rare, mining them is dirty, cleaning them up is dirty, recycling them is dirty. As you look at electric or hybrid vehicles or solar panels for your home, look at the entire ecosystem of the components instead of a poorly informed feel-good buying decision.
This piece is meant to inform as well as act as a thought piece, please let me know your thoughts and ideas in the comments.