THE GREAT CLEAN ENERGY RACE
Clean energy is one of the many new, disruptive technologies of the future... Here's why!
It’s been said, “Who controls the energy can control continents!” With that being said, in order to see what direction clean energy is going in and the technology behind it, we must first take a step back to the past. During the 1970s, the U.S. dollar had been taken off of the gold standard which backed it, while simultaneously, the U.S. agreed with OPEC nations to Peg the U.S. dollar to oil which created what we know now as… The Petrodollar.
Because the price of oil was based on the value of the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve
currency pegged to oil, and the value of the U.S. dollar being backed by the full faith and confidence of consumers not only in America; but globally as well, this would affect oil prices for all other countries.
But now, with the emerging markets of countries like Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, and more, known as (The BRICS), the question of America’s dominance as the world’s reserve currency appears to be uncertain!
The first 5 original flags of the B.R.I.C.S Nations.
The energy of the past was alone in the geopolitical landscape and was the world’s only option, but now, clean and renewable energy is something that may be a global game-changer, not only in terms of finance; but also, dominance in the geo-political arena as well as being voted worldwide as one of the Top Most Disruptive Technologies of 2023.
CLEAN ENERGY AND THE GEOPOLITICAL LANDSCAPE.
"Who controls the energy can control continents"
- Henry Kissinger
It’s hard to talk about clean energy without involving politics, but, clean energy will transform geopolitics—just not necessarily in the ways many of its champions expect https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/world/2021-11-30/geopolitics-energy-green-upheaval. Clean energy’s EXPLOSIVE growth is good news for the global quest to confront climate change, but its geopolitical effects might not be uniformly beneficial https://www.cfr.org/blog/clean-energy-might-reduce-global-warming-what-will-it-do-geopolitics.
In a race to curb climate change, countries are rushing to cut fossil fuels, boost clean energy — and transform their economies in the process. Realizing the energy transition will require navigating several major challenges. These include geopolitical concerns, technological limitations, and financial questions https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/02/heres-why-geopolitics-could-hamper-the-energy-transition/. Hopefully, war won’t be included in these challenges!
The pursuit of discovering cleaner ways to power the globe while reducing emissions has impacted the geopolitical framework, including the rivalry between the US and China. Given China’s near monopoly on many rare-earth materials, including 17 minerals used in numerous industrial and military applications, Beijing is currently poised to reap the lion’s share of the benefits as it leapfrogs the West in the production of electric vehicles (EVs) in lieu of petroleum-powered cars. Indeed, Beijing currently produces 80% of the world’s lithium and 60% of the rare-earth materials required for EV batteries.
As was observed in America’s dependence on foreign entities to produce essential medical supplies at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. dependence on China for its supply of materials critical to manufacturing high-tech products such as EVs, cell phones, computers, solar panels, wind turbines and the F-35 fighter jet (each aircraft requires 415kg of rare-earth materials, according to the US Department of Defense) are forcing the U.S. economic and national security experts to reimagine vulnerable supply chains controlled by unfriendly nations.
In our quest to protect the planet by reducing our carbon footprint, it is important to note that our world currently depends on fossil fuels for 84% of its energy needs. Getting to the Holy Grail of net-zero emissions will be a heavy lift, particularly from a technological and cost-benefit standpoint. According to a recent Wall Street Journal essay, when “chemistry, physics and materials science, as well as carbon capture, hydrogen fuel, digitization, manufacturing, artificial intelligence, robotics, software [and] data analytics” are factored in, the scope of our hurdles is enormous, if not overwhelming.
WHAT EXACTLY IS CLEAN ENERGY?
Clean energy is energy that comes from renewable, zero-emission sources that do not pollute the atmosphere when used, as well as energy saved by energy efficiency measures https://www.twi-global.com/technical-knowledge/faqs/clean-energy. The clean energy industry generates hundreds of billions in economic activity and is expected to continue to grow rapidly in the coming years https://www.energy.gov/clean-energy.
The progress expected over the next eight years will drive down greenhouse gas emissions by about 42%, while also lowering U.S. energy expenditures by at least 4% by 2030 https://www.energystar.gov/about/how_energy_star_protects_environment/clean_energy_future.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR CLEAN ENERGY?
The progress expected over the next eight years will drive down greenhouse gas emissions by about 42%, while also lowering U.S. energy expenditures by at least 4% by 2030. Most experts predict that by as early as 2035, most of our energy demand can be supplied by clean energy.
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) is committed to advancing clean energy technologies and transitioning the United States to a clean energy economy to enhance economic growth, energy independence, and the health and well-being of the American people https://www.energy.gov/eere/why-clean-energy-matters.
Renewable energy has seen considerable growth in recent years; but has a long way to go to achieve a clean energy future that averts the worst effects of the climate crisis.
EXAMPLES OF RENEWABLE ENERGY?
Some examples of renewable energy include wind power, solar power, bioenergy (organic matter burned as a fuel), hydroelectricity (including tidal energy), and geothermal https://www.nationalgrid.com/stories/energy-explained/what-are-different-types-renewable-energy
RENEWABLE VS CARBON FREE.
Most kinds of renewable energy are also “carbon-free”: they do not emit CO2 or other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Because of this, and because renewables like wind and solar power are so popular in climate activism, the terms “renewable energy” and “carbon-free energy” are sometimes confused. But not all renewable energy is carbon-free, and not all carbon-free energy is renewable.
RENEWABLE VS NON-RENEWABLE ENERGY.
Renewable energy is energy that comes from resources that are naturally replenished, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, and geothermal heat https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/ztxwqty. Non-renewable energy comes from sources that will eventually run out or will not be replenished in our lifetimes, such as oil and coal.
BENEFITS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY.
There are many benefits of renewable energy! Some of them include:
• Generating energy that produces no greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and reduces some types of air pollution
• Diversifying energy supply and reducing dependence on imported fuels
• Creating economic development and jobs in manufacturing, installation, and more
• Making electric grids more resilient
• Expanding energy access in developing countries
Helping lower energy bills https://www.epa.gov/statelocalenergy/local-renewable-energy-benefits-and-resources https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/renewable-energy https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/benefits-renewable-energy-use https://www.energy.gov/eere/renewable-energy.
NUCLEAR, DOES URANIUM PRODUCE CO2 EMISSIONS?
Uranium does not produce CO2 emissions directly, but the processes involved in uranium mining, processing, transport, construction, operation, decommissioning, and waste management do https://www.dw.com/en/fact-check-is-nuclear-energy-good-for-the-climate/a-59853315 https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/nuclear/nuclear-power-and-the-environment.php. Therefore, nuclear power is not a zero-emissions energy source, but it has lower emissions than fossil fuels.
The amount of CO2 emissions from uranium depends on several factors, such as the ore grade, the fuel cycle, the reactor type, and the energy source used for the processes https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27471915/.
According to a study by the World Nuclear Association, the average life cycle of CO2 emissions from nuclear power are about 29 grams per kilowatt-hour (g/kWh), compared to 820 g/kWh for coal and 490 g/kWh for natural gas https://journalistsresource.org/environment/nuclear-power-greenhouse-gases/. However, these numbers may vary depending on the assumptions and methods used in different studies. Overall, the carbon footprint of Nuclear energy is not as low as some renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind.
URANIUM AND THE NEW TECHNOLOGY
Uranium is initially a nonrenewable energy source that is mined from the earth and used to power nuclear reactors that produce electricity https://www.energy.gov/ne/nuclear-fuel-facts-uranium, but scientists believe that although this is true, the lifespan of uranium almost dwarfs the fact that it is non-renewable.
There are two types of uranium used for fuel in nuclear reactors, U-238 and U-235. The half-life of U-235 is 700 million years, while U-238 has a much larger half-life of 4.5 billion years. U-238 is the most commonly used, but surprisingly U-235 fissions the easiest. In U-235 atoms, the nucleus is unstable, and as the nuclei break up, they release neutrons.
When the neutrons collide with other uranium atoms, those atoms also split, releasing neutrons of their own, along with heat. This occurs over and over again creating a chain reaction. When that happens, fission becomes self-sustaining. Uranium is also used to produce isotopes for medical, industrial, and defense purposes.
Uranium has a very high energy density, meaning that a small amount of uranium can produce a large amount of energy. One uranium recycling company in France called ORANO, contributes directly to recycling by separating the nuclear materials and waste contained in used nuclear fuels. The uranium still present in used nuclear fuel, referred to as reprocessed uranium, (RepU), accounts for 95% of total used fuel and is a recyclable material with characteristics comparable to those of natural uranium.
It has to be re-enriched and can then be used in the fabrication of fuels to generate low-carbon electricity. Because these fuels have the same general characteristics as natural uranium fuels, they have considerable energy potential: 100 g of uranium produces as much energy as 1 metric ton of oil. https://www.orano.group/en/unpacking-nuclear/recycled-uranium-an-energy-source-for-low-carbon-electricity.
However, uranium also has some drawbacks, such as the generation of radioactive waste, the risk of nuclear accidents, and the potential for nuclear proliferation. There are no new discoveries in uranium that make it a renewable source of energy. However, there are new ways of extracting uranium without producing emissions.
Some scientists have proposed that uranium could become renewable if it was extracted from seawater instead of mined from the earth.
Seawater contains very low concentrations of uranium, but it is continuously replenished by natural processes such as erosion and weathering
Researchers at LCW had developed a special acrylic fiber designed to extract uranium from seawater, by attracting and holding onto dissolved uranium naturally present in the ocean Extracting these uranyl ions involves dipping plastic fibers containing a compound called amidoxime into seawater.
The uranyl ions essentially stick to the amidoxime. When the strands become saturated, the plastic is chemically treated to free the uranyl, which then has to be refined for use in reactors just like ore from a mine https://news.stanford.edu/2017/02/17/uranium-seawater-factors-nuclear-power/
Therefore, uranium extracted from seawater could be considered as endless as solar energy. However, this method of uranium extraction is still experimental and not commercially viable at the moment. There are other renewable energy sources that do not rely on uranium, such as solar, wind, hydropower, biomass, and geothermal https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0411/4-clean-energy-alternatives-to-uranium.aspx.
These sources are naturally replenished by the sun, wind, water, plants, and heat inside the earth. They have many advantages over uranium, such as being cleaner, safer, cheaper, and more abundant. However, they also have some challenges, such as being intermittent, variable, and dependent on location.
Therefore, uranium is not a renewable source of energy by itself, but it could become one in the future if new technologies and strategies are developed to extract it from seawater in a sustainable way. Until then, uranium remains a valuable but limited resource for low-carbon nuclear power https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/uram-2018-wraps-up-the-future-of-uranium-as-a-sustainable-source-of-energy.