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Technology That Will Help the Environment

written by: AngelaC•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 4/27/2010

Enhanced communication and connectivity to even the most distant parts of the world are allowing scientists to develop new technology that will help the environment. These technological advancements are able to better address and modify the increasing environmental needs of our planet.

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    Modern environmental technology applies the newest developments in environmental science to the conservation and reduction of the negative impact of human involvement in our natural environment. Scientists are focusing on technological advancements that are socially equitable, economically viable and more environmentally sound.

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    Land

    The survival of our planet is dependent on a well balanced ecosystem. The more we destroy the habitats of plants and animals, the more our ecosystem is thrown off balance. Scientists are currently addressing the issue of deforestation through the use of robotics in the rainforests. These robots or “treebots" are individual nodes in a Networked Infomechanical System (NIMS) and are being used to monitor tree growth, light, humidity and carbon dioxide levels to detect changes and provide data that allows scientists to predict how climate changes will affect the future of our forests.

    Desert reclamation technology is being implemented to undo damage done by deforestation and other human activities. Tree planting projects stop desert drifting and stabilize the environment. In regards to irrigating these trees, technological developments have made it possible to use less water to achieve the same results. Cloud seeding, inducing specific cloud formations to produce rainfall, is also being used to direct the rainfall where it is needed most. In addition, hi-tech fertilizers have been created to nourish over-cultivated desert land and help it retain water.

    Landfill space is becoming increasingly limited. Plasma Gasifiaction can now be used to convert gas into plasma, essentially reducing trash to its most basic molecular structure. This is done by passing a high voltage current between two electrodes inside a sealed container. The two byproducts of this process are a glass-like substance that can actually be re-used to make items like bathroom tiles, and a synthesis gas that can be converted into fuel.

    Green technology for home energy systems includes geothermal heat pumps, solar collectors, and bio-fuels. Geothermal heat pumps can be used to heat or air condition a home by drilling 200 to 300 feet deep holes into the ground and inserting U-shaped earth-heat exchange tubes. These tubes are then connected to a primary heat exchanger inside the home. Solar collectors are used to convert the photons from the sun’s energy into electricity or heat. The two most commonly used solar collectors are solar cells and solar thermal collectors. New technology is being developed that will also allow the use of mirrors and parabolic dishes to collect the sun’s rays. Bio-fuels are another source of renewable power for your home. Bio-fuels are manufactured, safer for the environment and are cheaper. One of the newest technologies is thermo-depolymerization. With this process, any carbon-based water can be turned to oil.

    For larger buildings, Egain Forecasting is now being used as a way to control building heating by calculating the demand for heating energy and the amount that should be supplied to the building. Special remote control weather loggers measure air temperature and humidity. The measurements are sent in real time to forecasting receivers who manage the operation of control panels installed in buildings. Based upon the given information, adjustments can be made to the energy system.

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    Water

    The oceans cover approximately three-fourths of our planet and offer an abundance of technological resources to help our environment. Scientists are currently trying to harness the power of waves and tides through the use of underwater turbines. The two main types of turbines being developed are wind style axial turbines and the Transverse Horizontal Axis Water Turbine (THAWT). Turbines are such powerful sources of energy that it has been estimated they will eventually generate half the amount of energy that is currently produced by dams. The THAWT uses the newest technology available, harnessing the largest areas of ocean current, scaling any depth of water and handling water flow in both directions.

    The oceans are the biggest natural solar collectors on the planet, and according to the U.S. Department of Energy, absorb enough heat from the sun to equal the thermal energy contained in 250 billion barrels of oil each day. A new technology, called Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC), is being developed. OTEC can convert thermal energy into electricity by using the energy stored in the difference in temperature between the warmer water on the ocean’s surface and the colder water on the ocean’s bottom.

    Desalination removes excess salt and minerals out of seawater and makes it drinkable. Due to the large amounts of energy and infrastructure needed for this process, as well as the negative impact on marine life, new techniques are being created to make this technology less expensive and more eco-friendly. Forward osmosis, solar desalination, geothermal desalination and freeze-thaw desalination are all methods being tested in an attempt to triple the desalinated water supply by 2020 without harming the environment.

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    Air

    One of the biggest projects of today is developing new clean coal or Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology that will help the environment. The greatest challenges facing the producers of clean coal are reducing carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal and bringing the cost down sufficiently to compete with nuclear power. New clean coal technologies include using the coal to make hydrogen from water, burying the carbon dioxide byproduct, and burning the hydrogen. Scientists are also working on ways to beneficially reuse the carbon dioxide.

    Hybrid vehicles are becoming more powerful, more affordable, and more energy efficient. Hybrid vehicles use less fuel, thereby cutting carbon dioxide emissions and reducing air emissions of smog-forming pollutants by up to 90%. The future of hybrid cars includes the use of green diesels, bio diesel fuel, plug-in electric capabilities, hydraulic hybrids, fuel cells and hydrogen hybrids. In addition, more cities are beginning to implement the use of hybrid city buses, school buses, work trucks, and trash collection trucks.

    Technology using anaerobic digestion is being used in waste management systems to reduce the emission of methane gas from landfills. Anaerobic digestion uses microorganisms to break down biodegradable materials to manage waste and release energy. The process of anaerobic digestion also produces a biogas byproduct that can be used to generate heat and electricity.

    Modern technology allows instant access to information and the globalization of resources, creating a way of life that will continue to help the environment indefinitely. Even the smallest changes can ensure a brighter, more beautiful, and healthier tomorrow.

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    References

    The Environmental Technology Opportunities Portal (ETOP): Air Pollution Control Technology Center Verified Technologies - http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/std/etv/vt-apc.html

    The Environmental Technology Opportunities Portal (ETOP): Water Quality Protection Center Verified Technologies - http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/std/etv/vt-wqp.html

    U.S. Department of Energy: Clean Coal Technology & The Clean Coal Power Initiative - http://www.fossil.energy.gov/programs/powersystems/cleancoal/

    Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons - Terence Ong