Ten big global challenges technology could solve
Friday, March 15, 2019
By MIT Review Editors
Cutting greenhouse-gas emissions alone won’t be enough to prevent sharp increases in global temperatures. We’ll also need to remove vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which not only would be incredibly expensive but would present us with the thorny problem of what to do with all that CO2. A growing number of startups are exploring ways of recycling carbon dioxide into products, including synthetic fuels, polymers, carbon fiber, and concrete. That’s promising, but what we’ll really need is a cheap way to permanently store the billions of tons of carbon dioxide that we might have to pull out of the atmosphere.
Grid-scale energy storage
Renewable energy sources like wind and solar are becoming cheap and more widely deployed, but they don’t generate electricity when the sun’s not shining or wind isn’t blowing. That limits how much power these sources can supply, and how quickly we can move away from steady sources like coal and natural gas. The cost of building enough batteries to back up entire grids for the days when renewable generation flags would be astronomical. Various scientists and startups are working to develop cheaper forms of grid-scale storage that can last for longer periods, including flow batteries or tanks of molten salt. Either way, we desperately need a cheaper and more efficient way to store vast amounts of electricity.
Photo courtesy of Wonderlane.