Energy Solutions: Hybrid-nuclear and Hydrokinetic Technologies

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Energy Solutions: Hybrid-nuclear and Hydrokinetic Technologies

By Kyler Hood

The global energy crisis is a multi-faceted problem. China is rapidly developing with little concern for the associated environmental impacts. British Petroleum damaged a major oil well in an unprecedented bout of incompetence, and as a result, millions of gallons of petroleum continue to spill into the Gulf of Mexico. Developing countries around the world have no incentive and oftentimes no capability to switch to renewable energy sources. As if the situation weren’t bad enough, the United States, a major player in the global economy, is crippled by the worst recession it has seen in modern times. This global climate (a warming one) makes the need for renewable energy resources increasingly important, but also increasingly difficult to execute. The United States must implement hybrid-nuclear power and investigate the viability of ocean-based, hydrokinetic energy technologies.

Biodiesels are relatively nontoxic and have high energy densities; therefore, they are valued in the transport sector because they are easily transported. Although highly fuel efficient vehicles such as the Toyota Prius will reduce the oil demand by one half, alternatives such as ethanol and biodiesel must be developed.

Using ethanol and biodiesel, however, presents a problem: “producing liquid fuels from fossil fuels or biomass is itself an energy-intensive process—U.S. oil refineries constitute roughly 7 percent of the country’s total energy demand” (Forsberg, 66). The transport of fuels to cars and airplanes creates a substantial carbon dioxide output that counteracts any benefits gained from using ethanol or biodiesel in the first place.

Therefore, nuclear energy can be introduced into the refining process for ethanol and biodiesel, so that carbon dioxide emissions are drastically reduced. Ethanol is often made from corn, and:

 so much energy is used to grow, transport, and convert that corn into ethanol that the production process consumes 70-80 percent of the final energy available in the fuel (and most of that energy comes from burning fossil fuels). But about one-half of this fossil fuel energy input could be replaced by supplying low-pressure steam from nuclear power plants to ethanol plants (Forsberg, 66).

Russia, Switzerland, and Canada currently sell low-pressure steam to industrial clients, so an effective adoption strategy can be adopted using those countries as models. The ability of countries to adopt biofuels will largely depend on the amount of biomass available, and the ability of the country to adopt an effective biofuel refinery system that uses low-pressure steam from nuclear facilities.

The possibility of using ocean energy must also be further investigated to complement the green energy gains from hybrid-nuclear technology. Energy can be obtaining from the ocean in the following ways:

hydrokinetic energy (where the energy of the ocean  (or fluvial) currents and tides is captured by devices which are installed under the surface of the water); wave energy (where the energy of the surface wind waves is used to produce electricity by a variety of devices installed on the surface of the sea); ocean thermal energy or OTEC (which uses the temperature differential between cold water from the deep ocean and warm surface water) and; Osmotic energy (which relates to the pressure differential between salt and fresh water) (Leary & Esteban, 417).

The bulk of renewable energy research has investigated wave energy and hydrokinetic energy.

More research in other wave technologies could prove useful because the fact is relatively little progress has been made in terms of the gains possible to the global community in relation to the surface area covered by the world’s oceans. Only recently, have the U.K., Ireland, France, Portugal, and South Korea adopted technologies to capture wave energy (Leary & Esteban, 418). This is a significant step, but as a result of a significant lack of ocean technology more research into this field is crucial in order to tap a huge potential source of renewable energy. However, concurrent and equally important research must take place concerning how ocean technology will be regulated and the environmental impacts of a globally realized oceanic power grid because without rules of engagement the oceanic energy will be pursued slowly or as has often been the case not at all (Leary & Esteban, 419-421).

Hybrid-nuclear technology and the development of an oceanic technology are by no means the only solution to the global energy crisis. Other renewable energy sources can and should be investigated, but hybrid-nuclear and oceanic technology can alleviate U.S. dependence on foreign oil and lessen or eliminate our carbon dioxide footprint; therefore, their development and implementation is crucial.

Works Cited

Forsberg, Charles. “The real path to green energy: Hybrid nuclear-renewable power.” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. 65, 6, (2009): 65-71. 

Leary, David. “Renewable Energy from the Ocean and Tides: A Viable Renewable Energy Resource in Search of a Suitable Regulatory Framework.” Carbon & Climate Law Review. 3, 4, (2009): 417-425.

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