Clean technologies characteristics, benefits and examples

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Philip Kelley

The Clean technologies are those technological practices that try to minimize the environmental impact that is normally generated in all human activity. This set of technological practices encompasses various human activities, energy generation, construction and the most varied industrial processes..

The common factor that unites them is their objective of protecting the environment and optimizing the natural resources used. However, clean technologies have not been completely efficient in stopping the environmental damage caused by human economic activities..

Figure 1. Solar panels. Lito Encinas [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

As examples of areas in which clean technologies have impacted, we can mention the following:

  • In the use of renewable and non-polluting energy sources.
  • In industrial processes with minimization of effluents and toxic pollutant emissions.
  • In the production of consumer goods and their life cycle, with minimal impact on the environment.
  • In the development of sustainable agricultural practices.
  • In the development of fishing techniques that preserve marine fauna.
  • In sustainable construction and urban planning, among others.

Article index

  • 1 Overview of clean technologies
    • 1.1 Background
    • 1.2 Objectives
    • 1.3 Characteristics of clean technologies
  • 2 Types of clean technologies
  • 3 Difficulties in the implementation of clean technologies
  • 4 Main clean technologies applied to power generation: advantages and disadvantages
    • 4.1 -Solar energy
    • 4.2 -Wind energy
    • 4.3 -Geothermal energy
    • 4.4 -Tidal and wave energy
    • 4.5 -Hydraulic energy
  • 5 Other examples of cleantech applications
  • 6 References

Clean technologies overview

Background

The current economic development model has produced serious damage to the environment. Technological innovations called "clean technologies", which produce less environmental impact, appear as hopeful alternatives to make economic development compatible with the preservation of the environment.

The development of the clean technologies sector was born at the beginning of the year 2000 and continues to boom during the first decade of the millennium until today. Clean technologies constitute a revolution or change of model in technology and environmental management.

goals

Clean technologies pursue the following objectives:

  • Minimize the environmental impact of human activities.
  • Optimize the use of natural resources and preserve the environment.
  • Help developing countries achieve sustainable development.
  • Collaborate in reducing pollution generated by developed countries.

Characteristics of clean technologies

Clean technologies are characterized by being innovative and focusing on the sustainability of human activities, pursuing the preservation of natural resources (energy and water, among others) and optimizing their use.

These innovations seek to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, the main causes of global warming. Therefore, it can be said that they have a very important role in mitigating and adapting to global climate change..

Clean technologies include a wide range of environmental technologies such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy storage, new materials, among others..

Types of clean technologies

Clean technologies can be classified according to their fields of action as follows:

  • Technologies applied to the design of devices for the use of renewable, non-polluting energy sources.
  • Clean technologies applied “at the end of the pipe”, which try to reduce emissions and industrial toxic effluents.
  • Clean technologies that modify existing production processes.
  • New production processes with clean technologies.
  • Clean technologies that change existing consumption modes, applied to the design of non-polluting, recyclable products.

Difficulties in the implementation of clean technologies

There is a great deal of current interest in the analysis of production processes and their adaptation to these new, more environmentally friendly technologies..

For this, it must be evaluated whether the clean technologies developed are sufficiently effective and reliable in solving environmental problems..

The transformation from conventional technologies to clean technologies also presents several obstacles and difficulties, such as:

  • Deficiency in the existing information on these technologies.
  • Lack of trained personnel for its application.
  • High economic cost of the necessary investment.
  • Overcome the fear of entrepreneurs to the risk of assuming the necessary economic investment.

Major tClean technologies applied to power generation: advantages and disadvantages

Among the clean technologies applied to energy production are the following:

-Solar energy

Solar energy is the energy that comes from the radiation of the sun on planet Earth. This energy has been used by man since ancient times, with primitive rudimentary technologies that have evolved into the so-called clean technologies, which are increasingly sophisticated..

At present, the light and heat of the sun are used, through different capture, conversion and distribution technologies..

There are devices to capture solar energy such as photovoltaic cells or solar panels, where the energy from sunlight produces electricity, and heat collectors called heliostats or solar collectors. These two types of devices constitute the foundation of the so-called “active solar technologies”.

In contrast, "passive solar technologies" refer to techniques of architecture and construction of houses and workplaces, where the most favorable orientation for maximum solar irradiation, materials that absorb or emit heat according to the climate of the place and / or are studied. or that allow dispersion or entry of light and interior spaces with natural ventilation.

These techniques favor a saving of electrical energy for air conditioning (cooling or heating air conditioning).

Advantages of using solar energy

  • The sun is a source of clean energy, which does not produce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Solar energy is cheap and inexhaustible.
  • It is an energy that does not depend on oil imports.

Disadvantages of using solar energy

  • The manufacture of solar panels requires metals and non-metals that come from extractive mining, an activity that negatively impacts the environment.

-Wind power

Wind energy is the energy that takes advantage of the force of the movement of the wind; this energy can be converted into electrical energy with the use of generator turbines.

The word "aeolian" comes from the Greek word Aeolus, name of the god of the winds in Greek mythology.

Wind energy is used by means of devices called wind turbines in wind farms. Wind turbines have blades that move with the wind, connected to turbines that produce electricity and then to networks that distribute it.

Wind farms produce cheaper electricity than that generated by conventional technologies, based on the burning of fossil fuels, and there are also small wind turbines that are useful in remote areas that do not have connection to electricity distribution networks..

Figure 2. Wind farm. Source: Victor Salvador Vilariño [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Currently, offshore wind farms are being developed, where the wind energy is more intense and constant but maintenance costs are higher..

Winds are approximately predictable and stable events during the year in a certain place on the planet, although they also present important variations, which is why they can only be used as a supplementary energy source, as a backup, to conventional energies..

Advantages of wind energy

  • Wind energy is renewable.
  • It is an inexhaustible energy.
  • It is economical.
  • Produces a low environmental impact.

Disadvantages of wind energy

  • Wind energy is variable, which is why wind energy production cannot be constant.
  • Wind turbine construction is expensive.
  • Wind turbines represent a threat to bird fauna since they are the cause of deaths due to impact or collision..
  • Wind energy produces noise pollution.

-Geothermal energy

Geothermal energy is a type of clean, renewable energy that uses the heat from the interior of the Earth; This heat is transmitted through rocks and water, and can be used to generate electricity.

The word geothermal comes from the Greek "geo": Earth and "thermos": heat.

The interior of the planet has a high temperature that increases with depth. In the subsoil there are deep subterranean waters called phreatic waters; these waters heat up and rise to the surface as hot springs or geysers in some places.

Currently there are techniques for locating, drilling and pumping these hot waters, which facilitate the use of geothermal energy in different locations on the planet..

Advantages of geothermal energy

  • Geothermal energy represents a source of clean energy, which reduces the emission of greenhouse gases.
  • Produces minimal amount of waste and much less environmental damage than electricity produced by conventional sources such as coal and oil.
  • Does not produce sonic or noise pollution.
  • It is a relatively cheap source of energy.
  • It is an inexhaustible resource.
  • It occupies small areas of land.

Disadvantages of geothermal energy

  • Geothermal energy can cause lethal sulfuric acid fumes.
  • Drilling can cause contamination of nearby groundwater with arsenic, ammonia, among other dangerous toxins..
  • It is an energy that is not available in all localities.
  • In the so-called "dry reservoirs", where there are only hot rocks at a shallow depth and the water must be injected so that it is heated, earthquakes can occur with rock rupture..

-Tidal and wave energy

Tidal energy takes advantage of the kinetic or movement energy of the sea's tides. Wave energy (also called wave energy), uses the energy of the movement of the waves of the sea to generate electricity.

Figure 3. Wave energy. Source: P123 [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Advantages of tidal and wave energy

  • They are renewable, inexhaustible energies.
  • In the production of both types of energy, there are no greenhouse gas emissions.
  • With regard to wave energy, it is easier to predict optimal generation conditions than in other clean renewable energy sources.

Disadvantages of tidal and wave energies

  • Both sources of energy produce negative environmental impact on marine and coastal ecosystems.
  • The initial economic investment is high.
  • Its use is restricted to marine and coastal areas.

-Hydraulic energy

Hydraulic energy is generated from the water of rivers, streams and waterfalls or freshwater waterfalls. For its generation, dams are built where the kinetic energy of water is used, and through turbines this is transformed into electricity.

Advantage of hydropower

  • Hydropower is relatively cheap and non-polluting.

Disadvantages of hydropower

  • The construction of water dams generates the felling of large areas of forests and serious damage to the associated ecosystems.
  • Infrastructure is economically expensive.
  • Hydraulic power generation depends on the climate and the abundance of water.

Other examples of cleantech applications

Electrical energy produced in carbon nanotubes

Devices have been manufactured that produce direct current by shooting electrons through carbon nanotubes (very small carbon fibers).

This type of device called "thermopower" can supply the same amount of electrical energy as a common lithium battery, being one hundred times smaller.

Solar tiles

They are tiles that work like solar panels, made of thin cells of copper, indium, gallium and selenium. Solar roof tiles, unlike solar panels, do not require large open spaces for the construction of solar parks.

Zenith Solar Technology

This new technology has been devised by an Israeli company; takes advantage of solar energy by collecting radiation with curved mirrors, whose efficiency is five times greater than that of conventional solar panels.

Vertical farms

The activities of agriculture, livestock, industry, construction and urban planning have occupied and degraded a large part of the planet's soils. A solution to the shortage of productive soils are the so-called vertical farms.

Vertical farms in urban and industrial areas provide cultivation areas without the use or degradation of soils. Additionally, they are vegetation zones that consume COtwo -known greenhouse gas- and produce oxygen through photosynthesis.

Hydroponic crops in rotating rows

This type of hydroponic cultivation in rotating rows, one row on top of the other, allows adequate solar irradiation for each plant and savings in the amount of water used..

Efficient and economical electric motors

They are engines that have zero greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide COtwo, sulfur dioxide SOtwo, nitrogen oxide NO, and therefore do not contribute to global warming of the planet.

Energy saving bulbs

No mercury content, very toxic liquid metal and polluting the environment.

Electronic equipments

Made with materials that do not include tin, a metal that is an environmental pollutant.

Biotreatment of water purification

Water purification using microorganisms such as bacteria.

Solid waste management

With composting of organic waste and recycling of paper, glass, plastics and metals.

Smart windows

In which the entry of light is self-regulating, allowing energy savings and control of the interior temperature of the rooms.

Generation of electricity through bacteria

These are genetically engineered and grow on waste oil.

Aerosol solar panels

They are manufactured with nanomaterials (materials presented in very small dimensions, such as very fine powders) that quickly and efficiently absorb sunlight.

Bioremediation

Includes the remediation (decontamination) of surface waters, deep waters, industrial sludge and soils, contaminated with metals, agrochemicals or petroleum waste and its derivatives, through biological treatments with microorganisms.

References

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  3. Dresselhaus, M. S. and Thomas, I.L. (2001). Alternative energy technologies. Nature. 414: 332-337.
  4. Kemp, R. and Volpi, M. (2007). The diffusion of clean technologies: a review with suggestions for future diffusion analysis. Journal of Cleaner Production. 16 (1): S14-S21.
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