Energy

An interesting coincidence between the world of renewables and Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad is a series about a chemistry professional who, unable to succeed for one or another reason, ends up finding a niché, if so highly illegal, activity that only requires of him to do what he knows best: chemistry! Interestingly enough, when it comes to energy, chemistry professionals nowadays have really hard to actually focus on exclusively chemical agendas. Here’s why.

Fact. The generation of energy through carbon and hydro sources in the past century helped to heighten the role that electric and mechanical engineers have towards our modern energy platforms. The reason is simple. Whilst in itself combustion is a chemical process, the two challenges faced in these processes are, first, to channel the energy into the movement of a turbine and, second, to transmit the electricity.

Fact. One of the main advantages of carbon and hydro generation is that turbines can be fired up at any time during the day.

The reason is also simple. Combustion engines can be turned on at any time and hydroelectric centrals store water in order to have the turbines working at the most convenient times of day. During the summer dams become relatively unreliable, which is not a small thing to say considering the effects that global warming has on rain precipitations, but this has always been sucessfuly dealt with.

Fact. Modern renewable energy sources are not as flexible as generation relies on meteorological factors that do not necessarily match our consumption patterns.

There is no sense in having a surplus of energy at midnight when wind is at its best. We need the energy when we need it. Interestingly, storing energy is a chemical rather than a mechanical challenge. This makes for a challenge that cannot be understated. Right now, it is so expensive to store energy that it is often more cost-effective to simply shut down the generators than to buy the batteries that would be needed.

The need to involve professionals in chemistry becomes evident.

Curious fact. It’s easier to find funding for generation-based projects than for storage ones.

In fact, it is very, but very, difficult to get funding to build a battery alone. Unless you are a major research entity, that is. To obtain funding for energy related projects you normally have to make energy-storage secondary to generation. The reason being that loans for normal businesses and persons are tied to their capacity to yield a satisfactory return on the investment. A battery, in and on itself, does not produce energy to sell.

Challenge. Nothing inherently wrong thus far. The world needs funding for generation projects. That said, whilst a professional in chemistry could come up with good energy storage solution if he/she devoted him/herself to that end, they would have it really hard to obtain funding unless tied to a generation project. In the end, whilst funding could be procured with an exclusively mechanical agenda, reaching funding is much more difficult for those with exclusively chemical agendas.

Question. Should the Walter Whites of our real world Break Bad?


Image credits. Source: skycaptaintwo (under Creative Commons license).