So-called evaporation engines could add another stream of renewable power to a diversified energy strategy, researchers say. But the technology has a way to go – and some questions to answer – before it can be deployed.
There may be a new renewable energy source on the distant horizon.
Evaporation, a key process in the hydrological cycle, is an overlooked source of alternative energy that researchers say could be more reliable than solar or wind power. The technology has a long way to go to reach deployable scale – and there are environmental concerns to consider – but, scientists say, evaporation energy could one day be a vital component of a diversified energy strategy.
Researchers at Columbia University in New York estimate that energy derived from evaporation off lakes and reservoirs could, in some states, exceed energy demand. That figure assumes that freshwater bodies could be covered entirely in evaporation engines, which is not likely to happen. But the researchers hope that their calculations will inspire engineers to explore this untapped natural resource, that they say has the potential to bolster energy security while saving water.
“No one previously has provided an estimate as to how powerful evaporation could be,” says Ahmet-Hamdi Cavusoglu, the lead author of a study published last month in the journal Nature Communications that attempts to quantify the evaporation technology’s energy potential. “With our work, we hope we provide added motivation for future research and development on this evolving class of materials.”