Finding new sources and more efficient utilization of energy have become compelling need and technological issues, partly because energy demands are ever rising and conventional energy supplies, such as oil and natural gas supplies, are dwindling at an alarming rate. Concomitantly, the energy costs are unexpectedly placing almost unsustainable demands on budgets, both in the civilian and military sectors.
Energy and power are important factors for any country’s economy. The standard of living of a country can be directly related to its per capita energy consumption. The per capita energy consumption per year in India is 150 kWh whereas in US, it is 50 times higher.
Batteries as energy sources were invented in the nineteenth century and for a long time lead-acid batteries ruled the roost. But, the 70s and 80s saw a slew of newer technological developments, such as alkaline batteries, lithium batteries, metal hydride batteries, and the like, each incrementing the advantages in power efficiencies, durability, cost, etc. The choice of a battery depends upon the application and its technical specification, as well as cost considerations. It is not an easy matter to find a battery that matches all the required specifications in full. Although still newer technologies have appeared on the scene, e.g. fuel cells and super-capacitors, there are certain applications for which batteries are better suited, thus meriting a discussion on the prospect for their further advancement.
Fuel cells are recent comers on the scene, spawned by space and satellite systems. Fuel cells bear similarity to batteries, with which they share the electrochemical nature of power generation process and to the combustion engines that, unlike batteries, will work continuously consuming a fuel of some sort. A fuel cell operates quietly and efficiently and when hydrogen is used as a fuel, it generates only power and drinking water. Accordingly, they are non-polluting. However, the implementation of the basic concept into a system poses technical challenges, with generation and storage issues being the most formidable. Several promising schemes to overcome the difficulties have been proposed and some implemented. Thus, a discussion on fuel cell technology is warranted.
It is estimated that earth receives about 96 billion kilowatts from the Sun constantly. If this colossal and unlimited energy could be more fully utilized, our dependence on fast dwindling fossil cache will be drastically reduced. Solar energy is available in various forms such as direct solar radiation, wind, wave power, rain (in the form of hydro power), photosynthesis and ocean thermal gradients. Among these, the direct conversion of sunlight into electricity is clean and attractive. Solar electricity was much touted in the 70s but it has generally failed to live up to the expectations because: (a) the capital costs were relatively high, (b) the conversion efficiencies were low (of the order of 10%), and (c) the power output was severally diurnal. There has been a revival however in photovoltaic technology as a result of some impressive scientific gains. Still, the conversion efficiencies associated with current technology hover around 15%-20%, which suggests that solar electricity holds a lot of promise but much developmental work remains to be achieved.
Biomass is the most important fuel source in rural India and is a significant power source. Its neutrality with regard to the great issue of global warming recommends major technological improvements in conversion efficiencies, especially through combustor and gasifier designs.
The principles underlying the Stirling Engine were enunciated about 200 years ago. But, only recently, there has been a revival of interest in its potential application, primarily because of its simplicity and its high conversion efficiency. However, to this end, certain technical conditions need to be met. Accordingly, this too will be a topic of discussion during the workshop.
India is a leader in R & D on gas hydrates, probably because the abundance of hydrate deposits in the continental shelf. However, some extremely challenging issues remain before a practical technology evolves for their exploitation. The workshop will include a discussion on the subject.
The objective of the workshop is to provide a forum for meaningful
interaction between Indian and international researchers, especially from
US, actively involved in the technological aspects of power and energy. Discussions
will focus on broader strategies rather than on delving into details associated
with a particular technical approach.