At the heart of the drive to make grids more modern, smarter and better able to cope with increasing demand is the spectre of electric vehicles. If every driver in the UK will need to plug in their car each night – and perhaps even top-up during the day, too – the national grid is going to come under much more pressure than it does today.
What’s holding back the concept of electric vehicles is ‘range anxiety’, which comes from the core problem; battery technology badly needs some ’emerging technology’, though Bosch thinks it’s got the stop-gap sorted.
Food of the future
With the world’s growing middle class already wanting to eat more meat, and with demand for flesh and protein expected to increase by as much as 80% by 2050, humanity’s eating habits will have to change if we’re to avoid a ‘protein deficit’ in the future.
Cue cultured ‘beef’ burgers. The first example of in-vitro meat was made a few years ago from muscle cells taken from a cow, which are grown in rings within a nutrient solution, forming strands of meat. It cost £250,000 (around $385,000, or AU$520,000) to produce. Another company wants to bio-print ‘animal muscle strips’. Meanwhile, urban farming tech will be needed as green space becomes scarce.
It’s been hailed as a miracle material. Discovered and produced by Konstantin Novoselow and Andre Geim at the University of Manchester in 2004 – who got a Nobel Prize for the trouble – graphene could mean super-efficient high-speed computing, flexible and super-thin gadgets, increased battery life by a factor of ten, and it could enable photovoltaic paint for solar power from any surface, and printable sensors along with tracking tags.
Near-transparent sheets of carbon graphite molecules just one atom in thickness, graphene sheets are described as ‘chicken wire made of carbon atoms’ and are reckoned to be so strong that ribbons of graphene could enable super-high buildings – and even a space elevator.
Who wants mere bullet trains when you can have an ultra-high-speed superconducting ‘floating’ train system? Japan’s JR Central train company is aiming to cut the journey time from Tokyo’s Shinagawa Station to Nagoya in half by using its new magnetic levitation train.
Powerful superconducting electromagnets above and below the track propel the train upwards (by about 10cm) and forwards, with the lack of friction meaning much faster speeds, even on steep slopes.
Known as the L0 Series, it will travel at 310mph and connect the two cities in 40 minutes (it currently takes 90 minutes on a Shinkansen bullet train). It won’t go into service until 2027, though there are plans to extend the line to Osaka by 2045.
Urban forests and vertical gardens
Buildings with integral trees and plants are the next big thing in architecture, and no vision of the world of the future is without skyscrapers draped in vegetation and rooftops thronged with trees.
Milan’s twin-tower Bosco Verticale is a real-life example of how peoples’ desire to live in a dense urban environment and also be surrounded by vegetation can be achieved. Around 11,000 plants, 5,000 shrubs, and over 700 trees can be found within this revolutionary residential tower block, which architect Boeri Studio calls a “device for the environmental survival of contemporary European cities”.
Bosco Verticale is not just about reintroducing trees into urban settings. Recycled water is used to water the plants and trees, while the cladding of the building itself features integrated solar panels to provide energy.
May saw arguably one of humanity’s biggest tech breakthroughs when the Dawn probe reached the dwarf planet Ceres. Launched by NASA in 2007, Dawn is the first mission to use an electrically-powered ion engine rather than conventional chemical rockets.
Its Xenon Ion Drive makes better use of fuel by accelerating it to a velocity ten times as fast as chemical rockets, which saves on mass. It’s exactly this kind of (solar-powered) electric propulsion that will make long-distance space missions possible, but since xenon gas is massively scarce, the search is on for other propellants. Cue missions to Mars, and a potential way off our increasingly crowded planet.