National Geographic : 1974 Jun
Exxon isdeveloping energy technology for this century and beyond. Across our country Americans are coming to terms with the energy shortage. Faced with lines at service stations and lim ited supplies of heating oil, we have all become aware of the need for conservation. Yet, even with conservation, by the year 2000 our country will probably require three times as much energy as it does today. Fossil fuels will continue to supply an important part of that energy. But a good deal of Amer ica's future supply in this century and beyond will have to come from new technology. Exxon is already working on this technology to develop sev eral new sources of energy. Energy right from the sun. One of those sources is the ultimate source of almost all of our energy-the sun itself. The sun's energy is enormous and widely available. It can be collected and converted to elec- This five-cell solar module absorbs sun rays, producing 112 watts of electricity. tricity by solar that produced for Skylab. cells, like those electrical power Solar energy in use today. Today, as Exxon examines ways to improve its solar-cell technology, solar-cell units are already in use. In parts of Africa solar cells power instructional television. On boats, they main tain the charge in batteries. On marker buoys they supply elec tricity for warning lights and foghorns. One of Exxon's research aims is to cut the present high cost of solar-cell electricity. Super-batteries to store energy. To efficiently use the energy generated by solar cells and other devices, we'll need super batteries with much greater stor age capacity. Batteries to store the sun's energy for use as elec tricity at night. Batteries to store energy that power plants pro duce in low-demand periods for later use when the demand for electricity is high. Better batteries would also speed the development of elec tric vehicles. Exxon's target is a battery that would be light enough, reasonable enough in cost and charging demands, and powerful enough to drive a car 100 miles on a single charge from a wall outlet. This kind of battery, which still requires in tensive research, could make possible a practical electric pas senger car. Electricity from chemicals. We're also developing a fuel cell. Different from the solar cell, which uses the sun, a fuel cell generates electricity when cer tain simple gases, like hydrogen and oxygen, or a simple liquid fuel like methanol, are fed con tinuously into the cell. Potentially, fuel cells are effi cient sources of electricity. They could provide silent energy for mobile homes or remote vaca tion homes. They also might be designed as total energy sys tems for shopping centers or as a way for public utilities to sup ply additional power during high demand periods. Solar cells, fuel cells and im proved batteries should come into greater use during the 1980's. Meanwhile, Exxon is looking for energy sources for the next century. Nuclear fusion is one possibility. Improved lead-acidbatteries maKe elec tric-powered vans practical for urban delivery. The next step-practical bat tery-powered cars.