Get talking - Geoengineering and HS2

Materials World magazine
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10 Jun 2014

This spring, we put out a call for Materials World readers who would like to be more involved with the magazine. Lots of you got in touch. Over the next few issues we’ll be introducing you to our new opinion columnists.


Geoengineering and HS2

Solar power is on the up. Not only photovoltaics, but thermal, too. The increasing popularity of generation and storage at point of use is already evident along many highways. Housing estates will soon be built with PV installations on every roof capable of generating 4kW or more. The era of trailing power cables will be over.

We can do better than this, of course. I think HS2 would pull many more supporters if it could be seen to be groundbreaking in some technological way that might spin off elsewhere, not just aping the speedy wonders developed by the Chinese and some European systems. The cost of HS2 and the urgent need for increased capacity on the railways should be taken as a similar opportunity as the Apollo space programme, brought to fruition in just a few years and benefitting the rest of us for decades. What an opportunity for UK science and technology that would be – actually jumping one step ahead. I speak, of course, of HS2 being covered by PV panels along its length, to power the underlying trains. Winter and night time power requirements would boost energy storage technology, which is badly needed elsewhere. Judging by the perceived build schedule, we have plenty of time. Materials science would progress in leaps and bounds. The only thing lacking is a sufficiently charismatic politician – of the stature of JFK – to lead this.

Those protagonists for geoengineering to offset climate change (a euphemism for something we all know is principally global warming) should point out that, instead of catastrophically seeding the upper atmosphere with acid, there should be real geoengineering, providing PV-powered pumps along the edges of the Sahara desert to not only pump seawater partly uphill and into the many natural inland basins, but also the energy for purification en route.

These will eventually coalesce into inland seas, something of an Aral Sea in reverse. These man-made oases would, of course, provide regional cooling by evaporation and mesoclimate amelioration, eventually sufficient to enable vegetation to take hold, using the purified water.
The next century will see an opportunity to offset one of the greatest threats ever to mankind (the other being global overpopulation). The sun is there providing the engine for climate change – let’s use its own strength for our benefit.

Geoff has 20 years’ experience as a civil engineer, from geo-resource projects to site evaluation and power. He’s also a professional pilot, and spent five years working in North Sea oil exploration.  

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