Carbon dioxide levels are the highest they’ve been in 650,000 years. With numbers like that, it’s more important than ever that we make renewable energy sources a priority. But apart from installing solar panels or investing in wind farms, what other alternative energy sources are there?
Here are 6 crazy alternative sources of energy that actually work.
1. Body Heat
Humans are warmblooded which means our bodies generate heat. While the heat collected from a single human isn’t enough to be put to significant use, our combined heat is another story.
A state-owned property administration company in Sweden is planning to capture the body heat of commuters that travel through Stockholm’s Central Station. The heat will warm water which can then be pumped through a ventilation system to heat a building.
The same concept is being put to use in Paris, France. A low-income housing project above a metro station near Pompidou Center will use the body heat of commuters to heat 17 apartments.
The energy boosting properties of sugar have been long-understood by parents and college students alike, but Professors at Virginia Tech are taking it a step further.
Professor Percival Zhang has developed a battery that mimics the way living cells store energy – as sugars. The sugar-based biobatteries run on maltodextrin and use 13 synthetic enzymes to generate electricity.
The use of synthetic enzymes allows for extremely efficient energy release. Sugar also has the benefit of being cheap, renewable, biodegradable, and safe for use as an energy source.
Which isn’t to say there isn’t still work to do.
Sugar outstrips traditional batteries in terms of how much energy it can store, but Zhang’s technology currently has a low power output per square inch. This means the sugar batteries would have to be massive to power even an iPhone. The biobattery also has a short shelf life owed to the gradual degradation of the synthetic enzymes.
But Zhang is dedicated to fine-tuning his tech. We could be seeing sugar batteries sooner rather than later.
3. Space-based Solar Power
Solar energy has a lot of upsides but there are limitations. The biggest is that it only works when the sun is shining, limiting when and where it can be used. Earth’s atmosphere also naturally filters what light reaches us, which means traditional solar power will never harness 100% of the sun’s energy.
But what if we could literally rise above these limitations?
Researchers at NASA have been trying to do just that. Extra-atmospheric solar panels wouldn’t be limited by clouds, our night cycle, or our atmosphere. And because the energy would be able to be continuously absorbed, there would be no requirement to store the energy, a notoriously inefficient process.
So why haven’t we done it already? In short: money.
Japan, China, and a private U.S. based company called Solaren Corp are all on their way to harnessing space-based solar but none of them will see energy returns for at least the next decade.
4. Kinetic Energy
Wind farms are the star of the show when it comes to kinetic sources of electricity but there are a lot of other ways people are making use of movement.
Uncharted Power is a New York-based company that rose to prominence in 2013 when it’s founder, Jessica O. Matthews, ran a Kickstarter for a soccer ball that would produce electricity after being played with.
The original SOCCKET shipped with a number of design flaws that might have seen the company crash and burn had it not switched up its business model. Now, rather than building the toys themselves, Uncharted Power partners with manufacturers to implement its kinetic tech dubbed M.O.R.E (Motion-based, off-grid renewable energy) in existing consumer goods.
Since making the switch, the company has boomed and expanded. M.O.R.E technology has been implemented in everything from skipping ropes to speed bumps to sidewalk panels, and they’re just getting started.
Bioluminescent organisms have long been the subject of wonder, but eco-scientists are taking things a step further. The protein GFB that enables some species of jellyfish to glow in the dark might hold the key to developing a new bio-friendly fuel cell.
A team of scientists at the Chalmers University of Technology spearheaded a breakthrough in the technology. They placed a drop of GFP onto aluminum electrodes that were then exposed to ultraviolet light. The protein released electrons which then traveled a circuit to produce electricity.
GFB was later used to make a biological fuel cell, which was able to make electricity without an external light source.
For now, the fuel cells are only able to power small devices but it’s a very promising start.
6. Exploding Lakes
Exploding lakes sound like something out of a b-grade horror movie but they’re very real. Such lakes contain reservoirs of carbon dioxide and methane trapped beneath the surface by differences in water density and temperature.
If the temperature of the lake changes, then the trapped gasses fizz to the surface. This turn is called a limnic eruption and can be devastating to people and animals in proximity.
There have been two observable instances of limnic eruptions in recent history. The first occurred at Lake Monoun in Cameroon in 1984 resulting in the death of 37 people. The second eruption at Lake Nyos in 1986 was far deadlier, killing about 1,700 people and 3,500 livestock.
What does this have to do with renewable energy?
Lake Kivu in Rwanda is a known exploding lake. Rather than wait for it to turn, the government has built a power plant nearby that sucks up the noxious gases from the bottom of the lake. The carbon dioxide and methane are then used to power three generators that produce 3.6 megawatts of electricity between them.
The plant is on track to produce enough power to serve one-third of the country within the next few years.
Alternative Energy Sources Are the Future
Climate change is a reality so it’s essential that we find alternative energy sources that work to ensure our future is a sustainable one. These are just 6 creative solutions to a global problem and there are many more in development.
Looking to do your part for the environment? Here are 10 powerful benefits of planting trees.