As the World comes to terms with the reality of climate change, new sources of renewable energy are sprouting up everywhere. Literally!
Powered by the humble sprout, green energy is being used to light up a Christmas tree. The 1,000 sprout battery, created with the aid of London school children, emits 63 volts – enough to power a set of festive LED lights.
Urine too is being used to generate electricity. Thanks to boffins at the UK’s Bristol Robotic Laboratory, answering the call of nature is all that it takes to power a cell phone! Using a series of Microbial Fuel Cells, naturally occurring bacteria generate electricity as they break down the organic matter present in urine – bringing hope for an almost limitless source of free and renewable energy in the future.
As well as urine, human and animal waste is being used to create biogas. Processing food waste via anaerobic digestion is also an environmentally friendly way of generating energy. As food breaks down it produces methane which can be captured and burned to generate electricity. Given that methane is 20 times more potent that carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, it makes real climate sense to harness this type of energy.
Algae as one of the most abundant lifeforms on the planet, is also taking off as a form of renewable energy. Flying with the help of algae power from bio jet fuel a number of commercial flights have already taken to the skies, producing less harmful emissions than from normal jet fuel. Biodiesel from algae is also a promising form of green fuel for the future.
Geothermal energy naturally released by the Earth is proving a valuable renewable power source. So too is the salt in sea water through “blue energy” (osmotic power) where the difference between salty sea water and fresh water has the ability to create electricity. In Tofte, Norway a prototype osmotic power plant is capable of generating up to 10 kilowatts (enough to power six or so homes).
Oceans are in fact a great source of renewable energy. As well as wave and tidal power it’s also possible to use ocean currents to create well, current! Vortex induced vibrations for aquatic clean energy uses cylinders positioned on the sea bed. Modeled on how fish swim the cylinders create vortices – the energy from which can then be harnessed to create electricity.
Glowing jellyfish are too shedding new light on renewable energy. Green flourescent protein (GFP) found in jellyfish has been used to produce a fuel cell. Another protein photosystem 1, which is what plants use for photosynthesis, is also showing promising power potential.
Coffee grounds, body heat and even dancing (via a piezoelectric dance floor) are more bizarre sources of energy. Watermelon juice – well actually the alcohol (ethanol) from fermenting watermelons – now fuels transport as does sugar cane. Indeed the future looks to be very sweet, as sugar could be a promising source of hydrogen to power hydrogen fuel cells, which NASA pioneered to create electricity for the space shuttle.
Space, the final frontier, could be next in our constant exploration for clean energy sources. Harnessing energy from the solar wind could one day become science fact rather than fiction. Mining the moon for helium 3 to fuel new fusion reactors like ITER in France could also one day become reality, especially now China has entered the space race with an aim to land astronauts on the moon by 2025.
Given such an array of potential renewable energy technologies, it surely must be only a matter of time before fossil fuels become extinct. The big question is will it be in time to save us from the worst effects of climate change and global warming?
To see the “urine” battery in full flow, please watch the video below.