Alternative Energy Like Never Before

Posted on July 31, 2010 in Environment

By Ruchika Joshi:

Yes, we as a civilization might be shortly facing a severe energy crisis and yes, one of our major fallbacks then would be the alternative forms of energy being developed currently. We have all heard of them being spoken of incessantly — be it solar energy, wind energy, water energy and so on. But as desperate times call for desperate measures, here are five of the wackier ideas for alternative energy. Some of them are already available for the more environmentally savvy among us; others may need a few more trial runs before they catch on.

Pure (Human) Energy

Most of us are not big fans of sweating it out in the gym. There’s only so much motivation one can garner. But what if you could somehow pave your way to energy independence while working out?

Several innovative gyms are popping up that convert human energy into useable electricity. One of them, in Hong Kong, has exercise machines that look perfectly ordinary from the outside, but have generators inside that create energy from movement. So while you’re busy sweating it out, your efforts are also triggering a generator that creates electricity to both power the exercise console and supplement the electrical juice required to keep the overhead lights on. Nobody wants to run in the dark, right?

Students using the Pedal-A-Watt Bi-cycle to power laptops

Pedal generators like the Pedal-A-Watt bike stand use a similar concept but are more powerful. A person in top condition can generate 500 watts of power, while someone in couch-potato condition could generate around 150 watts. Although that may not seem like much, that’s enough to power two laptops, two fluorescent light bulbs and a cell phone – at least until your workout is over. Moreover, the Pedal-A-Watt bike stand, which works by powering a generator with the movement of the bike’s rear wheel, comes with an optional PowerPak that stores the energy you create for later use.

Bug Excrement

The bugs aren’t far behind when it comes to saving the planet from a possible energy crisis. Don’t cringe; these guys could in fact, alleviate our energy woes by simply excreting crude oil. Baffled? So was I.

Some rather inventive people at a company called LS9, Inc. have been tinkering with the DNA of industrial yeast and harmless strains of E.coli, so these organisms can convert agricultural waste into fuel that’s practically pump-ready. Since crude oil is molecularly similar to the fatty acids that these tiny single-celled organisms normally excrete, the alteration isn’t as “out there” as you might think.

The technology Diagram by LS9, Inc.

These inventors envision their bug excrement – “Oil 2.0” – as being both renewable and carbon negative. As of June 2008, LS9 could produce the equivalent of one barrel of oil per week with a 1,000-liter machine that takes up 40 square feet (3.7 square meters) of space.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll definitely be more careful not to squash the next bug that makes me cringe.

Text 1-800-Piezoelectricity

Now this one is simply amazing. Texting has taken the world by storm. Everyone has taken to this mode of communication. What if I told you that each of those finger taps could generate power? Exactly, I wouldn’t believe myself either.

A Diagram Demonstration how the Push to Charge works

But that’s just the idea behind Push to Charge, one of the innovative entries into the 2008 Greener Gadgets Design Competition. The concept relies on piezoelectricity, which is a fancy way of describing the way some metals generate electricity when hit. The same technology could be used in any other product that features buttons, including computer keyboards and video games.

Biogas Digestion

Ever thought of human waste as a treasure?

If you don’t focus on the stuff that goes into it, biogas digestion is actually pretty neat. It works by capturing the methane gas that gets released when waste breaks down. Usually, sewage treatment plants just vent that gas into the air, but if methane gas gets captured, it can be used for things like cooking and generating electricity.

A Diagram of how the digester works

In fact, in a South Delhi neighborhood, biogas digesters attached to public toilets provide cooking gas for a 600-student school.

So let’s get down to some wacky alternative energy, everyone! Anything and everything for Planet Earth!