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2 Jun 24 2014 @ 10:17pm by Matt Smith in Biofuels, Global Energy, Random

Novel Ideas

The quest to diversify from fossil fuels has perhaps been no more successfully implemented than in Germany, where on the 14th morning of last month, it achieved a record 74% of its power generation from renewables, and specifically solar and wind energy. Admittedly this took an exceptionally sunny and windy day, but the achievement still stands. The pursuit of alternative energy sources across the globe has led to some rather nutty and novel ideas. Here are but a few.

A gym that is powered by member’s workouts. The idea of harnessing the energy created at a gym makes total sense; the only draw-back is that it, um, costs a fortune. A gym in the UK is one of the first in the world to install a system which sends surplus energy back into the building’s power supply. The primary challenge to seeing this implemented elsewhere is… the $1 million dollar costs involved.

Harnessing energy from flushing toilets. From one bodily function to another, this idea looks to harvest electricity from the motion of water. It is essentially focusing on tidal power…just on a much smaller scale. Don’t hold your breath on this one.

Turning trees into energy storage devices. Super scholars at Oregon State University have discovered that cellulose in trees can be used to create supercapacitors. A supercapacitor is not from ‘Back To The Future’ (that’s a flux capacitor), but a high-power energy storage device which can be recharged much faster than a battery, and can hold a great deal more power.

Scientists discover how to generate solar power…in the dark. Another group of super scholars – this time at MIT and Harvard – have devised a way to store solar energy through a phenomenon called ‘photoswitching’. Photoswitches are molecules which can assume one of two different shapes, with the ability to absorb solar energy and transfer the energy between its two configurations for a long period of time (and therefore in the dark). Researchers are trying to figure out a way to practically scale this up.

Plastic bags make fine diesel fuel. 100 billion plastic shopping bags are thrown away each year in the US, with only 13% recycled. By using pyrolysis – a process of heating the bags up in an oxygen-free chamber – a synthetic fuel with the equivalent energy content of diesel can be produced. The idea shouldn’t seem too outlandish; after all, plastic bags are created from crude oil in the first place.

Solar Roadways. The novel idea of replacing roads with solar panels is near and dear after being referenced on the burrito a number of years ago via interviews (here and here) with film producer / director Ben Evans , who visited the solar roadway project in Idaho in 2007 in the docu-comedy, YERT (Your Environmental Road Trip).

Fast forward a few years, and suddenly Solar Roadways are being featured everywhere from The Economist to Forbes. Although skepticism is abound, it has not deterred a crowdfunding campaign raising $2.2 million in the past two months to further invest in its future.  It is also set to be the subject of a feature film, with none other than Ben Evans at the helm.

That’s it for novel ideas for now – thanks for playing, and a big hat-tip to colleague Megan Jones for one of the novel ideas which kick-started this post!

2 Comments on this post:

  1. Peter Leggett says:

    Flushing toilets …. Ive been close before with similar conceptual vertical hydro power in drainpipes. Imagine the water flow from Office or Warehouse Roof … with a drop of c3 – 30metres into the drainage system. Could it be possible to harness via hoppers then release by sequence with the `flow-fall` going via series of mini turbines? Yes ~ I agree probably small scale generation but generation possibility none the less. Imagine some locations with 6-12 downpipes as an array all whirring….

  2. Matt Smith says:

    I can’t profess to know the expenses involved or whether it is cost-prohibitive, but the logic behind it is pretty compelling – thanks for sharing your thoughts, Peter!

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