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12 Weird Ways We Can Get Energy

Friday, May 13, 2011

"So crazy it just might work": Viable or not, these oddball ideas might just represent the kind of creativity that will lead to a sustainable energy breakthrough:

Surprising solar

The fuel: Solar power beamed from space

How we can get it: Solar panels in geostationary orbit could collect 25% more energy than on Earth, always face the sun, and beam solar power back down to Earth.

Likelihood for widespread use: A Canadian company is actually spearheading the creation of space-based energy infrastructure.



Boisterous biogas

The fuel: Turkeygut jet fuel

How we can get it: Through a process known as thermo-depolymerization, the 45 million turkeys junked after the meat is gulped at Christmas and Thanksgiving could see their less-desirable bits break down under very high heat and pressure, yielding natural gas, and fuel oil.

Likelihood for widespread use: A company in Missouri has started doing this with everything down to the feathers.


The fuel: Chocolate biodiesel (mmmm….)

How we can get it: Pretty much anything with fat in it (including chocolate) can be turned into diesel. The masses of chocolate needed to create fuel would come from spoiled batches at major chocolate factories.

Likelihood for widespread use: Because the fuel is only 30% derived from chocolate and there are only so many spoiled batches out there, we’re sceptical this could be a large-scale fuel source. Having said that, UK researchers have managed to power a Formula-3 race car with the stuff.


The fuel: Biogas from booze

How we can get it: Believe it or not, not all alcohol can be consumed: Contaminated, expired, and illegal liquor is often destroyed. But it’s relatively easy to turn it into fuel for mass-transit.

Likelihood for widespread use: Sweden is already using 200,000 gallons a year of smuggled alcohol to power busses and a train.



The fuel: Coffee ground gas

How we can get it: Mass-production fermentation turns leftover coffee grounds into natural gas and pretty-darn-good compost.

Likelihood for widespread use: Swiss and German companies are already starting to reclaim the oils in some coffees to do this



The fuel: Human-fat-powered Lincoln Navigator

How we can get it: First of all *glug, mgha!* What?? Yes, real human fat: In this case, derived from waste from liposuction clinics.

Likelihood for widespread use: If every cosmetic surgeon on Earth used this method, it could take a tiny burden of a town’s fossil fuel use: Beverly Hills surgeon Alan Bittner says he has more fat from patients who permit him to use it than he can use for his Ford SUV and girlfriend’s Lincoln Navigator. Unfortunately, using leftover human fat – even with permission – is illegal in the U.S.



Gas from trash

The fuel: Diaper diesel

How we can get it: Rather than sending the world’s diapers to landfills, turn them into diesel fuel with little or no emissions.

Likelihood for widespread use: The critical-mass moment came when the cost-per-litre of this fuel was published: 45-55 cents (remember when we measured gas in cents) per litre.



The fuel: Garbage-dump-stink into energy

How we can get it: Methane from decomposing waste in landfills can be siphoned to create fuel.

Likelihood for widespread use: UK researchers developed a membrane to fit over landfill that makes the process of methane-collection realistic. Using similar methods, Waterloo Region in Ontario already does this.



Truly alternative alternatives

The fuel: Hydro-generating highways

How we can get it: As cars roll along highways, the pressure they create with their weight would compress a hydraulic fluid to create electricity: The heavier the vehicle, the larger the amount of energy created.

Likelihood for widespread use: Like maglev rail technology, the infrastructure to create this on a large scale exists but is still prohibitively expensive.

More: Solar-powered "Smart Roads":


The fuel: Tornado power!

How we can get it: Waste heat recovered from conventional power plants.

Likelihood for widespread use: A retired Ontario petroleum engineer is proposing that artificial tornadoes could generate more electricity than is required to form them. More:

The fuel: Kite-powered cars How we can get it: Live where it’s windy. Likelihood for widespread use: In breezy climates, this sort of transportation could take off (no pun intended…okay pun intended) in rural areas.



Written by: Peter McMahon

Award-winning science journalist and kids science author Peter McMahon has written and produced for Discovery Channel, CTV, The Toronto Star and Canadian Geographic. Currently serving as media centre co-ordinator for Equinox Summit: Energy 2030. Bio