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6 Alternative Energies You'll Only See in Movies (So Far)

Friday, April 8, 2011

When in-doubt, we could do worse than asking “what would they do in the movies?” 

While some of Hollywood’s most imaginative plot devices may not offer anything more than fun entertainment and a lot of scientific dead ends, others “just might be crazy enough to work”… 

Take a look below at six movie energy sources, some of which are simply fun to consider, some of which might actually become real-life science solutions by 2030, ... or earlier:

Powering up cities with pig…um...leavings (Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome)  

The central desert city in this 1985 post-apocalypse Mil Gibson flick is powered by the by-products from a giant pig sty under the city. 

In the movie, the pig poop left in the sty powers a methane plant. 

Powering an entire city from barnyard droppings is still the stuff of fiction, but maybe not for long. 

More: Waterloo Region captures landfill gas

Human electrical impulses (The Matrix)

Turns out that although our bodies actually do produce an electric current, the prospect of putting those currents to use as a power source is a little goofy, given the energy required to make this whole process happen. 

"It would be smarter to use that energy in the first place to do what you want to do, instead of feeding it to humans and then harvesting energy from them," editor Michael Graham Richard mentions on Treehugger.

More: A much more modest proposal for harnessing the energy of human bodies

Inexhaustible energy from narcotics (Southland Tales)

In this occasionally-interesting sci-fi flop starring everyone from Justin Timberlake to The Rock, a deadly hallucinogen called "fluid karma" is lauded as an inexhaustible replacement for gasoline. 

Ultimately, the substance is complete make-believe from a scientific perspective and the energy properties of this narcotic are never fully explained. 

An even more improbable energy scenario develops when the fluid karma generators alter the world’s currents and cause the Earth to slow its rotation and the quantum entanglement-driven transmission of energy to power plant receivers begins to rip holes in the fabric of space and time.

Antimatter (Star Trek, though it’s not the first work of fiction to propose its use)

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The prospect of travelling faster than light has been around since we found out that light had a speed. 

Since Einstein first posited that you would need infinite energy to accelerate something made of matter to the speed of light, science fiction has delighted in ways to get around that science creatively side-stepping this physical law, often proposing anti-matter as a power source. 

Though our antimatter reserves remain at only a few scant atoms and no one has successfully created a warp-field or perfected Heisenberg compensators in real-life, scientists have speculated that a tiny (we’re talking grams, not tons) space probe could be accelerated by laser to part of the speed of light for a trip to the nearest star past the sun.

Miniature ‘arc reactor’ (Iron Man)


Playboy genius Tony Stark creates this oscillating electric power source that presumably channels plasma in a way that allows for huge energy output with little heat or radiation and no waste. 

Could antimatter in plentiful amounts allow for such as superhero-power device to both thwart evil and solve our energy crisis? 

Maybe, but who’d want a miniature photon torpedo in their chest? (Or – for that matter – their backyard?)

Igniting Jupiter into a small star (2010: The Year We Make Contact)

The ultimate solar power: creating a new star by igniting a gas giant planet to burn as its own nuclear furnace. 

Though it’s made of hydrogen and helium, you couldn’t just “light a match” to the king of our solar system, secondly, at 1,300 times the Earth’s volume and 318 times its mass – believe it or not – Jupiter has only 1 per cent of the material needed to initiate nuclear fusion.

More: Why can’t we just light a match (or a nuke) to Jupiter?


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