Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Future is Weirdly Renewable

There once was a time, using the sun and wind as energy was considered pretty wacky. Whenever a new way of working is called for – like say, creating a new energy source that is going to be kind to the planet, is renewable, clean, green and viable – all kinds of inventors, scientists, enthusiasts, and let’s face it, crackpots - emerge to try and find unusual ways to save the planet (while sometimes testing your imagination).

If the thought of onion fired energy is enough to make you cry, well you might be right. Onion juice has been turned into fuel. One farm in the US has been using onion juice to fuel refrigerators, lights, disposal units and factory energy – and saved almost $700,000! But it cost over $9 million to set up the anaerobic digester to turn onion waste into biogas and then into methane, and then electricity. (It doesn’t take a math genius though, to see that within a decade all that money will be recouped).

Why you would use perfectly edible chocolate as an energy source (other than a late afternoon pick-me-up) may confound many MyViewers.  But this potential energy source does not quite make you want to give up your candy bars. Cocoa bean shells – and imagine how many are of those – are now being used at power stations to see if a more Earth-friendly, coal-fuelled power can be generated. The theory is that with cocoa bean shells added to the mix, less coal will be needed.  If that sounds like an invitation to eat more chocolate, thus creating more cocoa bean shells for the power stations – hold on for just a minute. It’s in its early stages and nothing really revolutionary has happened yet.

Want some turkey guts with those onions and chocolates? (It’s quite a meal we are laying out here)? With pressure and heat, slaughterhouse waste is being turned into oil at a thermal conversion plant in Missouri, USA. Along with the blood and guts, tires, plastic and human sewage gets chucked into the mix, creating a not-so-delicious blend of oil.

Human and animal waste is being used in over 80 city buses in Oslo, Norway in the form of super-efficient and renewable energy.  Two sewage treatment plants collect methane that comes from the microbial process that breaks down sewage, and pump it into the city buses.

Urine powered batteries to be exact. Urine contains urea – a very promising blend of hydrogen and nitrogen. By processing it through a nickel-based electrode large amounts of cheap hydrogen can be created --- and that hydrogen can be used in batteries.

Of course in Asia – where necessity is the mother of invention – all sorts of make-do renewable energy projects have no doubt been created and been proven useful over the decades. If you have one that inspires you – maybe that can be your MyView entry? Go to our home page to see how to enter.

And coming up in future blogs, there’ll be more weird renewable energy stories.

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