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The Big List: Alternative energy

Forget fracking, solar, hydro and wind – we’ve discovered the real future of energy.


By Jean-Pierre Mestanza

Friday 2 May 2014, 04:13PM


Ain’t that sweet

If humans love sugar, the environment could too. Researchers at the Fusion Energy Division at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States have been working on ways to create fuel cells using hydrogen converted from sugar. The process produces three times more hydrogen than conventional methods, and would be odourless, pollutant-free, and cheap. Still, it may be another ten years before it’s ready for mass consumption so don't go pouring bags of sugar into your gas tank quite yet.

Oh crap!

Faeces contains methane, which could be used like natural gas. This is why two studies have taken place (in Massachusetts and San Francisco) where dog walkers are given biodegradable bags to collect canine waste which is then run through a process that gives off methane as a byproduct. Studies show that the energy could be used to power light bulbs. Meanwhile in Edinburgh, scientists are looking into using urine-powered fuel cells to produce power on the go for military personnel and astronauts.

Dead right

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Several European countries have been looking into ways of capturing body heat from humans to use as a makeshift furnace. In Stockholm and Paris, scientists have already figured out how to capture body heat from train commuters and use it to warm water through pipes that are then pumped through train station ventilation systems. In the United Kindom, meanwhile, a crematorium has figured out how to use the gases released from the cremation process (first removing the mercury) to heat their building.

Jelly-powered

You know how jellyfish glow in the dark? It's a green fluorescent protein called GFP. In Sweden, a team of researchers at the Chalmers University of Technology were able to drop GFP onto aluminum electrodes and exposed it to ultraviolet light. The protein released electrons that travelled a circuit and produced electricity, which scientists used to make fuel cells. In fact, the fuel cells are so small they can be used to power nano devices like the ones that are implanted in humans to treat different diseases.

Good vibrations

Who knew that partying could help the environment? A nightclub in Rotterdam, that’s who. They’ve used “piezoelectric” materials to capture the energy from vibrations and create an electric charge to produce a dazzling light show on the dance floor. The military applications of these materials are also being investigated. Ideas proposed include boots that charge radios and portable devices with each step.

 

 

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