What are the weirder Alternative Sources of Energy?

Jellyfish, which provide one of the weird energy alternatives
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With the ongoing debate about renewable energy vs non- renewable energy, and the increasing concern that our reservoir of fossil fuels, which for many is the main source of energy, is depleting, various scientists and organisations are on the hunt for new ways to generate electricity and power the appliances that we have become accustomed to using daily. In this article, we discuss alternative sources of energy that can be used instead of fossil fuels.

When you think about sources of energy or ways of generating electricity the first things that come to mind may be oil, coal or maybe some renewable energy sources like solar panels or wind turbines. These sources of energy may be the most well-known, and may seem like the most logical options. There are in fact there are various sources that we can use to gain energy from that at first seem totally unexpected and strange.

Food Waste

Some of these unexpected energy sources are actually found in our everyday lives. For example the food waste in your kitchen. Gills Onions, a company in California, has already launched their Advanced Energy Recovery System. This can convert the 300,000 pounds of agricultural waste that they produce daily into methane that can be used as an energy source. This machine is an anaerobic digester – a sealed, oxygen-free tank – which breaks down shredded and pressed onion waste. This is done via anaerobic digestion into biogas, which can then be turned into methane.

Since methane is the main component of natural gas, a commonly used fuel, it can then be put into a fuel cell to be converted to power, which we can use for electricity. The fuel cell is an electrochemical cell that can convert the chemical energy of the methane, along with an oxidising agent, which will usually be oxygen, into electrical energy that we can use. Therefore, we can actually use waste onions to generate electricity. Of course this method is not necessarily useful for individuals and one household would not generate enough onion waste daily to sustain their overall need for electricity, but if larger companies like Gills Onions adopt this method, it would be a successful way of reducing the use of fossil fuels and slowing down the depletion of our resources.

Energy in living organisms

There are also sources of energy to be found in the organisms around us. There is a certain type of bioluminescent – “glowing” – jellyfish, the Aequorea Victoria, which contains two proteins that cause its bioluminescence. One of these proteins, the green fluorescent protein (GFP), can be used in a photovoltaic device to produce electricity. When the GFP is placed between aluminium electrodes and is exposed to ultraviolet light, the protein will absorb photons and emit electrons, which then generate electricity.

This use of GFP could be considered a cheaper alternative to Grätzel cells (a type of dye-sensitized solar cell), as the GFP could act in place of the dye used in these cells. Using the GFP instead of the dye currently used in these cells would be beneficial because the GFP does not require any additional substances to be added before being placed on the electrodes, whereas the currently used dye does, so using the GFP would cut costs and be a cheaper way of generating electricity.

An application of this use of GFP to generate electricity is a biological fuel cell. This can generate electricity without the use of sunlight. Instead, light is emitted from chemicals from the second protein, an enzyme (luciferase). This is found in fireflies and sea pansies. This can generate electricity without the need for sunlight. This would be extremely useful as it is proposed to be used to power devices embedded within living organisms, which have functions such as diagnosing diseases.

Microalgae

Another type of organism that can be a source of energy are microalgae that convert sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into chemical energy. These algae can then store energy in the form of lipids such as natural oils, and these oils can be extracted and converted into biofuels.

Some of these algae can produce up to 60 times more oil per acre than land-based plants. All of this could be converted to biofuels and used to power cars, trains and various other machines that rely on gasoline or diesel. However this is not currently widely used due to the high production cost of microalgae-based fuels. The process of extracting oils from microalgae and converting them to biofuels involves breaking down the cell structure of the algae using sound waves or solvents and refining the oils into biofuels. However, this is still a viable alternative method of generating power, although it may not be on a large scale.

Whilst these sources of energy and their uses may not currently be well-known or used on a large scale, we can see that various alternative sources of energy do exist, and hopefully should help to shift our reliance on fossil fuels to alternative methods of generating power in order to create a more sustainable future.

Article by – Alia Shahnaz

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