Unconventional Energy Sources
by Alice Lyons
The energy sources we choose to use are an important consideration when trying to reduce our environmental impact. But certain green initiatives entail a degree of weirdness that can raise a few eyebrows or even provoke controversy. Here are our picks of our favourite unusual energy sources:
A UK crematorium won an environmental reward for its innovative take on the ‘circle of life.’ Redditch Crematorium began diverting its 800 degree incinerator heat to Abbey Stadium Leisure Centre in 2013 in order to heat their swimming pool. Not only did the initiative make use of heat energy which was previously lost into the atmosphere, but it saved Redditch Borough Council over £14,000 a year in heating bills. Despite being an ingenious act of recycling, the scheme was highly criticised in the community for being ‘inappropriate’, ‘eerie’ or ‘disrespectful.’
You may have heard of the power of dance, but this concept takes it to a whole new level! A Dutch company has developed modular floor tiles with generators inside which are activated when compressed, converting dance steps into electricity. These clever dance floors are available in both permanent and temporary formats, with the latter acting as a strong promotional tool in helping to raise awareness of renewable energy sources in a fun and engaging way.
When 80% of our body power is given off as excess heat, it’s no wonder that scientists have sought to harness this power source. Thermoelectric devices have taken several different forms, with recent advances in nanotechnology making wearable pieces a reality, such as body heat-powered watches. Accessories like this incorporate thin cells which use the temperature difference between cool ambient air and warm human skin to generate small amounts of electricity. On a more industrial scale, a real estate company in Sweden channelled body heat from commuters passing through Stockholm’s Central Station to heat a nearby building. This was achieved through installing heat exchangers in the ventilation system which converted the excess body heat into hot water.
We thought Bristol was ahead of the game with the infamous ‘Poo Bus’ of 2015, but clever companies in San Francisco and Australia have been creating bio-gas from dog waste for over ten years! The principles of the systems are essentially the same: the waste is placed in a methane digester where bacteria eat away leaving only methane gas behind. The resulting gas can then be used in appliances utilising natural gas, or it can be converted into electricity for a broader range of applications. This process prevents millions of tonnes of waste going to landfill every year in non-biodegradable bags. It is a more environmentally friendly alternative to leaving dog mess on the ground, as uncollected waste gets washed into, and contaminates, local water supplies. It is also a safer method than composting, as pathogens present in the waste are not completely destroyed by the low temperatures generated during the composting process.
Speaking of compost, used coffee grounds have been utilised by keen horticulturalists as a soil conditioner for years, with many neighbourhood coffee shops donating their stocks free of charge to their customers. Several high-profile confectionery companies currently incinerate coffee grinds to cook food products in their factories. However, American researchers have determined that the grounds comprise between 10-20% of oil by weight- on a par with notoriously unethical palm oil. As such, it serves as a potentially very potent and more environmentally friendly biodiesel feedstock alternative that may have many more applications which we are yet to fully explore.
Extra-terrestrial solar power
We are all used to seeing photovoltaic cells in our day-to-day life, from solar panels on houses to the fields of cells dappled around the countryside. But someday we may be partial to panels orbiting directly over our heads in the form of satellites. ‘Space-based solar power’ or SBSP is the simple concept of harvesting solar energy from outside of our atmosphere. This means we are able to harness a higher percentage of the suns’ rays, round 60% of which are lost through reflection and absorption once they enter our atmosphere. An additional benefit of this technology would be 24-hour energy generation, which is a current stumbling block of their Earth-based counterparts.