The world's strangest sources of renewable energy

| 29th October 2019
Jellyfish shall inherit the ocean ... if we keep on acidifying it. Photo: Stuart Chalmers via Flickr (CC BY-NC).
Jellyfish shall inherit the ocean ... if we keep on acidifying it. Photo: Stuart Chalmers via Flickr (CC BY-NC).
Beyond solar: the renewable energy you've never heard of...

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You’ve got to think outside the box when it comes to saving the world. 

Wind farms and solar panels might be leading the way, but perhaps the best method of renewable energy is lurking somewhere we haven’t thought to look yet? 

Power moves

Nightclubs in the UK are suffering a decline and looking for new ways to attract eager dancers. As more and more of the younger generation opt to steer clear of booze, clubs are looking for a change of image - piezoelectricity could be just what they're looking for. 

Simply put, piezoelectricity is produced when pressure is applied to an object, such as a foot on a floor. The kinetic energy of dancing feet hitting the dancefloor is transferred through a series of springs and powers batteries, which can be used to power the nightclub itself.

The technology is already being used in nightclubs in Japan, and there are attempts underway to bring the technology out on a wider scale, such as on pavements and offices.

Heathrow and the London Tube already use special tiles to help with this process. Once the matter of expense is addressed, the technology could indeed be rolled out further — such as charging your phone with the act of texting

Body heat 

Maybe the key to renewable energy has been closer to home than we realised. How about renewable energy for humans, by humans? 

That’s the line of thinking when it comes to using body heat as a renewable energy source. Let’s do a little science: A human male, at rest, gives off around 100 watts of energy and eighty percent of a human’s body power is emitted as heat. 

We aren’t quite at the level of sustaining our power needs via our own body heat. The Seiko’s Thermic Watch managed to capture some of this heat as energy, at one microwatt - but an iPhone needs five volts to charge. 

There’ll be no Matrix style human battery scenario just yet, fear not. But body heat is being utilised for energy in some parts of the globe: over in America, the Mall of America in Minneapolis is warmed in part by recycled heat from its shoppers.

In the UK, power has been generated via crematoriums, with a single cremation enough to power 1,500 televisions. 

For now, the use is limited by the fact that the wearable tech that converts body heat to energy can only do so on a small scale. We won’t be charging our smartphones with body heat effectively any time soon. But we are seeing progress in the area, with prototype smartwatches touting to be powered by body heat when worn. 

Jellyfish 

Using jellyfish to combat the world’s rising fuel crisis is pretty far from the box. But it’s a line of thinking that is proving to be astonishingly fruitful. 

In fact, jellyfish are slowly shirking-off their previous reputation of being nothing but a menace, and have been studied as a potential way to help Alzheimer’s patients and even to assist scientists in studying the inside of cancer cells.

Beyond the human body, jellyfish could become the next big renewable energy source. The key lies in a jellyfish’s green fluorescent protein (GFP), which is what gives some jellyfish their eerie glow. This substance reacts to UV light and excites electrons. 

Consider this in the context of solar panels. Right now, people are investing in solar panels as a way to turn greener, but in truth, it can take around eight years for solar panels to bring a return on investment.

Plus, with their silicon materials, the process of making solar panels is very energy-intensive. If this silicon could be replaced with jellyfish GFP, this energy-consuming process could be lessened. 

Cows

On the subject of wildlife, cows could also prove useful for our renewable energy sourcing. After all, it’s an oft-repeated fact that cows produce a staggering amount of methane. 

Along with other greenhouse gases produced by the agricultural industry, the sector is responsible for 18% percent of greenhouse gas emissions. A dairy cow produces 110kg of methane every year. It takes two beef cows to produce the same amount.

One way to reduce this impact is to eat less meat and dairy. Another would be to harvest the gas cows emit and use it for energy. Scientists have attempted the latter, with a rather euphemistically-named ‘methane backpack’ to collect this fuel.

Techno-fixes can only take us so far, but we need to think big and get creative if we are to rise to the challenge of decarbonisation. Some of the answers might just be hiding in plain sight. 

This Author 

Guilia Kapp is the marketing manager for Daikin

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