Thursday, December 29, 2011

Truly Unusual Alternate Energy

There was a time when the thought of using wind or the sun as sources of power seemed truly strange and far-fetched but as scientists and inventors across the globe attempt to discover renewable energy sources that will support our future, some truly strange alternatives are in the works. While it is unlikely that many of these will become as widespread as, say, the electric car, you never know.

Take Doc in "Back to the Future" - if you remember your younger years well enough, you would be able to tell we what Doc uses to power the Delorean for the next law-of-physics-breaking journey. If you said a banana, you'd be right. This seemed quite futuristic in the 80's - but we are actually closer to that today than you perhaps imagine - the banana powered car that is, not the time travel.

We are now able to create liquid fuel from solid-state trash - the process to do so has evolved quite quickly. This is done through a process called "gasification", during which heat is used to transform carbon-based solid materials into a synthetic gas, which can then be extracted as ethanol. With this technology now available, check out some of the interesting concepts currently in development around the world.

Disposable Diapers
America alone throws away over 18 million non-biodegradable diapers every year.  Imagine if we were able to recycle those into an energy source? Two companies, one in Canada and another in England are currently constructing plants where they will transform the organic materials in diapers into biofuel.

Farm Animal Byproducts
A company called Changing World Technologies aims to turn animal waste from farms and slaughter-houses such as bodily waste, fat, bones and feathers into a viable fuel source. Thus, revolutionizing renewable energy by changing the way in which organic waste materials are utilized. Those gross guts that were once labeled as waste and shipped off to the landfill are now being used as energy, which improves our quality of life and minimizes global warming, all at once.

Watermelons
At your next summer picnic, take this into consideration when biting into your favorite summer dessert. A biofuel consultant and his team found that the juice from the imperfect, oddly shaped watermelons (called ‘cull’ watermelons) that many farmers decide not to sell and just leave on the vine, can be fermented quite well into ethanol. When the team was working on drawing out antioxidant compounds from watermelon juice, they realized that what they were pulling out of the watermelon (the liquid, at least) could prove to be a great source of ethanol.

It's hard to believe it, but did you know that about a fifth of all watermelons are not harvested and left on the vine? With this in mind, it's quite easy to see how watermelons could be used as a source of ethanol.

Human and Animal Waste
As unsavory as it may be to think about, waste from humans and animals has proven to be a shockingly efficient form of renewable energy. In fact, in Norway, buses run on biomethane. Biomethane is a by-product of the treated version of what you flush down the toilet - sewage, that is. It's free - and powering the propulsion of vehicles with biomethane prevents the noxious gas from being sent out into the world as a greenhouse gas. This gives a new meaning to "fart along" doesn't it?

Confiscated Alcohol
A Swedish bio-gas company is converting alcohol that is seized from smugglers trying to sneak it into the country into a viable fuel source. After establishing a partnership with Scandinavia’s customs service, a company called Svensk Biogas AB is planning to process nearly 200,000 gallons of smuggled alcohol seized by customs last year into enough bio-gas to power over 1,000 buses and trucks. The customs services used to simply pour it down the drain but now, they pump it into giant tanks that are then picked up by Svensk Bio-gas AB trucks for processing.

Alcohol on it's own isn't what makes the bio-fuel, but the alcohol gets added to bio-reactors along with a whole lot of other waste products to create the methane that is used to power these very bio-gas trucks and other vehicles.

Laura Green may not be a biofuel consultant herself, but she's always interested in alternative energy and new ways of getting around with as little harm to the environment around her as possible.