out of all these. We have built power stations to process coal and turn it into energy, identified the potential of natural gas as a less damaging source of power, and perhaps most encouragingly for our environment, we have realised that we can harness the Earth’s elements for renewable energy. But there is a lot more energy for us to make use of. In fact, we all produce energy every day by cycling or other activities. We simply don’t have a way to capture it, store it and use it. In addition, a lot of energy that is created as a by-product of powering up machines and engines, such as cars, goes to waste.
Here are 10 strange sources of energy we have yet to tap into:
Noise and sound are energy. The sound waves generated through music, speaking as well as all types of noises such as cars, can be used to create energy. Dr Sang-Woo Kim has been developing a technology that can make energy out of sound at the Institute of Nanotechnology at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, South Korea, is trying to capitalise on the fact that sound waves can make almost any material in the Earth vibrate. For the moment, the amount of energy that can be obtained with this technology is not enormous, but more research is going into exploring the possibilities of using it to charge small devices, such as mobile phones or tablets¹.
About one hundred billion times more power than we need is available right now- in pace. This energy comes through solar wind, a stream of particles flowing towards us from the sun. Physicists think they can capture this energy with a satellite that will orbit the sun. But at the moment the concept is not ready to be rolled out as scientists are still trying to understand whether some of the power would be lost as it makes its way through our atmosphere. It is more likely that this technology can help power nearby space missions².
The average human, at rest, produces around 100 watts of energy per hour³. So imagine the potential heat that is generated in busy and crowded places. Sweden has put the concept into practice by using the body heat generated by 250,000 commuters in Stockholm’s railway station to heat an entire block located nearby⁴.
The waste left created from the production of chocolate can help create hydrogen when fed to E. coli bacteria. Hydrogen is one of the cleanest known fuels, and its only by-product is water⁵.
Noticing that coffee has a relatively high oil content, researchers were able to create a form of biodiesel from coffee grounds. In London, a company called Bio-bean is putting this technology in practice as the first company to industrialise coffee-waste recycling and produce bio-diesel. Researchers believe that if all the waste grounds generated by the world’s coffee drinkers were gathered and reprocessed, this would produce 2.9 million gallons of fuel each year⁶.
Piezoelectricity is produced when stress or strain is applied on an object, which can then be converted to electricity. As such this kind of energy source has a number of applications. Clubs in Japan are using this concept to generate energy from their dance floors⁴. Another company in the UK is looking to design a mobile phone that will incorporate this technology enabling the phone to be charged whenever the user texts⁷.
Cows emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. But now scientists have identified a way to extract methane from cow excrement and convert it to a fuel, the quality of which is high enough for it to be fed into a standard natural gas pipeline⁸.
Algae has long been recognised as having a great potential to provide a reliable energy source. Unlike other biofuels it does not compete with other food sources and it can be grown in nonpotable and saline water on otherwise nonproductive land, treat polluted waters and recycle CO2. However, researchers have still not been able to identify how algae can be grown economically on an industrial scale⁹.
Municipalities around the globe are generating sludge. Rather than further treating this, researchers in the University of Nevada in the US have developed a technology that dries up the sludge so that it can be burnt and transformed into electricity. In Californian alone, the amount of sludge produced could give 10 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per day².
An electric eel is capable of causing up to 400 V. It uses the energy to defend itself but also to compensate of its very poor eyesight. Inventors have found a way to use the energy generated to power up small installations. Specifically, in an aquarium in Japan they have used the eel’s energy to light a Christmas tree¹⁰.