As concern grows for the climate and all eyes are on fossil fuels, the hunt is on for new ways of generating electricity. Traditional renewable energy sources have until now focused on harnessing the power of the sun or the wind or water. But traditions are meant to be broken--and that happens more often than you might think
There is a host of other, lesser-known--and sometimes eccentric--means of generating electricity that bypass fossil fuels, and even the sun, wind and water.
There is an abundance of trash in the world, and after all, you don’t need it for anything else anyway. So, as feedstocks go, it ticks all the right boxes: plentiful and free. In fact, plentiful is a bit of an understatement. Each year, every American generates 1,609 pounds of trash. Globally, the World Bank estimates that 2.01 billion metric tons (4.4 trillion pounds) of trash are produced each year. Australia, for one, has so much trash that its landfills will soon be overflowing, with Australians pitching 21 million tons of waste into landfills each year.
The land down under is taking a new approach to their trash problem by turning their trash into electricity. That’s a win-win from both a trash-reduction aspect and an electricity-generation aspect. The project--a joint venture between UEA-based Masdar and Tribe Infrastructure Group, will produce 29 megawatts of baseload renewable energy, according to Forbes. With this process. This will be enough to power 36,000 homes and displace 300,000 tons of CO2 emissions each year. The process of converting trash to energy is cost-intensive, though, but it’s better than having the trash pile into a landfill. Construction on the project is already in full swing, with a projected completion date of 2022.
#2 Onion Juice
It’s true: onions really can produce electricity, and we’re not just talking about in an lab or that school science project. The process of taking onion juice, through the Advanced Energy Recovery System (AERS), is an anaerobic digester that turns the feedstock into biogas. This biogas is then turned into methane, which is the main component of natural gas. Related: Coronavirus May Cripple Fuel Demand In All Of Asia
The natural gas is then used to generate electricity. Such a system already exists and is being used by a California company, Gills Onions. Gills spent $9.6 million on the AERS system, and received $2.7 million in incentives from Southern California Gas Company. And it’s paying off: Gills has slashed its own power bills by $700,000 annually, and saves $400,000 by not having to dispose of the onion waste as it used to. It also has cut its CO2 emissions by 30,000 tons per year, according to Fast Company.
#3 Cow Poop
We all have heard the stories of how cows are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. There are nine million dairy cows in the US alone, and a typical dairy cow generates 80 pounds of manure every day. And aside from being used as a fertilizer, this manure also generates methane. This problem is unlikely to go away, as the cows have little alternatives to their poop problem. But a biogas recovery process can take this waste, turn it into gas, and then use it to generate electricity. A new nationwide program is now underway to use this process--taking manure, storing it in covered ponds where bacteria breaks it down to generate methane gas, then conditioning it to remove the CO2--on a major commercial scale, courtesy of Dominion Energy, Vanguard Renewables, and Dairy Farmers of America. Dominion Energy is already collaborating with Smithfield Foods to capture methane emissions from hog farms to convert it into power. The two projects combined will power 100,000 homes, and will reduce emissions equivalent to removing 650,000 ICE vehicles from US roads. Related: Jim Cramer: ‘’Fossil Fuels Are Done’’
The project has received some backlash, with critics arguing that Dominion would be better served by investing in “true” clean energy projects like solar and wind. But the project is gaining traction as a triple win--methane is used instead of leaked into the atmosphere, electricity is generated from this already existing feedstock, and farms are financially compensated for the manure.
The substance that makes jellyfish glow--called the green fluorescent protein, or GFP--can be used as an electricity source. GFP fluoresces under UV light as it absorbs photons and emits electrons. Jellyfish have been used in experiments that uses GFP in a new kind of solar cell--solar cells that are cheaper and more efficient than silicon based cells, but little came of it. But a few years ago, it was discovered that this substance, when stabilized, fluoresces for a very long time--years, in fact. And it can be used to make bioLEDs--an environmentally friendly light source that would theoretically be a practical replacement for the scarce substance yttrium
It’s possible to turn sugar into hydrogen, which would allow hydrogen gas to produce electricity in hydrogen fuel cells. Currently 95% of all hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels, but the search is on to find a renewable source of hydrogen--and sugar is one of these sources. Genetically engineered bacteria such as E. coli would eat the glucose from the sugar cane. And it wouldn’t take that much sugar, though it has yet to be brought to a commercial scale. Just two spoonfuls of sugar can produce enough energy to charge a cell phone for weeks.
The science behind these processes will increase in popularity in the coming years as climate concerns come to the forefront--but it will be only those that can be produced economically that will allow them to compete with fossil fuels and current renewable tech.
By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com
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