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Amy Gleich

Amy Gleich

Freelance multimedia journalist. Recent graduate of the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication's Master's Program.You can follow Amy on Twitter.

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5 Bizarre Sources of Energy

5 Bizarre Sources of Energy

1. The Power of Family

Nothing takes the pain out of burying a loved one like knowing you’re standing in a building being heated by gasses released during their embalming. Or at least that’s the way one British crematorium hopes you’ll feel.

According to a Discovery.com article, gasses from the bodies are already captured during the embalming process to filter out the mercury in the “deceased’s fillings” (I don’t know about you, but that’s the creepiest two-word combination I’ve read today). Instead of letting the energy escape, these industrious morticians pipe it throughout the funeral home. I definitely appreciate the waste-not-want-not ethic at work here, but maybe we should keep this a trade secret. It’s a smart and green business practice, but not one I’m sure grieving relatives want to hear about.

On the Bright side: You Can Feel Grandpa’s Warmth for One Day Longer.
Photo By: Ben Dibble
Caption: On the Bright side: You Can Feel Grandpa’s Warmth for One Day Longer.

2. The Power of Poo, the Power of You

You probably know that cows emit methane through their daily biological processes (specifically pooping and passing gas). Cow manure has long been used to fuel vehicles and a new project from Argentina's National Institute of Agricultural Technology is creating cow backpacks to keep their gas power from escaping.

But why should cows have all the fun?

Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, I produce feces and flatulence every day, too! Can I cash in on this?” You sure can! In a much, much less efficient way. We, too produce methane, as well as hydrogen gasses, but it would take a person about one month to produce a gallon of compressed natural gas. A more communal (read: pooling our emissions) approach might be necessary to make this method feasible.

If you want to go the feces route, you’ll need a methane bio-digester, which isn’t bad in  itself – a properly functioning unit emits no smell – but you will have to collect your “fuel.” The good news is that feces produce enough methane to be a useful household energy source, and you can use food waste, too. Unless you want to tell your friends that your house is powered by your poo – in that case, no cheating with table scraps.

Methane Underpants
Drawing By: Jason Torchinsky
Caption: See this drawing, along with Jason’s hilarious article here.

3. How About a Natural Disaster?

For anyone who has witnessed the destructive force of a tornado firsthand, the idea of creating fake twisters in a lab might sound like a bad idea. But tornadoes are the massive powerhouses we know them to be precisely because they hold massive amounts of energy. It’s that energy that Louis Michaud wants to harness. According to popsci.com, Michaud, a retired ExxonMobil engineer, has spent his golden years creating vortices in his garage. However, even the largest “tornado” he’s produced has been only about 65 feet in height – at those measurements, the energy produced is negligible. But Michaud predicts that as the size of the vortex increases, its energy-producing capacity will rapidly expand.

Related Article: Five Crazy New Forms Of Energy That Just Might Work

Michaud, who now works with Canada’s AVEtec Energy Corp., proposes partnering with power plants to utilize the waste energy they generate via heat-to-fuel what he hopes will be twisters of over 9 miles tall – the highest natural tornados have only been about 5-½ miles. Energy would be harnessed by the twisters powering turbines. Doing this, he says, could potentially create more energy than nuclear or fossil fuels at less than half the cost of the lowest traditional energy source. Michaud’s idea seems to have great promise; clearly, tornadoes are natural energy forces to be reckoned with. But -- maybe I’ve seen Twister one too many times -- creating artificial tornadoes when humans are powerless to stop natural ones just seems like a disaster waiting to happen.

Tornado energy 
Photo by: Bill Alldredge
Caption: It’s either going to destroy your house completely or power it cheaply. Either way, your monthly energy bill is decreasing dramatically.

4.  Japanese Diaper Duty

An average newborn baby uses 10 to 14 diapers every day. In Japan, however, it’s the adult diaper market that’s increasing as the baby diaper market shrinks. But whether the source is a one year old or a 90 year old, disposable diapers are a guaranteed way to fatten a landfill. However, that may soon change – a Japanese company, Super Faiths Inc., has devised a way to turn yesterday’s pants protector into tomorrow’s energy supply. According to the company’s website, used diapers (contents and all) sealed in plastic bags can be thrown into their machines where they automatically go through a shredding, fermentation and drying process. Contained in one unit to avoid user contact, the final step in the process is to deodorize the material. The company claims that the result is bacteria-free “fluffy fuel chips.” The chips – or pellets - are dry, odorless and contain 5000 kcal of heat per kilogram and are meant to be used in biomass heating and electricity systems, according to inhabit.com.

Since Americans alone throw away 18 billion diapers a year, I love the idea of finding a way to turn this waste to energy. However, before you get all excited and soil yourself just to try out the new technology, know that the Japanese mainly use paper diapers. American disposable diapers contain a lot more plastic and may not be good candidates for this process just yet.

Amount of Diapers in Japan 
Credit: superfaiths.com
Caption: I had to share this chart for three reasons: It explains Japan’s need for this type of service; The angry face drawing that represents dirty diapers; and, I’m fine with the baby wearing only a diaper, but why is the adult with the cane also only in a diaper?

5. Whiskey-Fueled Rage. I Mean, Energy.

Beginning in 2007, illegal liquor confiscated on the Swedish border has been transported about 125 miles to a plant in the city of Linkoping, where it is heated and converted to biogas. According to nbcnews.com, hundreds of gallons of smuggled booze is seized by customs officials and used to power buses and trucks and even a biogas train. Officials claim a “quart of pure alcohol is enough to make about a tenth of a gallon of gas” and the best part: the alcohol that starts the process is (unintentionally) supplied free of charge.

The downside? Some pretty disappointed Swedish people who won’t be getting their delicious, illegal booze. Other than that, I can’t really think of a negative side to this one!  

Photo: Newsnextbd.com
Caption: Instead of fueling your regret-filled night, Sweden uses confiscated alcohol to fuel buses, trucks and trains.

By Amy Gleich of Oilprice

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Leave a comment
  • Stephen Kriz on July 02 2014 said:
    Tidal power or energy from the ocean's tides is also a very promising technology and is already in prototyping stage in the U.K. and elsewhere. You should have mentioned this!

  • Amy on July 24 2014 said:
    Hi Stephen!

    Thanks so much for reading! You're right, tidal energy is an awesome resource, but I was kind of going for wild/odd sources of energy on this one, but I will definitely keep tidal energy in mind for a more serious/plausible look at energy sources in the future!

    Thanks again, have a great day! :D

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