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Alternative energy technologies of the future

Thursday, 28 February 2008 — by

Alternative energy sources are now firmly on the agenda. With the prospect of dwindling natural resources, energy conservation and efficient, sustainable energy production are more important than ever. So what new alternative energy technologies are out there?

Energy production has always been at a premium. And spiraling costs are now driving human innovation harder than ever.

We’ve all read about wave, wind and solar power as well as bio-diesel, to name but a few. But what about the truly new, novel energy conservation and production technologies?

The Human Body

Other than during restful periods like sleep, the human body is invariably in motion. But how do we tap this motion — this kinetic energy?

Microfiber fabric makes its own electricity?

“U.S. scientists have developed a microfiber fabric that generates its own electricity, making enough current to recharge a cell phone or ensure that a small MP3 music player never runs out of power.

If made into a shirt, the fabric could harness power from its wearer simply walking around or even from a slight breeze, they reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.”

But is it machine washable? Assuming this kind of technology could be built into a comfortable sweater, or a pair of jogging pants.

Knee dynamo taps ‘people power’

“US and Canadian scientists have built a novel device that effortlessly harvests energy from human movements.

The adapted knee brace, outlined in the journal Science, can generate enough energy to power a mobile phone for 30 minutes from one minute of walking.”

In time, such devices might find themselves incorporated right into the clothing we wear, turning people quite literally into human dynamos.

Nanogenerator could draw energy from human blood

Now it seems, even when asleep, we’re still capable of producing energy:

“Scientists are working on a new type of nanogenerator that could draw the necessary energy from flowing blood in the human body, by using the beating heart and pulsating blood vessels. Once completed, this new cellular engine could find various applications, even beyond medicine.”

For those with heart pacemakers, Parkinson’s Disease sufferers with regulatory brain implants, or people like my father with hearing aids, the need for external batteries might soon be of the past.

With such a wealth on energy producing mechanisms and technologies built into or connected to the human body, we could well produce enough electricity to power a whole host of gadgets & gizmos.

Transportation

Cargo Ship Propelled by… A Kite?

Embracing old-skool technologies isn’t a step back. In my mind at least, it’s the sort of mental bravery that we need to see more of:

“The 140 meter long cargo ship was being pulled across the water by a giant kite. But then again, a new free/green secondary propulsion system would alarm even the most salted of sea dogs.”

Dynalifter “Roadless Trucking” airship

Yes, this is an blimp, but larger and more sophisticated. Additionally, with direct travel and no need for a complex road transport infrastructure, the benefits are obvious:

“Dynalifter ‘Roadless Trucking’ system, with transport costs and speeds comparable to trucking without the need of building a sophisticated highway network.”

By re-visiting our past in these ways, we’re sure to uncover similar ideas that might point us towards even better energy savings in mass transport.

Electro-kinetic Road Ramps

Sounds complicated, but as Peter Hughes, Director of Hughes Research Limited explains, it’s actually a very simple concept:

“Yes, it’s very straight-forward and simple invention. It consists of a number of articulating plates that fit in the road, and when a vehicle passes over them, it causes a mechanism to rotate that in turn rotates a generator that produces electricity.”

And by employing road-side batteries to store the energy between peak time periods, energy production from busy urban roads and even sections of slow-moving motorway / highway could be viable sources of near-constant energy for such things as street lighting, or to contribute to the energy grid.

Energy Conservation

Eneco: heat-to-energy chip being developed

“When we talk of disruptive new technologies, they don’t get much more disruptive than this. Converting heat directly into energy is as big of a deal as you’re going to read about anywhere today.

So the heat is on to create one cool chip that if viable, could well have an enormous impact on our lives.”

BMW unveils the turbosteamer concept

“BMW’s announcement of the new technology is somewhat of a technological bombshell as it adds yet another form of hybrid automobile – a turbosteamer. The concept uses energy from the exhaust gasses of the traditional Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) to power a steam engine which also contributes power to the automobile – an overall 15 per cent improvement for the combined drive system.”

So in addition to alternative fuels like electricity, bio-diesel and LPG (Liquid Propellent Gas), steam power could be making a comeback.

Renewable Energy Production

Researchers develop inexpensive, easy process to produce solar panels

“’Developing organic solar cells from polymers, however, is a cheap and potentially simpler alternative,’ said Mitra. ‘We foresee a great deal of interest in our work because solar cells can be inexpensively printed or simply painted on exterior building walls and / or roof tops. Imagine some day driving in your hybrid car with a solar panel painted on the roof, which is producing electricity to drive the engine. The opportunities are endless.’”

For cities like Los Angeles, where sunlight is not in short supply, coating the exteriors of buildings in photovoltaic paint would tap into an as yet not fully tapped supply of solar energy.

Imagine every external surface of a building acting as a solar panel? Even in shade, the reflected sunlight from store windows and car wind shields would almost guarantee energy production, even when the skies are overcast.

No more power cords: wireless energy is here

“The new system The system exploits “resonance”, a phenomenon that causes an object to vibrate when energy of a certain frequency is applied. When two objects have the same resonance they exchange energy strongly without having an effect on other surrounding objects.”

And how might our world look in future powered by “WiTricity”?

‘WiTricity’ wireless electricity for all?

“The energy network is everywhere. Our houses, homes and offices are the nations electricity grid.

So long as you’re within one hundred meters of some building or another, that all-important gadget that is a silicon summary of your life will never run flat and need a recharge.

This is the world of wireless energy.”

Dung power station fires up

“The UK’s first dung-fired power station began production of electricity on Thursday.

The pioneering £7m plant at Holsworthy in Devon will process 146,000 tonnes of slurry from 30 local farms every year.

Methane gas from the fermented slurry will power the plant, Holsworthy Biogas, to produce electricity for the national grid.”

I provided a commentary on the life & times of manure — from humble home-making material to home heating fuel.

Efficient housing design

Here is a possible model for the home of the future:

“The two bedroom home features special insulation that retains 60% more heat. Solar panels capture enough light to generate it’s own electricity. Water efficiency comes in the form of harvested rainwater. What about human waste, you ask? A built-in separation system automatically removes combustible waste materials, providing yet another source of energy.”

While expensive now, costs would inevitably tumble as more and more homes adopt the same principle technologies.

Open energy project

“Borehole Thermal Energy Storage, or (BTES) for short, is: ‘an underground structure for storing large quantities of solar heat collected in summer for use later in winter. It is basically a large, underground heat exchanger

Energy Tower, which is: ‘is a project to design and build a system that uses indirect solar collection to generate electricity and store thermal energy in a economical, environmentally friendly, scalable, reliable, efficient and location independent manner using common construction materials.’”

Road energy system

“In summer, the Road Energy System generates considerable heat. In the appropriate geological conditions, this heat can be stored in the ground in aquifers and pumped up for heating purposes in winter. Conversely, the stored winter cold can be used for cooling in summer. The warm and cold water are separately stored in an underground water-bearing sandy layer (aquifer).”

In a similar vain to BTES, the road energy system applies much the same principles, but to the urban sprawl.

The future of energy

While my faith in people is often found wanting, challenged often on a daily basis, my faith in humanity rarely wains or fades.

I truly believe our capacity to learn from both our mistakes and our surroundings — arguably our most important attributes — will be our saviors.

In the end, we shall draw energy from almost everything & anything nature has placed near to us. As a species, our ingenuity is the fuel that drives us to greater efficiency in almost everything we do…

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Comment and be known


spostareduro → Thursday, 28 February 2008 @ 15:49 BDT

Ok Wayne, is there anything you DONT know? *-)

This is wonderful. I’m passing it on. Thanks.

Wayne Smallman → Thursday, 28 February 2008 @ 15:58 BDT

I’m a man of varied tastes, what can I say?! LOL

I’ve been planning this article for a while, so I’m glad you like it.

I know the eclectic mix of topics I write about might turn some people off, but I just don’t neatly fit into an one niche.

My diversity is my longevity…

Jerad Kaliher → Friday, 29 February 2008 @ 7:45 BDT

What a great compilation you have here. There are quite a few innovative green techniques that I’ve never come across. I think the most impressive technology on the list for me has to be wireless power.

There are just so many of these harebrained schemes to continuously power all of your mobile devices and needs. I think the focus should be distribution when it comes to an applied technological concept while R&D needs to stick with the more exotic forms of electricity.

Let’s just say I have more faith in not having to plug in my laptop because its powered wirelessly versus plugging my laptop into a small cup of seawater. Call me crazy?

Wayne Smallman → Friday, 29 February 2008 @ 9:02 BDT

Hi Jerad! I wrote about “WiTricity” some time ago, and the idea I had was of ambient power — the moment you walk into a building, or a designated area, your gadgets begin to recharge.

I think that time will come. But I also think there’s a good chance that those same gadgets will be powered by a whole variety of other means, too…

Marc → Saturday, 2 August 2008 @ 20:18 BDT

Solar panel roads + wireless energy

Very idealistic and, yes, definitely an engineer’s nightmare, but it would be so efficient if it could somehow be implemented. 1.7% of America is a part of any highway, so even that little as solar panels would be amazing. There could be capacitators on the sides so that any excess energy could be (re)captured. They could be hooked up to massive capacitators attached to the main powergrids so that the roads could provide clean energy.

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