Unconventional Possibilities in Energy


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           As the population continues to increase day after day, so does the demand for oil and other natural resources. Eventually we will get to a point where we will need to find different ways of efficiently producing energy at a low cost. Twenty to thirty years ago it was hard to imagine what sources of energy (other than obvious possibilities like solar panels and windmills) that could efficiently supply the world. The advancement of technology today is opening new doors in the energy field that are likely to change the way we think about energy. With so many different sources of energy that are prevalent around the world, the challenge is found in harvesting and securing the energy at its source, and doing so in an efficient manner.

 

            I decided to do some research about possible future sources of energy, and my search turned up some interesting results. One of the most basic yet potentially worthwhile investments was found on an alternative energy website.  This particular article talks about the use of flying wind farms. These flying wind farms are essentially "airborne turbines spinning at high altitudes sending power down via nano-tube cable tethers to generate power." Basically there would be two turbine's attached via the nano-tube cables that would fly high in the sky like kites. The strong wind from the high altitude would allow the turbines to capture and transmit the energy down the cables. The idea was being explored by NASA who said that the turbines would have to function at altitudes above thirty thousand feet. Some advantages of having turbines so high in the sky is that the wind is between eight and twenty seven times stronger than the wind at ground level.  Clearly there are many difficulties that would have to be addressed including maintenance, air space issues, safety, etc, but flying wind farms are a potential source of future energy.

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         Another form of energy that could become very useful and resourceful in the near future is the transformation of human waste into energy. An article by Janet Zimmerman describes a process being developed by an engineering firm named UC Riverside. The new process "uses heat and pressure to turn human waste into clean energy," saving millions of dollars and reducing pollution in the process.  This idea has the potential to change the energy industry since there will never be a shortage of human waste. The first step of the process "pumps a combination of municipal sewage, sawdust and water into a pressurized reactor that is heated to almost 1,400 degrees." (Zimmerman). A senior development engineer with UC Riverside, Junior Castillo, explained that the extreme heat transforms the mixture into different gasses like carbon dioxide, methane, and carbon monoxide. In the later stages, these gasses are converted into substitutes for natural gasses. The goal is to eventually use the gas product to heat the reactor to increase efficiency. Although this process is still under development, they plan to have a functioning plant running within the next five years.

 

            A third viable solution to the impending energy crisis is the use of algae as biofuel. The oil inside of algae can be extracted and converted to fuel using quite a few different methods. An article from howstuffworks.com, Susan Cassidy talks about the different potential ways of harvesting the energy from the algae. The first of these methods is a "form of mechanical extraction (called) expression, in which the oil is literally pressed out of the algae." Different types of presses are used to release the oil from the algae, depending on the type of algae strain. This method has been proven to obtain about eighty percent of the oil contained within the algae. Another mechanical extraction method is called the ultrasonic method. Here extractors use ultrasonic waves in a solvent that cause the walls of the algae to burst and release the oil. There are also chemical processes that can be used for this task. Chemical solvents like Benzene and Hexane can be used to similarly infiltrate the walls of the algae and release the oil. Chemical methods can yield up to ninety-five percent of the oil inside. The oil extracted through chemical use is called "green crude" and needs to be mixed with other solutions like alcohol and catalysts that initiate the reaction with the alcohol and change it to a combination of biodiesel and glycerol. The last part is removing the glycerol from the solution to get the remaining biodiesel.  This energy solution, like the others mentioned, is still under development, but breakthroughs are being made that are bringing us closer to a world with cleaner and more efficient sources of fuel.


Works Cited

"Alternative Energy." AENews. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2013.

<http://www.alternative-energy-news.info/flying-wind-farms/>.

Cassidy, Susan. "How Can Algae Be Converted into Biofuel?" HowStuffWorks. N.p.,

n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2013. <http://www.howstuffworks.com/fuel-

efficiency/biofuels/convert-algae-to-biofuel.htm>.

Zimmerman, Janet. "UC RIVERSIDE: New Technology Turns Human Waste into

Clean Energy." Breaking News. N.p., 19 Nov. 2013. Web. 06 Dec. 2013. <http://www.pe.com/local-news/local-news-headlines/20131119-uc-riverside-new-technology-turns-human-waste-into-clean-energy.ece>.

IMAGE:

https://www.google.com/search?q=flying+wind+farms&safe=off&client=firefox-a&hs=vkY&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=fflb&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=ZZqhUoibHcGhkQe-2IDADg&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1080&bih=632#facrc=_&imgdii=_&imgrc=zpot-xvyXBqliM%3A%3BMKyOqJV9ljW8TM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fnode1.ecogeek-cdn.net%252Fecogeek%252Fimages%252Fimage%252FMagenn2DAnimation.gif%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.ecogeek.org%252Fwind-power%252F1616%3B462%3B347


2 Comments

I have heard of all types of alternative energy sources to help make up for the current energy problem but these were all knew to me. While I've heard of the conventional wind turbines, they turbines seem pretty cool how they float up in the air to get more energy because the wind is faster. That to me still seems reasonable but the other 2 things caught me very off guard. Using human waste to create power is something I don't think anyone would have expected. Heating up human waste seems bizarre to me but if it works then why not. Its killing 2 birds with one stone managing waste while creating energy. I looked up bizarre ways to create energy and found a lot of other cool things that I wouldn't have thought, like excess body heat from subway tunnels being funneled into homes to heat them.

http://news.discovery.com/tech/alternative-power-sources/ten-bizarre-sources-alternative-energy.htm

Utilizing the excess body heat from tunnels is pure genius. I believe I've heard of similar situations where heat that you would think is noncollectable is in fact being absorbed and rerouted. When I wrote this post, I was trying to decide what types of futuristic energy sources might be interesting from a science point of view, but it might be important to mention these other sources that are remarkable and pure genius. This article from cnn.com talks about using solar energy from space (which would be a lot more powerful than solar energy on the surface of the earth), mining volcanoes, my personal favorite; harnessing the power of ocean waves, along with a few others. Definitely worth a quick read

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