Odd ways to generate electricity

September 28, 2020   By Caitlin Cosper

Odd ways to generate electricity

Experts and environmentalists have invested heavily in alternative sources of power to generate electricity – especially as conversations around the climate crisis continue. Especially in states such as Texas, which leads the country in generating power sources, the hunt for clean energy sources is on.

So, what are some of the strangest methods of generating electricity? The answers might surprise you.

Trash

One man’s trash is another man’s…power? It might seem unlikely, but trash can be used to generate electricity. Trash is not only free, but there is an abundance of it. In fact, every American produces about 2,072 pounds of trash each year. And according to the EPA, the average American tosses approximately 5.91 pounds of trash each day.

As landfills pile high, many have wondered how we can transform trash into a power source. The answer lies in waste-to-energy plants, which convert municipal solid waste (MSW) into electricity. These waste-to-energy plants burn MSW, which generates heat. This heat turns into high-pressure steam, which powers turbines. These turbines then produce enough electricity to power your home.

Onions

It turns out that onions can produce more than just tears when you cut them! The juices from onions can generate energy through a process called Advanced Energy Recovery System (AERS). Through AERS, onion juice is transformed into biogas. This biogas is turned into methane, which is the main component in natural gas.

Natural gas has become a major energy source through the world and is hailed as a cleaner power option compared to coal and oil. While generating natural gas does still produce carbon dioxide emissions – a main contributor to global warming – it is still generally considered to be a cleaner and more renewable resource compared to traditional power sources.

Cow manure

It’s a fairly well-known fact that cows (and other livestock) emit methane directly into the atmosphere, which can contribute to global warming. One cow can only do so much damage, but there are about nine million dairy cows in the U.S. alone, and each cow produces approximately 80 pounds of manure each day. All combined, these cows can impact the state of the environment.

However, experts have figured out how to use this methane as a power source. Biogas recovery systems capture the methane produced from this waste and turn it into gas, which can be used to generate electricity. Currently, a nationwide initiative between Dominion Energy, Vanguard Renewables, and Dairy Farmers of America has begun investing in this system.

Jellyfish

If you’re looking for the weirdest source of power, look no further than the jellyfish. As it turns out, the substance that makes jellyfish glow – which is called the green fluorescent protein (GFP) – can be captured and transformed into energy. According to OilPrice, “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.”

However, a few years ago, experts discovered that GFP can fluoresce for years at a time. Additionally, GFP can be used to make bioLEDs, which are environmentally friendly light sources. All told, jellyfish certainly have more potential in the energy industry than we might have initially thought.

Sugar

Sugar can be used for more than just baking! As it turns out, sugar can be transformed into hydrogen, which would let hydrogen gas produce electricity in hydrogen fuel cells. Using sugar to produce hydrogen is especially important in states such as Texas because about 95 percent of all hydrogen is generated using fossil fuels.

As OilPrice explains, “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.”

While major power sources such as oil, gas, and renewable sources including solar and wind continue to dominate the energy industry, it’s only a matter of time until experts discover new ways to generate electricity. From the oceans to our garbage bins, the possibilities are endless and, quite often, surprising.

 

Caitlin Cosper is a writer within the energy and power industry. Born in Georgia, she attended the University of Georgia before earning her master’s in English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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