Five Alternative Forms of Energy You Have Never Heard of

Updated on April 16, 2018
CWanamaker profile image

Chris is an engineer, thinker, and philosopher who enjoys exploring futuristic ideas and technology.

In my first article about alternative energy, I offered nine ways that we can generate electricity using renewable sources. For the most part, the methods discussed in that article have been tested, researched, and are familiar to the lay person. In this article I will shift gears slightly and discuss some forms of energy that aren't as well known as the others I have talked about before. Please keep in mind that some of the methods I will present here may be highly impractical (for the foreseeable future) or just plain out of this world. But perhaps at least one of the following strange energy production methods will one day become an integral way that civilization generates its electricity.

Human Power

I'm not just talking about pedal power here. If you have seen the movie The Matrix, then you have seen the potential power that the human body can generate. There are two main ways that humans can be utilized to generate electricity to power external devices. The first method utilizes motion and movement to generate electricity. Devices that harness bodily motion can include things like kinetic generators as well as crank-like mechanical devices.The second method generates energy by utilizing the radiant heat generated by our bodies.

Kinetic devices are generally passive and generate electricity as you do normal tasks throughout the day such as walking, eating, and breathing. Kinetic generators are already in use in many pieces of technology including wrist watches, pacemakers, hearing aids, and even a few smartphone prototypes. Its foreseeable that kinetic devices could become so powerful and efficient that they could charge a typical cellular phone or even a laptop computer simply by walking around.

Mechanical devices, such as bicycle generators, are active devices that generate electricity only when the user is turning the crank. There are many instances where the electricity generated by this method has been used to power a television set or even a desktop computer. Most often the efficiency of this type of activity is on the order of 2.6-6.5% and has already proven its viability on a large scale operation. Just take a look at some of the human powered gyms that Hong Kong has.

The second method involves capturing the heat that is naturally radiated from our bodies by using a biothermal device. These devices already exist on a small scale and are being used to power pacemakers. The great thing about this form of energy creation is that no actual movement is needed to generate the electricity (just calories burned).

Source

Energy from Noise and Sound

If you have ever been to a rock concert, then you are certainly no stranger to the deafening power of sound. Since sound is a vibration that travels through a medium, it's possible for that energy to be captured and redirected into some power generation mechanisms. If a speaker can convert electricity into a sound, then a piezoelectric sensor would be the machine that could do the opposite. Most sound to energy devices that exist utilize piezoelectric devices to directly convert vibrations into energy. There have already been prototype cell phones that can charge themselves simply by speaking (or yelling!) into the microphone.

There have been plenty of other concepts for ways to generate electricity from sound, but most have aren't viable on a large scale. Most of what science has to offer at this time is a novelty item at best. However, one concept that may prove useful on a large scale is a device that uses a large "drum" to move air in and out of a chamber as it vibrates. This moving air turns a small turbine which is then able to generate electricity. Perhaps someday "sound farms" that generate power from the ambient sounds of our noisy world will become just as common place as wind farms are.

Energy from Rainfall

Another energy concept that utilizes piezoelectric sensors is the idea of converting the impact energy of raindrops into power. Imagine covering your roof with these devices and being able to live off of the grid every time a nice storm rolls around. Better yet, why not combine rainfall energy harvesting techniques with that of solar plants. In essence you could have a power plant that generates electricity from the sun as well as precipitation.

The latest research into this technology has shown that rainfall has enough energy in it to power many of the small devices we already use everyday. If the efficiency of these devices can be increased, rainfall energy may become practical on a large scale.

Urine Power

Yes, there are ways to generate electricity from pee! According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, researchers at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory created a microbial fuel cell (MFC) capable of generating electricity from urine. In the experiments, just 25ml of urine was able to generate 0.25mA of electricity continuously for a periodic of 3 days.

While utilizing pee-power to run your computer seems highly impractical, consider the abundance of this chemical in our world. Each person on in the USA generates about 2/3 of a gallon of urine per day and most of it ends up in the wastewater stream. When you factor in your the waste generated by pets and farm animals, the amount of urine available each day for energy production is enormous. Imagine if all of that liquid waste was recycled and used to power our world? Perhaps in the future urine could become as valuable as any other material for our power needs.

Pavement Power

What happens when you combine the concepts of geothermal energy with that of the urban heat island effect? You get a new source of energy that's what! Typical urbanized environments experience unnaturally higher temperatures due to the fact that so much of the ground surface is covered by asphalt and concrete. These materials have the ability to retain lots of heat. Anyone living in Arizona will confirm that the pavement can get quite hot in the summer. You can literally fry an egg on the street because it is so hot (people have also been hospitalized because they tried to cross the street with bare feet).

The concept to generate power is simple, inside of the asphalt pavement is a serpentine system of pipes that circulate a liquid such as anti-freeze or water. The water is warmed up and could be pumped into a heat exchanger located inside of a nearby power plant. The heat can be used to generate steam to turn turbines. Alternatively, the warm water can be used directly in lieu of using traditional or solar water heating methods. Another concept allows the natural circulation caused by the water's increase in temperature to turn turbines directly. With all that heat being stored in our infrastructure it may one day prove viable to harness the energy of our urban heat islands.

References and Resources

Alternative Energy. Forget Solar, Human Power is the Future. February 19th, 2010. <http://www.alternative-energy-news.info/human-power-is-the-future/>

Biophan Technologies, Inc. Biothermal Power. 2011. <http://www.biophan.com/dmdocuments/Biothermal%20pullsheet%20FINAL.pdf>

Broadwith, Philip. Pee-Powered Fuel Cell Turns Urine to Energy. October 31, 2011. <http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/News/2011/October/31101103.asp>

Cattermole, Tannith. Mobile Phones Charged by the Power of Speech. September 20, 2010. <http://www.gizmag.com/mobiles-powered-by-conversation/16417/>

Ceclia @ Innovative News. Top 5 Unusual Ways to Generate Power. July 28, 2008. <http://www.sikantisearth.com/earth/?p=129>

Chapa, George. Could Sound Power Your Home? June 6, 2007. <http://inhabitat.com/sound-could-power-your-home/>

Gilmore, Adam M. Human Power: Energy Recovery from Recreational Activity. January 14, 2008. <http://www.soe.uoguelph.ca/webfiles/gej/articles/GEJ_001-008-016_Gilmore_Human_Power.pdf>

Zimbabe Metro. Scientists Say Urine Can be Used to Generate Electricity. November 18, 2011. <http://www.zimbabwemetro.com/30709/scientists-say-urine-can-be-used-to-generate-electricity/>

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 CWanamaker

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      • adevwriting profile image

        Arun Dev 

        3 years ago from United Countries of the World

        I didn't know all these!

      • eugbug profile image

        Eugene Brennan 

        5 years ago from Ireland

        Interesting. I came across an article the other day about piezoelectric pads which could be built into the steps of stairs and this could generate power as people climbed up the stairs.

        The question is would the benefits outweigh the initial capital cost of the infrastructure? Some alternative energy systems may be high capacity and it would be worth it, others would only generate small amounts of electricity. However this might be advantageous in situations where power isn't available, devices only need a small trickle of current to keep them running or where battery replacement is inconvenient. e.g. heart pacemakers.

        I've often thought of a battery which would use sewage or wastewater flowing between the plates acting as an electrolyte. This could power remote instrumentation in a treatment plant. I think the plates would probably be consumed over time though.

      • wilderness profile image

        Dan Harmon 

        5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

        Interesting concepts. Schools and other buildings often have a separate room for band, choir and such with extensive soundproofing - wonder if you could use the sound pressure to run lights or something instead of soundproofing the room? Using the sound should quieten the room - if you take the energy out of it there isn't much left.

        I also had a neighbor once that ran pipes all under his blacktop driveway; in the summer he pre-heated the water coming into his hot water tank and in the winter he ran it backwards, melting the snow from the driveway. It worked, though I doubt he saved much as melting snow that way would be expensive.

      • Anna Sternfeldt profile image

        Anna Sternfeldt 

        5 years ago from Svenljunga, Sweden

        We really need to look into new ways of solving access to energy and in this hub there are some very interesting ideas! I wouldn't mind to run around for a few minutes to charge my computer or use my pee, that would be great. Local energy that is always available, could it be better?

        By they way, elephant poo and dog poo is in some places used for biogas.

        But we may also need to use these valuable products as fertilisers further on, as we need to replace the fossil fuel based fertilisers we use today.

      • profile image

        Osman Mahmood 

        5 years ago

        sir i have lot of ideas about electric generations.also help full mind for hubs in future.

      • Ingenira profile image

        Ingenira 

        5 years ago

        Awesome ideas... some are so funny too like using urine to generate energy. I work in power generation line and these ideas are totally out of the box - creative !

      • Distant Mind profile image

        Distant Mind 

        5 years ago

        I like this hub very much. Very interesting content. Voted up and interesting. I'll have to read more of your hubs now.

      • profile image

        Waqas ALI 

        6 years ago

        Really nice job man,,,,actully m researching on new methods of generating electricity and your's article,specially this one,let me to think on mant new ideas,,,once again,,good job ...

      • CWanamaker profile imageAUTHOR

        CWanamaker 

        6 years ago from Arizona

        Calvin - I agree that these forms of energy generation, as a well as others, will eventually become an integral part of our electrical network. Diversification of our energy infrastructure is necessary.

      • profile image

        Calvin 

        6 years ago

        I think this forms of energy generation will play a great roll in reducing oil prices and also have a great impert in solving the energy crisis to some extent

      • CWanamaker profile imageAUTHOR

        CWanamaker 

        6 years ago from Arizona

        Aficionada - Yes, costs should decrease over time; the future is exciting. Plus, the more people who realize the potential energy stored in everything all around us, the more people that will begin to research how to exploit it.

      • CWanamaker profile imageAUTHOR

        CWanamaker 

        6 years ago from Arizona

        eric2112 - That's right Eric, a world of possibilities! I do believe that there is no end to the ways that we can create energy to power our world.

      • Aficionada profile image

        Aficionada 

        6 years ago from Indiana, USA

        Exciting and fascinating ideas! I would love to see some harnessing of the abundant kinetic energy expended on an elementary school playground.

        Even if some alternative energy ideas are not cost-effective now, it's probably true that the cost would decrease as the use increases, just as often happens with other technological advances.

      • eric2112 profile image

        Eric Hartman 

        6 years ago from Greensburg, Pennsylvania

        This is awesome and there are definitely some facts that I was not aware of such as the urine to electricity piece. I also saw on Discovery Channel that there have been great strides in creating hydrogen fuel from termite excrement.

        I believe that we have a world of possibility out there, we just need to use our imagination and be open minded.

        Thanks for the great Hub. It was a really good read!

        Have a great day!

      • CWanamaker profile imageAUTHOR

        CWanamaker 

        6 years ago from Arizona

        Don Bobbit - Haha I suppose anything is possible! You never know what the science community will cook up in the future.

      • Don Bobbitt profile image

        Don Bobbitt 

        6 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        AH! But take the Energy of a random wounded Soul and try to measure it's Output!

        OMG, if we could just harness this overlooked source of energy?

      • CWanamaker profile imageAUTHOR

        CWanamaker 

        6 years ago from Arizona

        jkrygiel08 - Yes! Pee just may be a what we need to power the needs of the future. Pee is one thing the world will never run out of!

      • jkrygiel08 profile image

        jkrygiel08 

        6 years ago from Missouri

        Energy from pee? I like it. Let's start using our waste for creating energy. Good Hub!

      • CWanamaker profile imageAUTHOR

        CWanamaker 

        6 years ago from Arizona

        ShermanMorrison - They are indeed pretty interesting! It just goes to show you that there is a plethora of energy creating opportunities all around us at any given moment in time.

      • CWanamaker profile imageAUTHOR

        CWanamaker 

        6 years ago from Arizona

        John J Gulley - Thanks, I certainly had fun writing and researching this one.

      • ShermanMorrison profile image

        ShermanMorrison 

        6 years ago from Florianópolis

        Excellent article on some VERY alternative forms of energy. Keep up the good work!

      • John J Gulley profile image

        John J Gulley 

        6 years ago from Wisconsin

        Article was totally kick butt. I will reference back to it a lot. thanks for sharing

      • CWanamaker profile imageAUTHOR

        CWanamaker 

        6 years ago from Arizona

        Rachelle Williams - Yes the human power idea is indeed awesome. Wouldn't it be great to be able to charge a cell phone or laptop just by walking around or better yet...eating? I would buy it if it were available.

      • CWanamaker profile imageAUTHOR

        CWanamaker 

        6 years ago from Arizona

        WillStarr - More energy efficient technology is one of the key drivers in allowing devices such as peizoelectric sensors to even be practical for any use. However, there is still a place for hand cranked radios and flashlight! I have a few of those tucked away in the garage just in case I ever need them. Thanks for reading!

      • CWanamaker profile imageAUTHOR

        CWanamaker 

        6 years ago from Arizona

        Kris Heeter - Yes you are Correct! Other forms of animal waste, like cow manure, has been shown to have great energy producing potential. However, most research in this area is centered on turning the manure into the methane fuel. This process is different than the microbial fuel cells that the latest urine research utilized.

      • Rachelle Williams profile image

        Rachelle Williams 

        6 years ago from Tempe, AZ

        o...k... I both liked and was intrigued the Human Power idea...

      • WillStarr profile image

        WillStarr 

        6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

        Interesting!

        Today's electronics just sip energy, but the older, tube type equipment really sucked up the power. Hand cranked emergency transceivers would wear out a strong man in mere minutes.

        Good Hub!

      • Kris Heeter profile image

        Kris Heeter 

        6 years ago from Indiana

        Nice pink toilet! Besides urine, I think other biological waste has also been suggested (and probably studied) as alternative forms of energy:)

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