Alternative energy sources you might not know about

By OVO Energy Wednesday 29 March 2017

Alternative energy sources 

More and more of us are getting on board with renewable energy. Something we’re obviously in favour of at OVO. But alongside this rise in familiar renewables (wind energy, tidal power, solar power and geothermal power), some fascinating new breeds of sustainable energy are being developed. Let’s have a closer look at some...

Algal biofuels

Yes, it sounds a bit gross. But if we can eat fungus (no offence, mushrooms), why not use algae to keep us warm? Algae converts sunlight into energy and – as there are many, many varieties of it – scientists have lots of options to develop it into a biofuel.

As we type, the Advanced Algal System Program is in development, with the aim of exploring the production and cost-effectiveness of using algae as an energy source. One big plus is that it can be grown in large quantities. So if scientists can figure out the most cost effective way of harnessing algae as an energy source, it could be the future of sustainable, renewable energy.

Bioalcohols

Did you know that Henry Ford originally planned to run his cars using ethanol (standard drinking alcohol), but found that petroleum was cheaper? Well, now ethanol could have the last boozy laugh, since bioalcohols as an energy source are being researched more and more.

Yes, petrol might be cheap – but bioalcohols like methanol, ethanol, propanol, and butanol have a LOT going for them. Not only do they win when it comes to carbon emissions, they also burn for longer, which makes them them more energy efficient. It’s all because they have lower energy densities than petroleum, and their average octane is higher.

So just think – if bio-alcohols are developed as a fuel, we could all enjoy an alternative, more environmentally-friendly way to power our vehicles. (Although, admittedly, how it all plays out with the electric car revolution remains to be seen.)

Body heat

Body heat: no longer just an excuse to tee up a snuggle on the sofa now and then. Oh no. Body heat could well become a bona fide source of energy if scientists can work out how to harness it.  

And it’s not a new concept. Using body heat to generate energy has been pondered over for years by scientists. According to research, around 100-120 watts of energy is given off by a resting human male, some of which could be utilised to power wearable devices using a thermoelectric device.

It’s unlikely that wasted body heat can be used as energy on a large scale, but if all the conditions are right there’s a possibility that we could power small, wearable devices using our body’s heat energy. Imagine how handy it could be to charge your phone using your body heat? And what if a cuddle could power your headphones?

Solar wind

Phewf. Like a supergroup of the renewable energy world, solar and wind is now being combined to form a warm, windy wonder that could, one day, power our homes, cars and devices.

But the thing is ‘solar wind’ doesn’t behave like wind on earth. So in order to harvest the energy, scientists claim they’d use a satellite with a long copper wire, and ‘sail’ attached. The energy collected by the satellite would then be transmitted back to earth via an infra-red laser beam.

To complete the energy exchange, copper wires – up to half a mile long – are erected on earth, with a 10m solar sail attached to each one. Logistically, this route needs a lot of work. But if scientists can crack the practical side of solar wind energy, they believe it’s big enough to cater for all the world’s energy needs. They’ve used it to power spacecraft already.  

So what next?

Two decades ago, renewable energy was still something of a twinkle in the eye of environmentalists. Heck, even eight years ago, when we started OVO with our 33% renewables tariffs and our 100% ‘Greener’ tariff, they still felt relatively new. Now, we’re thrilled that the world’s opened its eyes to the power of renewables, and there’s so much exciting research going on into new and exciting sources of sustainable energy.

So remember these four natural energy sources. They might sound a bit bonkers now, but one day we might be using them to power our small personal devices, our cars, even our homes.

Image courtesy of iStock

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