Surprising renewable energy technologies
Traditional renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels, and hydroelectric power plants are common in today’s society. However, there are other surprising sources of renewable energy that are currently under development that will help to reach our net zero goals.
Electricity can be generated when certain materials are put under a mechanical stress, known as piezoelectricity. By walking on a surface of a system incorporating these materials, power can be generated, particularly in areas with a high footfall of people. One organisation doing this is Pavegen1. They have developed a kinetic floor tile that harnesses the kinetic energy from people walking or running on the tiled surface to generate small amounts of electricity. This generation can power streetlights or charge batteries to be used later. This technology was used in Rotterdam in 2008 when the nightclub WATT opened. It featured an energy generating dancefloor, where the movement of the dancers is converted into electricity by an electro-magnetic generator under the floor, producing enough generation to power the lighting.
Researchers from the University of California Berkley and the US Department of Energy have proposed a “personal power jacket” that would be able to generate small amounts of power from your body heat. This concept uses silicone nanowires and electrochemical synthesis in order to produce enough electricity to complete small everyday tasks, like charge your phone while on the go2.
This is a special kind of paint that can actually be used to generate electricity using the Sun while also remaining durable and protecting against the elements. An example of this from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology allows the paint to generate power from water vapour, absorbing moisture from the air and using sunlight to break down water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can then be used to produce clean energy. The University of Toronto have also investigated using nanoscale semiconductors to capture light and turn it into an electric current, being cheap to manufacture and high efficiency levels3.
Providing heat is a very energy intensive process so there are cases where waste heat is to be captured to assist with heating homes. Heat from the London Underground tunnels is to be used to support a heat network supplying up to 1,000 homes and businesses. A heat pump will capture "waste heat" from an already existing ventilation shaft4. This is a low carbon source of heat and will help residents stay warm at an affordable cost.
Jet fuel may be made more green by using waste, lessening the reliance on fossil fuels. The North East Lincolnshire Council’s Planning Committee approved the Altalto Immingham plant, which is to convert hundreds of thousands of tonnes of non-recyclable household and commercial waste, otherwise destined for landfill or incineration, into cleaner burning sustainable aviation fuel every year. This project is set to produce fuel from 2025 and is a collaboration between Velocys, British Airways and Shell International Petroleum Company5.