Three Totally Cool, Out-of-the-Box Alternative-Energy Sources
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April 09, 2009

Three Totally Cool, Out-of-the-Box Alternative-Energy Sources

Tornado It's official: sucking dead-dinosaur juice out of the ground and burning it is officially uncool.  Whether you object to the way you can't breathe the resulting fumes, or it's the thought of a swing back to $200 dollars a barrel that will leave you gasping for air, people from both ends of the political spectrum agree that it's time to find a new way to power our playthings.  The mathematics of a fuel-based economy are a vast and complicated field but the simple summary is:

a) The number of people using energy continues to increase
b) The number of new dead animals turning into oil remains constant at zero

This compelling argument has led to increasingly odd research into alternative energy sources.  And even if "the fate of modern society" doesn't motivate them, the idea that their oil-based business rivals use a unique "constantly increase the price of our product" strategy means they have a good chance of making money.

1)  Wind based x 1000

Wind farms, while undeniably renewable, have run into a multitude of objections including cost, limited applicability, and people whining "They may eliminate the need for the local coal-burning plant but we think it ruins the view from our bay windows".  While the latter can be rightly ignored, and maybe mocked a little bit for being extremely small-minded simpletons, the other problems remained valid - which is why a group of engineers said "Why don't we just make it a thousand times better?"

This kilo-improvement isn't a playground boast but exactly what Chinese developers at the Guangzhou Energy Research Institute claim to have achieved by using permanent magnets to float the turbines - making them much easier to turn and scale up in size.  A single power plant could replace thousands of old-model windmills and utilise much lower wind speeds, increasing the areas over which they design can be applied. Big words need proof, of course, and we could have it soon - Zhongke Hengyuan Energy Technology is already building a factory to make this ecological and economic fantasy into a reality.

2)  Handy home nuclear power plant

You want to know the real solution to the power problem?  Nuclear Energy, and lots of it!  That's the strategy of Hyperion Power Generation who, in a plan straight out of a 50s black and white movie reel, picture a safe and friendly nuclear reactor in every backyard!  A hydrogen atmosphere surrounds a uranium hydride core, the whole thing is encased in concrete and then buried somewhere to power 25,000 homes for up to five years.  Exactly what you're meant to do with the buried nuclear material in a container designed never to be opened, operated or ideally even approached by humans after the five years elapse is not exactly clear - doubtless Hyperion would suggest buying another reactor and burying it next door.

The makers say they prefer not to call it a "reactor", which is probably a good idea when you're talking about something you intend to drop in a hole and then leave unsupervised, but if they think changing the name will get people to overlook the problems inherent in running around the place randomly burying uranium then they need to hire a seriously upgraded PR team.  Environmentalists are not reacting well to these plans, in the same way they wouldn't react well to plans to deploy whale blubber powered oil-derricks on top of a orphaned kitten hospital.  Considering the efforts people have made to render nuclear waste grounds like Yucca mountain dangerous and scary looking even to aliens, future humans or even the descendants of ants, the odds of this scheme being approved are worse than Jack Thompson's of being voted "Video-game developer of the year: Swimsuit edition".

3)  Taming tornadoes

In what can only be an attempt to get notice by COBRA's recruiting division, retired engineer Louis Michaud has filed a patent for a device that would generate tornadoes and then harness them for power generation.  Think of it as the Xtreme version of wind power.  Also, unless you're reading this on a holographic display generated by a cybernetic cheerleader in your secret mountain lair, you should really think of it as the coolest thing you've ever heard.

The principle is that you can set up the conditions that create the tornado, then harvest the energy after it has naturally grown from "pattern of hot and cold air" to "terrifying twisting column capable of scarring the earth like God's own drill bit".  Mr Michaud suggests that we can be even more economical by using hot water generated by a nearby nuclear power plant to provide those initial conditions.  Since this hot water is normally generated as a waste product, this is both an inventive and efficient use existing technology and a demonstration that - if sufficiently diabolical - a person can sit down and produce a complete design and patent application without ever realizing "Wait a minute, I'm telling people to create tornadoes right next to a nuclear reactor!"

Posted by Luke McKinney

Related Galaxy posts:

The Mystery of H2O—Science Catches Water Doing Some Very Strange Things
Quantum Crystals: The Secret to Inexpensive & Efficient Green Energy?

KiloWind power http://www.engadget.com/2007/11/26/maglev-wind-turbines-1000x-more-effiencient-than-normal-windmill/
http://www.windtech-international.com/content/view/661/2/
Hyperion nuclear battery
Yucca mountain warnings
Tame tornado

Comments

Great article. It amazes me now that push has finally gone to shove all these advances in alternative energy sources are springing up. Makes you think where we would be today if all this had started thirty years ago.

And the following line from the article will keep me laughing the rest of the day, "...in the same way they wouldn't react well to plans to deploy whale blubber powered oil-derricks on top of a orphaned kitten hospital." I love this site, don't go anywhere!

Oils ain't oils if theys come frum "dinosaur juice".
Substitute "plankton".

Stay awake in school......sucking dead-dinosaur juice out of the ground not really true, geology 101

A so-called fossil fuel, petroleum is believed by most scientists to be the transformed remains of long dead organisms. The majority of petroleum is thought to come from the fossils of plants and tiny marine organisms. Larger animals might contribute to the mix as well.

"Even some of the dinosaurs may have gotten involved in some of this," says William Thomas, a geologists at the University of Kentucky. "[Although] I think it would be quite rare and a very small and insignificant contribution

Nice article....however very few alternative power generating technology are mentioned....why ????

Solar energy even if Not much efficient , proves to provide some electric power....(Spain is believed to generate some 20% of the total power consumed by means PVC i.e.Photo-Voltaic Cells arrays).

We in south Europe see a main project taking the light that consists of future giant solar panel (PVC) in the Sahara desert.....and there is a lot of European money after that project.

In Japan they have succesfully experimented Turbines moved by the waves of the sea...

And I could mention many others sources...

Be creative down in the USA....You may find out many other surces (Crops for Bio-diesel generation ??? You have many fields of crops down-there).

Be creative as the Hydrocarbons are less and less available and are not owned by the 'west world countries' that showing often the muscles declare
' we are the best in science and technology '.

Is this really true ??

Regards to the alternative energy sources....but NOT to the talking politicians.

This question has been bugging me for a long time. What if we could "harvest" a few lightning bolts with a lightning arrestor and a large capacitor? Wouldnt that generate enough power for the whole world?

would it really be a good idea to have your own "nuclear battery"? it would require a lot of transporting /handling radioactive(and poisonous!) materials, which at some point will go wrong(taking Murphy's law into account). Also tornadoes seems like a unreliable energy source at best :)

Someone should build a giant metal grid in the clouds and then place a same-sized grid at the ground(this would work a bit like a giant capacitor, except friction in the clouds provide the energy). Connect red wire to the cloud grid and black wire to the latter and you would be able to tap lightning over time and not in one giant jolt like you would otherwise.

Thank you for this wonderful post.

How about harnessing energy from health clubs? You know, bicycles, treadmills, stuff like that.

Also, little kids have all kinds of energy. Any coherent way to harness all that jumping around energy?

Nature has given us abundant energy in the form of solar power which is never ending and easily available in the form of Sun. It is the best alternative energy to reduce the problem of scare resources.

I loved this article. Had me laughing in a good way.

The idea about the reactors seems interesting, at least because of the bad press it is bound to get. "..5 years and then what?"


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