Mitigation Ideas: Renewable Energy
Biomass energy generation refers to the use of biological material, such as wood, human waste, farm waste, and so on, to generate power. Energy is generated by burning the material, either directly or after using microbes to convert it into flammable gas. While there are harmful ways to do this, there are also opportunities—like using sewage treatment plants to generate energy—to use matter that is going to decompose or be burnt and release greenhouse gases anyway. Harnessing biomass lessens the damage by replacing more carbon-intensive energy sources.
Using household waste to generate fuel
Biogas generation can take any organic material, from human and pet waste, to kitchen scraps or yard waste, and turn it into fuel for many uses. Because the material has been pulled out of the biosphere recently, burning it just re-releases carbon, so it doesn’t add to global climate change. The technology is simple enough that you can use it too!
This biogas generator was built with easily available materials and allows the use of kitchen waste to generate cooking gas.
Using swamp muck to generate electricity
Biochemical electricity comes from living organisms like bacteria, algae, and viruses. This guide shows how to use swamp muck and a few other materials to create a microbial fuel cell that can harvest electricity generated by bacteria.
Hydropower most commonly brings hydroelectric dams to mind. Dams let water flow through a set of pipes, driving large generators in the process. Hydropower can also mean power generated by oceanic currents, the advance and retreat of tides, and the up-and-down motion of waves on large bodies of water. On a planet whose surface is 70% water, it’s a resource that cannot be ignored.
Spiral water pumps
Running water operates these spiral water pump designs. They’re simple, and sustainable by design, because they won’t run if there’s too little water. Additionally, the basic design could be adapted to work with other power sources (like wind, for example) to move water in standing bodies like ponds or lakes.
Using seafloor “carpets” to harvest wave energy
People have been working to harvest energy from the ocean for years. This “carpet” would take advantage of the constant presence and pressure of waves to generate power through a hydraulic system, without little to no damage to sea life, boats, or even the scenery.
3. Wind Power
Like the sun, wind is a reliable resource on planet Earth. While it’s not always blowing in any one location, it’s always blowing somewhere. Because energy can be stored, transported, or transmitted, wind power can be very, very useful. There are a number of ways to get power from wind, but most of them involve turning the linear motion of wind into rotary motion of machines.
Flapping wind generators
Most wind turbines use fan-like blades to spin a turbine. This wind turbine uses wings that “flap” in the wind to generate electricity. This design could be used in different situations from conventional turbines, and might avoid some of the dangers to wildlife presented by large, spinning blades.
Mini wind turbines for homes
A white and silver metallic structure about the size of a garden shrub, this turbine has three vertical blades that spin carousel-like around a central axis. It spins constantly and is completely silent.
4. Solar Power
The sun is the single greatest power source for Earth. There are multiple ways of generating electricity from sunlight, from direct conversion (photovoltaic) techniques to concentrating and gathering the heat from sunlight.
Using physics to heat and move water without needing a pump
These heaters use the sun to heat water, and the thermal expansion of water and steam to move that water to where it’s needed.
Increased photovoltaic efficiency from tree leaf patterns
Taking inspiration from the way trees get enough sunlight to grow even in a forest, a 13-year-old developed a new layout of small photovoltaic cells that increased the efficiency of existing technology.
Scalable ball lens technology
Ball (sphere-shaped) lenses are being used to make solar cells more efficient, because of how they concentrate, diffuse, and direct light. This one concentrates sunlight on a photovoltaic panel one centimeter square—showing that ball lenses can be used at any size.
Mirrored tubes guide direct sunlight into your home
These mirrored tubes reduce electricity use by directing sunlight in to light any part of a home.
These ideas may be out of reach for a school project but could be feasible if scaled down. For example, could the idea of an inflatable wind turbine inspire you to build and test a prototype using a helium balloon and mini “windmill” to generate a current?
Inflatable wind turbine that generates power 1,000 feet in the air
This turbine uses a helium shell to get up into the atmosphere, is held in check by a long tether, and generates power from the constant winds at altitude.
Solar hybrid technology for 24/7 power generation
This tower uses air heated by solar power to drive hot air turbines to produce electricity during the day, using no water, which is ideal in more arid climates. Methane produced by cows produces electricity at night.
Solar Roadways is a company using solar power, engineering, and programming to create a new kind of road that could work for transportation, power generation, power transmission, internet, and emergency lighting all rolled into one!
Locomotive system for clean energy storage
Potential energy can be stored and released later to perform a task. Clock springs are an example, and compressed air is another. This company has set up a system that uses a train engine to move 230 tons of stone up a hill when the grid has more electricity than it is using at the time. When there is an electricity shortfall, the train is allowed to roll downhill. Its electric motor runs backwards, turning the motion into electricity, and feeding it back to the grid.
New flywheel design
Kinetic energy storage is the use of motion to store energy, generally for short periods of time. The most common way to do this is with a flywheel—a weighted wheel that is spun as fast as possible using excess energy. When that energy is needed, the rotary motion of the wheel is harnessed to turn kinetic energy into electricity. Alternatively, that energy could be used to power mechanical devices directly. A new flywheel design could re-establish flywheels as a competitive energy storage method.
Using pennies to generate small amounts of power
This tutorial tells you how to use spare change and a few other commonly available products to make a battery that can run small things like calculators or LEDs. The battery can be scaled up, depending on your needs.
Load-reducing backpack powers electronics by harvesting energy from walking
Researchers have developed a prototype backpack that not only makes loads feel about 20% lighter, but also harvests energy from human movements to power small electronics. The new backpack could be especially useful for athletes, explorers, and disaster rescuers who work in remote areas without electricity.