6 Ways They're Turning Random Crap into Alternative Energy

#3. Candy Bars

Let's talk about poop again for a moment.

E. coli has gotten a pretty bad rap recently. The bacteria is generally associated with some kind of fecal contaminations of food, so the mention of the name may conjure up images of turd-smeared tomatoes and tainted peanut butter. But most strains of E. coli are harmless, and are actually beneficial to humans.

E. coli lives inside your guts where it produces vitamin K and eliminates harmful bacteria. It can also be grown and manipulated easily, making it useful for study. It also turns out E. coli can easily do something that its supposedly evolved host can't: make hydrogen from Snickers bars.*

And They Get Energy from this... How?

Researchers at the University of Birmingham fed nougat and caramel waste left over from the candy-making process to E. coli. The bacteria fermented the waste, generating organic acid which was then converted to hydrogen. The researchers used the hydrogen collected to power a small fan.

Now obviously the point isn't to create nationwide power plants that feed on candy bars. The process should work with about any food waste, so the idea is that the E. coli may be used in food production lines, with factories converting their own food waste into electricity that in turn helps run the factory.

So, What's the Problem?

The technology is still maybe a decade away, and nobody can say if it'll actually be profitable to buy and use the equipment as opposed to just tossing the waste. Also it involves having a factory full of food next door to trillions upon trillions of E. coli bacteria, but we're sure they've figured that part out.

*Snickers bars also kind of look like turds

#2. Air

So the problem with a whole bunch of these is that environmentally, they put us back where we were with oil: spewing CO2 and warming the planet. So what if there was some kind of generator that could get electricity from CO2? Problem solved, right?

Well, there's a process that can do just that, by breaking down the bonds of the CO2 molecule in a way that produces fuel using what we're pretty sure is alchemy.

Science? Magic? Clip Art? You decide!

And They Get Energy from this... How?

Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories are building a prototype device called a Counter Rotating Receiver Reactor Recuperator, or CR5. The device breaks the bond of the carbon and oxygen molecules in carbon dioxide, allowing them to create a synthetic liquid fuel. The fuel can then be burned, and theoretically, the carbon dioxide it expells can also be re-captured and processed.

So, What's the Problem?

As many of you with any kind of decent science education have already noticed, it takes energy to do what they're doing and in fact it takes more than what you get out of it.

This project seems to be more about developing something that would let us continue to use coal and petroleum, by capturing the CO2 and then turning it into more electricity and offsetting the main problem with using those fuels.

Once more, we don't know if it would be cost effective and by the time the technology is ready in 20 years or so, we may very well be on an entirely poop-based power grid anyway.

#1. The Moon

If you don't think the moon qualifies as random crap, we've got a whole shelf full of useless moon rocks that would beg to differ. Or at least they were useless, before we figured out they could produce safe, clean nuclear energy.

Most nuclear power plants run off fission--splitting the nucleus of an atom to "poop" electricity, if you will--but the real technology everybody wants is nuclear fusion. That process of binding atoms together would be safer and cleaner and provide a mind-boggling amount of power.

Right now fusion is usually attained using deuterium, extracted from seawater, and tritium, the stuff from Spider-Man 2. Yes, tritium really exists. And it glows, proving once again that the science we learned from comic book movies is completely accurate.

Fusion doesn't work all that well right now, as you can probably guess by the fact that we're not using it yet. Fusion power plants are thought to be at least 40 years away, and even then fusion from these elements produces secondary radiation, which creates waste and significantly shortens the life of the components in the reactor.

A much safer and cleaner option is Helium 3, which creates an incredible amount of energy with no radioactivity. Although there are only a few hundred kilograms of the stuff on the Earth, Helium 3 is found in large quantities in moon rocks. Helium 3 is so potent that experts estimate that one space shuttle load would provide electricity to the entire United States for a year.

And They Get Energy from this... How?

The lab at the Fusion Technology Institute in Wisconsin developed a basketball-sized fusion device which runs on Helium 3. It can produce one milliwatt of power on a continuous basis.

OK, it would take about 5000 of these to run a light bulb, but still. Baby steps. The project has proven that your Mr. Fusion Home Reactor isn't completely in the realm of fantasy.

So, What's the Problem?

Well, first of all, the Helium 3 is ON THE MOON. Mining is going to be difficult and expensive, unless you could somehow get a ragtag group of offshore oil workers to complete basic astronaut training and fly out in desperate mission to save humanity. Though they may find they have company once they get there.

In a revamped, There Will Be Blood-y version of the Space Race, China and Russia have both announced plans to build lunar stations and begin mining Helium 3 on the surface of the moon.

Of course, there should be enough Helium 3 on the moon to power humanity for thousands of years. But we'll probably go to war over it anyway, just for the hell of it.

Now meet the celebrities who will undoubtedly be on board with every single one of these ideas, in The 7 Most Retarded Ways Celebrities Have Tried to Go Green. Or check out more retarded ideas to save this doomed planet, in 5 Ways People Are Trying to Save the World (That Don't Work).

And visit Cracked.com's Top Picks to see our own idea for generating alternative energy (hint: it involves boobs, friction and our faces).

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