5 Energy Crisis Solutions Clearly Designed by a Supervillain
As humanity is getting increasingly desperate for power sources, it's time to think outside the box, even if that means turning to methods that would previously have only been employed by supervillains. Who thinks outside the box more than they do? Sure, these potential power sources we're tapping into would normally be considered ridiculous, cartoony or just plain evil. But are they worse than coal?
A Battery That Runs Off of Human Blood
After trying for years to perfect a way to get power from stealing people's souls and then, when that didn't work, their tears, mad scientists have finally settled on getting electricity from human blood.
Scientists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have invented a battery that is strong, flexible and, yes, powered by blood. And it even looks like a curled up old scab!
We didn't have to resist the urge to eat it, because we were never that kid.
This is actually just the latest step in a series of batteries called bio-batteries. They can run off of a number of bodily fluids, like sweat, urine or -- ah, there it is -- tears. So they can get power from all of the bodily fluids humans release in response to extreme terror. It's really a fear-powered battery, we guess. Hey, Monsters, Inc. was real!
Oh, also, it has to be implanted under the skin to work.
Even if it looks like a hunk of charred skin from a hot dog, it's actually an amazingly advanced little device. It has the texture of paper, but it draws electrolytes from your fluids and channels them through nanotech carbon tubes to create a usable energy supply.
Still, it's cooler than the alternative, which uses blood-feeding yeast.
The goal is not, apparently, to make a huge one and power it with a lake of blood from conquered human victims, but rather to help power medical implants. The papery nature of the batteries means they could be printed in sheets and easily cut to the size and shape needed for the patient. Then, once the thing is drawing juice from your natural fluids, you don't have to worry about changing the battery. It also seems like you could replace the mat in a UFC ring with this stuff and power the whole stadium with the sweat and blood from fighters, but we haven't heard of any prototypes for that yet.
Apparently broken teeth short circuit the whole thing.
By the way, as creepy as this seems, it's still less hardcore than the old way of powering devices like pacemakers: they used to use nuclear power. They would have a little hunk of plutonium inside the battery, and as it decayed, it released enough heat to power the device. Whenever a patient passed away, they'd have to ship her freaking pacemaker to Los Alamos to safely dispose of the nuclear material inside.
"Should you worry about the radioactivity? I wouldn't say so. Not with a heart like that."
Harvesting Human Body Heat
Whatever else you may think about The Matrix, you have to admit there weren't all that many useful lessons to be learned (too many of us have found out that dodging bullets is WAY harder than the movie makes it look, for instance). But in Sweden, a group of engineers watched it and said, "Hey, that's right! We should harvest human body heat for our own needs! Thanks, movie!"
Turns out dystopian sci-fi is just an elaborate instruction booklet.
They don't need to round up crowds of people and shove them into a power plant, however -- the people do it themselves. The Stockholm Central Station is a huge train station that acts as a hub for travel all over Sweden, and some 250,000 people pass through it every single day. And, as we learned from The Matrix, the human body generates about 400 BTUs of heat an hour, or 117 watts.
Multiply that by a quarter of a million people and you have a building that stays hot -- too hot -- even in frigid Stockholm.
The lights are powered by smug passengers who got on the train you just missed.
So instead of just opening a window and wasting all of that energy, they installed heat converters in the ventilation system that would suck all of that extra body heat from the air, use it to heat water, and then send it across the street to heat an office building. We're assuming you can't just pump the air directly over there because it would smell like sweaty train travelers and Swedish hobos.
It worked; it wound up knocking 25 percent off the other building's heating bill. The best part? There's no reason that this method couldn't be used elsewhere. Energy costs are soaring, and it's not like our cities are short on packed buildings full of moving crowds.
Although when we start taking photos of these places, we often get our bags searched for explosives.
Maybe you could even hire unemployed people to sit in a small container, or "pod" if you will, and just provide free energy. Of course you wouldn't want them to get bored, so you could provide them with some VR entertainment. You could even get robots to guard them and make sure they don't leave.
And then just, like, cover them with goo. No reason.
No supervillain is complete without his volcano super base, where he hides from the law while harnessing energy to fuel his death ray. Volcanoes have thus become the symbol of supervillains from Sauron to L. Ron Hubbard.
But it turns out that the volcano base, even one carved into the shape of a skull, is a really smart idea when it comes to power generation. Most power plants today operate by heating up water and making steam. Well, hell, if it's heat that you need, why not go to a giant hole spewing molten rock from the center of the Earth?
How can we make the fires of hell work for us?
Green energy claims are notoriously inflated, but even by modest projections, it's estimated that the United States could power 25 percent of the country using just this method. And for volcanic-activity-heavy places like Indonesia where 35 percent of the population lacks electricity, this could be a godsend. That's why they are harnessing their volcanoes to produce 4,000 megawatts (or if you prefer, "four shitloads") of power by 2014. To put that in context, the world's largest solar plant produces just 400 megawatts a year, and the largest wind plant clocks in at a measly 800 megawatts.
What the hell is wind good for, if not to harness it like a God?
Iceland managed to provide power to 95 percent of their population using this method, and this method alone, and they have plans to start selling power garnered from volcanoes to other countries. These guys are taking the same volcanoes that screwed up everyone's air travel just months ago and making them work for us instead of against us.
Another problem caused by wind. Screw you, wind.
Of course, it wouldn't be a good supervillain plan if there wasn't some risk. Power has been interrupted before when the volcanoes they were trying to tap into erupted, which volcanoes are apt to do. And even when it's not exploding in your face, there are still risks, like drilling into the ground and releasing a cloud of super-heated steam that makes your equipment explode and forms a crater 100 feet deep and 100 feet wide (yes, it's happened a few times). But you're trying to subdue a freaking volcano and make it your servant here, it's going to fight back.
First we tamed the lightning, now we take on the volcanoes, then we blow up the sun.
Related: Wait ... 'Power Rangers' Got Good?
Unleashing the Electric Eels
This is more "cartoon supervillain" than actual supervillain. Looking at an electric eel and saying, "I'll just put a bunch of them in a tank and use them to power my lair!" is the kind of thing a 12-year-old would think works. Or the Japanese.
It's the kind of person who would run a sound system on the static from cat fur.
At the Kamakura Aquarium south of Tokyo, they've set up a demonstration of a single, huge electric eel powering -- wait for it -- a Christmas tree. Yes, they used the evil henchmen from The Little Mermaid to power a freaking Christmas tree, the epitome of all that is good and right.
Our happy, tingling feeling smells like burnt flesh.
Electric eels generate electricity similar to batteries, wherein sodium and other components such as electrolytes are lined up in such a manner that they are capable of producing an actual electric shock. The eel-powered Christmas tree works in as straightforward a manner as you'd think: They put an eel in a tank, and each time it moves it generates power. Some electrodes feed the current to a Christmas tree, and just like that you've got ... a somewhat erratically powered Christmas tree.
In perhaps the most uncreative vision of the future in the history of mankind, the eel tree's inventor is quoted as saying, "If we could gather up all the electric eels from all around the world we would be able to light up an unimaginably large Christmas tree." Solve the global energy crisis? Naaah. Huge Christmas tree.
"I wish I had all the money in the world. Think of the size of wallet I would get to make!"
Still, we guess it's better than the alternative, like if he dreamed of a ten thousand square mile pit of electric eels. Or, breeding one Godzilla-sized eel. Of course if you were working your way up to either of those things, you probably wouldn't admit it. You'd probably cover it up by saying you were doing it for the greatest cause of all, something no one would question. Like, say, Christmas.
Related: Science Doesn't Know How Eels Bone
The Giant Invisible Energy Death Ray
Let's face it, wires are pretty old technology. Having to physically connect your charger to a power station through a series of cords, power lines and transformers is an overly complicated system that is essentially the same method they were using 100 years ago. Shouldn't we be able to, you know, just beam the energy to where we need it?
While you're at it, Scotty, beam us a beer.
Yes, and on a small scale you already have harmless products like this that let you charge your phone without plugging it in, and here's another one that uses the same technique for a computer mouse. Surely somebody out there is thinking much, much bigger, right?
"And then Ted was like, 'Why don't we make a giant laser that's also a dick?"
Yep. That's why these scientists have built a laser that can transfer power nearly a mile into the sky, maybe one day making America's crumbling power grid (and yes, is it crumbling -- the American Society of Civil Engineers gave it a D+) even more obsolete. That project was done as part of a NASA contest, awarding teams for innovations in beaming invisible power over distances. The winning team was able to wirelessly beam enough power to command a robot to climb a 4,300 foot cable up to a helicopter.
The article doesn't say if the robot then climbed into the helicopter and threw out the pilot like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2. What matters is that the experts are already thinking of ways to proceed directly to the supervillain doomsday scenario stage.
For instance, another team of researchers has outlined plans for a gargantuan solar sail in space or a Dyson-Harrop satellite that, in theory, would pick up solar winds from outer space and beam them to Earth -- there's enough such energy flying through space to power the Earth many times over. They just need to perfect the beaming technology to transmit the mind-boggling amount of energy toward the planet, and to get somebody to fly a bunch of missions into orbit to build the thing. And then it will be revealed to actually be a Death Star.
Or at least a Death Pop-Tart.