As the threat of global warming and other environmental catastrophes grow more and more apparent, science is looking ever more desperately for things to turn into electricity that don't involve murdering everything horribly as a side effect. And trust us when we say nothing is off the table as far as options go. Not even ...
Have you ever visited a dance club and wondered whether all those sweaty, grinding, drunk people could help run your refrigerator? Someone in the Netherlands has. A dance club called Club Watt installed tiny devices called piezoelectric generators to harvest all that foot-stomping into real electricity. So far, they have been used to power, well, pretty much just the colors on the dance floor, but club owners are hopeful that one day the tiles will be able to provide up to 60 percent of the electricity in the nightclub. That might require some serious flashdancing, but if there's anything Europeans like to do more than sweat, it's stomp around awkwardly on the dance floor. At least, that's our impression.
With 23 official languages in the European Union, dancing is the only way they can communicate.
Piezoelectric tiles aren't just for dance floors, though. Similar devices have been installed at the London Olympics site and are being prepared for use in shopping malls so that the foot traffic of shoppers can be harnessed to power half of their lighting needs. Also, the tiles light up when stepped on, reminding pedestrians that their plodding footsteps are actually contributing to something other than moving them from one tepid plane of existence to the next.
As demonstrated by Steve Martin.
According to DARPA (the mad scientists who design futuristic devices for the U.S. military), the energy generated by your walking, nodding and breathing will one day power all sorts of sci-fi crap they're planning on sticking all over your body, like computer screens in contact lenses. We tried to figure out how that would work by pressing our computer screens directly against our eyeballs, so we assume they still have some bugs to work out.
With this technology and legalized Ecstasy we could solve the energy crisis overnight.
If you thought that alternative energy was a bunch of tree-hugging-hippie crap, then tell that to the Swedish. The land of chocolate and meatballs has a novel interpretation of the concept of green energy that has environmentalists shifting uncomfortably in their hemp pants -- killing fluffy bunnies for power.
There, invasive species like rabbits are hunted down like the vermin they are, then the corpses are "crushed, ground and then pumped into a boiler where it is burned together with wood chips, peat or other waste to produce heat." And it's not just rabbits. Reindeer, horses, the odd unicorn ... nothing is too magical to be "rendered" and burned to keep the Wi-Fi on at the Swedish Starbucks.
"Sir? I think they're ... adapting."
As bizarre as this may sound, using animal waste for fuel actually makes sense, because in Europe and the U.S., it is illegal to dump animal carcasses in landfills, so they have to be disposed of in a sanitary way. The rabbits have been chewing through Sweden's biosphere like tiny out of control lawnmowers ever since some kindhearted Swedes decided to let their pets run free. So it's kind of a "two birds with one stone" situation, except we're talking about rabbits and furnaces. It's not exactly solar power, but animal fat is cheaper and pollutes less than other kinds of oil, so it's better than waiting several million years for the rabbits to turn into petroleum.
"Do you think a blender might speed things up?"
The U.S. even tried getting into the act, as oil giant ConocoPhillips combined forces with Tyson Foods (purveyors of the now infamous "pink slime") in 2007 to use all the leftover scraps that would normally go into makeup or soap as biofuel to power industrial boilers and even cars. Well, they told us to look into renewable resources. What's more renewable than endlessly screwing rabbits? You're welcome, Al Gore.
"Mr. Gore? Al? Are you OK?"
By the way, this isn't the only way that the Swedish are leading the world in ridiculous alternative energy -- they've also started harnessing the power of ...
Alcohol has always been used as a power source for humanity, although mainly only as fuel for bar fights and regrettable one-night stands. And while we're not saying that booze shouldn't continue to be the batteries behind your random drunken sexcapades, we can't help but wonder if there doesn't exist a more practical use for copious amounts of alcohol.
Like getting through an MGK concert.
Apparently, the Swedish Customs Service asked themselves that same question after the illegal booze they confiscated from would-be smugglers started to pile up. Hell, in 2006 alone, they seized 185,000 gallons at the border. So what can you do with hundreds of thousands of gallons of booze that doesn't involve a nationwide open bar party? Convert that shit into biogas and use it to fuel the public transportation system. In fact, it's used to power 1,000 trucks and buses, and even a train.
Biogas, which is created by the breakdown of organic matter, can be compressed to the point that it can actually be used as vehicle fuel. It has helped Sweden drastically reduce their dependency on fossil fuels. In fact, they're among the leaders in Europe in that category, partly thanks to the astonishing amounts of hooch people are trying to sneak into the country.
One glass at a time, baby. That's how Sweden rolls.
We previously mentioned how scientists were looking for a way to harness the energy from microorganisms that eat electricity and fart methane. So if methane can be converted into power, why not use a source that produces 80 million metric tons of the stuff per year, which amounts to 28 percent of the world's atmospheric methane?
We're talking about cow turds.
Also known as "brownish-green gold."
You see, using the process of anaerobic digestion, farmers are able to harness the power of the turd by having the methane gas separated from the solids and liquids, then converting that gas into heat or electricity. And not only does it produce enough energy to power the farm, but the excess energy produced can be fed back to the power company to be used elsewhere. Like providing energy to literally hundreds or even thousands of homes every year.
It also gives the farmers someplace to put all the shit, because quite frankly, cows poop a lot. Just ask Buzz Gibson, owner of Lochmead Farms in Junction City, Oregon, whose 650 cows produce 40,000 gallons of poop per day. To put that into perspective, in just over two weeks, Gibson would have enough feces to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool. But now that's a good thing, because he uses all of the methane from Mount Shitimanjaro to produce enough electricity to power 300 homes each year.
There's no way we're making a joke here about the city experiencing brownouts. Nope -- not us.
Not only that, but it cuts down on water pollution by reducing the runoff from manure-fertilized fields and puts less methane into the atmosphere. Which is important, seeing as how it is 20 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
And even if you're not all that concerned with the environment, the digestion process removes the ammonia from the poop, resulting in odor reduction of up to 97 percent, which should be welcome news to anyone other than a farmer who has driven past a freshly fertilized field on a hot summer day.
"That's much better, thank you!"
One of the staples of science fiction is nanotechnology -- tiny swarms of microscopic machines that we program to do a variety of helpful things. In the movies, they usually murder us. But scientists think that, rather than wiping out humanity, the nanobots might prove useful in medical applications, such as fighting tumors. What they will fight after the tumor is gone is a problem we'll deal with when it happens.
Yep, nothing to worry about there. Just tiny spider robots programmed specifically to destroy human flesh.
Until then, it's just a matter of figuring out how to power the things. Now scientists have finally found a suitable power source: jellyfish. Or more specifically, the shiny fluorescent stuff that makes jellyfish glow in the dark. Once again, it's those ingenious animal-torturing Swedes who made the discovery -- when you put the jellyfish's fluorescent protein on some electrodes and shine an ultraviolet light on it, it creates an electric current. It's not quite enough to power your Hummer, but it may be able to fuel tiny little robots.
Jellybots will quietly end humanity.
On a less terrifying note, the researchers believe that the technology could be scaled up to make cheaper solar cells, making this just one more method of combating global warming by liquefying the more helpless of nature's creatures.
And harvesting their light to fuel our cancer warrior robots. Seriously, think about that.
Every morning, everyone on the planet drags themselves out of bed, staggers to the bathroom and releases a pint or two of precious renewable fuel into the sewage system. Wouldn't it be better and not at all disgusting if we could pee into a generator instead and power our homes for the rest of the day? That's the dream that researchers in the U.K. are looking into making a reality.
Scientists from a British university have published a recent paper arguing for the application of human and animal urine in fuel cells. The studies have found that the technology is possible, though not yet very efficient. We're sure that will change as soon as the university can find enough lab assistants who won't mind handling gallons of human waste for a paycheck every day.
Or maybe just one guy who really enjoys it.
The researchers think that eventually they might be able to create a device that could power a home, or perhaps even a village. The founder of a popular British festival has even said that he would consider powering the event on beer piss, should science find a way.
We could power the whole West Coast with five days of Burning Man pee.
Don't laugh -- human beings collectively produce around 6.4 trillion liters of urine a day, so an effective way of harvesting energy from this golden wonder-fuel might end our fossil fuel dependency overnight, as well as mitigating the effects of one more way we go about polluting the environment. This is all assuming the fossil fuel industry won't mind everyone switching to a fuel source that each of us creates for free, endlessly, each day, inside our own bodies. They wouldn't mind, right?
Oh, they'd find a way to sell us back our own piss. You can count on that.
For more insane ways we're trying to keep the ship afloat, check out 5 Ways People Are Trying to Save the World (That Don't Work) and The 6 Most Half Assed Attempts at Corporate Green Washing.