Developing Alternate Sources of Energy

by Karly Boettcher on March 27, 2014

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photo from: http://www.sciencephoto.com/media/429170/view

In recent times, public opinion has pressed the science community for alternate sources of energy. Currently used for energy are water, solar power, wind power, nuclear power, and now- even more revolutionary – power from bacteria.

Water has been used as a source of energy for over 100 years, and to this day provides electricity for some of the largest and most populated cities. For example, Niagara falls is the biggest electricity producer in the US. Additionally, technology is being implemented that will harness energy of ocean waves on the east coast, beginning in Oregon. Wind is also a valuable ad clean energy source, and is successfully used in many western states of the US. Another clean source of energy, meaning it does not emit gasses or require the burning of fossil fuels, is solar energy. All three of these energy sources are both environmentally friendly and renewable, meaning they cannot be depleted.

Unfortunately, using wind, water, or solar energy requires appropriate climate and location: neither are consistent across an area of land. Using these recourses also require time and money: facilities and converters are required to collect and change wind and water into a usable form.

Nuclear power is in many ways still developing and changing; it is being used in many different countries for a variety of different reasons. As of today, nuclear energy provides the US with about one fourth of its energy requirements. However, many people fear the dangers and consequences of using nuclear energy, especially in light of some recent accidents that have happened at nuclear power plants. There are many positive aspects to using nuclear energy, for example toxic and greenhouse gasses are not emitted in the process, however there are some negative environmental affects that take place during the preparation of materials. It also requires a lot of water, and produces radioactive waste. Regardless of these undesirable side effects, it is important to note that there are strict regulations and laws that are in place to assure safety. This source is necessary for the infrastructure of our country and should be valued as such.

Returning to a more natural and ecological basis, a paper published in January of 2014 highlights a very new idea for harnessing energy using bacteria spores and changes in humidity. This paper discusses how bacteria are capable of shriveling and shrinking into a spore (in the paper, this is likened to a grape becoming a raisin), but can return to its original shape and size in the presence of water. An experiment done by placing spores on a latex board showed how much strength this can produce. This paper estimates that “moistening a pound of dry spores would generate enough force to lift a car one meter off the ground”, which would be an incredible amount of energy coming from such a small unit.

These recent findings show that the forms of energy used today are nowhere near the extent of possibilities. It is important to use our resources in the most clean, safe, and effective way, but to not be afraid to look ‘outside the box’. We should always be observing the ways that nature provides us with everything we need and more.

 

Sources:

http://wyss.harvard.edu/viewpressrelease/137

http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/affect/nuclear.html

http://www.epa.gov/climatestudents/solutions/technologies/water.html

http://windeis.anl.gov/guide/basics/index.cfm

http://www.epa.gov/region1/eco/energy/re_solar.html


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