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10 Energy Breakthroughs That No One Is Talking About

by John Munoz
fact checked by Rachel Jones

When we think of energy breakthroughs, the first things that usually come to mind are solar panels, wind turbines, and electric cars. While these innovations have rightfully claimed their spots in the limelight, other remarkable energy breakthroughs deserve attention, too. From harnessing the power of ocean currents to using fungi for bioenergy, let’s delve into ten lesser-known energy advancements that quietly reshape how we think about powering our world.

Related: 10 Bizarre Failed Energy Sources

10 Hydrogen from Waste

Waste To Hydrogen

Hydrogen is like the cool kid on the block when it comes to eco-friendly power. But here’s the scoop: While we’re all hyped about hydrogen, much of it is made from not-so-green sources like natural gas. Not exactly what Mother Earth would high-five us for.

But hold onto your hats because there’s a sneaky-cool method that not many people are talking about. It involves turning our trash into treasure—hydrogen treasure, that is! Researchers are cooking up ways to take stuff we’d otherwise toss into landfills, like plastics and sewage, and turn them into hydrogen, a source of clean energy.

These tech wizards are diving into their lab cauldrons, figuring out how to extract hydrogen from all sorts of waste. Imagine those plastic water bottles you chug and throw away—they could actually help create fuel for the future. Even sewage, the stuff you flush down the toilet, might have a hidden talent as a hydrogen source. And the best part? This whole process cuts down on waste and kicks greenhouse gas emissions in the shins.

Now, you might wonder where all this cool science magic comes from. Well, the Royal Society of Chemistry is like the hip grandmaster of this research. They’re giving a thumbs up to these mind-bending ideas and cheering on the scientists who are turning waste into a greener energy source.

9 Carbon-Negative Concrete

This Green Cement Company Says It Can Cut Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Concrete, the stuff we use to build roads and buildings, is a big baddie for carbon emissions. The culprit? Cement production: It releases a ton of carbon dioxide into the air. But guess what? Some smart cookies in the construction world are thinking outside the box.

Enter carbon-negative concrete. It’s like regular concrete’s cooler, eco-friendly cousin. How does it work? Well, these clever companies are cooking up a new recipe. They’re swapping out some of the traditional materials with greener alternatives, which cuts down on those pesky emissions during production. But here’s the real magic trick: This new type of concrete doesn’t just stop at “not emitting” carbon. Nope, it goes above and beyond.

This carbon-negative concrete is like a carbon sponge. Over time, it actually sucks up carbon dioxide from the air! Imagine that—a building material actively helping clean up the mess we’ve made. It’s like concrete with a superhero cape. By tackling the carbon emissions problem right from the building blocks, we’re taking a step closer to a more sustainable future.

8 Vibrational Energy Harvesting

1825 Building a Simple Vibration Energy Harvester

Your steps and movements could do more than just get you from point A to point B. We’re talking about a nifty concept called vibrational energy harvesting, and it’s like turning your everyday motions into a power-packed performance. So, how does it work? Well, it’s all about converting the shakes and wiggles we create into actual electrical energy.

Think about how your phone constantly hungers for charging. Now, imagine if it could sip on some juice just from your bouncy walk or a hearty dance routine. That’s where vibrational energy harvesting struts in. It’s like a magician who transforms your taps, twirls, and bounces into electricity. The process involves snatching up those mechanical vibrations—like the ones caused by your footsteps or the hum of a machine—and shaking out electrons to create power.

This tech could be a game changer, especially for gadgets that don’t guzzle energy. Those tiny sensors, fitness trackers, or even remote controls might never need a battery swap again. This also means fewer dead batteries clogging up landfills and fewer grumbles about hunting for a charger. So, while we’re not saying bye-bye to batteries completely, we might be using them less often.

7 Geothermal Binary Plants

Geothermal Binary Cycle Plant

Imagine tapping into the earth’s warmth to power our homes—that’s geothermal energy. But guess what? A turbocharged version called “binary plants” takes this eco-friendly power game to a whole new level!

So regular geothermal energy is already cool because it’s super sustainable. But these binary plants crank up the coolness factor even more. Here’s the trick. They use a clever two-fluid system. Instead of just using water like the regular geothermal setups, binary plants use a secondary fluid with a lower boiling point. This is like using a supercharged coolant in your car.

How does it work? Well, the earth’s core is pretty toasty, right? With its lower boiling point, the secondary fluid gets heated up crazy fast when it comes into contact with the earth’s warmth. This intense heat energy turns the secondary fluid into steam in a jiffy. And this steam? It’s like the superstar that spins the turbines and generates electricity.

This is a big deal because of this super-efficient setup; binary plants can work their magic in more places than regular geothermal systems. They can tap into lower-temperature geothermal sources, meaning more locations worldwide can benefit from this green energy goodness.

6 Ocean Current Energy

Can Underwater Turbines Solve Our Energy Problems?

Oceans are like a giant playground of hidden energy. Those seemingly calm waters are secretly packed with a crazy amount of kinetic energy, thanks to ocean currents. Think of these currents as nature’s way of doing the wave—they’re like super-sized rivers flowing deep underwater.

Here comes the cool part: some brainy companies are onto this hidden energy jackpot and cooking up a genius plan. They’re developing underwater turbines—think of them as big, fancy underwater windmills. These futuristic gizmos are designed to tap into the power of those powerful ocean currents, turning all that kinetic energy into something super useful: electricity. It’s like turning water’s wavy dance moves into a non-stop disco party of renewable energy.

And the best part? Unlike some other renewable sources that might go a bit shy during cloudy days or calm winds, these underwater turbines keep on grooving. They offer a consistent and predictable source of green energy. So, while we can’t control the tides, we can surely ride the wave of their energy.

5 Fungi Bioenergy

Have you ever heard of fungi being the next big thing in the energy world? It’s pretty cool! So some types of fungi are like nature’s little biofuel factories. They have this amazing talent for breaking down stuff like plants, wood, and other organic matter in a super-efficient way.

We’ve been relying on fossil fuels like oil and gas for ages, and that’s not great for the environment. But these fungi can produce biofuels, which are way friendlier to the planet. They do this by chowing down on organic material and spitting out biofuels as a byproduct.

What’s super interesting is that these fungi can do this more efficiently than our current methods. They cut out the middleman and make biofuels directly from the stuff we want to turn into energy. This means we could reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, which is a big win for the environment.

4 Salinity Gradient Power

Blue Energy- Salinity gradient power | ACCIONA Imnovation

Imagine where rivers flow into the ocean, creating a fascinating transition zone where freshwater mixes with saltwater. Well, guess what? This natural meeting point isn’t just picturesque; it’s a goldmine of untapped energy! We’re talking about salinity gradient power, a cool concept that transforms the difference in saltiness into electricity.

When salty seawater and less salty river water get cozy, they create a potential energy difference. This difference, known as an energy gradient, is like nature’s way of saying, “Hey, let’s make some power!” Engineers have figured out how to harness this energy by using specialized membranes that allow ions (those tiny charged particles) to move between saltwater and freshwater. As the ions shimmy along, they generate an electric current, which can be turned into usable electricity.

Why is this so cool? Because it’s a unique way to generate green energy from places like estuaries and coastlines, where rivers meet the sea. Plus, it’s pretty sustainable—no greenhouse gases, no burning fossil fuels. Of course, there are challenges, like finding the right materials and making the process efficient, but researchers are excited about the potential.

3 Thermophotovoltaics

You know how solar panels are like the cool kids of the energy world, soaking up sunlight and turning it into electricity? Imagine if they could keep the party going even after the sun goes to bed. That’s where this snazzy tech comes in; thermophotovoltaics is like the superhero of solar power.

Thermophotovoltaics is a wizard at transforming heat into light, like turning up the heat on a dance floor and making it glow with disco lights. But here’s the twist—those groovy lights aren’t just for show. They’re like secret agents, sneaking around and giving a little nudge to solar cells, which are like the brainiacs of the energy world. These brainiac solar cells take that flashy light and zap it into electricity, powering up your gadgets and gizmos.

Now, the best part? This superhero tech isn’t afraid of the dark. It can keep converting heat into light and then into electricity, even when the sun’s off duty. So, while you’re catching those Z’s at night, this tech is working its magic, quietly churning out electricity from leftover heat. It’s like having a 24/7 solar party going on in your backyard.

2 Gravity Storage

Energy Vault: Gravity Energy Storage

Imagine having extra energy lying around—like what your supercharged battery produces on sunny days or windy nights. Now, instead of letting that energy go to waste, let’s get creative. We can use it to play a lifting game with gravity.

So when we have more energy than we know what to do with, we can use it to lift heavy things, aka gravity storage. Think of it like lifting weights at the gym, except we’re not building muscles—we’re storing potential energy. Fast forward to a time when we need that extra energy back. We release our heavy objects, gravity gets to work, and those objects start moving down. As they come rushing down, they transform that potential energy into kinetic energy—the energy of motion.

Now that we have all this kinetic energy, we can convert it back into electricity. This power can then be harnessed and turned into electricity to light our homes, charge our gadgets, and keep the energy party going.

1 Bio-Electrochemical Systems

Electrifying Wastewater: Using Microbial Fuel Cells to Generate Electricity

Here is a cool sci-fi twist on wastewater treatment: bio-electrochemical systems. These tiny microbes work overtime to not only clean up the mess but also power up our lives. That’s the idea behind these awesome systems. These clever setups put tiny living things, called microbes, to work. They munch on the organic gunk in wastewater and, voila, produce electricity—talk about multitasking!

These systems are like the ultimate eco-friendly powerhouses. They’re not only reducing the pollution in our water, which is fantastic for the environment, but they’re also cranking out electricity while they’re at it. It’s like nature’s own little power plant, with microbes as the superstar workers.

So imagine a world where our waste doesn’t just go down the drain, but it powers up our lives instead. It’s a genius combo of cleaning up and juicing up—and our planet couldn’t be happier about it.

fact checked by Rachel Jones