7 Unconventional Renewable Energy Sources You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

7 Unconventional Renewable Energy Sources You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

I’m always fascinated by new and innovative ways to generate renewable energy. While solar, wind, and hydro power seem to get most of the attention, there are actually many lesser-known renewable energy sources that show great promise. In this article, I’ll highlight 7 of the most unconventional and obscure renewable energy technologies that you’ve probably never heard of before. These emerging energy sources may play a bigger role in our clean energy future.

Wave Energy

The kinetic energy from ocean waves can be captured and converted into electricity using various wave energy technologies. Some systems use floats, buoys, or pitching devices to generate electricity from the rising and falling of waves. Wave energy has the potential to deliver a substantial amount of power, with the theoretical global wave energy resource estimated to be about 29,500 TWh/year. However, wave energy systems are still in the early stages of development with availability limited to coastal regions. Key challenges include survivability, effective energy capture, and grid integration. But research is ongoing and wave energy could emerge as a promising renewable electricity source.

Biofuels from Algae

Biofuels derived from algae show great potential as a renewable energy source. Algae naturally produce oils that can be refined into a wide range of fuels including biodiesel, jet fuel, and ethanol. Some of the advantages of algal biofuels include:

  • Algae have very fast growth rates and high oil yields compared to conventional crops.

  • Algae can be grown on non-arable land using non-potable water sources.

  • Algae biofuel production has the potential to recycle carbon emissions.

Several pilot projects are underway to demonstrate large-scale algae farming and biofuel production. But technical hurdles related to energy inputs, water use, and costs must be overcome to make algal biofuels commercially viable.

Geothermal Energy from Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells

There is a big opportunity to use abandoned oil and gas wells for geothermal energy production. The concept involves injecting fluid into the old wells and circulating it through hot, underground rock formations. The heated fluid is brought back up and passed through a heat exchanger to produce electricity. Converting abandoned oil and gas wells into geothermal power plants is advantageous because the wells already extend deep into geothermal hot spots and the infrastructure is in place. Several demonstration projects in the U.S. and Canada are reporting promising results, showing this unconventional approach could be an economical way to expand geothermal energy.

Piezoelectric Energy Harvesting

Piezoelectricity refers to the generation of electric charge from mechanical stress. Certain crystalline materials exhibit the piezoelectric effect and can directly convert applied pressure, vibrations, or strain into usable electricity. This allows piezoelectric devices to passively harvest energy from ambient motion in the environment. Possible applications include embedding piezoelectric materials in sidewalks, roadways, or rail lines to recover energy from footsteps or vehicle traffic. For example, pilot projects embedding piezoelectric strips into dance floors have shown the potential to generate significant power from dancing. Advances in piezoelectric nanomaterials are enhancing energy conversion efficiencies, further improving the viability of this unconventional energy harvesting method.

Triboelectric Energy Harvesting

Similar to piezoelectrics, triboelectric energy harvesting uses frictional charge generated between two different materials to produce an electric current. For example, static electricity is caused by the triboelectric effect. This phenomenon can be harnessed to make triboelectric generators that harvest energy from mechanical stimuli like rotation, vibration, or human motion. Flexible and transparent triboelectric nanomaterials have been developed, enabling integration into wearable electronics or smart home devices. Movement and touch sensors on doors, appliances, and more could potentially power themselves using triboelectric generation. Triboelectric nanogenerators are in the early stages but show promise as a supplemental energy source.

Bioluminescent Lighting

Bioluminescence refers to the natural ability of some organisms like fireflies, glowworms, and certain marine life to produce light. Some researchers are exploring replicating this natural process to develop sustainable bioluminescent lighting. The concept involves using recombinant bioluminescent proteins and corresponding luciferase enzymes to create biological light-emitters. This method of producing light energy only requires addition of a low voltage current. Early lab prototypes have demonstrated that bioluminescent lighting panels can match conventional lighting in brightness but consume far less electricity. Further development is needed to increase efficiencies and lifetimes. But biologically-based lighting could become a radically new approach to energy-efficient indoor lighting.

Kinetic Pavement

Kinetic pavement incorporates mechanical pressure plates into the pavement surface to capture kinetic energy from vehicles driving over it. The pressure plates consist of modular hydraulic pumps that are installed underneath the road surface layer. Traffic compressing the units causes hydraulic fluid to flow through internal turbines to generate electricity. The harvested energy can be used to power roadway lighting, signage, traffic signals, and other electrical systems. Pilot deployments of kinetic pavement at universities and other sites have shown potential. But costs, durability, and energy conversion efficiencies are barriers to large-scale implementation. Further R&D and greater adoption could help realize the promise of converting roadways into energy sources.

In summary, these seven obscure renewable energy technologies have sizable untapped potential and could play a bigger role as the world transitions to sustainable energy. From wave power in the oceans to bioluminescent lighting to energy harvesting on roadways, unconventional renewables like these highlight the diverse options we have to build a clean energy future. Although they face barriers to cost-effectiveness and commercial viability, renewable energy innovators continue to push the boundaries of energy generation. With the right investments and policies, some of these alternative energy solutions could emerge from niche applications and make meaningful contributions to our energy mix. The transition to clean energy certainly won’t be fueled by sunlight and wind alone – unconventional sources like these will help propel us into a sustainable future.