Double Helix Weird Science: Bovine batteries and pogoing people – imaginative energy futures
Did you know that inside the common cow, and under the feet of a city crowd is energy we can use? Energy is like the currency of the universe – and one we love to spend, but with a bit of creativity there are many ways we can harvest it from the world around us.
Inside the belly of the bovine beast, the cow, are bacteria that produce energy when they break down cellulose in grass. These bacteria live inside the rumen of the cow. A rumen is the cow's answer to a stomach, allowing them to survive on grass alone.
Researchers with imagination have developed a fuel cell that is about the size of a lunchbox and full of the bacteria found in a cow's rumen fluid. The fuel cell is separated into two halves, and it is the movement of electrons and protons from one side to the other that allows the energy created by these bacteria to be harvested. All this fuel cell needs to work is a good supply of cellulose – like grass, garden clippings or even waste paper – to produce enough energy to power a small Christmas tree!
The researchers take the rumen fluid from a live cow via a little hole into their stomachs (anyone feeling queasy?). In the future however, we may be able to grow these bacteria in a lab.
Also stepping up to the energy challenge are two architecture graduates, who have devised a way of harnessing the energy of a moving crowd.
Each footstep you take is movement energy. If the surface of the ground you walk on depresses slightly with each footstep, the floor block you stand on would go down whilst the block next to it stayed still. This movement between floor blocks could be harvested in a device like a dynamo that converts movement energy into electrical current.
“We want people to understand the direct relationship between their movement and the energy produced," says designer Thaddeus Jusczyk.
Jumping up and down in your room will only power two 60 watt light bulbs for a flickering second, but a crowd that has the power of say, 30 134 steps would be enough to power a moving train for a second! Imagine a crowd of people walking into a station actually being able to power the train itself, even for a short time!
And this is just the beginning – just how creative can we get to power into the future?
- Scientists ruminate on cows stomachs– live science
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – the students' design
- You can study renewable energy engineering!
Fun activities with an energy theme
Make steam powered boat
Collide-a-ball – discover potential and kinetic energy
Article generously contributed by CSIRO
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