Rethinking Biofuels: Discovering unusual alternatives

4 min read

In a mission to find abundant, cheap and efficient energy, researchers from all around the world have been investigating lesser-known sources. Along the way, they have made a few astonishing discoveries – some of which seem a little unrealistic or even ridiculous.

Let’s take a look at 6 unusual energy sources we have found!

  1. Jellyfish

Did you know that bioluminescent jellyfish can generate electricity?

The jellyfish’s ability to glow comes from its ability to manufacture the green fluorescent protein (GFP). Using aluminium electrodes exposed to ultraviolet light, electricity is generated when the protein molecules in GFP release electrons. Protein molecules can thus be utilized to create a biological fuel cell.

Incredibly enough, the protein molecules present in GFP can also be used to create tiny nanodevices that can diagnose and treat diseases!

2. Algae

Fun Fact: Microalgae are known to be the most effective alternate source of renewable energy production!

Algae grow extremely fast and produce a large amount of oil. They generate renewable energy from wastewater treatment and produce biodiesel as an alternative to fossil fuels. However, to produce energy in such large quantities, the algae needs to be genetically engineered, which is a time-consuming and expensive process.

3. Human waste

Human waste – we commonly associate it with disease, but scientists believe it is more useful than we think!

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a colourless and odourless gas that is also found in human faeces. Researchers from Cambridge and San Francisco have engineered a way to convert dog poo into methane to power lights. Just last year, a VW Beetle Car in Bristol, Australia proved that it could be powered by human faeces with its methane gas-powered engine. 

On the other hand, human urine contains urea, a non-toxic chemical compound rich in nitrogen. Using urea, it is said that the world’s first urine-powered fuel cells can be made, providing handy access to power for astronauts or military personnel in a tight situation.

4. Cows

What harm can a domesticated herbivore bring about, right?

Well, rearing and cultivating livestock, but especially cows, actually contribute about 18% of greenhouse gases, warming the planet more than cars do.

Methane produced by cows is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, trapping about 25 times more heat than carbon dioxide. However, methane can be extracted from the cow’s excrement to produce a form of biofuel as well. This biofuel is of sufficient quality that it can be supplied via natural gas pipelines to households. Meanwhile, the technology for converting cow’s farts to usable energy is still in the works. Maybe in a few years, we might be able to use energy from cow farts too!

5. Dead Bodies

How creepy would it be to manufacture energy from corpses?

Waste heat from combustion during cremation can be converted into electrical energy, which can power 1500 televisions for an hour. The discovery of producing energy from corpses was made possible due to turbines with burners installed in a crematorium in Durham, England. So, our deceased might someday be used to power our household appliances. 

6. Chicken eggs ( Egg whites)

Can eggs really be used to produce energy?

According to a study by Japanese researchers, hydrogen can be produced from water by adding lysozyme, a protein-based catalyst derived from egg whites. So, the next time you bake a dessert using only egg yolks, you could save the egg whites to produce hydrogen fuel!

Although alternative sources of energy are worth exploring, they might not be as effective in producing large amounts of energy like fossil fuels or any other common source of energy. That said, the discovery of more alternatives is important to complement the traditional energy sources for us to experience a sustainable future ahead.

Written by Samiksha Manoharan
Illustrations by Eric Lua


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