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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

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Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics

Extreme Alternative Energy, Part II Barry Manz

In my last column I explored realistic and unusual ways to generate “green” electric power or biofuels. This time it’s no hold barred, featuring a collection of the good, the bad, and the truly ugly. So feast your eyes on this tempting assortment, beginning with….

Dead Animals and….the Dearly Departed

German inventor Dr. Christian Koch has invented a process to use dead animals to create biodiesel. Why, just one dead can produce 2.5 L of diesel, says Dr. Koch, and to prove his plan’s efficacy, he’s driven more than 100,000 miles using the fuel without issues. Not surprisingly, his idea has never been a big hit with animal rights groups. And a crematorium in the United Kingdom is using gasses produced by the cremation process to heat its facility. As the gas must be purified with filters to remove mercury in the fillings from the dearly departed, it presumably doesn’t produce “unusual” odors, just a nice warm feeling.

Burning Sewage Sludge

Every year, every city and municipality generates huge amounts of dried sludge that must be carted away for disposal, and the University of Nevada at Reno is drying this sludge (so it burns) and then puts it through a gasification process, to eventually create electricity.


E. coli

This delightful bacterium has at least one admirable attribute: The ability to store fuel as fatty polyester-like acids that could be used in the production of biodiesel. By changing its properties so it produces greater amounts of these acids, scientists can dehydrate it to remove oxygen. The result: biodiesel.


Small but mighty: A scanning electron micrograph of Escherichia coli. Source: Wikipedia


Human Waste

Among the many philanthropic efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. A 2011 entry from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands was a sanitation system that transforms urine and feces to energy through Microwave Plasma Gasification. They say its efficiency dispatches lots of feces while also generating enough electricity to power itself. Any surplus power could be used by the community, and as the waste is rich in nutrients like phosphate, it could be used as fertilizer. Water could be purified and recycled for hand washing or flushing.


Diapers as Fuel

In Japan, more than 530,000 tons of diapers from both babies and adults are used and thrown away every year, and a company there called Super Faiths, Inc., has developed their “SFD Recycle System” to process the diapers and turn them into “fluffy chips.” The product can be burned in a biomass boiler for heating, eliminating greenhouse gases while reducing landfill waste.


Converted into pellets, they make a great fuel for biomass boilers. Source: iStockphoto


Urine Power

Despite its less pleasant characteristics, urine is also nitrogen rich and contains urea, chloride, potassium, and bilirubin; all are great for use in microbial fuel cells. The possibilities of using urine as fuel have been widely explored, even by four teenage Nigerian girls who displayed the urine-powered generator they invented at a Pan-African Innovation Maker Faire. Their approach first separates urine into nitrogen, water, and hydrogen. The hydrogen is placed in a filter for purification and then sent to a gas cylinder that pushes it into another cylinder containing liquid borax that removes the moisture from the hydrogen gas, which powers the generator. They say 1 L of urine can provide electricity for 6 hours.

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Barry Manz is president of Manz Communications, Inc., a technical media relations agency he founded in 1987. He has since worked with more than 100 companies in the RF and microwave, defense, test and measurement, semiconductor, embedded systems, lightwave, and other markets. Barry writes articles for print and online trade publications, as well as white papers, application notes, symposium papers, technical references guides, and Web content. He is also a contributing editor for the Journal of Electronic Defense, editor of Military Microwave Digest, co-founder of MilCOTS Digest magazine, and was editor in chief of Microwaves & RF magazine.

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