Thinking Green

I’ve got a decent commute each day – roughly 40 minutes to an hour for 16 miles, twice a day. While sitting in traffic and thinking about the ever-skyrocketing gas costs I can’t help but wonder why we haven’t begun to harness more of the potential energy pent up within everyday objects. Some people are already doing this, such as this seesaw power generator in Africa. This is a start but there are a ton of other places we could trap potential energy.

Here are a few:

1. Our pipes
Every time you use water from pipes there is a chance to harness the energy. When the water flows out of the pipe, or into the building through the water main, energy could be harnessed through small turbines fitted within the pipes. Make the turbines low resistance and they would likely not even cause a noticeable shift in our experienced water pressure. Add the fact that most of our water usage will also be drained back out of the house through pipes and we can harness this energy a second time through the same mechanism.

2. Our heating and cooling
The energy wasted from heating and cooling is enormous. Take a refrigerator for example. The inside gets cool while the back gets warm. Instead of allowing the warmth to vent into the house a slight modification could be made to enclose the heating elements and capture the rising air as it escapes through a small pipe. The then escaping air would then cause a small turbine to spin within the pipe, harnessing energy. The same concept can be applied to the flu for heating and any other place where there is air movement due to temperature differentials. Even the oven could be modified to vent through a pipe fitted with a turbine while it cools off.

3. Our doors
How many times a day do you open a door? Why not generate energy from it? Modified hinges could be used to transfer the force of the spinning hinges into reusable energy.

4. Our human powered appliances
We expend a lot of energy each day that is totally lost. When you push your lawn mower, vacuum the floor, or even sleep in your bed you are just giving away energy. Items like lawn mowers and vacuums could be modified to trap the energy of their turning wheels in a small internal battery, which can then be transferred back to the house through a plug. Beds could be fitted with a small generator that eeks out a small amount of power each time the bed moves up and down. While sleeping you would be able to harness the energy of turning over or getting comfortable. During other activities, a considerably greater amount could be captured.
The basic idea behind all of these ideas comes from one of two places: human generated and gravity generated. Both are systems that are omnipresent and generally result in wasted energy. I realize that some of these will not be cost effective yet as the cost of the generator will be more than the savings, however as our technology progresses these ideas become more and more feasible. In the end, to get out of our current energy crisis, we all have to think outside of the proverbial box.

P.S. I would be interested in hearing (either through a comment here or an email to me) from physicists or engineers regarding the viability of these ideas.

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Jason McDonald

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