Unlikely Sources of Renewable Energy


image credit: Microrao via wikimedia commons

After the COP21 Conference on Climate Change in Paris, people have been abuzz with the latest technology and research on renewable energy. Saving the environment is the new battle cry of this generation. And more efforts are sprouting up to answer the call against climate change and depletion of our natural resources.

Emerging green technologies like solar roads, wind power, geothermal and hydro power, are gaining more shares in the energy mixes of many countries. France, the Netherlands, and Canada, are just some of the countries who have started their own bold initiatives towards greener investments.

More research and development (R&D) on renewable energy is also being spent by governments and corporations around the world. In a 2004-2014 report from Bloomberg, around $11.7 billion has been spent on renewable energy R&D as of 2014. This was the highest on record in comparison to figures dating before it. In 2004, R&D investment was only at $5.1 billion.

The same report also revealed that Europe has been leading the pack amongst other regions in terms of R&D Renewable Energy investments, while Asian countries (except for China and India) come in second. China comes in third followed by the United States. The International Energy Agency also noted that R&D on energy has greatly shifted from nuclear power in the 1980s to renewable energy by 2013.

Given a snapshot of this changing landscape, energy is no longer just about fossil fuels and nuclear power. Even highly unlikely sources have become main players in discovering new ways to harness energy. Here are some quirky, if not unorthodox, ways research and development has brought us in the name of a sustainable environment.


These organisms are mostly seen as harbingers of ailments or good soldiers sold in Yakult bottles. Whether they’re good or bad bacteria, they’re now being researched on, not to be expelled from or ingested by the body, but to generate energy.

In Netherlands, bacterial batteries are being researched on to see if bacteria can indeed provide electricity. Researchers found out that when done right, electrons can be harvested from the bacteria after feeding off from a certain source. The electrons created from this are captured to the battery system and electricity is generated. The battery can be charged for 16 hours which in turn will produce power for 8 hours. Though it does not seem to be so promising, scientists are still excited to research more on it. In the meantime, it can serve as an alternative to common methods of acquiring renewable energy.

Another way bacteria is being used for renewable energy is in solar panels. Research from Binghamton University in New York demonstrated that cyanobacteria can be used to power bio-solar cells. These devices contain cyanobacteria and it captures electrons coming from their photosynthesis and respiratory activities. Electricity was generated for up to 60 hours but the wattage was very far from powering a light bulb. However, this research showed potential in tapping the power of bacteria for energy.  

image credit: Sigurdas via wikimedia commons

image credit: Sigurdas via wikimedia commons

Food Waste

Another unlikely source of energy is food waste. Almost 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year around the world according to the United Nations Environment Program and much of it is just sitting around waiting to decompose in landfills. One state in the US though dared to think of an alternative through the Heartland Biogas Project in Colorado. This project is turning a portion of the 130 billion pounds of food wasted by Americans. By investing on “digester” tanks, food waste is converted to solid, liquid, and gas. The solid parts are used for compost, the liquids are reprocessed, and the gas is used for electricity production.

The project gained a lot of attention and despite its cost, California found their project quite impressive that they bought the system as well.

Florida, however, is exploring a different way kind of food wastage- tomatoes. The state has a huge problem with tomato waste. Almost 400,000 tonnes of tomatoes fall into landfills and waterways waiting to rot and this has been causing some environmental issues. That’s why the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology has offered a solution, use rotten tomatoes to generate electricity.

The electricity generated from these tomatoes are still small according to their research but there potential in this area as well.

Some ideas on renewable energy may sound wacky or outlandish. Some might find it even unusual that huge amounts of money are spent for R&D projects like these. But just like when scientists were called crazy for man to land on the moon, bacteria and food waste may just be the answers to tomorrow’s energy problems. We’d be glad we had spent well for these crazy ideas.