Scientists keep finding new means to produce the precious resource, and it is only a matter of time before the next best technology takes over the market and sweeps solar, wind, waves and geothermal off their feet.
This might well be the power produced from water evaporation– something that the researcher, Dr Ozgur Sahin together with colleagues from Wyss Institute Core Faculty and Loyala University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine have been exploring for quite some time now. They claim that it can be the greatest natural source of power.
The story began back in 2012, when the team tested and published their study on the ability of a special type of soil bacteria, called Bacillus Subtilis, to dry up and expand again in no time when taking up water.
Once they discovered this, the scientists looked for the reasons to why it does what it does, and realized that the bacterium must be storing energy. Sahin decided to take this further and applied it in a solution onto a small and very flexible plank made of silicon. He expected that he would be able to observe under a microscope a special force that occurs once the plank is exposed to a certain level of humidity, but he was slightly mistaken. To his surprise, he did not need a special instrument to see that the plank almost immediately began to curve and straighten even under a tiny change of humidity, such as the one caused by his breathing.
Of course, he could not leave it there, especially when he estimated that the generated force is 1000 times greater than this of a human muscle, only by varying the humidity according to typical values for a dry sunny day and a misty day. He took some LEGO pieces, a small fan, a normal magnet and a plank coated with the bacterium and built a prototype of an energy generator that is driven by the humidity. Energy is produced when the plank flexes due to expansion of the bacteria and moves the magnet.
This gadget is way too small to be able to capture great amounts of energy produced during evaporation, but Sahin believes that it could well serve as an example of what future large-scale humidity-driven generators should look like. He is also convinced that if the bacterium is genetically engineered to be more elastic, then this new technology will definitely be of a great asset near small water bodies, which are warmed only by sunlight during the day.
If this new discovery is really put into practice, it could be a real breakthrough in the field of renewable energy production. What makes it so great is the fact that while wind and solar are extremely dependant on changing weather conditions, this new generator is powered by this same fluctuation. Who knows, this might really be the next best thing.
Image (c) Wyss Institute