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We don’t have to try too hard to generate power. The energy it takes to produce just one breath is equal to about a watt, for starters. It’s no surprise then that researchers around the globe have been searching for ways to harvest energy in the unlikeliest of places. From the kick of a soccer ball to a stroll across the sidewalk to the flying of kites, the possibilities for generating energy are endless. We rank them on a scale from 1 (dim future) to 5 (bright idea).
photo (cc) by Flickr user Repoort
Battery-charging Shoes (2)
A researcher at Louisiana Tech University has designed shoes that can charge your gadgets. Walking causes the shoes to generate a charge, which is transformed into stored electricity. It’s a work in progress, but the new technology, which is installed in the heel of the shoe and can power a cell phone, would help hikers and other people who were going off the grid.
illustration by Will Etling
Camping Stoves (4)
The campfire skills you might have learned in scouts aren’t necessary for the BioLite, an amazingly portable and efficient camping stove. Besides the device’s powerful (and clean) wood-burning capabilities, BioLite generates enough extra juice to power an LED lamp or even charge a USB device.
photo credit www.biolitestove.com
Energy-producing Sidewalks (4)
In well-designed urban areas, crowded sidewalks are a sign of citizens moving efficiently through the city. But what if we could make pedestrians even more efficient? In Chicago, POWERLeap is developing sidewalks that harvest and store the energy created by feet hitting the ground—energy that could be strong enough to power lighting or small appliances.
photo credit www.powerleap.net
Earlier this year, European researchers used a 100-square-foot kite to produce 10 kilowatts of energy, enough to power 10 homes. Once a kite is aloft, the wind rotates a fast-spinning spool that delivers energy to the ground through a tethered line. Several companies have since touted the idea of flying kites at high altitudes, where the wind blows faster and more energy can be harvested.
photo (cc) by Flickr user Mike Baird
Printable Solar Panels (5)
The Irish company SolarPrint has developed a new type of solar cell that can be printed on a variety of surfaces, using fewer raw materials and thereby making them less costly. The panels can generate energy from fading sunlight and are altogether more efficient than traditional solar panels. Still, there is concern that these cells might not maintain a long enough life span to compete with traditional solar panels.
photo credit www.solarprint.ie
Revolving Doors (2)
During peak work hours, it’s not unusual to see people propelling a revolving door in an endless circle. Fluxxlab, a design firm, created the Revolution Door, which harvests electricity from the movement of each spin to convert the rat race into energy.
photo credit www.fluxxlab.com
Soccer Balls (4)
Soccer is not only the world’s most popular sport; it might also hold the key to bringing electricity to developing countries. That’s what four Harvard students hope their electricity-generating soccer ball, sOccket, can do. Using magnetic charges captured in an internal battery means 15 minutes of play can power an LED lightbulb for three hours.
photo (cc) by Flickr user wjarrettc
Solar Asphalt Shingles (3)
Dow Chemical announced last year that it was developing the Powerhouse Solar Shingle, a solar panel that also serves as a roofing material. Instead of installing an expensive array, you might be able to simply make your roof out of solar panels.
photo credit www.dow.com
Underwater Kites (5)
As it turns out, kites aren’t made only for the high skies. They’re also good for capturing energy from the ocean. The underwater kites are large wings that hold a turbine, which is spun by the tides. Minestro, a Swedish company, has designed underwater kites tied to the seabed, which can generate up to 500 kilowatts of energy.
photo (cc) by Flickr user NASA Goddard Photo and Video