Warehouse B

Tides, Compressed Air And Body Heat

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Finding Alternative Energy In Unexpected Places


By James Donahue


Leave it to human ingenuity to solve the great energy issues when our backs are against the wall. Back yard inventors and a few skilled professionals are coming up with new concepts for heating, generating electricity and driving automobiles even as the world hurls toward peak oil demand, runaway gasoline prices and exorbitant home heating costs.


From an Internet blog site called EcoGeek we found the following reports in recent days:


Engineers in Stockholm, Sweden, have devised a way of utilizing the body heat from an estimated 125,000 commuters hustling to and from the Stockholm Central Station each day, to help heat a new office building under construction nearby. The heating system will involve a simplistic assembly of pipes that collect the heat and pump it out of the warm train station and into the new office building. The body heat is expected to provide about 20 percent of the heat for the building.


Finavera Renewables, a Canadian corporation that has developed a way to harness natural tidal energy from the sea to drive a series of buoy-styled turbines, has signed a contract with California’s Pacific Gas and Electric to provide electric power for up to 1,500 homes in the San Francisco area. The generators, marketed under the name AquaBuOY, will be located in an area 2.5 miles off the shore of Humboldt County, and expected to be in operation by 2012. The AquaBuOYs are 40-ton, seventy-five foot tall machines that capture the natural wave action of the sea and turn it into electricity. Finavera believes “wave farms” of this type can produce energy at an almost competitive price per watt with coal or natural gas, and up to 13 cents per watt cheaper than current solar and wind technologies.


Then in France, there is the Air Care. It seems that a French Formula One designer devised a way to power cars on the physical energy of compressed air. Prototypes have been successfully developed, and several companies have licensed the technology. The idea is to compress air into ultra-strong tanks in the car. The air is then released through pistons in the engine, which drive the wheels. The current prototypes get just over one horsepower of energy that can push the cars at speeds of up to 70 miles an hour for as much as 120 miles. The nice thing about this car is that it only costs about three dollars to fill up the tank, and the car has no emissions. The only power used is the electricity to operate the air compresser.


Tata Motors, a major automaker in India, plans to produce air cars. The company expects to first offer a hybrid version that uses compressed air at slow speeds and switches to gasoline engines for long and faster trips.