Booze, alligators, and even your dance moves could help power the world

We try to keep a pulse on all things green here at Quoted, and in honor of Earth Day, we’re taking a look at some of the zany and unexpected ways to power your car other than gasoline. We’ve written about alternative fuel sources like electricity, fuel-cell, even algae. But what about things you’d never consider for fuel, like whiskey or your own pee (um, what?)—could they actually power your car? We scope out seven of the most unexpected alternative fuel sources here:

1. Whiskey

Two whiskey by-products can be mixed and fermented, producing a broth that can then be distilled into acetone, butanol and ethanol, writes CBS News. Butanol is the one getting buzz, as it produces nearly the same energy as petroleum. And this whiskey-by-product-as-fuel isn’t just theoretical. Scottish company Celtic Renewables has big investors—and big money—and is actively working to bring their “superior next generation biofuel” to consumers. Celtic Renewables believes their biofuel will be great for cars and trucks, but they also say it’ll be great for big fuel-guzzlers like jets, too.

Whiskey on the rocks in a glass

2. Semi-Solid Sewage

During the sewage treatment process, semi-solids—called “sludge”—are separated from water, writes Gizmodo. Sludge can be used as a biofuel when it’s dried and heated, which produces a synthetic gas that can then be burned. Even better (but more complicated and more expensive): scientists in South Korea have discovered a way to convert 98 percent of sludge into usable biodiesel, writes Gizmodo, but wastewater treatment plants would all have to be retrofitted so biofuel production could happen on site.

Either way, we’re sure it all smells amazing.

3. Urine

Rolling right along with the gross-out (but ultimately super environmentally conscious) fuel alternatives, next up is pee. Yep. “Urine-fed microbial fuel cells are currently being developed as a potential energy source for everything from personal electronics to self-sufficient robots,” writes Gizmodo. Scientists can potentially harvest the power of microorganisms as the cells break down food—and what’s a great source of food for these microbial cells, you ask? Urine.

Urine-powered energy could actually make for sustainable toilets: someone uses the facilities, and their “deposit” would generate enough energy in real time to light the very bathroom in which the toilet is located. This particular technology is currently being developed for use in refugee camps, reports Reuters.

4. Sugar

But don’t just pour it into your gas tank! Scientists are developing several ways to harness sugar’s power. At Virginia Tech, researchers are working on converting sugar into hydrogen, which can then be used in fuel-cell vehicles, writes Discovery.com.

Elsewhere, sugar biobatteries are being developed. These batteries convert glucose to energy and are reusable, biodegradable, and create more energy than lithium-ion batteries.

5. Food Waste

Leftover food is broken down by bacteria and much of it, like fruit skins and coffee and oils, can be used to produce biogas, writes Listverse. Biogas is mostly comprised of methane and carbon, and could be used to power vehicles.

People dancing at concert

6. Vibrations

Vibrations made from people moving around can be captured by “piezoelectric” materials that can then produce electricity. So far the technology is too expensive to be considered for mass use, but it has potential. A club in Rotterdam, Netherlands spent $257,000 on 270-square feet of floor space with piezoelectric materials. The vibrations made by dancers are captured to power the club’s light show. The U.S. Army is also looking into the technology, reports Discover.com.

7. Alligator Fat

Scientists (in Louisiana—where else?) are developing ways to turn alligator fat into biodiesel. The high lipid content of alligator fat makes it an ideal candidate for biodiesel conversion, writes Gizmodo. Another bonus: there’s already a lot of fat waste in the alligator meat industry, which is apparently booming.

The thing we love about many of these alternative fuel sources is they use products now considered waste, meaning they could possibly have a net positive effect on the environment–a far cry from the gasoline-powered vehicles of today.

 

About The Author

Julia is a writer living in New York City. She's written hundreds of articles about the auto industry, from demystifying car insurance to exploring the latest vehicle technologies."