Updated: 10 ways the South West will be powering the future

Spotlight on: The revolutionary batteries, supercapacitators, voltage optimisers and green energy tech being created in the region
9th November 2017

With fossil fuel supplies becoming scarce and our planet getting a little bit too cosy, the search for alternative power sources is truly underway. And, of course, the South West is home to some pioneering developments that may form or control the energy sources of the future. It’s green energy like you’ve never seen it before! Here are some of the fun green energy tech projects to watch from the region:

Pee Power

Perhaps one of the most bewildering projects Bristol is home to, Bristol BioEnergy Centre’s (BBiC) Pee Power is revolutionary. The BBiC has discovered a way to charge a mobile phone using human waste with the help of its Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) technology.

Explained: Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos tells us the theory behind Pee Power
 

The MFC’s can essentially ‘eat’ bacteria found in the urine to create their own energy, which can then be turned into electricity or, as it’s been aptly nicknamed, urine-tricity…

Trialled at Glastonbury Festival 2016 and set to return again this year, Pee Power is about as green as it gets. Its researchers are thrilled with the results that have already been seen and are excited for the future MFCs could play in our hunt for power.

Living Bricks

Another pretty cool piece of green tech to come out of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) and BBiC collaboration is the invention of Living Bricks. What would be more useful than the very bricks that make up your house producing electricity?

Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos explains, “These are essentially standard bricks integrated with our Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) technology, which produces electricity as a direct result of cleaning/ treating wastewater.”

Built from the same concept as Pee Power, Living Bricks would essentially be giving a mock digestive system to your bricks, but rather than energy to run around or work all day, the end result is electricity. Yay for renewable power sources!

Bio-Bus

This Bio-Bus requires another waste product to run. The first ever ‘poo-powered’ bus was originally set up on the number two(!) route in Bristol back in 2014, linking the city with Bath, and running purely on human and food waste. After a short hiatus, the Bio-Bus is making a come back as a number one double decker bus – from 21 August you could be riding on one very efficient vehicle.

GENeco revealed that if our buses used biomethane as a replacement fuel for natural gas it would, in fact, reduce carbon emissions. The bus is a huge breakthrough in the quest to cut down on greenhouse gases as this alternative is 84% cleaner than the average bus.

Bristol and GENeco can be satisfied it paved the way for the fuel of the future – especially since 70 buses around the country are now running on biomethane.

Industrial Phycology

The issue of wastewater certainly isn’t a new one and it continues to worsen with the growing population. However, it doesn’t have to stay this way.

Dan Murry, based at the University of Bath’s Innovation Centre, is currently working on a project that could make wastewater a valuable commodity. Industrial Phycology explains: “Applying cutting-edge technology, the I-Phyc system uses microalgae at an industrial scale to treat wastewater from agricultural, industrial and municipal.”

As algae naturally consume these nutrients and minerals to grow and reproduce, it can be recycled and used as fertiliser or as a bioenergy source.

In addition to this, the algae remove the harmful substances in wastewater, such as CO2, proving itself as the more environmentally friendly way to treat waste water and reduce carbon emissions.

Supercapacitor

Our reliance on cars is now higher than ever, which means so is our reliance on petrol and diesel. The environmental damage this causes over time will be catastrophic – but don’t worry, you may not have to put your bike helmet on to save the planet.

This is where the University of Bristol (UoB), the University of Surrey and SuperCapacitor Materials‘ collaborative project comes in. Together they have created a high-energy supercapacitor that could charge your car quicker than you can currently refuel it, with enough power for it to drive all the way from London to Edinburgh. Yes, you did read that correctly.

UoB says it is “proven to be between 1,000-10,000 times more powerful than the existing battery alternative”, meaning that it could charge your car, laptop, phone, or whatever else you may need, in a matter of minutes or even seconds. So, the dilemma of having 5% phone charge when you’re due to leave in 10 minutes could soon be a frustration of the past.

Nuclear waste batteries

Nuclear waste is becoming an increasing problem as we turn to nuclear power as an alternative to oil and gas. But the geniuses at UoB only see this as a challenge. As a result, the team have created a battery which uses the dangerous by-product of nuclear waste to produce safe electricity.

The team, led by Tom Scott Professor in Materials in the University’s Interface Analysis Centre and a member of the Cabot Institute, did this by growing a man-made diamond that, when placed in a radioactive field, is able to generate a small electrical current.

“There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation,” said Prof Scott. “By encapsulating radioactive material inside diamonds, we turn a long-term problem of nuclear waste into a nuclear-powered battery and a long-term supply of clean energy.” Sounds good to us!

WITT

With sunlight, nuclear and dirty water taken care of, we now turn to engineer Martin Wickett whose invention harnesses electricity from the magic of movement.

WITT is an energy harvester like no other; it can absorb up to 100% more energy compared to previous alternatives. This is all because of its unique feature – a system of transferring energy generated by any movement in any direction into a single unidirectional rotation of a flywheel. This means it can generate energy in any situation where natural movement occurs, from animals to boats and trains.

WITT is also diverse in its use. Miniature WITTs could recharge mobile phones whilst on the move, while large-scale WITTs could generate grid scale ocean power. Chairman Admiral Sir James Burnell-Nugent explains “The WITT is the most exciting development in renewable energy since the solar panel and is a truly ground-breaking development.”

Plaxx

Plastic takes billions of years to biodegrade in landfill sights, so presently the lack of recycled plastic is a bit of an issue. The team down at BRL recognised this and decided to put their brains together to create ‘Plaxx’ – the newest fuel.

UWE’s Associate Professor on the project, Farid Dailami explains: “This new fuel could have huge environmental benefits as an alternative to the fossil fuel, heavy fuel oil (HFO), currently used in marine diesel engines and industrial engines.”

And we won’t be running out of plastic to make it any time soon.

Bristol BlueGreen

Whilst we go through the transition from non-renewable to renewable energy sources, we should still be keeping our usage to a minimum. Cue Bristol BlueGreen – the app that lets you track your voltage usage!

And it’s not just about being conscientious with your carbon footprint; controlling the voltage you use can help you save money, as well as increase your appliances’ lifetime.

It works by using the BlueGreen device. The BlueGreen maintains the voltage supply coming into your property at 220 volts allowing household appliances to work more efficiently, use less electricity and cost less to run. It also provides usage data via Wi-Fi up to its server and then back to the app to give a detailed account of the incoming voltage to the property and what the total consumption and savings are.

To make our world a greener place being aware of our personal consumption is the first step, so download Bristol BlueGreen’s app today to be a part of it all.

Green Hedge

Bath-based green energy firm Green Hedge has been working on solutions to both the provision and storage of low-carbon energy since 2010 and has recently made headlines with the windfall £30m investment it received to develop and expand its highly promising battery-power storage units across the UK.

The storage units, which are also known as ‘energy storage barns’ (pictured left) are designed to fit in in rural landscapes by taking on the appearance of a farmers barn in under-used rural land. As well as blending in, the units themselves have an exceptionally small land footprint and produce zero pollution.

They work by charging from the grid and then feeding electricity back again when it is needed. Usually, polluting power stations or diesel generators provide the electricity at these times but, with the Green Hedge battery system, these peak needs are catered for by the excess energy created at times of less power demand.

Posing significant potential for the production of green energy, once rolled out across the country, the company’s battery barns could store as much energy as that produced by 750 acres of solar panels.

Want to keep up to date with the latest tech news? You can sign up to our regular newsletter. If you like a bit of social media, you can follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, connect with us on LinkedIn, add us on Instagram or pin us on Pinterest. Any other streams we’ve forgotten? Oh, we Google Plus as well. 

Alternatively, we exist in real life too! Why not come along to one of our friendly events? Join our Bath meetup group and/or our Bristol meetup group where you can often meet the people behind the projects, and TechSPARK’s roving reporters looking for tech things to shout about!