The Future of Alternative Energy

- [Narrator] What do algae, viruses and seawater all have in common? They could all put fossil fuels out of business. 2010. The United States goes through about 19 million barrels of oil per day. And now we'd all like to think that coal and oil are gonna last forever, but we have to face facts. Finite resources, smog, carbon emissions, climate change. We all know the reason why we should switch from

fossil fuels to alternatives. And those reasons are getting more urgent as time goes on. But I've got some good news! It turns out necessity is one bad mother of invention. Now the laws of physics tell us that energy can't be created or destroyed, so all the energy that's out there in the universe is what we have to work with. And there's something else we have to keep in mind. Energy has a

backstory. So fuel cells. They burn clean, all you get is some water vapor and some heat, right? But if you use fossil fuels, so that you can free up the hydrogen to put in your fuel cell, you haven't really fixed a problem, all you've done is hidden it. Pay no attention to the coal behind the curtain! Now personally, I think the future of fuel isn't in fuel at all, it's in electricity. Vehicles

like Toyota's Rav4 EV and the Prius charge their batteries on the same electric grid that we use to power our toaster. So now the question, is how do we make clean sustainable electricity? Now I'm not gonna bore you with things like solar panels and wind turbines, those are amazing technologies and I'm really happy we have them, but we've already heard so much about it. And besides which, almost all of our energy

is solar energy. I mean think about it. Oil itself is made up partially of compressed algae. Millions of years ago, algae made it's energy through photosynthesis of sunlight. And wind, well that's created through atmospheric pressure differentials when the Sun heats the surface of the Earth. So if you're willing to track it back far enough, the Sun is basically the only game in town. So how does the Sun make energy, and can we

get in on that? A star creates energy through nuclear fusion in a density gas furnace where hydrogen is forced to link up and become helium. A fusion reaction puts out four million times the amount of energy we would get from a coal or oil burn. And the fuel we would need for fusion could be found in seawater, so we've got enough of it for millions of years. But there are a few

hurdles. First we have to build a reactor that's capable of holding something that's literally hotter than the Sun itself. And second, these reactions right now are not terribly efficient. Sure, they put out tons of energy, but it requires even more energy to get them started. The sweet spot we're trying to hit is a sustainable burn so that we create more energy than it takes to actually initiate it. So nuclear fusion is an

awesome prospect, if we can make it efficient enough. But it's important not to put all of our energy eggs in one electro-basket. We should also pay attention to those minor geniuses who come up with ways where we can make more efficient means of using the energy we already have. For example, have you ever thought about charging your cellphone with germs? Now I'm not saying you should go out there and sneeze on your

cell phone, because that's gross. No I'm talking about piezoelectric generators. Scientists discovered in 2012 that by coding an electrode with germs that have this piezoelectric effect, they could generate electricity through compression. Now that might sound small potatoes to you, but think about this. If we put that stuff on surfaces that get impacted every day, like the soles of our shoes or sidewalks or under our floorboards we could harness electricity every step we take. What about

garbage? We just throw it away. What if we could use garbage as fuel? Plasma waste converters do just that. And let's not ignore biofuels. In March 2013, a high school student from Colorado won the Intel Science Talent Search by breeding algae that would actually create gobs of oily biofuel. I mean how cool is that? It's also pretty disgusting, but it's mostly cool. And that's what fills me with hope. While we're trying to get

these fusion reactors online, brilliant people from all over the world are figuring out ways to create energy from everything from germs, to garbage, to pond scum. (mysterious music)

See more here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpWw7Cq2shA

- [Narrator] What do algae, viruses and seawater all have in common? They could all put fossil fuels out of business. 2010. The United States goes through about 19 million barrels of oil per day. And now we'd all like to think that coal and oil are gonna last forever, but we have to face facts. Finite resources, smog, carbon emissions, climate change....