TED Conversations

Timothy Shreffler

Linux Systems Administrator, Booz Allen Hamilton

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We capture a diverse set of energy very efficiently and find a way to transfer it into a system with a large storage capacity.

I was thinking about kinetic watches this morning and began to think more. What if every human being on the planet wore a bracelet that captured kinetic, sound/vibration, and thermal energy. With all the motion (kinetic), all the noise pollution in the world (sound/vibration), and all the humans (thermal) we could capture a lot of energy. Obviously no human wants to wear something bulky but if we could figure out a way to transfer that energy every time we touched a surface maybe it could work? I don't know much about engineering which is why I just posted this as an idea could someone share some insight with me as to if they think this would be feasible? I understand this idea is very crude but if we applied technology to it maybe we'd have a very efficient way of capturing energy. Keep in mind this combination of kinetic, vibration, and thermal energy doesn't just have to apply to only humans we could install energy capturing devices on cars, planes, trains, computers, virtually anything. Maybe the answer to alternative energy isn't so much to find a way to generate an endless source but to become more efficient. If energy cannot be created or destroyed maybe we just need to keep the cycle working for us instead of against us. Essentially we build take micro energy and find a way to connect it building an energy network (big energy). Please expand on this I would love to hear more thoughts this community is amazing and highly intellectual.

Examples of appliances that are already plugged in and could instantly put energy back into the system: Thermal = T, Vibration = V, Kinetic = K
Coffee Maker (TV), TV (TV), Computer (T), Mouse (K), Phone (V), Bed (T), Chair (T), the last two aren't plugged in yet but maybe they could be...


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  • Feb 2 2012: Hi Timothy,

    There are a couple of challenges for this type of system.

    The first is that current energy sources are so incredibly cheap. Consider that for $3.50 I can push my 1,500Kg minivan for 40 or 50 km, and do it at 100Km/h. Or that I can heat my home for 2 or 3 dollars a day. It's really astounding.

    The second is that our day to day existence only generates a very, very tiny amount of energy. Go back to my minivan example. If I use my entire body's energy output, I can move it maybe 20 meters before I fall flat on my face. Compare this to the idea that a few milliliters of gasoline can crush this van like a bug. I just that I don't generate much if any power.

    The last is that in many cases the power that you'd collect is simply salvaging an item's waste power. So, for instance, you may salvage 5 watts of the 50 watts a tv wasted as heat. From an engineering point of view you'd probably be better off putting your efforts into making the tv more efficient in the first place. It's more likely that you'd be able to build tvs that use 30 watts, instead of a 50 watt tv with a 5 or 10 watt recovery system.

    Best wishes,
    Doug Bell
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      Feb 2 2012: Doug thanks for the thoughts always nice to hear good information. So to add to your suggestion of making a TV more efficient in the first place that makes sense. Maybe my idea is one of those ways we could lower the bottom line. Like taking a 50w television that engineered better could be 30w and then adding in a thermal energy recycling technology could lower it to 25w assuming we could make the technology cost effective.

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