How Engineers Are Turning Wind into Protein Powder
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How Engineers Are Turning Wind into Protein Powder

March 8, 2020

Thanks to Skillshare for supporting this episode
of SciShow. [INTRO ] There are lots of reasons to want renewable
sources of energy. They can reduce smog, create jobs, and lower
our environmental impacts… which we all pretty much agree are good things
to do. But right now, there are limits to how much
energy we can get from things like solar and wind— and not just because we need to build more
facilities. Power grids aren’t equipped to handle the
boom and bust nature of these sources right now. So scientists are looking for new ways to
store power, including turning it into fuel. This technology is called power to gas, and
it’s still under development. But someday, it could revolutionize the energy
industry. Around the world, countries are moving away
from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources, which capture energy from natural processes
that can’t be depleted, like solar or wind power. After all, fossil fuels are harmful to the
environment in many ways, like exacerbating climate change. Not to mention they’re running out—which
is, you know, the trouble with anything that’s not renewable. But there’s a catch to this ideal world:
Renewable energies tend to be inconsistent sources of electricy. They really depend on location and time. For instance, it’s easier for tropical locales
to rely on solar power. On sunny days in places that currently have
solar farms, there’s more than enough solar energy streaming
in to produce the electricity they need. But even the sunniest parts of the world get
clouds and rain. On those days, solar farms that typically
generate enough electricity might not make the cut. So engineers are trying to suss out how to
make sure energy production can keep up with energy demand, an idea called balancing the grid. And for renewable energies, that mostly means finding a way to capture
and store the extra power they produce on good days to make up for less productive ones. Batteries might seem like an obvious solution, because they’re used for power storage in
everything from Furbies and flashlights to high-end cars. But making and maintaining batteries that
can store that much energy is expensive. For the US, we’re talking trillions of dollars
expensive. And that’s on top of the price of building
renewable energy facilities in the first place. But there’s another way: banking electricity
in energy sources like gases, which are much cheaper to manage and fit into existing energy
infrastructures in lots of places. This idea is called Power to Gas, or P2G. And making the gas is pretty straightforward. Electricity is just moving electrons. And when you apply an electric current to
water, something useful happens: the water molecules
split into their atomic components: hydrogen and oxygen. This is known as electrolysis. And a lot of P2G research has focused on making
it as efficient as possible. Usually, this happens by putting chemicals
called electrolytes in the water that help electrons move around easily. The oxygen gas can be bottled for use, like in a hospital or welding torches, or
simply released into the air. But the hydrogen gas is the real prize. Some places are well-equipped to store and
use it directly, like areas with a lot of infrastructure for hydrogen cars. In a lot of cases, though, countries will
want to create something more useful for their current grid. That likely means combining hydrogen gas with
carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide to create methane — the main component of natural gas. That carbon dioxide could come from the atmosphere
or other emission sources, directly reducing the total amount of CO2
we put into the air. And while the methane produced would still
emit carbon dioxide when burned, it’s less than burning coal or oil. Now, renewable energies can be so productive
at times that they more than make up for lulls. So all that extra extra energy can be used
in other ways… like to make food. Researchers are tinkering with the idea of
using gas from P2G to generate food for fish, livestock, pets, and even us humans. For decades, microbiologists have known about
methanotrophic bacteria —organisms that feed on single-carbon compounds
like methane. But it’s only in the past 20 years or so
that scientists have started growing bacteria to process and stick into animal feeds, dubbing them bioprotein. Kind of like Vegemite… but not yeast. And while most test facilities use the methane
from natural gas, some engineers think using methane produced
by P2G would be even better. Not only that, but the oxygen from hydrolysis
could be fed into the bacterial cultures to help them grow, because they need it too. And the carbon dioxide the bacteria produce
could be used to make more methane in a big, gassy cycle! Right now, the methane for bioprotein comes
from natural gas, though companies are looking to switch that
to sewage sludge or other decomposing materials. That would make bioprotein more sustainable,
but way less appetizing. Using power-to-gas methane would solve the
sustainability issue, but also make the idea of bioprotein in processed
foods or protein powders more palatable. So basically… we could get buff by eating
wind or sunlight. Which is pretty cool. Of course, all of this relies on really efficient
power-to-gas conversion, and we’re not quite there yet. But researchers are working on the process
every day, so it might not be too long before P2G is integrated into power grids worldwide. It takes hard work from a lot of scientists
to develop new technologies like Power to Gas, and that sort of teamwork is true for
any field. So if you’re doing collaborative, creative
work like us, you might want to check out this Skillshare
class on Creating Design Systems, taught by creative director Dan Mall. He uses examples like the New York City Transit
Authority to talk about design manuals that are easy to use and make communication easier
across teams. And he teaches you how to create your own
to streamline productivity! Right now, Skillshare is offering SciShow
viewers 2 months of unlimited access to over 20,000 classes, including this one! Just follow the link in the description to
take advantage of this offer. And while you’re learning about productivity,
making video games, or painting, you’re also supporting SciShow. So, thanks! [ outro ]

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Always tickles me that some of our greatest technological developments are simply re-implementations of processes that naturally evolved on the planet.It's easy to forget just how long the algorithm of natural selection has been running here.

  2. Batteries are stop/go tech. I would prefer energy consistency like Piezo crystals, mini turbines, or solar panels for perpetuation of processes. Piezo was considered for allowing solar panels to produce energy during rain, when the sun's no out, for consistent energy production. It has also been considered by cell phone manufacturers to allow continuous charge.

  3. Well I do have a big question. I live in Iowa where there are a tons of wind turbines. How do we keep the wildlife from being massacred by those turbines?

  4. Also can you do a video on what it would take to insulate our power grid from an emp like event either from space or a nuke miles in the sky?

  5. Vegan "Scientist": Hey, guys. You gotta stop eating beef. All these cows produce so much methane and its destroying the planet!
    Also vegan "Scientist": Guys, lets use wind power to make more methane

  6. If only you could stop thinking about your lobbyist climate change propaganda we would have so much energy. green has become a religion these days Half our jobs are lost because of some unscientific bs used by Democrats to gain a political advantage

  7. What about the whole idea of moving a liquid (usually water) to a high location during peak energy production and using said liquid to spin turbines in the down times?

    Seems simple to me, at least compared to all this other stuff. Sure it won't be the most efficient method, but it's simple and would obviously work…

  8. "Renewable energies tend to be inconsistent sources of electricity."
    To be completely honest, so do fossil fuels. It's just that when a fossil fuel becomes unavailable and it becomes necessary to switch over to a battery backup, this happens out of view of the general public, and so goes unnoticed.

  9. Nuclear Fusion and algae fuels please. The wind turbines are just bird choppers and they take the corpses and grind them down into powder, not cool.

  10. Stop promoting such dumb ideas, we don't want more methane leaking into the atmosphere, converting solar power to methane gas is a sure fire way to accelerate global warming

  11. Wireless transmitter energy by satellite solar panel may be promising in future and plasma energy created by Iranian Nuclear Scientists could be on the table except not much money to be made by suppliers as it is very cheap to purchase,so they are not really keen,NO MONEY NO TALK.

  12. In the UK, they have water towers to store electricity. There was a problem with the grid going down after soap operas and football games because of everyone turning on their tea kettles at the same time. To combat this, they pump water up into towers when the grid is in low demand and if a spike in demand occurs, the pump stations can meet that demand within a minute by letting the water fall back down to turn a turbine and generate electricity.

  13. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. Too many people make it sound like CO2 is the only one. Please, you're a science channel, don't add to such common misconceptions. An extra minuet to explain this wont hurt your viewer retention.

  14. Everytime some one says that the grid can't handle the power fluctuations of renewable a peaker plant is turned on.. Lol

  15. This show seems to repeat the idea that photo eclectic cells are only worth installing in tropical regions. This is not true with many large installations being put in in Northern Europe. They still produce when there are clouds and require less maintainance than some wind turbines.

  16. So all these exciting things will be possible when scientists figure out how to break the energy conservation law to make the electrolysis less energy demanding. Well, I'm afraid it's not going to happen soon.

  17. The U.S. NAVY has already been looking to make Power to Gas systems (also known as Carbon Neutral Fuel) for their nuclear-powered ships. See the link ->

  18. When I read the title, I honestly thought that people were scraping bugs off the wind turbines in order to make them into protein powder.

  19. Dude what are you saying is besides the free energy, if i had a machine like that it would grow food as well? Capitalism would going broke for sure, all you need is a free wifi spot and your life is almost 0 cost per month. Seems good

  20. It doesn't add up. The tech is the equivalent of artificial trees, and historically there were never enough trees to produce wood fuel for heating and industry. The switch to coal and oil is why there are still forests left today.

  21. Reminds me of those Cartoons where they deflate by a needle.

    Also brings a new meaning to: running with the wind.

    As for solar protein powder, would that make farts, powered by radiance?
    – i guess one could call em.. Sparkling.

  22. But what is the nitrogen source for those bacteria? Can they directly take it from atmosphere?
    If not, we only found a super complex way to turn energy into food which is what agriculture has always done

  23. 4:01 What evidence suggest using p2g methane will solve the sustainability issue? 30 years ago everyone says that solar power will solve this.

  24. Isn't already a highly efficient process that takes Sunlight and turns it in to tasty meat and protein sources??
    – Oh Yeah, it's called the food chain: Sunlight >> Plants >> Animals ! 🙂

  25. Some idiots complaining of the energy surges of wind power on the net. These should always be built with some carbon capture attached to them so the idiots complaining of uneven electricity surges might start to think.

  26. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed.
    When you use a wind turbine, you are extracting energy from wind. This means that there is then less wind.

    The wind has been depleted.
    Thinking we can "never" run out of wind energy is much like installing gaslights in one city, and thinking we can never run out of that fuel.
    Different scale, maybe, but usage only increases.
    Solar energy is much the same. We may not be depleting the sun, which does that itself, on a time scale we don't influence, but we steal that energy from the earth on which the solar energy collectors stand.
    We cool the ground, and that results in

    climate change.
    Yes it does. What causes evaporation? What causes wind? The more energy we use remove from natural processes, the less energy is left for them. There may be "plenty" of solar energy, or even "too much," but that's the now, not the forever. Scale up our usage, and we take more than can be spared.
    "Renewable" here just means "we think there's more than will ever be used." So look at history. Of all the resources we've used, and all we've managed to eliminate from existence by that usage, which ones did we start using with the intention of exhausting them? There will always be more dodos, tortoises, and whales, until there aren't.

  27. Sooo… When we get fusion Power we could make food and reduce co2 at the same time at a massiv scale? Maybe we can save the planet after all.

  28. “Eating wind or sun” that’s so cool soon someday we will actually be eating the sun by being able to photosynthesize by ourselves. We then might even have green and blue people that would be cool

  29. Much faster way, we use in my country. Turbine turns mill wheel, cracks corn. Big man eats corn. When there is no wind, big man push turbine. Is cycle of life.

  30. All sources of useable energy will eventually be depleted. Our only real options are to have a 100 years of energy or 100 million years of energy

  31. I'm a little disappointed by your biased reporting on renewables. As somebody studying and working in energy, I can tell you that renewables do far more harm than good, and I'd appreciate an honest expose on it from a channel I trust. I would also appreciate you not uses phrases like "might not make the cut", because their production drops to less than 10% of full sunlight during a rainstorm. There is no way 10% can "make the cut." Plus, they make more than needed sometimes because they need to build 3x more than needed, which is not inherently a good thing. Please be a little more honest with our energy.

  32. The weakest point of P2G is that natural gas is still much cheaper and, due to current geopolitical climate in Europe, it will only get cheaper. The only way to make it feasible is to raise a crazy carbon emission tax so that all the heavy industry will have to create "carbon sinks" in order to offset the emissions. Or they can move to China/Africa, whichever will be cheaper for them…

  33. the storage problem is far bigger than most people imagine. the scale of storage needed to account for seasonal variations and even longer climate trends (interannual, decadal) is simply too vast. nothing we throw at it is gonna be able to solve it, not for a very long time, that's assuming we'll even survive that long. instead of focusing so much on storage, we should invest in nuclear, hydro, and geothermal. storage is not a substitute for a a real power generator.

  34. Power to gas is a marketing campaign which actually comes from the fossil fuel industry.
    It's one of those greenwashing things meant to stall competing technologies that would ultimately replace fossil fuels.

    Like solar panels and wind farms, the cost of batteries are dropping really fast. Power to gas is way more complex, and likely always going to be more expensive . But it's appealing because fossil fuel companies can continue to provide natural gas, which is what they already do.

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