29 Sep

Jonathan Trent: Energy from floating algae pods

(Hey, this is the very first time I’ve written an EDTalksTed entry during the day.)

On Wednesday night I was driving around the city and was thinking about solar panels.  This isn’t something I think about on a routine basis mind you, it just sort of slipped into my head.

It started when I saw these mini solar panels on my friend’s walkway, they were attached to these small walkway bulbs that would light up a path to the door at night.  It made me wonder a great deal about alternative energy.

And that leads it to today’s Ted Talk:


Date Filmed: September 2012

 Length: 14 minutes, 46 seconds

Total Views so far: 172,059

One Sentence Summary: “An explanation of how floating algae pods can be cultivated beside population centers to create biofuel and that the homework to prove them positive has been done.”

This is not a Ted talk for everyone I find.  It isn’t particularly flashy, it’s based upon a complex idea that isn’t easily absorbed and it takes some personal interest in its ideas in order to watch it in its entirety. 

On the other hand, this TedTalk speaks towards an ingenuity that could become a real alternative energy source. 

This Ted Talk just screams ‘GO GREEN’ and so it isn’t surprising near the end that Trent shows how this algae pod is environmentally safe and comfortably fit into societal integration.

That last part is reminded me of where I had gone with my thoughts on these solar panels.  I had heard a long time ago that some student was able to prove that solar panels distributed across a network to mimic leaves on a tree provided better results than a traditional setup. 

Now for an experimental environment, this probably was just a very small tree.  Real trees are huge, and that made me wonder if there was some way to create a solar panel-ed monstrosity that would double as a fake tree.  Some 40 or 50 foot tall tree, that actually wasn’t a tree, but was actually a complex network of solar panels.  Thinking about it made me think that this would probably be the most fragile solar panel ‘doohickey’ in the universe and one good season of bad weather would be enough to destroy it.

With floating algae pods, it makes me ask the question how these might survive up in Toronto when part of the lake freezes over.  Unfortunately, at this point in time I couldn’t confirm.

To learn more about the algae pods, the Omega website can be found here:

The initial articles on the site are all complimentary to Trent’s TED Talk, and there’s a great deal more information about Trent himself.  (It’s interesting that biofuel is a byproduct of nanotechological research.)

As I continued to drive around the city, I started wondering that if weren’t able to make fake trees, what if there was something we could put ‘on’ the tree to cooperatively pull in energy.  There’s Christmas lights everywhere in this city, and they seem to be up 365 days a year.  Could there be some replaceable solar panel equivalent that we could string up and at night they glowed like little lights?  I dismissed this idea as simply not possible and continued on.

So if not on trees, why aren’t there solar panels on top of every street lamp to assist in powering it?  Is it because the technology hasn’t reached a natural developed integration that people forget the possibility?  Or is because the costs associated are too heavy?  Maybe it’d be a pain to maintain?

This could very well be thoughts and concepts on why the Omega project is a published and not private idea set.  That in order for it to be even utilized, requires such a drastic series of steps that is outside the common set of norms that trying to package and sell it isn’t reasonable.  After all, why bother trying to add a solar panel into a street lamp when the current models are already at the cheapest they can be?

What caught me off guard

Why does it need to branch out to multiple options at the end of the talk? 

Trent explains it in his talk with one sentence at around the ten minute mark.  The economics of the system is difficult to make it work.  So to make it ultimately competitive, it suddenly adds a series of additional things like solar panel, wave power, growing oysters and alternative mulch options. 

This sounds crazy in its sudden complexity.  Couldn’t there be some easier solution?  If I think like a pessimist, couldn’t they (they being the ambiguous faceless entity that has infinite money) hire lobbyists to force cities to utilize a percentage of their waste water as a biofuel source?  

I guess that really isn’t an option, just like fake solar panel trees on people’s lawns isn’t an option. 

So what can we do?

This is one of those tough questions, that we generally know the answer to already.  Unfortunately, it does seem what we can do, for algae pods, is ‘very little’. 

So Algae pod energy cells won’t be happening just yet, but maybe someday.


-Updated every Friday


1 Comment

Posted by on September 29, 2012 in Uncategorized



One response to “Jonathan Trent: Energy from floating algae pods

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    January 16, 2013 at 5:42 AM

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