The Surprising Places National Parks and Military Units Are Turning to for Renewable Energy
Plotting the key efforts to leverage unexpected, unprecedented and unwieldy energy sources
The Toyota Effect series from Toyota highlights the car company’s fundamental mission to share good ideas to positively impact the world. Over the next month, PSFK and Toyota will demonstrate how the company and other thought-leaders are using the power of the collaboration to innovate, and create change for people, society, and the planet. Watch the entire video series to learn how joint efforts are helping organizations approach problems differently to move the world forward.
Organizations of all sizes—from small tech outfits to global manufacturers to the U.S. military—are looking to find more efficient and effective ways of harnessing and distributing power.
From underwater turbines to hybrid car batteries, sustainable energy technologies are powering infrastructure in a way that mirrors the philosophies of production systems that phase out waste, as made famous by companies like Toyota. To that end, these surprising sources help power the world with minimal environmental impact.
In a bizarre environmental twist, one of climate change’s leading contributors, CO2, might be a viable way to help mitigate it. Working with the U.S. Department of Energy, GE Global Research (GRC) is using CO2 as an important component in an innovation that will help the power industry at large.
Used essentially as a battery, CO2 stored within turbines holds onto the excess heat expelled by thermal solar power plants so that it can be used during times of high demand so as to power those same plants. Rather impressively, one turbine can power 100,000 U.S. homes though it is small enough to sit on your standard office shelf. Once the worst kind of waste, CO2 is now another unexpected ally in the battle to run systems efficiently and responsibly.
The U.S. National Park System is a source of awe and national pride, which is precisely why renewable energy sources demand our greatest efforts.
Though Yellowstone National Park may seem an unlikely frontier for cutting-edge energy technologies, Toyota recently collaborated with the park to reimagine the power source and environmental impact of The Lamar Buffalo Ranch, a remote educational research facility within the park.
As documented by The Toyota Effect, a mission to illustrate how sharing progressive ideas can benefit the greater good, 208 Toyota Camry hybrid batteries were repurposed as energy repositories at the ranch. Looking to wean itself off fossil fuels, Yellowstone undertook this project which turned out to be an unexpected exercise in energy innovation. The batteries, having reached the end of their useful life in cars, gained a second one as a sustainable power source for stationary infrastructure. Configured to be charged by a solar panel array, they allow an important part of a national landmark to power itself in a way that is off-the-grid and demonstrative of its greater potential.
With one of the key principles of the Toyota Production System (TPS), mentioned earlier, being a dedication to waste reduction, The Lamar Buffalo Ranch is testament to what is possible when waste isn’t treated as an end but as a means instead.
As Jim Lentz, Chief Executive Officer for Toyota North America, said, “We have eight million hybrid vehicles on the road today. Imagine if we can do this with 200 batteries, over time what we would do with eight million batteries.”
Other examples of the work Toyota is doing to share the principles of its production system for the greater good can be found as a part of The Toyota Effect.
If car batteries and even CO2 can yield boundless streams of energy, it stands to reason that something that is actually rather boundless in scope, like the ocean, presents a massive power opportunity. Not wielding it has been the ultimate example of letting a good thing go to waste. Fortunately, viable ocean energy projects have recently surfaced, as seen by the likes of Atlantis Resources, which expects its 200-plus undersea turbines to power hundreds of thousands of homes by way of tidal energy. With ocean waters serving as the ultimate swirl of untapped movement and mobility, the owner of the largest array of undersea turbines sees sustainable energy as a foregone conclusion.
Despite the difficulties and dangers involved in harnessing the ocean for energy, stakes never get quite as high as they do on the battlefield. Even the slightest inconsistency or sloppiness can result in death for the men and women that work within it.
Citing thousands of deaths of military personnel lost to fuel supply, demands or transportation, Raytheon saw a need to combat high casualty numbers by cutting out energy waste. To do so, the military contractor developed armor that doubles as a battery source for battle-ready vehicles. In harnessing the motion of the vehicles it protects, the armor-slash-battery stores energy that can then power vehicle electronics, like radios and sensors, without the need to run an engine (which also happens to be environmentally wasteful). Plus, recharging while idle not only offers added energy conservation but also reduces the likelihood of drawing nearby enemy troops.
Turning to the unexpected, unprecedented and unwieldy as the next-gen of energy streams might ensure that our energy needs are met with responses than even a national park like Yellowstone can agree with. But, perhaps most importantly, this approach suggests that there’s always room to improve upon the systems we turn to for our most critical needs. A revelation that should prove especially helpful as we look to take better care of our planet.