New Energy Source: Scientists Discover Technology That Could Power 70 Percent Of U.S.

Lake Erie, on the border between Canada and the U.S. Should bodies of water like this be filled with floating bacteria farms? Public Domain

A team of researchers developed a new way to get energy from ordinary water. Now, they say a new study shows it could be used to generate the majority of America's power.

New research reported in Nature Communications, finds that energy harvested from the evaporation of water in America's lakes and reservoirs might be able to provide up to 70 percent of U.S. demand for electricity; a huge 325 gigawatts of power, according to Science Alert.

In 2015, Columbia University's Ozgur Sahin and his team developed a system that would let them extract energy from evaporating water using bacterial spores. The team stuck Bacillus subtilis spores to tape and exposed them to water.

As the water evaporated, the spores curled, meaning the tape contracts. The system, a shuttered structure that floats on water, is set up to close its shutters when they do so, meaning the water condenses and the cycle can repeat. The force generated can be used to create electricity.

Back then, they only powered an LED light. But now the team has calculated what they say would happen if you rolled constructions like theirs out across American lakes and rivers.

If you built the contraptions atop lakes and reservoirs bigger than 0.1 square kilometers (about 0.06 miles) the team believe you could produce the requisite power.

"Evaporation comes with a natural battery," Ahmet-Hamdi Cavusoglu, one of the team, said. "You can make it your main source of power and draw on solar and wind when they're available."

The researchers also believe that a fringe benefit of their idea is that America would save 95 trillion litres of water each year that is currently lost to evaporation.

Of course, the chances of this happening in full are very small. People have enough trouble with constructions like wind farms or dams, let along giant floating bacteria farms that clog up their favorite swimming hole.

But as one part of the energy mix, perhaps it could have a future.