Ask the Superexpert about Energy Efficiency

Have you ever wondered whether cars could run on cow manure? Or what kind of a difference it makes to use compact fluorescent bulbs? Now you can get answers to these and all your energy-related questions. Just Ask the Superexpert!

The Superexpert answers new questions regularly, so check back to see if YOUR question is up!

Yes! Manure can be made into a gas containing methane. (Methane is the same energy-rich gas found in natural gas.) Certain types of bacteria emit this gas as they consume manure collected in special air-free tanks. The mixture of gases produced in this way, called biogas, can then be used in some modified car engines instead of gasoline, or burned in a boiler to generate heat or electricity.

Organic waste emits methane as it decomposes—or rots—in the landfill. Landfills can collect and treat the methane and then sell it as a commercial fuel, or they can burn it to generate steam and electricity. Today, there are more than 915 gas energy landfill projects operating in the United States.

LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs are six to seven times more energy efficient than conventional incandescent lights and last more than 25 times longer. Switching to LEDs cuts energy use by more than 80%, and saves about $80 in electricity costs over each bulb’s lifetime.
The greenhouse effect is created because certain gases sent into our atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, allow radiation from the sun to pass through the earth’s atmosphere, but prevent a portion of the infrared radiation from the earth’s surface and lower atmosphere from escaping into outer space. This process occurs naturally; without it our planet’s temperatures would be about 60 degrees cooler! Life as we know it simply would not exist without the natural greenhouse effect. However, many scientists believe global warming is happening because the greenhouse effect has become intensified by human activities: These activities (primarily the burning of fossil fuels) add more carbon dioxide and other gases to the atmosphere and accelerate the earth’s natural warming process.

Technically, windmills do not create electricity, but wind turbines do. Windmills have been in use for about 1,200 years. They use the wind’s energy to do mechanical work, such as milling grain or pumping water. Wind turbines operate differently than windmills. Rather than using the wind’s energy for mechanical work, they use the power of the wind to spin a turbine generator and produce electricity. As the wind blows, it turns the blades of the turbine, which spins a magnet near a coil of copper wire. The spinning magnet causes the electrons in the coil of wire to move. This generates electricity, which is sent through power lines to where it is needed.

Although Americans make up only about 4 percent of the world’s population, we use about 17 percent of the world’s energy! And we consume about 12 times more energy per person than people in Mexico, and almost 7 times more energy than people in Canada.

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