However, American college students are coming with with some of the coolest ways to battle climate change and clean up domestic energy production.
SEE ALSO: 4 Ways You Can Make a Real Impact to Slow Climate Change
From earning rewards while tracking your energy consumption to recharging your battery with a run, here are six projects giving a greener future the old college try.
Recycling rare earth elements to save energy and make money
Ending the United States' dependence on fossil fuels is easier said than done. But REECycle, a process developed by students at the University of Houston, might make fueling the clean, green break from oil, coal and natural gas easier.
Efficient electric motors and wind turbines depend on neomagnets made from neodymium and dysprosium, two rare earth elements (REE) that are difficult to find and harmful to mine. However, REECycle has developed a way of reclaiming these elements from trashed electronics, and then reselling them for profit.
The process goes like this: REECycle removes the copper plating from the products, dissolves the neodymium and dysprosium in a solvent, ditches the leftover metals and then filters the REEs out to sell them to manufacturers. This, in turn, limits the need for freshly mined REEs, makes it easier and cheaper to produce efficient energy generators, and creates a financial incentive to do something good for the environment — something oil companies rarely have unless a major spill happens.
To top it all off, less fossil fuel usage can lead to less dependence on foreign oil and more investment in domestic sources of clean energy.
2. KAir Battery
An energy efficient potassium-oxygen battery
The KAir battery uses the potassium commonly found in bananas as one-half of a 98% energy efficient battery. Potassium — "K" on the periodic table — makes up the negatively-charged anode side of the battery. The positively-charged diode is porous, oxygen-rich carbon, which pulls in more oxygen from the air as the battery is used to make potassium oxide (KO2).
When the battery gets charged, the KO2 breaks down to its original components, restoring what was lost during usage. This process makes the battery more energy efficient, and its non-toxic materials make it cheaper and easier to produce than other batteries.
3. Meter Genius
Tracking home energy consumption and earning discounts
Your electric company will tell you how much energy you're using, but with MeterGenius, you can track your consumption in real time, and get tips on how to save energy and money based on your specific energy usage.
The platform was developed by a team of students at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, along with graduate and doctoral students at the university's engineering school. MeterGenius also gives the user several incentives to save energy beyond saving money — it lets you compare how much energy and water you're using to how much your neighbors are (if they also use the platform), adding a little friendly competition to environmental conservation.
If contests aren't your thing, you can still earn reward points that can be redeemed for bill discounts. The one caveat is that the platform will only be offered to those who get their electricity from retail suppliers in deregulated districts, which restricts MeterGenius to 16 states.
SEE ALSO: 10 Innovations That Improved the World in 2013
4. California Wave Power Technologies
Using a carpet on the ocean floor to harness wave energy
Anyone who's ever been thrashed by a wave at the beach can tell you how powerful the ocean can be. A team of professors at the University of California, Berkeley have created a flexible seabed carpet that harnesses the ocean's power to create hydraulic pressure.
The carpet sits on double-acting pumps, and as the carpet moves with the rhythm of the ocean, the pumps are compressed, sending hydraulic pressure through a series of pipes to an offshore power plant. This pressure can used to run generators or turbines, or even used for clean water.
The energy is incredibly dense, too: Just 10 meters of ocean floor covered by the carpet can produce the same amount of energy as a soccer field covered in solar panels, according to the team's calculations.
5. Energy Internet
Distributing energy through a decentralized network
This would allow energy consumers and producers to send and receive just enough energy to satisfy needs, and make it easier for sources of renewable energy to integrate into the grid at large. It would also require less energy to be produced — which would help limit harmful emissions — and shift more of that load onto the shoulders of clean energy producers.
Exercising to charge your phone
Walking or biking to a destination instead of driving is one way to limit your personal carbon emissions, but now, a workout can also help you save energy and charge your phone battery.
Students at Northwestern University developed a device that uses the kinetic energy you expend while exercising to charge your phone. The inventors claim 10,000 steps and either a 45-minute run or 60-minute bike ride will give your phone an extra six hours of battery life, while ditching the extra cardio and sticking to the walking will give it three.
While the running you do to power your device is longer than sprinting across the room to grab your charger, you'll be saving stress and electricity one step at a time.