5 Renewable Resources and the Art They Inspire

Find out how sustainable use of natural resources has been an integral part of the arts since antiquity

By Google Arts & Culture

With NASA, 1001 Inventions, and more

Giant Sunspot Erupts on October 24, 2014 (2017-12-08)NASA

1. Solar Energy

The concept of solar energy brings futuristic technology to mind, but at its core, it is simply taking advantage of the light and heat of our closest star. The warmth from the sun is a key ingredient in life on Earth, so technically, every living thing is solar-powered!

Aside from simply making the world habitable, the sun has also powered our lives throughout history. It has been the subject of innumerable works of art, and we continue to develop ways to harness its energy.

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This 1956 painting of a sunset by Diego Rivera is one of many in a series painted just before his death in 1957. The vibrant, diverse color palette reflects the dazzling array of hues which light up the sky each night, all backlit by el sol.

18th-century Arabic treaties on chemistry showing the distillation processOriginal Source: British LIbrary Collection

2. Bioenergy

Bioenergy is renewable energy harnessed from biological materials. This includes simple organic fuels made from by-products and refined products, such as ethanol, biogas, and algae fuel.

The process of distillation, illustrated here in this 18th-century Arabic treatise, is key in the production of sustainable biofuels like ethanol.

Sugar Cane Harvest (1938) by Candido PortinariProjeto Portinari

This painting by Brazilian artist Candido Portinari depicts the harvest of sugarcane, which is an excellent source of biofuel.

Much of Brazil’s sugarcane is turned into ethanol for fuel, and the waste, called bagasse, is used for paper, feed, and fuel.

On May 23, 2006, Expedition 13 astronaut Jeff Williams contacted the Alaska Volcano Observatory to report that the Cleveland Volcano had produced a plume of ashNASA

3. Geothermal Energy

The heat stored within the Earth is a gargantuan repository of energy. Evidence indicates our ancestors have used naturally-occurring hot springs for bathing and cooking as early as the Paleolithic era.

Today, in addition to these uses, we utilize the same subterranean heat energy to generate electricity. 

By Co RentmeesterLIFE Photo Collection

Japanese snow monkeys have also discovered the benefits of geothermal energy. This photo of a macaque taking a soak was taken in 1969 by Dutch photographer Co Rentmeester.

Frying Pan Lake, also known as Waimangu Cauldron, is the largest hot spring in the world. It formed in the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley of New Zealand during the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera. Explore the park using Street View.

Water jar with design of wisteria, cherry blossoms and water wheel (17th century, Edo period) by atttributed to Nonomura NinseiTachibana Museum

4. Hydropower

The water wheel has been used to produce energy since at least Hellenistic Greece, with concurrent and subsequent developments in other parts of the world.

This 17th-century ceramic pot depicting a water wheel was created in Japan by Nonomura Ninsei.

Pelton's turbine impellerOriginal Source: http://www.museomotori.unipa.it

Water wheels evolved into turbines, which are still widely used to produce electricity today.

This impulse turbine, designed by Lester Pelton, shows how little the general principles have changed over the centuries. 

Magpies and Hare (Song Dynasty) by Cui BaiChina Modern Contemporary Art Document

5. Wind Energy

Humans have harnessed the force of wind for at least as long as we have recorded history.

This Song Dynasty painting by Cui Bai depicts magpies and a rabbit, but the invisible hand of the wind bends branches and gives life to the work.

Deforestation: a story of sustainable viscose | Stella McCartney (2016) by Stella McCartneyBritish Fashion Council

Sustainability is paramount when considering future generations. Unchecked corporate pollution, deforestation, and carbon emissions have depleted our planet’s natural resources, so preserving and replenishing our world is more important than ever. 

NASA's first solar power generation facility opens at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.NASA

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