Tag Archives: Power

What Sapphire Energy needs to convert algae to gasoline.

After reading this article at EcoGeek.com about Sapphire Energy, I did a little research on algae-to-oil and what I found was that the industry had two problems to tackle:

1) Competitive algae.  When using open tanks, naturally occurring algae competes for resources and space.

2) Getting the oil out of the algae.  It has to be heated and dried to extract the oil.

Sapphire will be creating gasoline directly, so it should be possible to extract the gasoline through distillation with solar energy using a solar thermal water heater followed by counterflow heat exchanger.

The solar thermal water heater would heat fresh water entering the system, to kill off anything in it, giving the engineered algae a head start.

The counterflow heat exchanger would serve two purposes.  First, it would cool the fresh water before it enters production.  Second, it would heat the algae that is done, to distill the gasoline.

A counterflow heat exchanger is a pipe within a pipe.  Hot liquid flows one direction through the inner pipe, and cooling liquid flows the other direction, through the outer pipe.  When the flow rates are adjusted properly, the liquid that needs cooling exits the system at about the same temprature as the cooling liquid that is entering the system and the cooling fluid exits the system at about the temperature of the hot liquid that is entering the system

Using the finished algae as a cooling liquid, the hot algae exiting the counterflow heat exchanger should be hot enough to distill the gasoline directly out of it.

Alternative power brainstorming

Brain-storming is where you list any idea that comes to mind, no matter how wild or insane it appears.

Here are a few alternative power ideas that we came up with, that now do not appear to be quite that far off:

1. Store lightning. Two problems, you’d have to control the lightning strike and then have somewhere to store it.

I just read on Gizmodo, “Scientists Use Lasers to Create Lightning“. Essentially, they strike a cloud with a laser beam, ionize the air, which initiates a lightning strike.

EEstor, a Texas company, is building capacitors that are claimed to have nearly twice the energy density of Lithium-Ion batteries. They could drive a car for 300miles on a 5 minute charge. The EEStor’s only disadvantage is that today’s household wiring is unable to supply the needed current. I bet a bolt of lightening just might do the job.

2. Use solar power to create a chemical fuel similar to gasoline, rather than electricity.

This isn’t quite the same, but interesting none the less. Ecogeek.org has this article, “Could Chemical Solar Power beat Photovoltaics?“. Professor Chaurasia of the University of Birmingham, UK, is developing a process in which propanol is dehydrogenated, the hydrogen then generates electricity using a Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell. The byproducts then recombine and begin the process again. I don’t know if this is as efficient as photovoltaics, but it might be another way to generate electricity.

3. Windpower. Most of the home-built wind turbines use permanent magnet DC generators, because they are cheap and easy to acquire. This is not the best way to generate electricity, especially as the current increases.

This company, Swift Wind Turbines, has a 1.5kW, 240 VAC, wind turbine that uses parts made locally. I’m very interested in this, except that it connects to the power grid, which indicates that it is most likely and asynchronous induction type, which can’t supply power unless the grid has power.

It occurred to me that you could use a wind turbine to drive both a permanent magnet DC generator and a moving field coil AC generator (Alternator). The current from the DC generator would only power the field coil of the AC generator, so the DC generator wouldn’t have to supply that much current and wouldn’t have to be that big . The AC generator would supply the usable current and could be direct wired (no sparks, no arcs). This arrangement should allow a low wind speed startup, with increased output power as RPM increased, because the power from the DC generator would increase, increasing the power in the field. The increased field would increase the output power. Also, as the field power increases, so would the back torque from the AC generator, slowing the rotor speed. Essentially, the RPM would be self regulating, while the power increases.

The Danish Wind Industry has a fantastic website related to wind generation, windpower.org. They should know, they produce a higher percentage of their power from wind than any other nation. Currently, 20%.

It will be interesting to see how these turn in a few years.

Home Made Vegetable Oil Lamp: Judyofthewoods.net

Home made vegetable oil lamp: Judyofthewoods.netJudy of the Woods has instructions for these fantastic looking vegetable oil lamps.

Judy used wire, wick, vegetable oil, a container and hand tools to make these oil lamps.

She lists some advantages of oil lamps:

  1. very cheap to run – can even burn used cooking oil
  2. the fumes are less toxic than those of paraffin candles or mineral oil lamps
  3. the production of renewable vegetable oil is less harmful to the environment than petroleum based products (including paraffin candles)
  4. for the extreme survivalist, vegetable oil is easier to store in bulk, or can even be produced on the home farm
  5. due to the wider base, more stable than candles, and the flame of any burning wick falling into the oil will be extinguished
  6. odour free when using olive oil

I’ve made many beeswax candles over the years and love the smell, but they are a lot of work to make. These sound like they are easy to make and look great.

AC versus DC

s_fireworks10.jpgAn article on AC vs DC on Treehugger.com sparked some interesting comments…

This comment especially caught my attention. In it, the commenter mdpd looks at some basic electrical calculations to show why we use high voltage AC to distribute current around the nation.

The short answer is this: We transmit electricity at high-voltages because it can travel longer distances, over thinner wires. We use AC because it can be converted to a lower voltage on-the-spot, with nothing more than a transformer.

The calculations provided in the comment will be very useful when I start looking at solar-power and/or wind power. I believe there will be some limits to what I can do with 12 volts DC.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Chevy Volt

AutoBlog and Engadget are both running stories on the Chevy Volt. What once was only a concept car, is now actually going into the production pipeline, according to the AutoBlog article.


(photo from AutoBlog)

The Chevy Volt will be designed in two versions, one fuel cell and one a series hybrid. The hybrid sounds really exciting to me. I’ve wanted a hybrid since I first read about building one in an old Mechanix Illustrated article (Feb. 1980). The plans are here. I ordered the plans, but they were more involved than I was ready for.

It’s great that US automakers are finally ready to put this type of vehicle into production.

The original articles are here and here.

Wind power and the NuVinci

Wind power. I’ve been looking at wind turbines and there are some great ideas out there.

Here is a 17 foot, 1.5kw home built unit. It looks great! There is also a 14 foot version. Amazon.com has these two commercial units: 900 watts and 400 watts.

Almost every wind turbine I’ve seen has thin blades and attach directly to the generator. These are only efficient at a specific RPM. If you were able to build a wind turbine with a low loss gear box, that could smoothly and quickly change gear ratio, you could use larger blades and more of them. It would startup at a lower wind speed and have more torque.

hub_breakout_th_300px.jpgWhen I saw the NuVinci hub, I knew it was just what was needed. The NuVinci is a continuously variable planetary (CVP) transmission. By tilting the axis of balls between two rings, the NuVinci is able to create an infinitely variable gearing ratio.

The NuVinci appears to have been create for bicycles. If it works well enough for a human powered vehicles, it should do well with wind power.

(image from Fallbrook Technologies website)

It turns out, Fallbrook Technologies, creater of the NuVinci, had the same idea. Here is their page on wind power applications.

The National Renewable Energy Lab comissioned a study, published in August of 2005. Here is a PDF link to the study. The study concluded that using the NuVinci CVP would save cost and product more power.

I am looking forward to some really interesting developments in wind power…

Green heat and white snow

Fallen tree 2006As we are heating more and more with wood I have often wondered if it really makes sense. Am I really using less fuel or am I just fooling myself?

I have to burn gas to run the chain saw and we use electricity to run fans to blow the heat around the house.

Also, I have always felt bad about the idea of cutting down trees.

What I am finding, is that 2 gallons of gas will last an entire winter, however, my last fuel-oil fill up was 127 gallons. Without the wood heat, I would use that much fuel-oil a month and a half.

The furnace has a fan, so I use electricity with wood or fuel-oil, it makes no difference.

As for cutting down trees, nature is providing for me. Since we moved in in 2002, I have had more than enough fallen wood to cut and burn. The harder the winter, the more wood falls. It’s as if nature wants me to stay warm.

Wood heat

Wood StoveWhen we purchased our home in 2002, it came with a wood stove. Not a small one either, a massive hunk of iron, nearly 100 years old that had cooked countless meals.

Our first year in the house, we used it off and on, more for entertainment than real heat. We even cooked a few meals on it, to prove we could. We didn’t know how to adjust the air vents on the stove adjusted properly. We had them wide open, including the flue and went through wood at an amazing rate. I didn’t understand how people could heat their homes with wood. They would have to spend all day sawing and splitting wood.

From a family member that heats with wood, we learned to slow down the fire by closing the air vents and the flue vent. We have the flue vent at a 45degree angle, and the air vents nearly closed. By adjusting the vents on the stove and running fans to blow the heat around the house, we are able to keep the house at a reasonable temperature.

Now, if I saw wood on the weekend, and split wood some evenings, I can keep up with our needs.