M's Generator is getting closer

So M's generator is getting closer to being operational.

  1. install cooling system (205L steel barrel filled with water/coolant, convection cooling)
  2. install veggie fuel lines (currently only using diesel)
  3. install exhaust system!
Today we got woodnstuff's man John to come over with the new fly-wheel and between 3 of us we took turns cranking the sucker. With the help of break cleaner from CdnTire (ether is so last century) we got a few successful power strokes. The -10C overnight temperatures made the engine quite cold. M will need to install some glow plugs for winter starting.


The problem with biofuel

The problem is the people who make biofuel are chemical companies and not agricultural companies.

Fundamentally, a company will focus its efforts on the things it does best. Why would a chemical company making fuel ever want to grow the crops used to make the fuel? It makes about as much sense as a bank getting into the business of real estate.

So why is this a problem? Because as a chemical producer, you care only about price and availability.

Result - biofuels are mass produced using human food crops. Why would BiofuelCompany grow its own crops when they can get soy or canola cheap prices? The return on investment isn't there for BiofuelCompany.

So now - as I'm sure you know - we're in a state where biofuels are trendy (ignoring ethenol, rightfully so) and food prices are going up because there are two markets buying the product.

Solution - grow crops specifically designed for fuel. What would this crop look like?

No intellectual property concerns
Anyone can grow it without fear of litigation. After all, more competition means more product. It's very very hard to conceive of supply outstripping demand for any cheap energy source.

Inexpensive to grow
The raw materials needed to grow the crop have to be cheap. Little to no pesticides is a bonus. Less work the better.

High fuel content
The crop needs to produce very high amounts of fuel per acre.

What would my solution be? Algae. Algae will grow in just about any body water (ask anyone who owns a chlorinated pool). All it needs is CO2, some nitrogen, 25C temperatures and lots of sunlight. You don't even need to displace prime food crops to grow it. Deserts have lots of sunlight, a water-tight greenhouses will conserve almost all the water.

As for fuel content? Corn - 145kg of oil per hectare. Soybean - 375kg/ha. Canola (rapeseed) - 1,000 kg/ha. Algae - 6,894kg/ha (theoretical 39,916kg/ha).

Staggering? Not if you answer these questions:
  • What produced 99% of the oxygen present in our atmosphere during the primordial years of our planet?
  • What is the base of the food chain for most of the world's ecosystems?
  • Algae has been harvesting power from the sun for billions of years, humans have been at it (photovoltaic/solarcell technology) for 40 years. Who would you expect is better at it?
  • Why is photosynthesis almost 100% efficient while photovoltaic research has only gotten 42.8% with super-expensive Gallium-Arsenide triple-junction semiconductor crystals?

The oil from algae can be used to produce plastics (1950's plastics were made from soy bean oil until the farmers couldn't keep up with demand and Tupperware started using slag from oil refinement).

The oil from algae can be blended (say, 50%) with home heating fuel which doesn't need the same level of refinement as transportation. Or better yet, displace large amounts of petroleum oil used in electrical generation.

Addi tonal energy can be spent to convert the oil into BioDiesel for transportation.

Hurry up and wait

The geothermal contractor we've made arrangements with has had a rough December with all the snow.

Drilling though snow isn't the problem. Operating a drill rig with exposed machine parts in blowing snow - that's the problem. With luck, I'll have a firm date soon on when the drill can start.

A neighbour emailed me today explaining a new local temple is having construction difficulties because bedrock is so close to the surface. That's great news. Hydraulic conductivity of fractured sandstone (the geological formation our house is most likely on) is very high.

Split rock == good water flow. Good water flow == good heat transfer. Good heat transfer + geothermal furnace == excellent heating.