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Home Biomass Power Generators

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  • by gloth (180149) on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:39PM (#6728722)
    As the article mentions, this is problably not for everyone. Not for most, actually.

    Skeptics of wood gasification argue that it devours too much of a not-so-easy-to-replenish natural resource. Walt acknowledges that his BioMax machines aren't for every home or town but that they make most economic and ecological sense in areas where there's plenty of wasted wood that would otherwise be left to rot or tossed - at a cost - in landfills (producing methane and other greenhouse gases).

    Rape is probably a more viable source of energy for the masses, growing much faster than wood, and also used successfully for power generation, though also on a relatively small scale yet.

    Of course, my dual Athlon produces a lot of heat; there should be a way to make use of that. Uhm, well, ok, forget that :)

  • Nuclear (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:42PM (#6728749)
    Once the coal, oil and natural gas are depleted we will either have to give up most of our electrical devices or build lots of new nuclear plants most likely using PBR's. France already has 60 of them.
  • Re:Sooner then later (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:46PM (#6728771)
    Actually Solar power at the moment is a waste of energy. It takes about 15years for a solar cell to reach the break even point; where the energy it cost to make the solar cell equals the energy it produced. That doesn't mean you can't make energy from it in the meantime, but does mean your solar cell was subsadised by some other electrical generation system.

    Also there's a butt load of coal on this planet, but most people wouldn't really want to live in a world that's been powered by only coal for a few generations. At least a quarter of the energy in the US is produced by coal. (BP has the official numbers for the curious ~ 570million tones of oil equivalent from coal, and a total consumption of around 2,350)

    As for wind power it is always left up to weather, but more than that it tends to have a destructive effect on the rest of the power grid. You can look up on google why a lot of the wind farms are paid by power companies to keep broken wind generators off (the law only requires that you so many built, but doesn't require that they be operational).
  • Re:Practical? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by benjamindees (441808) on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:51PM (#6728814) Homepage
    The gasifier, along with the engine's coolant and exhaust, produces thermal energy, which can be used to heat water or dry grain.

    This is a cogeneration unit that uses the excess thermal energy to heat your home or whatever. Such systems can be very efficient when designed as heaters, with the side benefit of producing electricity.

    All we need now is a residential ammonia-absorption cooling system so that it can be used in the summer as well.
  • by sssmashy (612587) on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:53PM (#6728828)

    I use biomass energy all the time... whenever I go camping, the burning wood in my campfire provides energy for cooking and warmth. The problem is, this is one of the only scenarios in which biomass energy is practical.

    Generally speaking, biomass is one of the least environmentally-friendly sources of energy. The combustion of biomass generates more pollutants per kWh of electricity than a coal-fired generator due to small-scale inefficiencies and the uncontrolled release of COx, NOx, and SOx gases.

  • Re:Sooner then later (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jtroutman (121577) on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:54PM (#6728835)

    Conversions of solar power to electricity through photovoltaic cells is quite expensive.
    One company, Energy Innovations [], has an interesting new approach using a Stirling engine and solar mirrors. This could prove to be a cheap way to bring solar energy directly to your home. As long as certain engineers don't start getting mysteriously shot in the head that is.

  • Coconuts? Bah! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Guano_Jim (157555) on Monday August 18, 2003 @10:06PM (#6728900)
    Everyone knows the future of renewable energy is in chicken guts! []

    Seriously though, what a great use for all the agricultural waste sitting around the planet. Process the waste on site and use it to drive equipment.

    Check out this book: Cradle to Cradle [], also reviewed [] on Slashdot. It'll give you a great overview of the waste == food concept.

  • Agricultural surplus (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 2toise (688494) on Monday August 18, 2003 @10:11PM (#6728926)
    There is a huge amount of federal money that goes into maintaining a massive agricultural surplus here in the states - this could easily be switched over to subsidies for fuel crops instead of (for example) tobacco, as is presently the case.
    It would not supply all the needs by any means, but would help.
    At present much is shipped overseas as 'aid', but rarely is this the most cost effective way to get food to war stricken areas.
  • by Bellhead (236422) on Monday August 18, 2003 @10:44PM (#6729178) Homepage
    ... we can just strap an electric outlet to my son's head: he's got enouch energy to power a small city.

    But seriously, if you've ever done "hot" composting, you know that this really can work - there's an astonishing amount of energy in a pile of grass clippings or a little cow manure.

    You know, I think the Amish have it right - they don't use electricity unless there's no other way to do a job, and even then they won't rely on the power grid (it requires people to work on Sunday).

    Biomass is just one way to (excuse the pun) take back power from the megacorps that dole it out in the current system. We can return to the Edison model of local power plants, local consumption - small scale, small bills.

    Assuming, that is, that we're all willing to go on a power diet.

  • by Latent Heat (558884) on Monday August 18, 2003 @11:20PM (#6729469)
    At one end you have complete utilization of biomass and at the other hand you have this business of corn ethanol with questions about whether you get more energy than you put in. Somewhere in the middle is bio-Diesel, where you make a Diesel fuel out of vegetable oil -- I think canola gives something like 100 gallons per acre.

    There are Web sites telling how easy it is to make bio-Diesel. The process involves 10 parts vegetable oil plus 2 parts methanol plus some lye to make 10 parts Diesel-usable fatty esters plus 2 parts glycerine that you need to do something with. The process seems intermediate in complexity between soap making and running a meth lab, and these hippie types who say how easy it is to make bio-Diesel probably have some other mid-level process experience involving some mildly dangerous chemistry.

    There is talk of running Diesels on straight vegetable oil, but there is caution that you can shellac up the rings and ruin an engine. Forget about Diesel engines -- the other big use of Diesel is in oil furnaces: apart from the road tax, #2 Diesel is the same as #2 home-heating oil.

    What would it take to run an oil furnace on straight canola oil? An oil furnace repair requires a $100 service call, but it is nothing like rebuilding an engine, so could vegetable oil be burnt in an oil furnace if you could put up with more maintenance. I think the resale value of my house would increase if winter visitors were greated with the smell of french fries.

  • by qtp (461286) on Monday August 18, 2003 @11:24PM (#6729498) Journal
    Well maybe it is in Iowa [] and Minnesota [], but it has proven to be both efficient and profitable for small scale producers, as discussed here [] back in March.

    The systems described in the main article do not sound very practical to me (800 degrees F. takes a lot of energy to maintain), but they are not the only example of biomass energy being put into practise, and they might be the right choice if you already have a lot of sawdust on hand (like in a lumberyard or a furniture fab).

    Anything that reduces the dependency on foreign oil is good for the economy, and less dependency on large energy companies is good for the consumer. That these technologies allow small business to reduce thier cost of operation (or increase thier income) and are environmentally sound is good for everyone.

  • Re:Sooner then later (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mao che minh (611166) * on Monday August 18, 2003 @11:25PM (#6729506) Journal
    A sucker would be a person that would plan their future upon the assumption that our natural resources are somehow magically regenerating at a rate faster then we are depleting them. It is also quite a feat to ignore the effects of their pollution.

    As it stands, no good evidence concludes that relying on coal and oil for energy is a good long term bet. That is why I leave such decisions to scientists that know better. They tell us that oil won't last forever.

    I am not ignorant enough to even consider politics in the equation.

    It must be nice to be stupid enough to place one's future in opinion and fancy, though. It must a be a comfortable place you dream (and live) in grasshopper.

  • Re:Sooner then later (Score:2, Interesting)

    by (664381) * on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @12:15AM (#6729804) Homepage
    Its called nuclear . Nice , clean [most of the time] . Nuclear truly is the "waive o the future" . Most other power generation methods arent reliabile (wind , solar only provide power at certain times and are prohibittively expensive) other more traditional methods (hydro , coal , oil) have a more finite supply than nuclear . Despite all of the propoganda from both sides , I would look at it this way . If nuclear is realy as dangerous as the activists say then we are f*cked allready . If its as safe as the companies say then get cracking . I want more power :-)
  • The dead giveaway (Score:3, Interesting)

    by panurge (573432) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:14AM (#6730460)
    Is the $5 million of federal funding. Given who pays to elect the government, I suspect that federal funding currently goes into any alternative energy project that has a low chance of success, is small scale, cannot deliver reliable continuous power but, above all, doesn't threaten the oil industry.

    A related question: the article refers to wasted coconut shells. What does a coconut shell do to get wasted? After the robot Kama Sutra, coconut shell cocaine orgies?

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