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Home Biomass Power Generators 264

TLouden writes "The Rocky Mountain News had an article today about Community Power Corp. and its new BioMax unit which uses renewable resources such as corncobs, sawdust pellets, and coconut shells to produce electricity. This gasifier unit isn't commercially available yet but we might be seeing it sometime in 2004."
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Home Biomass Power Generators

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  • by Torgo's Pizza ( 547926 ) on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:27PM (#6728627) Homepage Journal
    Coconut shells? Darn. Too bad that in North America we don't have enough African Swallows to supply them.
  • by erpbridge ( 64037 ) <steve&erpbridge,com> on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:28PM (#6728634) Journal
    Yes, I think it might be...

    Mr Fusion!!! []
  • Corncobs? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Corncobs eh? Will there be a kernel patch to support this type of power?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:29PM (#6728637)
    I already have a home biomass generator. Oh, you mean a home biomass power generator....
    • I already have a home biomass generator. Oh, you mean a home biomass power generator....

      Yeah, but who wants power, when you can get screaming, shrieking, temper tantrums, insane financial draining capabilities, scary girl/boyfriends, rebellion...?

  • It may be clean and efficient, but is it practical? Will it provide enough energy to fuel America, and will we be able to produce enough matter to fuel it?
    • Re:Practical? (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by Gherald ( 682277 )
      > Will it provide enough energy to fuel America, and will we be able to produce enough matter to fuel it?

      Nothing so grandiose. Its for people really paranoid about blackouts who just can't survive for more than a day without a microwave and dishwasher.
  • Will it? (Score:5, Funny)

    by insecuritiez ( 606865 ) on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:30PM (#6728652)
    Burn AOL CDs or will we have to wait for the upgraded toxic waste burning model?
  • Sooner then later (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mao che minh ( 611166 ) * on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:31PM (#6728662) Journal
    This is probably where things are going (albeit in the distant future). Most of our power comes from sources that aren't feasibly replenishable, such as coal and oil. There aren't a whole lot of huge waterfalls around or places to build dams, so hydro-electric plants aren't going to solve the problem. Solar power is a way to go, but it is rather expensive. Wind power is always uncertain.

    In short, natural sources of energy aren't enough. We will have to start getting creative soon.

    • Nuclear (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      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.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Is hemp woody enough? It grows like a... well... a weed, one might say.

      • Hemp has higher concentrations of cellulose than Rosy O'Donnells ass. This makes it a very attractive.. unlike rosy O'Donnels ass.
        Burning hemp-extracted fuel carries another benefit. It processes the same amount of CO2 (into Oxygen)that it emits when burned. It also creates a "closed loop" against greenhouse gas buildup in the atmosphere. Rosie's ass just emits large amounts of methane.
    • Re:Sooner then later (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jtroutman ( 121577 )

      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.

      • One company,

        Energy Innovations [], has an interesting new approach using a Stirling engine and solar mirrors.

        UNLV has similar solar-power rigs at the far northern edge of campus. This page [] has more info, and some pictures...they're two different designs from different companies and can supply up to about 50 kW for the pair. Some solar A/C info and other stuff is further down the page as well.

        • Check out the hydrogen-fueled V8 bus engine towards the bottom of that page. I think that people would gladly pay a premium for alternative fuel vehicles if it meant that they could have that kind of intake manifold sticking out of their hoods.
    • Toss out a couple of kooky ideas. IANAS(cientist), IANAE(ngineer), but I am fairly kooky.

      1) How about a large array of solar arrays in orbit above the planet. They could soak up pure sunlight, and fire it down to the earth in the form of a laser at ground-bound solar arrays waiting for bursts of light. Of course there would be drawbacks: Birds flying through the beams would be vaporised, as well as any aircraft which accidentally strayed off course, and there's always the chance that something might h

      • Hrm, you're right, how would one go about getting power to be transfered that's generated on a long, metallic, circular object?
        • Right, right.

          All we'd need is to dig a giant hole somewhere on the surface of the planet and have the space elevator keep pounding into it until mother Earth achieves a bloody-screaming orgasm, at which point all of our teeth would shatter.

    • (screen lights up)

      Scientist: Hello, and welcome to Larami Children's Fun Sticks presents 'Our Friend, the Atom'


    • Innovations like fuel cell and biomass generators aren't only beneficial because they use renewable energy sources and/or produce less pollution. I think that there is an even more intriguing aspect--the implemetation of these new technologies in small-scale units. The possibility of a truly distributed power generation system is very appealing.

      I look forward to a time when millions of homes/farms/factories/villiages have their own refrigerator-sized, low-cost, efficient heat/electricity generation units
    • 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
  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:36PM (#6728692)

    Great for disposing of bodies, too.

    • by heli0 ( 659560 )
      Maybe that is why they have 300 pre-orders in New Jersey?
    • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:52PM (#6728822)
      No, no. First you feed the bodies to the pigs. Then you collect the excrement for fertilizer for your corn. Then you eat the corn and use to cobs to generate electricity. Then you roast the pigs in your electric oven. If you don't roast the pigs properly you then have a fresh supply of bodies to feed to the remaining pigs.

      It's the food chain/carbon cycle gone horribly awry.

    • by bakes ( 87194 )
      Great for disposing of bodies, too.

      Well, it might be, if the bodies were not already being used to make Soylent Green.
  • Distributed Energy (Score:5, Informative)

    by heli0 ( 659560 ) on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:36PM (#6728693)
    The California Energy Commission has some info on different types of distributed energy resources [] from solar/wind/fuelcells to good ole ICE and turbines; listing their fuel sources, efficiency, environmental hazards, production capabilities and current availability; along with best applications, costs, performance, strengths & weaknesses, future developments, and where to buy them.

    The page for microturbines is currently down, but the rest are up.
    • 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

  • 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 :)

  • That's ALL!?! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dubbayu_d_40 ( 622643 ) on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:40PM (#6728725)
    "60 pounds of wood chips morphs into 20 kilowatt-hours of energy - sufficient to run a typical three-bedroom home for a day."

    That's only 21900 pounds of wood per household per year!!! Yay!?!

    • by heli0 ( 659560 ) on Monday August 18, 2003 @10:01PM (#6728876)
      GigaJoule Per Tonne

      chicken shit: 8.8
      wood: 10.0
      meat & bone: 18.6
      coal: 30.0
      tires: 32.0
      diesel: 45.6
      propane: 49.4

      ---- .p df
      • Man, there go the plans for my chicken shit powered car and generator. Well... the problem was never really getting the engines to work. It was the massive distribution network and infrastructure needed so that next time you pull up to the pump:

        Chicken Shit

        In all seriousness now... the next comparison needs to be a cost to joule ratio. Then you have to factor in availability of the fuel. Not to mention many other engineering decisions and constraints.

        I'm wanting to eventually incorporate
    • Upon reflection, this approach puts a quantifiable measure on how much forestation we need.
  • So how does Community Power's BioMax work? In one end you pour a sack of wood chips, nut shells or pellets (considered the optimal fuel because they are small and dense) into an oxygen-starved tank- shaped gasifier, which heats the solid fuel until it forms a combustible gas (up to 800 degrees Celsius, or 1,472 degrees Fahrenheit). The so-called producer gas is a mixture of fuel gases such as hydrogen, carbon monoxide and methane.

    Where exactly does the energy come from to generate a temperature of 1,472 de

    • Where exactly does the energy come from to generate a temperature of 1,472 degrees?

      The answer lies within the article:

      The household machine's generator need not run more than five hours a day, thanks to a
      battery bank that stores the energy.

  • Now I just gotta hook this sucker up to my Delorean and I'm good to go......oh.......and the flying bit.........err....and the time travel thingy-majig too.

  • But the real question is... can i use it to turn my Corolla into a DeLorean?
  • by Snoopy77 ( 229731 ) on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:50PM (#6728807) Homepage
    ... but they've had these on Gilligan's Island for years!
  • 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.

    • by benjamindees ( 441808 ) on Monday August 18, 2003 @10:05PM (#6728899) Homepage
      Or even the summary?

      This is a gasifier. It doesn't burn the biomass directly. It converts the biomass into clean gas fuel just like it would naturally decompose. It's actually more enviromnentally responsible because it supposedly makes use of excess materials that would otherwise be left to decompose into the atmosphere.
      • The so-called producer gas is a mixture of fuel gases such as hydrogen, carbon monoxide and methane.

        Large coal-powered generators are required by law to take steps to minimize the release of NOx (a major pollutant and inevitable product of combustion in a nitrogen atmosphere). They are also designed to maximize combustion efficiency and thus prevent the release of CH4 and CO directly into the atmosphere due to incomplete combustion. Some of the newer ones incorporate technologies to reduce CO2 emission

        • by Dashing Leech ( 688077 ) on Monday August 18, 2003 @11:01PM (#6729329)
          > Coal power may be dirty, but the combined pollution of a thousand small biogas combustion generators is much worse than a large coal generator with equivalent power output.

          Except that you are missing one important point. Coal (and other fossil fuels) release CO2 (and other gases) that are currently stored in the ground, so they are added to the environment. Biomass gases are created from the very plants that use them within the environment, so there is no net gain of gases in the environment.

          • one nit.. thats true only so long as biomass consumption of Co2 remains equal to or greater than our relase of Co2 from Biomass... otherwise we create the same problem we have now, net increase in Co2 emmissions.
        • Along with the point the sibling reply makes you're also forgetting output of a generator is not as important as the yield delivered to the end user.

          If a coal plant is producing 50MWh but transmitting over lines with only 20% efficiency the end usable amount of energy out of burning 50MWh of coal is only 10MWh. Subtract inefficient transformers in the loop and you might only see a total yield of 8MWh out of the 50MWh worth of coal burnt. If each of those 4,000 homes were running their own small generators
    • Well it's actually Cowshit, but close enough. Biomass is efficient, cheap, and practical as has been proven at this farm [], and this one [] (which was discussed here [] back in March.)

  • by vinsci ( 537958 ) on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:55PM (#6728845) Journal
    These guys [] developed waste treatment to commercial scale years ago, and it's successfully deployed in full scale in several countries [].
    The WAASA PROCESS [], developed by Citec, has a reputation for being the most wide-ranging digestion experience in the world.

    The WAASA PROCESS is in operation in Mustasaari outside city of Vaasa, Finland and in Kil, Sweden and in Tokyo, Japan. One of the largest MSW digestion plants in the world is a WAASA PROCESS in Groningen, Netherlands.

    FYI: I worked at this company a couple of years back.

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

    by Guano_Jim ( 157555 )
    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.
  • Heat energy (Score:4, Informative)

    by Virtex ( 2914 ) on Monday August 18, 2003 @10:08PM (#6728914)
    The technology I'm waiting for is something that would efficiently convert heat energy into electricity. If you think about it, heat is an abundant source of energy during the summer months. If we could harness that energy, it would go a long way towards providing additional electricity. Plus, extracting the heat energy from the air has the effect of cooling off the air; hence, our air conditioners could generate electricity instead of consuming it.

    Unfortunately, current technologies leave a lot to be desired (but there may be hope []). So for now, I'll continue to wait.
    • Re:Heat energy (Score:3, Informative)

      by Loosewire ( 628916 ) *
      The technology I'm waiting for is something that would efficiently convert heat energy into electricity.
      The way you say that is like its just another cool technology but infact its the holy grail of power generation.If someoen could find a way to turn ambient heat into energy the world power problems would be instantly solved
    • Re:Heat energy (Score:2, Informative)

      by way2trivial ( 601132 )
      ever here of a Stirling engine? go research it.
    • Re:Heat energy (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ramk13 ( 570633 )
      I think you are missing part of the electric power generation equation... If you were on the the surface of the sun (which is pretty hot) it doesn't necessarily mean you can create tons of electricity. You need a temperature difference and a 'heat engine' to turn the the temperature difference into useful work.

      The Sterling engine that the sibling mentions is an example of one that uses even small temperature differences to create reciprocating motion (which can be turned into rotary motion for electricity
    • There is a device for converting heat to electricity in your gas central heating boiler. You know how you have to hold in the knob after you have sparked the piezo? You know why? The pilot flame is heating a thermocouple probe -- a heat-to-electricity converter. The current from the thermocouple passes through a bimetallic strip switch {over temperature cutout} to a solenoid valve upstream of the one which the time clock operates. The safety solenoid isn't powerful enough to pull in from rest {and it
  • 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.
    • When you think about it, fuel crops are actually just storage devices for the energy of the sun. When you burn them, most of the energy released was collected from sunlight. I wonder what the efficiency numbers for this would be in that respect. Hmmm....

      But on another note, there is a huge amount of agricultural waste here. I have personally seen huge quantaties of wheat buried in holes in the ground to dispose of it for the sake of subsidies. If we could use that material, it would be fantastic.

  • mr fusion? (Score:3, Funny)

    by EngMedic ( 604629 ) on Monday August 18, 2003 @10:19PM (#6728967) Homepage
    Roads? where we're going we don't need ...roads.
  • Giant stomachs digesting biomass, producing fuel gas. And now this Invention providing an "alternative" source of energy yet again fueled by generic biomass. so here's my generic pot-head rant: Just another reason besides the fact that it's the most reliable natural fiber, oil, medecine, food, soil-depoluter & recreational substance some political-industry-lobby made it illegal in the U.S. during the 1920's... (wonder why petrol, pharmaceutic, weapons-business & banks are doing so well!) Just my t
  • 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 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.

  • by mellon ( 7048 ) * on Monday August 18, 2003 @11:27PM (#6729514) Homepage
    One of the puzzles about this article is that this biomass generator doesn't use one of the most significant sources of biomass in a typical household. I know it's icky, but there's energy in it. Plus, if you live in a place with a serious septic problem, extracting gases and composting what's left would be big win.
  • "New Scientist magazine reported that in the future, cars could be powered by hazelnuts. That's encouraging, considering an eight-ounce jar of hazelnuts costs about nine dollars. Yeah, I've got an idea for a car that runs on bald eagle heads and Faberge eggs."
  • by borgasm ( 547139 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @12:58AM (#6729974) Journal
    But can it generate the 1.21 Gigawatts necessary to enable time travel?
  • what's the point of touting a new excuse to chop down trees?

    how about biomass consumption of hemp? or grass / lawn clippings? leaves? or seaweed? or cornstalks, or wheatstalks? (NOT COBBS, which need to come off your damn dinner plate, and find their way BACK to the biomass center)

    you know, the whole OCEAN lives on SEAWEED!

    to be helpful, this biomass thing would have to consume a waste product which couldn't be used in any better way.

    so. does the gassifier FART after wasting 60 lbs of tree?
  • Can this generate enough electricity to power harvesting of the plants? Or will we need to end up burning tons of diesel to furtilize and harvest the biomass used to generate power.... *snort*
  • 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?

  • Compare the machine to your average bovine gas generator. The bovine version:
    - requires no input of inergy for hot composting
    - can accept a wider range of biomass
    - has a multistage biomass conversion mechanism
    (i.e. multiple stomachs)
    - requires no biomass harvesting and preprocessing
    - produces firtilizer
    - produces milk (with proper prep & handling)
    - is self repairing
    - is self propagating

    All we need now is a way to harness bovine gas production! I can see it now! So we back the cattle into their

God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"