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A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.

Posted by Scott Finegan 
A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
May 10, 2010 07:49AM
My take on potential, and available energy sources for the long term. I'm trying to highlight the engineering issues, and only acknowledge political, environmental.

There have been a bunch of "Green" initiatives pushed through, that have added in some places about $15 to an electric bill, expect to spend more on energy, without a change in the engineering, or real economics of a particular source.


Algae as a fuel source is being promoted by many as a replacement for crude oil based fuels.

This isn't likely to happen anytime soon, if ever, because the few facts available right now don't support algae as a practical alternative. Laboratory efficiency (life cycle end to end) estimates run from - some % to +10% depending on the extras added (fertilizer, co2, etc.).

Lets look at a few items of information. (Numbers may be truncated at the decimal point, or rounded.)

In 2007, total U.S. domestic fuel use for motor fuel consumption (*1) was; 176,100,000,000 gallons (176.1 billion). Estimates are that it takes 1 acre of algae, for one year to produce 3000 gallons of oil, or 91,718 square miles of production area to replace 100% of the 2007 fuel use. For comparison the water surface area of Lake Michigan is est.: 22,300 sq. miles. (Or: A one mile+ wide road that circles the earth.)

Another quote found; "Theoretically, the U.S. could grow enough algae on 20 million acres to replace imported oil." = 31250 sq miles, still larger than Lake Michigan.

What isn't stated:
Depth of the water required to grow... which has to be pumped, or scraped.
Where suitable flat land will be found, that is not used for food production now, and doesn't go below freezing very often, or remain there when it does.
Where the fertilizer will come from (beyond waste treatment plants), there isn't enough of it where it is needed.
How the fertilizer will be delivered, and algae transported.
Where the money/resources will come from to build missing parts of the infrastructure.
How to prevent the algae/oil from polluting the land when, when it gets to this large scale.
Available water is limited in much of the country, is there enough extra to use for algae.
Who in their right mind wants a brackish stinky pond upwind of them.

The bottom line: Algae will be a niche market that will go away as soon as the grants/subsidies do, unless there is a five thousand fold reduction in area required.

Vegetation ( Grass, Corn, Soybean, etc. )

The infrastructure already exist to harvest, move, and store these crops, they are labor/fuel intensive. Any of these resources, if clear cut and used will deplete the soil of nutrients in a few years.

Solar Energy & solar cells.

Solar Energy, while plug and play in large and small installations, is expensive.

Incident solar energy on the ground
Average over the entire earth = 164 Watts per square meter over a 24 hour day

# 8 hour summer day, 40 degree latitude 600 Watts per sq. meter
# 8 hours x 600 watts per sq. m = 4800 watt-hours per sq. m. which equals 4.8 kilowatt hours per sq. m.
# This is equivalent to 0.13 gallons of gasoline
1 square miles = 2,589,988 square meters x.13 = 336698 gallons x 91,718 sq. mile = 30,881,307,519 gallons of gasoline per day. Except that solar cells are not very efficient x 10% = 3,088,130,751 gal. per day.
3,088,130,751 gal. per day, x 365 days = 1,127,167,724,443 trillion gallons

Solar cells show promise, until we attempt to get meaningful production of cells.
Some of the larger multicrystaline cells measure 156mm x 156mm (about 6" x 6" ), this requires 111,513,600 cells per square mile.
Producing cells is not the same as wiring panels, and installing them.
No power available at night, storage required.
Environmental issues with production of, and disposal of units removed from service in anticipated quantities.

Solar cells will become viable for everyone when we can shingle a house with solar cells, requiring no more labor than a standard roof R&R. ( the shingles may be high end ) Figure 25 years to re-roof the U.S. residential homes.

Wind Energy

Harvesting wind energy has a major engineering advantage, it is plug and play; in either large installations that are grid connected, or small off grid stand alone systems.

Wind energy looks good until we scale it up to meaningful output levels. There are now about 10 wind farms in Illinois, some on high quality crop land. Some energy consortiums want 70 year leases, with restrictions on what the farmer can do on his/her own property (replace a barn, etc). Currently the Gov't is subsidizing these installations with our money. There are still taxes though. After the tax bill comes in, the energy company fights the tax bill, getting it reduced... [www.windaction.org]

The environmental impact of a few hundred wind farms may be negligible in the big scheme of things, however we have no idea what the impact of thousands of them would be. (Other than the lawsuits when a few endangered birds get smacked.)

At this point wind appears to need subsidies, Another 25 years and the jury will be in.
Steady wind of adequate velocity is not reliable in much of the world.
Wind too high or too low, no power, storage required.
Most people don't want to live in a wind farm (health effects).
Wind farms may affect the value of your home, or your ability to sell it.

From the Boston Herald:
Cape Wind power to cost twice as much
"The controversial Cape Wind project will cost taxpayers and ratepayers more than $2 billion to build - three times its original estimate."

Hydro Electric

In the U.S. dams are being removed, not built, but they work and are cost efficient.

Ocean Power.

Wave, tidal, and undersea currents, have merit, although expensive to maintain.

Ocean power generation is in the test stages, as it has been as long as I can remember...
More should be done here.


This is what we have. The infrastructure for this has grown with demand over the last hundred years. Petrol has the best BTU bang for the buck, and still would if we were starting from scratch today. Petrol will be with us for the foreseeable future.

Political problems.
Environmental problems.
Infrastructure shortage (refineries)

** As I put this post together, BP has a well that is spewing crude into the gulf. The explosion caused loss of life, and no one at this point knows when the leak will be stopped. That there will be repercussions is guaranteed. Whether the politicians will wait until the facts are in, before imposing political solutions remains to be seen. All endeavors have risk, I hope the engineers can piece together the cause, and determine if this was just an accident, or if it should have been anticipated.
[wattsupwiththat.com] Lessons From The Gulf
[wattsupwiththat.com] Explosion Photos


Replacement for hydro/carbon generated electricity, with minimal environmental impact. It is possible to build safe reactors today. Both the construction and disposal of Nuclear plants and spent fuel is a political problem, not a science or engineering problem.

Political problems.
NIMBY (not in my backyard)


Supplies are large, world wide. Ready to use without further processing, and because of this, will be used for the foreseeable future in some areas of the world.

Mostly has a political problem.
Environmental problems exist, some significant.

* References
Table1066. DomesticMotorFuelConsumptionbyTypeofVehicle: 1970to2007

[peswiki.com] Link farm

[zebu.uoregon.edu] Solar

[www.windforillinois.org] IWEA - The Voice of Wind Power in Illinois
[www.windforillinois.org] Anti Wind link page from above site
[www.windforillinois.org] Lawsuit
[www.bostonherald.com] Cape Wind
Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
May 18, 2010 11:44AM

An excellent summary. The greenies like to ignore problems like soil depletion. I live near a lot of empty fields that used to grow cotton. Now they grow weeds and not much else.

The greenies seem to be incapable of understanding dynamic systems. Greenhouses routinely raise CO2 levels because it speeds plant growth. So why won't that happen in the outside? Answer, it does, they just want to ignore it.

You didn't mention one other, usually ignored, area, nuclear fusion. My senior class adviser came back from a seminar on fusion power developments, slammed his books down and proclaimed that the way those idiots are going about it, we would not have fusion in this century. That was in 1974. He was right.

At an alumni gathering in 2007 Susan Hockfield, President of MIT, asked for questions. I told her that story and asked when we could expect fusion power. She said about another 30 years, but this time they mean it.

Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
August 03, 2010 07:06AM

I know a guy who drove his pickup truck 4,000 miles using a tank of NH3 in the back for fuel.
Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
August 03, 2010 10:27PM
RE: NH3 (amonia)

Despite claims that existing infrastructure is usable, or may be converted from other uses, I haven't seen any numbers (even back of the napkin)showing this is practical on a large scale. Some claim we can use the natural gas pipelines, sure thing, BUT, amonia gas kills.

There are many claims that this can be carbon neutral. Perhaps after we perfect creating hydrogen from water efficiently, otherwise using natural gas, coal or other feedstocks is less expensive, and not carbon neutral.

Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
August 04, 2010 10:06AM
New Solar Energy Conversion Process Could Double Solar Efficiency of Solar Cells


We have heard it all before, but, one of these days it will work out.
Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
August 04, 2010 01:32PM
I saw an algae plant on the history or science channel. I don't remember a lot but it was a machine they were growing it in. The algae was in tubes. I think it was part of the space program. They were talking about food sources that can be grown in small spaces. It looked to be 3 or 4 stories tall on about a 30ft sq. So land area wouldn't be an issue.
Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
August 05, 2010 08:19AM

First off, if it is on the History Channel, it is probably history for a reason.

Find some numbers for your multi-story building, it isn't affordable, even using made up numbers.

Land at $ 2613.00 an acre = .06 cents sq. ft.

Factory Bldg. 3 story = $ 100.00 sq. ft. = $ 4,356,000.00 acre without all of the specialized equipment.

see also "RSMeans’ dollars-per-square-foot construction costs: Four industrial shell types of structure" [www.reedconstructiondata.com]

First we need to grow the algae, then recover it from water.

To get an idea of scale, look at this brochure from Siemens. "Wastewater treatment solutions..."
Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
August 05, 2010 03:15PM
Scott, it wasn't a building. It was a machine that continuously produced algae flour. It is something being tested for NASA for space habitats food supply. The machine could produce enough algae to feed a small colony on the moon. But the show was "ancient Allen's" and this was proposed as possably what the mana machine described in Jewish scriptures could have been. Most of the show was speculative. But the algae machine was real and working producing enough to feed 35 to 50 or more people. It is powered by a small rector.

Anyway there wasn't a lot on the NASA algae machine. It was showing what the mana machine that the Jews had wondering in the desert could have been. The mana machine was powered by the arc of the covenent. Which was speculated to be a nuculer source given to them by allians. Daaaah da dot dot da.

Scott, I really am not interested in this. Just trying to add some info I happened to see on TV.


Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 08/05/2010 03:47PM by steamerandy.
Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
August 14, 2010 10:15AM

Australia is following developments in most of the fuel sources you mentioned and is a big supplier of steaming coal, uranium and LNG. Large wind farms are being installed at an increasing rate, solar hot water systems have been common for decades and home solar grid connect systems are now being supported with incentives that make them viable. Our utility bills keep rising but are subject to regulation controls

A recent study claims that our whole power grid that relies mainly of coal or gas fired power stations could be replaced over a ten year period with renewable energy sources of mainly wind and solar for a cost premium of 30%. Before this report came out the estimate for clean power was twice as much at present prices. So free fuel does not equate to free electricity and those willing to pay extra for green power are able to do so. In the near future this premium could be forced on us.

We have political problems with uranium mining and the number of mines in use is limited. There is enough resistance to nuclear power stations for none to be built. We have a small nuclear reactor running in Sydney for research and medical products only and some would like to see that disappear as well.

Your data on the Algae industry is a little confusing. In trying to find out latest information I found that most developments differ greatly, with technology, methods, performance and production costs spread over a very wide range. To quote any performance information you need to be specific on the company, their product and technology used.

Some typical variations on projected output for fuel oil from algae are from 5,000 to 20,000 US gallons per acre per year. Space efficiency benefits vary from 7 to 100 times better than any other biofuel crop.
One assessment of the area needed to produce USA fuel needs is 15,000 square miles - only 1/7 the size of the 2000 corn harvest. There are more technical and practical issues that you mention and solutions for them but the cost of any of the fuels made to date are way above commercially viable values. Food grade algae costs $5,000 a ton. There is mention of current algae fuel costing $33 a gallon.

Ammonia Fuel. There is some data available on this. It can be transported in normal steel 8" pipelines as a liquid at over 125psi. It can be used directly in ICEs, gas turbines and fuel cells at a comparable or lower cost to gasoline, is renewable and greenhouse gas free. It is a certified product and has been around a long time.

Agriculture. Anyone who cannot farm land on a continuous basis without artificial fertilizers does not know how sustainable agriculture works and will run out of food and productive land quite quickly. Unfortunately the high yield whiz kids have stuffed up big time and left wastelands in a lot of places (including Australia). We now have a local core of expertise that is turning this around. Water management is a vital issue and is now at a critical stage world wide. Fresh water reserves, like fossil fuels, are diminishing. There are some easy answers but some big plumbing or landscape changes are financially or politically challenging. When a town or city actually runs out of water and emergency supplies have to be delivered by road tankers, the population suddenly gets the message that there is a problem and a real fix is necessary.

Population impacts. Many do not want to talk about the impact of population growth on the demands for space, transport, fuel, shelter, water and support infrastructure. Last night the world population estimate was over 6.836bn and growing at a net rate of 3 per second. At current trends it will be over 9.0bn by 2050. I've seen articles that suggest we will need the resources from 3 Earths to support this population if existing material consumption trends remain.

The best way out of this is to just stop reading. While the topic here is alternate fuels, there is an underlying problem with many of them related to production support by sustainable water supplies. This is a show stopper.

Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
August 14, 2010 01:42PM

My point on the whole thread is to provoke thought. Many of the technologies promoted as green or renewable don't scale up and never will (not practical).

The section on algae is confusing because:
Pretty much everything I can find on algae is "marketing slime", put out by companies looking for grants for more testing and developement. I have yet to see real numbers, or real results.

Any time Governments get involved in promoting something, it is only to transfer more power to the Gov't. Green "power" is not green if it requires subsidies to work.

If I present an engine and boiler here, not only must I show some numbers, but have results (running engine) and witnesses, otherwise none on the forum will believe I actually have some expertise.


Many here buy into AGW, Carbon Dioxide as a pollutant, and Green Fuels, without the slightest proof that what is said is remotely true.

Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
August 16, 2010 11:05AM

The green fuels and climate change regulation subject could well be the messiest subject to get involved with. It is currently being mentioned by our politicians in a hopelessly unsatisfactory way (showing no realistic understanding of the topic) due to a Federal Election being due next Saturday (21 August 2010). Alarm bells started ringing shortly before the Copenhagen conference late 2009 when it was discovered highly qualified opponents to proposals were being locked out of any public discussion forums, publications blocked and interviews denied. Since then a lot of dodgy data and testing methods have been revealed and thousands of scientists have come forward with different perspectives. While my own experience studying land management confirms that human activity can damage the landscape and affect our quality of life, the push for a global carbon tax regime by Governments looks like a money making scam to me. It is being promoted by people with vested interests mainly related to making money - Governments getting additional tax revenue or receiving handouts or banks and brokers getting large commissions on trading activities.

Any element in the whole mix can be quite complex to study. Many have already acknowledged most "green" products are not really green at all when every input for energy, material, labor and money is added up to the whole-of-life process - from gathering the raw materials, the production, delivery, consumer use and eventual disposal and clean up to give no residual damage.

Last night I saw a worked example that explained the annual CO2 "pollution" of a car with a fuel economy of 30 usmpg and running 12,000 miles a year on gasoline was 3.55 tons. That is only from the fuel consumed. What isn't mentioned is the energy required to produce the fuel or build the vehicle, maintain it for life, then dispose of it cleanly after use.

With just that raw number I then looked at available ways of offsetting the so called CO2 pollution. One company will sell you green offset units for about $6 a ton/year - so $21.30 for a feel good experience - and they will grow a tree on two as part of the deal. Now I can buy tree plants from a nursery for only $1 or $2 or something more mature for a little more so I thought a DIY approach would be better. If one tree would suffice I thought this would be a deal everyone should be into.

This is where the fun really started as further research indicated that all trees absorb CO2 at different rates due to species, age, location, temperature, quality of soil and moisture level. Many species need to be at least 20 years old before being effective. Quoted absorption rates were given a range of 1 to 150 lb/year, with 50lb suggested as a reasonable average over a 20 year life. So an average 7,952 lb of CO2 per year from my eco car will need some 159 mature trees on about 1.5 acres of land to be carbon neutral. (Note that tree density can also vary with species and woodlot management needs. Forest density may be up to 5 times the density mentioned.) To allow for the items missed in the total calculation you probably need two or three times that number of trees. There are tens of millions of cars in the world and these are only a fraction of energy users. Anyone like to guess how many additional trees might be required to produce a green planet?

Whatever a realistic set of numbers might be, I can't see how a workable pollution offset trading scheme can work. It also comes unstuck when a forest fire wipes out the stored carbon and converts it back into CO2. The natural carbon cycle that sustains life on earth appears to have about 95% of the global activity balanced naturally and the human component out of balance is about 5%. One thing I'm learning from this study exercise is that nature will beat you eventually. With this in mind, the different total global impacts of the alternate energy sources mentioned above would need much deeper evaluation.

The thread topic is worth following elsewhere and we need to be aware of the messy situation we can get into by trying to promote green technologies without all the supporting facts and test results. I would insist on making the green brigade perform to the same standards expected of a steam developer or any other equivalent promoter.

I also agree with your earlier post that the global warming debate should not be featured here. Others can mess with it elsewhere but the topic looks like getting bogged down for a while yet.


PS. Is there another forum that covers the "Save the World for $5" topic. We may need to go there.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 08/17/2010 09:09AM by gvagg2.
Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
August 21, 2010 09:14AM
""the 1979 patent Anode Assembly (4,164,677) was tested by the AirForce & Boeing just last year, it failed.
That laser's "cover story" was Livermore's never ending tritium pellet fusion experiment, first tested just two years ago.""
To complement your great fusion story.

But, in order to talk about the expense of re-tooling America with a low-carbon future, within reality instead of the common mythology;
""Any time Governments get involved in promoting something, it is only to transfer more power to the Gov't. Green "power" is not green if it requires subsidies to work.""

Not, the subsidy of our infrastructure is a given:
After ATT was "deregulated", stocks & bonds paid for 1000 times as much glass fiber as they could use in thousands of miles of right-away all over our country, than all the fresh builders of this new "information highway" went bust: viola: ATT& GTE bought it all for 1%,
Thanks to 100 million burned "investors".
RCA started as a government subsidy to fight Marconi in early radio, buying up patents (or stealing them) with their Hazeltine subsidiary.
What does a taxpayer get from NBC,CBS, ABC for hundreds of TV stations? $0
The Boeing 707 was first built as a Boeing B52, or B29.
Fairchild built the first the microprocessor with all tax dollars.
Most drug companies in America are selling drugs developed with federal tax money.
Lear used a Swiss fighter wing & US military engines, the American railroads reaped more from gifts of the best land than from moving things, and the gift keeps on giving.
No auto roadway pays it's "property tax", gasoline is 50% subsidized by tax breaks and the war machine.
40% of an airline ticket is taxpayer subsidized (20 years ago, don't know today).
Buying a $1.50 ticket does not pay the cost of selling that TICKET for our "light rail" in Los Angeles.
A single rider pays $8 to ride our Metrolink, the taxpayer kicks in $35 for his one trip.
The Federal Government subsidies most water delivery systems in California: we "import" as much water for golf as we use in our homes.
Not one megawatt of electricity would ever have been boiled by any fission in America if the tax payer was not paying for ALL insured liability since the first reactor until today's 100 reactors ( the real "product" is plutonium ), and because of "deregulation", the bonds sold 30 years ago to build more fission plants ( that were never built ) are now "profitable" for those bond holders.
All thanks to 100 million burned "taxpayers" and the same 100 million "ratepayers".
Our dollars need to be spent on improvements, not loan charges and bailouts.

P.S. According to the CIA, the economy of California was the same size as China in 2003.
Subsidies work.
Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
August 31, 2010 05:33AM
""Subsidies work."" i said...

But not always for our good.
For years, the back of a California State "Food Stamp" said: "Not to be used for the purchase of brown eggs" ??

ALL the California home photovoltac State subsidys contractually prevent the home owner from spining the electric meter backward past 0, defeating President Carters federal legislation forcing a fair $value for a cogenerator's (you and i) excess electricity.
My friends have to give SCE the excess because they accepted 50% tax write-offs and partial costs for their rooftop systems.

More importantly, none of the susidys are applicable to condominiums, because state laws won't alow one owner to sell to another, and "become a utility".
Presto, tens of thousands of multiple dwellings don't qualify, the very buildings where "economy of scale" would make solar reflector/ steam boiler co-generation the sliced bread of the 1970's (and the 80s,90s,00s....)

Perhaps saving part of the 52% now lost in distribution.

Photovoltaic? Quakers were saying in 2007 "No photovoltac had ever paid back the energy it took to make, transport and mount the thing".
A friend of a friend built, at LTV Steel in Indiana 2001, a single 50 Mega-Watt co-generator that produced more electricity from waste heat than all the photovoltaic panels in the world.
Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
September 01, 2010 12:15AM
Of note in turning biomass into oil my home state of Mississippi is looking at funding 3 biomass plants to be built in the foreseeable future. Also either being built or soon to start construction will be a power plant that will burn lignite coal. I don't know whether or not these will work or will be yet another boondoggle for our state. But I thought ya'll might be interested in these alternative fuels.
Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
September 20, 2010 06:53AM
There is a blog post at "The Air Vent" that pretty well covers wind turbine economics. Don't forget to read all of the comments.

"The Power of a Calculator"

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/20/2010 06:55AM by Scott Finegan.
Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
September 20, 2010 07:33AM
Some of the above issues have come to the fore in the past couple of weeks. Locally we have had a Federal election that nobody won but one group of losers have just got enough support to try and push some radical ideas like a tax on carbon and a ban on coal mining etc. While they are convinced their version of science is "right", some 30,000 scientists elsewhere have declared the whole climate change story is a massive scam and have commenced legal action against Al Gore. [www.youtube.com]

Since the mid 1970s I've followed DIY self sufficiency articles in magazines such as Mother Earth News that investigated the feasibility of a small family being self sufficient for fuel, power and food on 5 acres of land. That was found to not be large enough so I think they increased the target to 10 acres. Now there are some communities living mainly self sufficient for fuel, power, water and food but none have made it to 100%. By comparison, nature is able to establish a self sufficient ecosystem in a pond, stream or forest if just left undisturbed.

My interest has been self sufficiency for fuel and power using biomass but you really need a mini forest to achieve this. A typical average continuous yield is only about 4 tons per year of wood (or crop) and a commercial hardwood forest works on an 80 year cycle. I use fallen timber only on my own lot and several trees about 60 years old (60 feet high) have been blown over. They look big standing but the firewood pile doesn't look that big when it is cut up. Theoretically two or three trees this size could provide enough wood chips to run a modern steam car for a typical 12,000 miles a year. To meet family needs you would need to start with an established wood lot and have enough space to plant over 2,000 new trees as well as establishing new trees progressively to replace those harvested. I planted over 200 new trees about 17 years ago and the amount of wood in them so far would not last long. A mix of solar panels and wind generators to support wood power is needed to get best use of available space as the latter needs most of the space. Other considerations are that growing anything is subject to season and annual event changes, droughts, storms, pests and fires so reliance on any single source of energy or food is risky.

Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
September 23, 2010 07:56AM
Slightly off topic... though it does touch on fuel.
Here we have some back of the napkin numbers on subsidies for Phoenix light rail.

Urban Light Rail Fail by Warren Meyer

Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
September 23, 2010 02:36PM
Wow Scott, that article is a real eye opener, Ive personally never been a big fan of mass transit.

I too found an interesting article, what shocks me the most is there seems to be tons of info on this "new" renewable energy source. I thought stuff like this was purly Nasa's domain.



Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
September 24, 2010 09:14AM

A wider perspective on light rail in Wikipedia shows why these things are being re-introduced world wide. The simple numbers are that moving capacity is up to 8 times that of cars per lane and an equivalent freeway is 18 lanes wide and much more costly to build (excluding parking lots provided by others). The most successful public transport systems that get high usage and no congestion on city roads give free rides for all patrons or free rides outside peak periods. Cities being designed for a sustainable future are currently being built around the concept of not using private cars for transport. You get around by walking, bike, public transport and shared (short time rental) vehicles. Even our somewhat backward cities are implementing as many of these changes as possible.

Watch for even more new ideas on low cost hydrogen (or other gas) storage systems. It looks like early days for a lot of this.

There has been recent oil and gas production news that new techniques are now available to extract oil and natural gas economically from new fields or shale deposits in USA, China and Israel to name a few while most existing fields are producing at maximum or declining capacity. One news source says USA is sitting on over 600 years worth of fuel reserves but water resources are already at critical levels. Poor management is the main problem with the latter.

If you want to store excess CO2 in trees, the USA would need to plant and maintain a forest the size of Texas every 30 years just to achieve a 7% reduction. The wood produced needs to be stored in the form of wood products and not burned or left to decompose that negates the whole exercise. Despite mind boggling numbers, forests still have to be preserved or re-instated for water, air and soil management.

There are comments above about the higher cost of wind power. Clean coal power stations look like costing even more as you need 20% to 40% more power stations to provide the energy for carbon capture systems. We are having regular big percentage power bill hikes just to pay for replacing or upgrading reticulation lines. The public is not happy.

Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
September 24, 2010 10:26AM
Hi Graeme,

I can agree with new citys being built to accomodate mass transit systems, perhaps thats the key, to make them work most efficiently.

I am one of those thats very concerned about water supply, this is why I dont like desalination plants very much, the last documentary I read about the desalination plants is that there somehow providing a balence as to not elevate salt levels in the oceans, but im still very sceptical. Most likely the ocean itself, capures more carbon that all terrestrial sources.

If I lived in biosphere 2, I would prefer to use corn as a fuel source to maintain atmosphere and power a steam engine for electricity. I would be very leary about anytype hydrogen energy source, as it only takes and gives nothing back to a biosphere system. This of coarse assumes that the system also must consume water. Without water there is very little life.

On the hydrogen front, I would support its use for nuclear fusion.

Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
September 24, 2010 06:53PM
One thing is fer sure, I would be eating alot of tacos in that Biosphere... : )

Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
September 24, 2010 10:04PM

The self sufficiency problems for Biosphere 2 and a small farm are similar, with the Biosphere being a fully enclosed environment. Both have a natural heat source from the sun and a heat sink/heat bank via the earth each has under it. Each has to recycle plants, air and water for the survival of any living things.

A modest demand for electrical energy could be obtained from fuel cells, PV systems or a steam plant using solar power of biomass fuel. The heat build up from some of these may be an issue in the biosphere. I understand the Oxygen and CO2 levels became a problem at times with Biosphere 2 and additional oxygen had to be supplied. I note that Biosphere 2 also relied on an external source of power and some were critical of that.

You might like to plant some beans to go with the corn and look at methane fuel options :-). In fact Chinese rural communities have been using methane digesters to give gas for domestic cooking and heating for decades.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/25/2010 06:24AM by gvagg2.
Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
September 25, 2010 01:22PM
Hi Graeme,

There where two situations that were going on, that address the low oxygen problem. I believe the atmosphere had 18% oxygen at sometimes, a very dangerous condition, normal levels are at 21%.

I had heard the foundation made of concrete was not fully cured before the experiment commenced and the sealed the Biosphere had its oxygen depleted from the concrete absorbing it, in order to fully cure.

The second atmosphereic problem they encountered had to do with the glass panes, there was some sort of prismatic effect and nitrus oxide was produced (N2o not NOX) this caused problems with delirium.

I also criticize the way the experiment was run, because the diesel power generators were used...

I feel it should be a symbiotic relationship between the power generators, fuel source, and the atmosphere in the biosphere. After all, the farming efforts basically failed because of the lack of Co2.

Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
September 25, 2010 07:40PM

There would have been a lot of lessons learned with the experiment that had a lot of different projects compacted into a small site of only a bit over 3 acres trying to support 8 people. It is also not clear if the system had enough biodiversity to establish a satisfactory balance. They may have needed to let it run as an open system for a few seasons to let it stabilize, before closing it off.

I thought air leakage from the sphere was a technical problem that had an impact on oxygen levels and some high cloud cover periods reduced CO2 plant absorption rates to such a degree that CO2 levels got to 3,400ppm. The greenies claim that 350ppm is the required limit for Earth. CO2 absorption rates for plants and seawater are still not fully understood as temperature, surface areas, circulation rates for water etc are all issues. Some think it takes up to 500 years for the ocean to absorb excess CO2 and at times discharges it rather than absorbing it.

If CO2 and O2 levels were low in the experiment I wonder what the impact of a biomass fired steam gen set would have been. You need more CO2 for the plants to produce the oxygen but consume oxygen in making the CO2. Perhaps the answer is what the alarmists are saying - life as we know it expires.

Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
September 26, 2010 01:38PM
They may have needed to let it run as an open system for a few seasons to let it stabilize, before closing it off.

That is probably one of the most rational responses to the problem that i've ever heard. But they never would have done so, because of the fear of contamination to the enviroment in the experiment, although, that does not mean it could not have been done, using special filters.

One other subject that deserves some additional thought is "fire", fire occurs normally on earth, lightning, etc, after all we didnt figure out how to make fire, until we saw it first...

So lets add fire to the biosphere model, its only natural : )

A constant fire burning could do many benifical things, besides being a viable co2 source. Its a sterilizer, any airborne biohazards would be neutralized as the circulated into any fire-stream. Also fire could control harmful aeromatics such as n2o. The convienent thing about a controlled fire is that it can be shut off, if co2 levels rise to rapidly.

There is so much stuff related to this topic it could go on forever,


Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
September 27, 2010 08:53AM
I read another summary report of the Biosphere 2 project that gives more information on some issues you mentioned in your last comments. The crop yields were below expectations for the first year and only gave 85% of their needs due to a lack of sunlight on the growing area, mainly from structure shading. They later added sun lamps to get capacity to 100% but the occupants last weight and condition overall due to a less than satisfactory diet. They also appeared to have too much CO2 rather than too little and as a result did not use compost made from waste back on the crops. While being aware of organic gardening, their application was not up to known backyard practice - a case of lab folk not having real green thumb experience. In trying to assess what the overall problem of balancing may have been, I think they didn't have enough plant matter growing. Perhaps the animal and human population was too high as well.

If the CO2 level was low, it wouldn't matter if you burned biomass for power or heat, or just let waste or dead plants decompose. Both processes convert the stored carbon to CO2 by absorbing oxygen.

There are some very valuable lessons in this project. One is that environmental balancing is extremely complex and operates on long time scales. On a global scale the cycles are decades or centuries long. Plants and trees have seasonal growth patterns and require favorable conditions of nutrients, moisture, atmospheric gases and sunlight to grow. Another is that forced rate growing cycles don't work and leads to outbreaks of bad bugs and disease. Nile farming 101 - ?BC refers.
Noting that this experiment probably couldn't have been run if self sustained power generation had been included, you might start to ask some serious questions on what might have to be done if humans try to perfectly balance the Earth's ecosystem and how much money and effort will be wasted in trying to do it.

For a home project, particularly if you still have kids around, try setting up a full marine self sustaining ecosystem in a fish tank and see if you can keep a few fish alive. A proper system will produce its own food and oxygen. It is entry level education just studying this problem.

Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
September 27, 2010 07:00PM
You make some good points Graeme,

The co2 factor is highly variable, I dont think there was good ambiguity with relation to any type of stoichiometry maintained by oxygen and co2 production in the biosphere 2 project. You are totally correct in pointing out the conditions were highly variable.

When it comes to a light source for an ideal farming area inside a biosphere, I think the light source should be artificial as this solves light pollution issues (flowering cycle, etc). I've conducted some expriments with ultra-high power lamps (argon), they tend to be the most efficient covering large growing areas (up to an acre).

Its very likely the compost pile (an other sources) produced some methane and these green house gasses were not held in check due to the lack of any combustion source.

Anytype of saltwater (marine) ecosystem will produce a bonanza of viable fertilizer for farming, calcium included, after it helped to feed the occupants.

For a home project, particularly if you still have kids around, try setting up a full marine self sustaining ecosystem in a fish tank and see if you can keep a few fish alive. A proper system will produce its own food and oxygen. It is entry level education just studying this problem.

Its funny you mention that, my brother constantly had saltwater aquariums as we were growing up, some were pretty big, several hundered gallons. We lived close to the ocean, so when all else failed we could collect actual sea water. We found making the water for the aquarium from the bags of saltwater mix was more sterile and gave better results in the long run. The fish could very easily develope cancers (ick) depending on what was put in the tank and when.

My brother soon prefected the art of maintaining the smallest saltwater tank he could. Back in 1992 our house was hit by Hurricane Andrew, south dade.

Before the hurricane hit, my brother would make claims as to sucess fully growing sponge in a filter element, Id remark to him, NO WAY... He would then open the filter canister, and hold a black light over it, sure enough the was life there (glowed with bright fluorescent colors). Then the huricane hit, the power was out for several months. We both remembered about this little fish tank he had, in a boarded up section of the house.

We were making bets as we ran to the fish tank, weither or not the small strawberry grouper was still alive in there.... It was a full four weeks without the filter running. It was in a boarded room so it was somewhat dark where it was.

Once we arrived at the tank, there was about a 1/4 inch thick coating of green algae on the glass we couldn't see inside. We were like ohhh thats not good.

Then we gently brushed at the layer on the top of the water level, the water was clear under it, and the dam grouper was still alive. It was only a fifteen gallon tank, with the filter system that was about 2 gallons. He was right, that was sponge in the filter, and it continued to feed itself by circulating the water in the tank without the pump. True story..... the sponge migrated to the filter from a piece of live rock that was placed in the tank for years. The tank lasted several years after that, we were astonished...

Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
September 28, 2010 07:37AM
Here we have grid connected wave power.


And a blog post about it...
Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
October 03, 2010 08:38AM
This wave generator looks a good solution. The sad situation is that California has not been smart enough to run with it.

Earlier tonight I saw the summary report by the UK based Royal Society on the level of understanding and unknown aspects of Climate Change studies. One line that got my attention was the fact that a zero net carbon world economy will not reduce global CO2 levels to 19th century levels for tens of thousands of years. What is the panic about? In less time than that the next cyclical ice age will have restored the balance anyway. The article about ice ages below also has some interesting insights into the role that biomass management has, also suggests we are still coming out of the most recent ice age, not for from the next, and shows that climate warming is beneficial and promotes more rainfall. Who forgot we are short of fresh water.

The main benefits of renewable energy sources would be sustainability of supply. While you can find an open ended energy source for many options, you still have to keep building and repairing some device to utilize the energy and distribute it. Some high tech equipment would not be sustainable unless scarce materials used for manufacturing can be recycled, eliminated or replaced with plentiful resources.

If greenhouse gas reduction becomes a proven need, I see problems with most thermal power systems as they emit one or both of the main greenhouse gas products, namely water vapor and CO2. Also most put a lot of heat energy into the atmosphere. Wind, wave and tidal power look far better when all aspects are considered.

Re: A few thoughts on existing and potential energy sources.
October 29, 2010 11:31PM
More on subsidies.

From the BBC

Chirk factory workers protest over 'subsidy threat'

"Mike McKenna, director of Kronospan's Chirk factory, said the subsidies for electricity generators which use biomass encouraged them to take "the easy option" of burning freshly felled timber."...

"That's because the subsidies are worth more than twice the value of the wood." ...

"If we pay £30 for a tonne of timber, the electricity generator will get a subsidy of about £70 for burning that timber to generate electricity.
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