Sometimes diversity can be a huge pain in the tuches. My interests, though interrelated in strange and convoluted ways some times, are so diverse that I haven’t been able to keep things in an orderly fashion in the blogosphere, so I’m not gonna try all that hard anymore. What that means for you is that I will be posting stuff that may seem widely divergent from post to post. Sorry, but thats just the way it’s gonna have to be.

In my desire to get back to flying and building an airplane, I have had my builder juices flowing at mach-speeds. One of my many areas of interest is alternative energy. Not in the sense of replacement technologies but rather in the application of existing low-tech tools and processes using scavengeable parts and equipment and combining them in interesting ways. An example would be the use of a Fresnel lens and/or a parabolic mirror to direct light energy at a boiler to generate steam and power a steam engine, which in turn powers a generator that provides for electrical needs when the sun is up and recharges batteries for use when the sun is not available. This stuff is all available, except for the Fresnel and parabolic, at the local hardware store for not much money or can be found in any number or other places.

I spent several hours yesterday, and a little time today, looking up what other people have been doing online, watching poorly made videos and badly designed websites with broken links and missing content. it is amazing how many people are doing experiments in there back yards and workshops. Even more amazing is how few seem to be getting injured with the lack of safety and flat out stupidity in some cases. Don’t get me wrong, I give many of these people a lot of credit for going out and doing it, and documenting it. I appreciate there efforts. It just seems like there is a lack of credible data being made widely available out there.

As an example; I have been looking online for credible information on steam engine theory, design notes, build notes, practical application, anything, all I have found so far are short clips of models running, restoration projects running, and CAD/CGI models and animations. There are lots of people interested in selling Sterling engines and model steam engines, but not much else, at least not that I have come across.

One of the things I am interested in finding out is which engine is more efficient in powering a generator, a piston drive or turbine? Obviously in large installations the turbine is used, but why? In a smaller application which is more practical on a cost/maintenance vs. efficiency basis? Which requires the greatest heat energy and volume, and which has the best resource recovery system? All are important questions.

Eventually I want to be living in a less urban environment, at some point I want to be off-grid for power and reduce my carbon footprint, but there are a lot of things that can be done even in a semi-urban or urban environment. A lot of things sound like fringe or nut-case projects but when implemented with some common sense and pragmatism, they can work in many environments, pyrolysis is one of them. There are some great possibilities for pyrolysis in rural and urban environments for bio-matter disposal, including sewage disposal.

Another area of interest is multi-gas combustion systems. We have all heard about hydrogen fuel cells. While there is some hope there, it requires a lot of processing and energy in one form or another with the current technologies. A much simpler prospect for power generation is methane. You wouldn’t want to run your car on methane, at least I don’t want to drive a fart-mobile, but for generators, it makes a lot more sense. What about an engine that can run on natural gas, propane, methane, hydrogen, or any other combustible gases and vapors, or a mixture of them, one engine to burn any or all of them? It would be usable in a wider variety of applications and environments.

What about the many uses of solar energy? Solar power has gotten a bad-rap because it has been held back for so long. There are so many ways in which we can use solar energy, and only a few of them involve direct conversion to electrical current. Even the newest generation of solar cells, much more efficient than photovoltaics, are decades behind where there development should be.

Energy independence is an important issue at all levels. At the national level we depend far to much on fossil fuels. We have diverse resources, but there is a lot of room for improvement, it’s the same at the regional level. At the local level there is much less diversity, local municipalities are at the whim of power disruptions and this just doesn’t have to be the case. Where the difference is made is at the smallest level, the end user. Whether the end user is a government, business, or individual, a change in the way we consume and generate energy will have a major effect at the national level.

Redundant back-yard experiments may not be the solution by themselves, but it does point to the notion that it’s more than just a few people thinking outside the current energy box, and that is good. For me, I’m still putting more thought behind my projects before I start scavenging parts, but I do plan on getting something up and running soon. In the mean time I am thinking about putting up a wish list page for projects…

See you next time,