I just dropped the price of
the permaculture playing cards
for a wee bit.

 

 

uses include:
- infecting brains with permaculture
- convincing folks that you are not crazy
- gift giving obligations
- stocking stuffer
- gambling distraction
- an hour or two of reading
- find the needle
- find the 26 hidden names

clickity-click-click

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Home Heating with Coal  RSS feed

 
Marcos Buenijo
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I was surprised to learn that quite a few people today still heat their homes with coal. I stumbled on the following web site that is quite informative:
http://nepacrossroads.com/

Turns out that modern coal furnaces are efficient and clean. Most interesting is the extremely low prices that can be had for bulk coal. I've seen pricing on the order of $100 per ton of quality bituminous coal. Anthracite (a higher grade) generally goes for at least twice this price. By comparison, a ton of quality bit coal provides about the same energy as a full cord of well seasoned hard wood, or about $300 of natural gas, or about $750 in fuel oil.

The main problem seems to be getting the coal. It seems one must live near a supplier to secure a low cost source. Good news is that it can be purchased in bulk, and it stores easily. One problem is ash disposal. Coal is high in ash.
 
Dale Hodgins
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John Elliott
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Marcos Buenijo wrote:
The main problem seems to be getting the coal. It seems one must live near a supplier to secure a low cost source.


Try Katowice, Poland. Since the steel mills shut down, there's plenty of coal for the locals to heat their homes with. And as far as easy to get, just pick up the phone, and later in the day you'll have a ton on the sidewalk in front of your house.
 
Marcos Buenijo
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Dale Hodgins wrote:I just saw some global warming protesters steal a feather pillow. Now they're heating a bucket of tar, weird. Marcos, they're headed your way!!! Hide the coal shovel.


I was thinking on designing a micro steam engine cogeneration system for residential use, and optimizing it for coal fuel... might call it the "Al Gore"... or "ManBearPig" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ManBearPig). Wood could be used as well, but nothing comes close to the low price for coal fuel. I got a quote from a coal mine in Kansas selling bit coal for local pickup at $65 a ton.
 
Tim Malacarne
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Whenever I smell coal burning, it reminds me of my childhood days in the city. Lots of folks had coal-fired heating arrangements... Ours was hot water in radiators, no pump, either... The water would thermosiphon. Was very even heat, but I remember the nightly trek to the basement, clean out the clinkers and ash, load the stoker. Coal ash, BTW, gives off poison gas. You need to take all clinkers and ash outside ASAP after cleaning your appliance.... This is the real deal! Best, TM
 
Nick Raaum
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I have often thought that if people were desperate for homestead energy independence and long term energy security bunkered coal would be a solution. Unlike diesel, gasoline, and natural gas you can bunker
as much fuel as you'll conceivable need in your lifetime. Though younger sub bitimimous and lignite coals are volatile and the bunker would need to be airtight...but it would be hard to imagine being able to ever lock in a lower cost price in $/BTU. You could also rig up a gasifier and run old carburetor vehicles and tractors on it too. The ash is a big issue and in general don't think it would be worth messing around with unless there was some sort of scale involved, but if one was remote and determined to guarantee energy independence for a long while coal would work.

 
Dave Turpin
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Coal is a cheap power source, which is why coal still makes up a majority of power production in this country. Natural gas, fuel oil, and all alternative methods pale in comparison to the number of terawatt-hours produced by coal.

Coal used to be one of the most common home-heating methods until fuel oil and gas became the norm. Why has it fallen out of favor for home use? It's dirty. The oily soot it produces once blanketed major cities. London is the most famous example. Soot from industry and home heat made the city so filthy that species of light-colored insects went completely extinct because there was no place for them to camoflauge.

Even in "extremely efficient" large-scale power production, massive electrostatic precipitators are required to minimize the soot coming out of the stacks.

Now, will coal work in a setup like a RMH? Certainly it will. Dealing with the soot will be an additional concern, however. (Especially if you buy high sulphur coal!)
 
Cj Sloane
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I don't think this should be in the alternative energy thread.

If a discussion of coal meets the publishing standards for permies, and I'm not sure it should, perhaps the thread could be moved to the energy thread and out of the alternative energy sub-thread.
 
Johnny Niamert
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Nothing like huffing mercury laden coal smoke lingering in the air.
 
Marcos Buenijo
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Dave Turpin wrote:Coal is a cheap power source, which is why coal still makes up a majority of power production in this country. Natural gas, fuel oil, and all alternative methods pale in comparison to the number of terawatt-hours produced by coal.

Coal used to be one of the most common home-heating methods until fuel oil and gas became the norm. Why has it fallen out of favor for home use? It's dirty. The oily soot it produces once blanketed major cities. London is the most famous example. Soot from industry and home heat made the city so filthy that species of light-colored insects went completely extinct because there was no place for them to camoflauge.

Even in "extremely efficient" large-scale power production, massive electrostatic precipitators are required to minimize the soot coming out of the stacks.

Now, will coal work in a setup like a RMH? Certainly it will. Dealing with the soot will be an additional concern, however. (Especially if you buy high sulphur coal!)


A small coal gasifier furnace well designed need not generate soot in the exhaust. Large power plants are all about high output to optimize economies of scale. The high air flow rates through the coal bed required for such high outputs would make soot carryover inevitable. They can afford the additional equipment required to keep it under control. However, this soot carryover is not inherent in the system. For example, the old coal fired steam locomotives saw very high soot carryover along with incomplete combustion leading to thick black and smoky exhaust. A simple redesign virtually eliminated this, and increased boiler efficiency by 50%. The point is that a lot can be done to clean up coal emissions - it doesn't have to be nearly so dirty as is commonly believed, and nothing like the past that saw coal dust and smoke belched out of smoke stacks indiscriminately. Of course, it's not ever going to be perfectly clean - but is anything? As far as CO2 goes, I can't help anyone who believes this to be a pollutant beyond suggesting they hold their breath for at least 7 minutes.

Cj Verde wrote: I don't think this should be in the alternative energy thread.


Home heating with coal would certainly be an alternative for most individuals. Incidentally, home heating with wood would also be an alternative for most individuals. Yet, heating with wood has a longer history than heating with coal. So, what's the standard for what qualifies as "alternative energy"? Does "alternative energy" include wood and not coal? NOTE: If this were the "sustainable energy" thread, then I would not have posted it here.
 
Cj Sloane
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Marcos Buenijo wrote:NOTE: If this were the "sustainable energy" thread, then I would not have posted it here.


Well, it is a permaculture forum so I would have thought sustainability would be implied. I think "alternative" in this case is any non-fossil based energy.

There are many permaculture strategies to reduce or eliminate the need for home heating. There are permaculture "friendly" fuels like sticks in a RMH, or pine cones, or the sun. I just can't think of good reason to promote coal over any renewable fuel. I can think of lots of reasons to be opposed to coal but we'd have to move that over to the cider press.
 
Marcos Buenijo
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Cj Verde wrote:Well, it is a permaculture forum so I would have thought sustainability would be implied. I think "alternative" in this case is any non-fossil based energy.


I don't disagree. Unfortunately, the dilemma I faced was being limited to 11 threads under the "Energy" section. Clearly coal is a source of energy, so this section was applicable. The "Alternative Energy" thread seemed the closest match. I have no qualms about seeing the discussion moved elsewhere, but I don't know what thread is more appropriate.

I emphasize that my primary interest is not necessarily permaculture, but individual energy independence. These two interests intersect a great deal, hence my activity on the forums.
 
Cj Sloane
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So, do you have a coal seam on your land?
 
Marcos Buenijo
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Cj Verde wrote:So, do you have a coal seam on your land?


Coal can be purchased in bulk for long term storage, and at remarkably low prices. Perusing the forums at the site I linked in the OP showed multiple individuals who purchase coal in 20+ ton increments for home heating. This prospect seems appealing for remote living (note that Nick Raaum independently considered the same). Consider the labor that goes into processing wood fuel. Consider also the limitations of storing wood fuel. Anthracite (a high quality clean burning coal) can be purchased in bulk for a price less than quality seasoned hard wood, and the energy density is four times higher. It's even available as a washed, dust free, and regular sized product in shrink wrapped 50 pound bags. It is a prospect that might interest many who live off the grid.

 
Cj Sloane
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I don't see how coal helps with energy independence unless you have some on your own land?

We are self-sufficient in our wood but it is a fair amount of work to cut down even one or two trees per year (we only need 2 1/2 cord). Then there's the splitting and stacking and bringing it all in... still though, that's kind of enjoyable work.

If we switch to a RMH the work would be dramatically reduced, plenty of fallen sticks or maybe coppicing.
 
Marcos Buenijo
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Cj Verde wrote:I don't see how coal helps with energy independence unless you have some on your own land?


It's a matter of perspective - and definitions, of course. If I can secure a fuel source for X years, then I would consider myself as energy independent for X years. Coal has the benefit of long term storage, high energy density, and low cost (note that the labor involved in wood processing, tools for processing, and storing is a cost). Anthracite in particular interests me for its unique qualities. Anthracite burns clean and with no odor, and it works well in gasifier engine systems. I've researched charcoal gasifier engine systems, and these are promising for combined heat and power, and they can also be used to power automobiles. Wood can also be used in these applications, but there are fewer limitations with charcoal. Unfortunately, generating quality charcoal is labor intensive, and a lot of energy is lost in the process. Being able to purchase a product (anthracite) that stores indefinitely and provides all the benefits of quality charcoal is an interesting prospect. NOTE: For many reasons, I prefer the prospect of harvesting wood fuel. Yet, I am not averse to the coal option, and it might be superior to alternatives in many cases when one considers it objectively. I was not aware until recently that this might be a viable prospect. Making others aware of this alternative is the purpose of this thread.
 
Satamax Antone
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Hello people!

Well, has anybody here heard of the begining of diesel engines? They weren't using fuel oil, but rather, they used coal powder, injected with a stream of compressed air. May be this thing of the past can revive other apliances for heating.

This was just to say to the naysayers that aspects of a subject are never all being prospected. And coal burning, with science progress could become as clean as solar energy. You never know. Plus, fosil fuels are somewhat "green" they have been plants in the past, they took the energy from the sun, and gathered "natural" chemicals to grow. There's been a lot of talk about rockets and coal, but so far, there isn't anybody who has succeded to make one working properly.

Coal isn't mainstream nowadays, so why not alternative energy?

Frankly, i'd rather see people try to find solutions with resources availlable to us, than pipe dreaming about a better world that will never come if they don't shift their batties!
 
Burra Maluca
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I think it's important to remember that we all have to start somewhere. Improving the efficiency of coal powered heating is a step in the right direction for a lot of people. For those who have already moved beyond such things, it's easy to forget how hard it is for others to take those first steps.

Has everyone read about the Wheaton Eco Scale?
 
paul wheaton
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I remember a day when I was 14 and I drove a load of coal to my grandmother's house (yes, I had a drivers license at 14!). I loaded her coal bin and she made three pies for me. A glorious day.

I think it is good to have knowledge about how coal can be burned cleaner. That knowledge might be able to be applied to lots of other things.

And, as Burra pointed out, it might be good to help people find ways to make things "better" even though it is just moving from level 0 to level 1.

Burning coal is a big part of "the problem". And I think solutions can be far richer than simply "stop it".

I'll permit this thread to continue, but I agree with the folks that are worried about it: this is the very edge of tolerable for these forums.
 
Nick Raaum
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I think its possible that coal could be economically cleaned up. One prospect is to add a large algae pond system to push flue gas through and scrub CO2, i believe that this is being researched and conducted at pilot levels. Another way thermal coal plants could become more efficient is to utilize the waste heat ( which averages 70%-55% of the total heat input depending on cycle) from the condensers or cooling towers. Since most US plants are prohibitively far from cities to use as heat, the coal plant could partner with industries needing low temp heat, one such example could be a large scale year round aquaculture/greenhouse system. At an industry level the remaining emissions really are quite reduced and combustion is in general efficient, all that remains is to scrub the CO2 and utilize the large waste heat inherent in rankine cycle limitations.
 
allen lumley
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Nick Raaum : It is my understanding that these ponds work best when aerated, this is not hard to do nor would that step be a necessary 1st step, but the amount
of scrubbing that could happen before you are making major changes in your system is probably quite limited.

I promise to attempt to find a link to more data, anyone else have something to add ?!! Big AL !
 
Nick Raaum
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Allen, Here is a perhaps overly optimistic article http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/climate-weather/stories/power-plant-testing-co2-scrubbing-algaehich states up to 85% of CO2 may be scrubbed through algae processes, it also describes a pilot plant study of the process in Germany.

I suspect you are right that the sheer size of absorption area that would be required would be massive and prohibitive to reach those levels of scrubbing, however that does not necessarily rule it out. There are additional economic benefits besides CO2 capture, you have biofuels and biomass that could be used in conjunction with large scale aquaculture systems.

If size of algae pond proves prohibiitive perhaps it might work on a distributed scale instead, if a neighbourhood had a high tech gasifier driven combined heat and power system with attached integrated algae scrubber and year round aquaculture system it might be more feasible.
 
Dan Boone
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Homesteading families on the Kenai Peninsula (most famously the Kilchers, who currently have a TV show) make heavy use of beach coal that erodes out of their coastal bluffs. Carbon cycle issues aside, it's hard not to be jealous of that homestead resource.
 
allen lumley
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Nick Raam : Alan Alda (M*A*S*H) did a series with Scientific America (I Think) on a coal fired power plant where the exhaust gases were recycled through
glass tubes much like the solar evacuated tubes, there were angled to the sun and used to grow Algae as direct (?) biomass I do not think they were trying
for anything as fancy as Algae oils back then, but this was a closed system, remember that while green plants make oxygen during the day, and release it
freely as a by-product of Photosynthesis, they need that Oxygen right back again when they are in their 'sugar burning' phase mostly at night ! Also there is
the general acidification of lakes, ponds and rivers, which leads to aluminum being leached out of bed rock !

Example from personal experience Near Fort Indiantown Gap Pa. there is a stream that flows by the Eastside of the Fort perfect for peaceful innertube
Rafting, that swings into an oxbow away from the Fort joins a larger river and curls back to just outside the south gate, Aluminum cans dropped into this water
dissolve over a few years leaving small remnants like pull rings behind !

I am still looking for old links to information on plans to aerate these waters ! I am not anti Coal, I AM Anti bullshit Big AL !

Late note ; I am getting to the site you are sending me to but that site says they can't find that content ! Oh Well A. L.

 
Nick Raaum
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allen lumley wrote:! Also there is
the general acidification of lakes, ponds and rivers, which leads to aluminum being leached out of bed rock !

Example from personal experience Near Fort Indiantown Gap Pa. there is a stream that flows by the Eastside of the Fort perfect for peaceful innertube
Rafting, that swings into an oxbow away from the Fort joins a larger river and curls back to just outside the south gate, Aluminum cans dropped into this water
dissolve over a few years leaving small remnants like pull rings behind !

I am still looking for old links to information on plans to aerate these waters ! I am not anti Coal, I AM Anti bullshit Big AL !



Presumably you are alluding to acid rain as a byproduct of high sulfur coal combustion. This has been largely solved through scrubbing of coal, at an industry level the technology really is pretty sound and levels can be dropped to very nominal levels.

I'm not a fan of BS either Allen, and i am not being pro coal or pro solar in any of my posts here, just trying to be objective and consider alternatives. One thing that i see that does appear to me to be BS is the multitude of pro solar and wind proponents who simply do not understand the inherent limitations of those approaches in their current manifestations. PV though it has its niches is simply not a high enough EROEI source to even sustain its own development, PV's environmental costs remain largely subsidized and hidden from the sight of the average user. Wind is better in some regards but is intermittent and still largely an industrial subsidized venture. At a smaller homebrew level it becomes clearer what low yield EROEI renewable technologies can really do. Try for instance to maintain a small homebrew wind turbine and power your offgrid lifestyle. No matter how you do it you'll find the complexity and maintenance relative to any of these systems to be rather high relative to the output, this is a direct indicator of the low EROEI inherent in harnessing diffuse energy sources. Anyways i'm just trying to communicate that there are no compromise free answers to our energy dilema at any scale as of yet. Our agriculture, our subsequent technology, our very growth as a species has backed us into a corner of extremely hard choices; we can no longer support ourselves without our land leveraging fossil fueled infrastructure and at the same that very system is very toxic and has us effectively burning the future to survive today. No zero compromise win win answers that i know of on any sort of scale, so i don't think it hurts to really think outside the box.

 
Marcos Buenijo
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I see most of our problems having been created by a 'top down' philosophy. It's largely a political problem. Nick mentioned how subsidies obscure the true costs of PV. Well, subsidies are responsible for the same at many other levels (agriculture, energy, housing, insurance, tax credits, etc.). It's accurate to say that all industries are affected by subsidies directly or indirectly. After all, interest rates themselves are subsidized, and this affects the entire price structure! More to the point, our dependence on fossil fuels and other unsustainable practices have been fostered by a political philosophy that encourages (even demands) central control of political power. This in turn has led to increasing central control of resources. I say government is the most to blame - but, of course, we empower them. Truly, it has been a general philosophical void in the populace that has been responsible for this. Too many of us abandoned principles for pragmatism. (NOTE: A handful of examples of how the consolidation of political power causes problems include the national highway program under Eisenhower that effectively subsidized the automotive and petroleum industries while fostering a dependence on petroleum with urban sprawl, the corruption of money with the transition to a centrally controlled currency that facilitates theft - many large scale power plants could not have been funded without the theft made possible through credit expansion (i.e. inflation), a similar dynamic has taken place in agriculture where a small number of influential corporations are able to game the system with the tools of political influence and access to credit all made possible by the consolidation of political and financial power, the market in medicine has been systematically destroyed since the federal government began massive intrusions since the 1960's with Johnsons "Great Society" - the solution proposed by our beneficent politicians who destroyed this market is to take it over completely, etc., etc., etc.).

I believe a philosophical shift is necessary to change this state of affairs. However, such shifts require generations to take hold. To start, we should NOT look to central authorities to solve the problems that we perceive, and we should learn to recognize the false threats championed by governments as they are only a means to influence our decisions - corralling us much like sheep are herded (examples include war on drugs, climate change, war on terror, hyping the dangers of firearms, etc.). The force and fraud perpetuated by the agents of governments are the primary sources of our problems (second to the naivety that allows us to believe their lies, and the cowardice that allows us to acquiesce to their demands). The truth is that we can best understand only the problems we experience on a local level. Therefore, the solution to these problems should be solved at a local level. Personally, I prefer to see as many people as possible become self-reliant to increasingly strip power away from the monolith that I see as the source of most of our problems. The cards are stacked against those who wish to try, so I say use whatever resources are available.
 
Marcos Buenijo
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3 tons of rice coal (anthracite) delivered. This will store indefinitely. This 120 cubit foot box stores 80 million btu of energy! Notice there is no dust. This form of coal can be burned very cleanly with no smoke and no odor. There is very low volatiles, and lower ash than other forms of coal.

See this set up where rice coal from the outside storage bin is delivered automatically to the furnace in the basement with an auger and gravity chute.


An individual not near the source of production (northeast centered around Pennsylvania) would have to purchase and bunker a truck load of such coal to see a good price... probably 20 tons or more. So, one could not live so remote that a truck could not access.
 
Nick Raaum
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Marcos,
Therefore, the solution to these problems should be solved at a local level. Personally, I prefer to see as many people as possible become self-reliant to increasingly strip power away from the monolith that I see as the source of most of our problems. The cards are stacked against those who wish to try, so I say use whatever resources are available.

I agree very much that the power has to go back to a regional more distributed level, and that it is an uphill battle for all the reasons you cite. A potential positive i can see with the current highly centralized arrangement is that there is a small chance it may end up producing essential solar technology which a more distributed less complex form of organization could not. I do not rule out the possibility that nano level breakthroughs could create tech that is vital to our long term survival and sustainability as a species, things like low cost graphene ect. Of course no one knows and it could very well be that such tech is a pandoras box and is even worse than the nuclear predicament we are in.

IMO we must develop less complex distributed infrastructure systems as a hedge to the likely long term failure of the centralized monolith. I think one of the things that is most stiffling though in even getting a dialogue going on the need for this is that it quickly descends into a boxing match between ideologies. I wonder if the distributed regional independence crowd could get further along in the process if they took a less confrontational stance and instead focused on the fact that regional energy independence is a longer term hedge and is not an immediate economic threat.
 
Cj Sloane
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Marcos Buenijo wrote:Personally, I prefer to see as many people as possible become self-reliant to increasingly strip power away from the monolith that I see as the source of most of our problems. The cards are stacked against those who wish to try, so I say use whatever resources are available.


I agree with Nick and it's hard to reconcile your statement above with your interest in coal.

If you don't have coal on your property, then you're giving money to the monolith and remaining dependent of them.
 
R Scott
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When I was a kid my grandpa heated with wood and coal. He would get BIG chunks of coal, like football sized chunks. Before bed on COLD nights, he would stoke the fire and put ONE piece of coal on the fire. That would run the extra BTU's to stay warm through the night without getting up at 2 am to re-stoke the fire. Kept an big uninsulated farmhouse warm. You can't argue the BTU density of coal or the practical advantage.

Politics aside. What if you built a coal burning rocket? If you could build something like Rob's pellet rocket: http://www.permies.com/t/18515/rocket-stoves/Burning-Pellets-Rocket-Mass-Heater

You would have to build it of some kind of exotic materials, but you could get a super efficient and clean heat for really hard environments.
 
Cj Sloane
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R Scott wrote:... you could get a super efficient and clean heat for really hard environments.


Which begs the question: Marcos, what are your heating needs? Not sure where you are in the SW but that doesn't seem like the kind of environment where coal is needed. An adobe house and a rocket stove would seem like a bottom up solution. Is this interest in coal theoretical?
 
Nick Raaum
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Going back to the topic of coal I wanted to share an idea for a community scale integrated coal system that might be viable.
A gasifer powers a 100kW-1MW scale industrial natural gas IC genset. Waste heat is utilized in adjacent greenhouse and nearby homes. A closed loop algae system scrubs 50-80% of CO2. Algae is pressed for liquid fuel and remaining biomass is composted to help with the generation of soil. The coal powered engine acts essentially as a nucleus to speed up the overall biomass production and ensure year round photosynthetic activity. The waste heat of the system can accomplish numerous functions that are not possible in the highly centralized system, home heating greenhouse heating, and water purification all come to mind. The whole operation could also be run on biomass, (or natural gas) should the availability or need arise, thus giving it a significant edge in resiliency, but in the mean time it could leverage the low coal costs to provide a financially viable way for a community to get out from under the thumb of the utility and take the power back to a much more regional level.
I haven't put any real numbers to the cost of such a system, but without even including the symbiotic stacking effects of the greenhouse, waste heat ect the capital costs of an engine at $500/kW for a 20,000hr long lasting engine and coal at $3/million BTU and a heat rate of say 10,000BTU/kWhr for rough easy figuring yields costs of $.055/kWhr, operation and maintenance costs would be very scale sensitive though and would need to be offset by the additional products that the waste heat is able to produce, but should still be able to occur at or below the utility level of $.12/kWhr. The utility may have an efficient centralized station and and more efficient means of getting access to coal but losses much in the way of not integrating waste heat losses and also has become extremely bloated with bureaucratic hiearchy costs. A integrated distributed coal system could out-compete the utility in certain situations on account of those inefficiencies if it could work around the mandated monopoly the utility has imposed. Of course that would be the type of thing that could only be done if it was decided that its imperative to decouple from the centralized monolith system and hedge bets.

 
allen lumley
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Marcos : Buenijo : there may have been no dust, but I can tell by the way the coal stuck to the blade of the shovel that it was wet !

I would deffinatrly be getting some very heavy duty ratchet strapping to go around that bin, a coal bunker would be better yet !

Oh that my father could have seen one of those trucks, I wonder what he would say, And, I wonder about the soil compaction ruts in the guys Lawn!

Been there, Done that ! Big AL !
 
Nick Raaum
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Cj Verde wrote:
Marcos Buenijo wrote:Personally, I prefer to see as many people as possible become self-reliant to increasingly strip power away from the monolith that I see as the source of most of our problems. The cards are stacked against those who wish to try, so I say use whatever resources are available.


I agree with Nick and it's hard to reconcile your statement above with your interest in coal.

If you don't have coal on your property, then you're giving money to the monolith and remaining dependent of them.


I think giving money directly to coal miners and mining operations is one less level of support of the monolith than paying the utility for their services. The utilities are a mandated centralized monopoly and are just one such class of centralized mandates. The idea here i think is to fight fire with fire so to speak and use their point of leverage (low cost dirt cheap coal) to beat them at their own power game.

The problem is we are all forced into a dog eat dog competitive economic environment and an essential aspect of succeeding in the environment is having a high EROEI energy source on your side. You can not be economically viable if your net energy gain is too low. The use of high EROEI has allowed for oil and iron to displace and outcompete nearly every small family farm in the country. The resurgence of small "sustainable" farms is made possible only by an indirect energy subsidy in the form of well off consumers who earned there money from the fossil powered industrial system. We are all at root dependent on optimizing the highest EROEI fuels out there because our financial system imposes a mandate of maximizing return on investment. Permaculture will never take off at any broad level under the current economic growth mandated imperative unless it can produce higher net yields than current system. In a fossil free environment of course a closed loop symbiotic system such as those employed by permaculture designers would win, but at present every one is directly or indrectly utilizing high EROEI fuel sources to be economically viable. So perhaps it may be necessary to temporarily capitalize on high EROEI fuels just to get a foothold for the future non fossil powered world.
 
Marcos Buenijo
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Cj Verde wrote:

If you don't have coal on your property, then you're giving money to the monolith and remaining dependent of them.


Some do have coal on their property. Many more can access coal locally. Those who live off grid might be interested in the storage qualities of coal. I simply do not believe the prospect should be cast aside, and the only purpose for this thread is to make people aware of this alternative. I do not advocate for the burning of coal. However, if it's done cleanly (which is easy to do with some grades of coal), then I see nothing inherently wrong with it.

 
Marcos Buenijo
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Cj Verde wrote:Which begs the question: Marcos, what are your heating needs? Not sure where you are in the SW but that doesn't seem like the kind of environment where coal is needed. An adobe house and a rocket stove would seem like a bottom up solution. Is this interest in coal theoretical?


I will be locating to east Texas. If I were to ever finally use coal, then I would do so for its long term storage qualities and high energy density. Also, I have a lot of interest in systems that make use of waste heat (cogeneration) for such applications as water processing and air conditioning, so my use for this heat would not be limited to direct heating applications. There is also power generation possible with micro scale coal gasifiers to fuel small engines. Again, I consider wood to be preferable for many reasons, but I simply do not believe coal should be discounted. I suspect this is done for what I believe to be misguided fears on "global climate change" that I strongly believe to be politically driven. It may never be an ideal choice for me personally, but I expect there are many in a better position to take advantage of it. If one can acquire high grade coal locally at a cost lower than alternatives, then why not?
 
Marcos Buenijo
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Nick Raaum wrote:I think giving money directly to coal miners and mining operations is one less level of support of the monolith than paying the utility for their services. The utilities are a mandated centralized monopoly and are just one such class of centralized mandates. The idea here i think is to fight fire with fire so to speak and use their point of leverage (low cost dirt cheap coal) to beat them at their own power game.

The problem is we are all forced into a dog eat dog competitive economic environment and an essential aspect of succeeding in the environment is having a high EROEI energy source on your side. You can not be economically viable if your net energy gain is too low. The use of high EROEI has allowed for oil and iron to displace and outcompete nearly every small family farm in the country. The resurgence of small "sustainable" farms is made possible only by an indirect energy subsidy in the form of well off consumers who earned there money from the fossil powered industrial system. We are all at root dependent on optimizing the highest EROEI fuels out there because our financial system imposes a mandate of maximizing return on investment. Permaculture will never take off at any broad level under the current economic growth mandated imperative unless it can produce higher net yields than current system. In a fossil free environment of course a closed loop symbiotic system such as those employed by permaculture designers would win, but at present every one is directly or indrectly utilizing high EROEI fuel sources to be economically viable. So perhaps it may be necessary to temporarily capitalize on high EROEI fuels just to get a foothold for the future non fossil powered world.


I think Nick sees some of my perspectives. One less level of support is also what I see along with increased energy security for individuals (due to the long term storage qualities of high grade coal). Nick is spot on with his characterizing the utilities as monopolies (quite literally this is the case). I believe the energy system in place with the enormous central power stations and national grid is a Frankenstein that would never had developed without the force and fraud facilitated by government (the source of monopoly). The steady degradation of the national grid is testament to its unnatural state. It was ill-conceived by central planners who accessed the resources of the people through institutionalized fraud and theft (credit expansion, partial legislation, subsidies, etc). It's been said that such "grand" public works could never be built without government intervention - well, maybe projects that require the force and fraud of governments should not be pursued.

The two social institutions that have the most influence are language and money. Both developed organically. Today, both are manipulated by the unscrupulous to perpetuate fraud. In particular, I find the manipulation of money to be the most pernicious, but it was the false promises of politicians that facilitated this. The vast majority do not understand the following, but it's quite accurate to state that money has ceased to exist. What we have today is currency that no longer has any ties to money. As long as this condition persists, then those who control the currency will have access to the resources. It will continue as long as we continue to give value to their currency by using it for long term savings, or saving financial instruments denominated in their currency. The system in place has degraded to the point where it's increasingly difficult to make significant gains in personal wealth that do not come at the expense of others. I think many understand this on an intuitive level, and this drives a desire to drop out of a system seen as "unsustainable", or just plain malicious and destructive.

I see nothing wrong with an individual making use of fossil fuels. However, this does not mean I support how fossil fuels are used today. I ask the readers to consider that fossil fuels may not be a problem so much as the central control of these resources.
 
Cj Sloane
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Marcos Buenijo wrote:If one can acquire high grade coal locally at a cost lower than alternatives, then why not?


Well, if it's local, and you're OK with how it was mined and OK with mitigating the pollution then I guess....OK? Maybe?

I'd be skeptical about coal being lower cost though. Hard to beat heating your home with a RMH using junk mail...
 
Marcos Buenijo
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Nick, I like your ideas on leveraging a coal resource. I would spend more time considering systems like that if I were not convinced that government would intervene directly or indirectly to increase the costs of a project of that scale. This is a major reason that I tend to restrict my considerations to a micro/residential/individual scale. I suppose I am cynical.

Just for interest, I'll describe a fairly large scale system I considered for leveraging coal or wood fuel. I haven't done any serious engineering considerations on this, so I'm not certain on its viability. Coal or charcoal might be heated to very high temperatures using a solar concentrator. This might allow for admitting steam into the system to drive the water gas reactions and generate CO and H2 fuel gas (again, I've not done a serious analysis here, but I suspect that emphasizing the water gas shift reaction will generate more H2 along with CO2 which represents a greater conversion of the solar energy input to fuel gas, and this should reduce the consumption of biomass or coal - a goal is to find a point where virtually all the heat from the charcoaling process is put to productive use, so as much steam as possible should be converted to H2). Since there is no air admitted, the fuel gas is not diluted with nitrogen. Therefore, the energy density may be high enough to permit cost effective storage (energy density by volume is a little less than half that of natural gas). When wood is used, then the heat provided by the production of charcoal can be used to generate steam that is admitted to the charcoal reactor, and the heat in the fuel gases can be regenerated into the system by preheating combustion air and/or boiler feed water. Having available a fuel gas of high energy density would allow for powering a heat engine at a higher thermal efficiency (along with the benefits of storage to carry the system through days of inclement weather). It seems possible to generate the fuel gas under pressure, and the fuel gas might be distributed to the system pressurized without using a dedicated compressor. It's possible to take the process further. For example, syngas can be used in the synthesis of liquid fuels including ethanol with bacterial fermentation. However, these would introduce additional costs and energy losses. Perhaps the fuel gas can be distributed to homes for cogeneration using fuel cells. Maybe individuals could maintain their own storage systems to increase capacity. There are all kinds of possibilities.

I didn't put much serious thought into the previous configuration because of my bias toward micro scale systems. Right now the system that interests me most of all is a micro cogeneration piston steam engine. I've done some serious design work here, and even have a very particular construction in mind. Sorry that I can't discuss specifics. I will say only that it's surprisingly simple in its construction, operation, diagnosis of problems, and repairs. Thermal efficiency is at least 10%, but less than 15%. The fuel of choice is wood and other biomass, but coal can be used. The system operates at a low output at a constant rate and low speed, and this is critical for extending life and making the system simple. A small battery system is used to meet variable electric demands in the home. The engine speed is low enough to allow for direct mechanical applications (like water pumps, or a small hydraulic pump for powering wood processing equipment). The steam exhaust is used for water processing with a two stage distillation system that allows all water in the home to be recycled. The steam distillate available at the final stage is used for heating applications, and can also be used to generate chilled water for space cooling using adsorption (if one has access to a good well, then there is no need for this - however, the higher steam pressure possible in the steam exhaust that would otherwise be used in water distillation would make a more efficient chiller possible, and using lower steam pressure for heating applications would increase engine efficiency). This kind of system is optimized for remote off grid living, and would not be suitable for powering a "modern" home as the fuel consumption would be too high without frugality and a genuinely modest home. I consider one of the main benefits of this system is the prospect of much lower battery costs in the off grid setting. The size of the battery here is far less, and the discharge on the smaller battery is lessened by the continual operation of the system.
 
Marcos Buenijo
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I've been corresponding with an engineer who is developing a micro scale charcoal gasifier for use in combined heat and power. The unique aspect of his system is the consumption of charcoal is lessened by a controlled admission of particulate biomass to the reactor. Unfortunately, the system still requires a regular production of charcoal. I suggested to him that he try using the sifted coal products available on the market as a substitute. I haven't received a reply, but if this works, then I consider it a very interesting prospect. One could store coal for use in the system, but leverage it with biomass. The system he is developing also emphasizes heat recovery to heat and store water for use in heating applications.
 
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