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Home Heating with Coal

 
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Marcos Buenijo wrote:

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.



I agree with your stance on centralization of power as being the dominant corrupted influence on how fossil fuels are used. There is no inherent reason the grid should have developed that way, it was pushed and forced that direction. It is actually more efficient in most cases to transport the energy via rail then via grid, line losses are significant and per mile BTU losses are less via rail. Many problems we are having with even pollution would be resolvable on a decentralized level. Coal is of course fossilized plant material, the level of heavy metals it contains is typical of what ambient ground conditions are in that area. If coal was burnt in a decentralized manner and scrubbed with algae systems, biochar containing ambient level of heavy metals could be produced and cycled into the soil with no increase in heavy metals to the air or soil. The pollution from coal is a result of not capturing and redistributing naturally occuring levels of heavy metals in the soil. This could be done efficiently if coal was used to produce electricty in a distributed manner and then the flue gas was captured using algae to produce biochar. The biochar would pose no problems to the soil as it would have very similar distributions of heavy metals to what is already occuring. It can't occur though on a centralized system because the centralized plant is paying both an inefficient electrical line loss and then a very significant redistribution penalty. This means that those heavy metals go airborne and bioaccumulate in the aquatic ecosystems, instead of being placed back in the soil in naturally occuring concentrations.

If coal was burned in a decentralized manner and CO2 was sequestered in biochar derived from algae we'd have a near carbon nuetral energy source and would effectively redistribute all the ancient organic matter that went into production of coal in the upper levels of the soil where it could help develop better soil. Coal could be used as a powerful tool to transform overall soil fertility planet wide, by basically burning old algae for energy and using waste streams to produce algae derived biochar. Sounds crazy to most people who have been instinctively brainwashed into thinking fossil fuels=BAD, but it is IMO a legit possibility, at least from a technical feasibility standpoint.

Anyways i get what you are trying to do on a small scale Marcos with your simple steam coal powered energy system and think it sounds like a realistic approach. I researched a similar system for open source ecology some years ago, here http://opensourceecology.org/wiki/File:Integrated_Energy_System.jpeg is a system I found that was designed by Skip Goebel that seemed to me to be a good approach. Might consider contacting him, though i think he might be an expat by now. If i didn't happen to be one of the millions of brainwashed recently indebted college grads and had some finances or a decent job i'd probably be looking into doing exactly what you are doing.
 
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Nick Raaum wrote:Anyways i get what you are trying to do on a small scale Marcos with your simple steam coal powered energy system and think it sounds like a realistic approach. I researched a similar system for open source ecology some years ago, here http://opensourceecology.org/wiki/File:Integrated_Energy_System.jpeg is a system I found that was designed by Skip Goebel that seemed to me to be a good approach. Might consider contacting him, though i think he might be an expat by now. If i didn't happen to be one of the millions of brainwashed recently indebted college grads and had some finances or a decent job i'd probably be looking into doing exactly what you are doing.



I'm familiar with this proposal made by Skip Goebel. The main problem with the systems with which he works are the expanders and use of steam at modest temperatures and pressures. He uses antiquated technology that, in my opinion, cannot achieve sufficiently high thermal efficiency to be worthwhile. All the engines I've ever seen him use are double acting slide valve units with modest saturated or slightly superheated steam. In my opinion, an effective system should get north of 500 psig and north of 600F. If the heat can be put to full use, then high thermal efficiency in the engine is not so important... but it needs to get higher than the 3-5% seen by traditional small piston steam engine systems. I corresponded with Marcin at Open Source several years ago, and I directed him to the Steam Automobile Club of America. He visited them and I believe they influenced his thinking a great deal. He is now considering high pressure uniflow systems with high compression. The guys at SACA are the real steam experts.

Here is an article on small scale steam written by Skip Goebel: http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles/goebel43.html . I think he does a great job of persuading people to NOT consider small scale steam as a viable alternative. He estimates that about 29 pounds of seasoned wood is required to generate one KWh of electricity in the kind of system he considers. That is a non starter by any standard. I personally feel that if Skip is still working with steam power, and has not advanced beyond 150 year old technology, then he is simply not serious about making any advances. I'm hard pressed to consider any application for these systems that would not be far surpassed by a wood gas engine system. Don't get me wrong, I know more than most how difficult and costly it is to develop anything new, but old steam technology was killed for a good reason.

Here is one good example of how superior results can be had by advancing beyond old school systems: http://www.rossen.ch/solar/wcengine.html . A two stroke Diesel engine was converted to steam to show better than 20% thermal efficiency. In this case the steam was generated by a solar concentrator. A good steam generator is 85% efficient or better, so a biomass fueled engine could approach a 20% overall thermal efficiency under these parameters. In my opinion, this project shows there to be a lot more potential in small scale steam than is commonly understood. Other examples include the engines being developed by Cyclone Power Technologies. One of their engines rated at 20 hp, and weighing less than 100 pounds complete (including all systems) showed 31% net thermal efficiency. That is a very sophisticated system. Personally, I'm interested in a compromise that achieves a very simple system capable of a solid 10-12% net thermal efficiency, with a fairly high condenser pressure for optimal use of waste heat, and can be easily operated and serviced by the end user. This can be done without complicated reheat or heat regeneration schemes with steam at 500 psig and 600F. Here is another example: http://newsteamengine.com/ . Without exceeding 1100F peak steam temperature, and maintaining the condenser at a saturation temperature of 280F, a compounded engine with reheat and heat regeneration will exceed 30% net thermal efficiency. The high condenser temperature is done to reduce the size of the condenser in the automotive application. In the stationary setting this high temperature heat can be used for many interesting applications such as driving an absorption chiller or water distillation in multiple stages for high yield.
 
Nick Raaum
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Marcos,
Did you contact Mark Norton too, he was project manager for a while there and did considerable design and research on the project and may have some missing pieces to your project... I recall hearing that two stroke diesel converted to a "bump" valve was problematic from a longevity standpoint, though even if that was the case it is probably nothing that couldn't be resolved through basic design material choice changes.

I agree with the idea of compromising efficiency through elimination of regen to lower project costs and complexity, using high temp exhaust to drive a chiller and water distillation processes is pretty genius too if you have the need for it. I hope you share the system you end up going with here.


One more crazy steam idea; Have you ever heard of Frank Schuman, a turn of the century solar energy inventor? He used solar energy at 200 deg to drive a subatmospheric steam cycle. The efficiences were obviously low 50% or so of maximum carnot, but it worked https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/publicintel/SKrFkbrQOJk/P-U3DJbyZxUJ Anyways i thought that a really novel cycle would be to use low temp solar energy to provide heat of vaporization in such a sub atmospheric cycle and then superheat it with combustible fuel to get high efficiencies. Depending on degree of superheat the energy input would be something like 60-70% low cost solar and 40-30% combustible fuel source. It'd of course require a large condenser to maintain such low temps, and the engine would be extremely high volume due to the low pressure diff, but one advantage is that it'd be an inherently safe cycle since its less than atmospheric pressure.
 
Marcos Buenijo
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Nick Raaum wrote:Marcos,
Did you contact Mark Norton too, he was project manager for a while there and did considerable design and research on the project and may have some missing pieces to your project... I recall hearing that two stroke diesel converted to a "bump" valve was problematic from a longevity standpoint, though even if that was the case it is probably nothing that couldn't be resolved through basic design material choice changes.

I agree with the idea of compromising efficiency through elimination of regen to lower project costs and complexity, using high temp exhaust to drive a chiller and water distillation processes is pretty genius too if you have the need for it. I hope you share the system you end up going with here.


One more crazy steam idea; Have you ever heard of Frank Schuman, a turn of the century solar energy inventor? He used solar energy at 200 deg to drive a subatmospheric steam cycle. The efficiences were obviously low 50% or so of maximum carnot, but it worked https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/publicintel/SKrFkbrQOJk/P-U3DJbyZxUJ Anyways i thought that a really novel cycle would be to use low temp solar energy to provide heat of vaporization in such a sub atmospheric cycle and then superheat it with combustible fuel to get high efficiencies. Depending on degree of superheat the energy input would be something like 60-70% low cost solar and 40-30% combustible fuel source. It'd of course require a large condenser to maintain such low temps, and the engine would be extremely high volume due to the low pressure diff, but one advantage is that it'd be an inherently safe cycle since its less than atmospheric pressure.



I didn't get involved with the Open Source project beyond contacting Marcin early on before Mr. Norton got involved. I actually did a lot of my research about 5-6 years ago around the time I contacted him, but a family tragedy and university diverted most of my attention since that time. I've only been revisiting the idea fairly recently. Interestingly, the basic design I arrived at then is unchanged, I just learned a little more about how to best go about constructing it.

I am aware of some problems in the White Cliffs engine with hardness matching between the components that contributed to premature wear. However, the main problem they had was associated with oil contamination of the solar steam generator. I'm not interested in solar thermal for this project and I'm not using oil lubrication. I don't consider having to replace certain wear components to be a problem - as long as they last reasonably well, and their replacement is straightforward and not too costly. BTW, the system I've considered does not replicate the White Cliffs engine in any way other than the use of a bash valve in the first stage (I like that idea for its simplicity, and the low speed of my engine would lessen wear - along with the use of very hard components I selected).

I will have an opportunity to start a test engine as I am gearing up to make the move to Texas later this year (with a high degree of certainty) where my good friend lives. He owns just about every tool known to man, and this will be a major help in such a project (seriously, he has lathes, drill presses, welding gear, milling machines, etc.). Of course, life happens (as I've learned), so I can't say anything with certainty. I do know most of the requirements for the test engine, and I've sourced the parts, so I might know soon after I start whether or not it will be worthwhile to finally build a prototype. If it doesn't work, then I'll share with the forum - if it works, I'll get a patent, then share with the forum. Note again this system is designed specifically for remote off grid living, so it's not going to power a McMansion. I'm actually looking at a nominal 1 hp continuous with emphasize on cogeneration.

I had heard of Shuman, but I didn't know about a vacuum steam turbine. I referenced the link. That solar engine was very efficient indeed! If those numbers are correct, then I think Marcin needs to focus on that low pressure turbine as a bottoming cycle for a high pressure engine. Such a component would be too large and expensive for a micro scale, but ideal for medium scale. If I were to settle in a region with very high and clear solar insolation, then I would focus on solar thermal. However, I will be locating to east Texas where humidity is high, solar is often diffuse, and biomass is plentiful (a note on the topic of the thread - coal is not generally available in that region based on my research so far, so it's probably not going to be an option for me - looks like biomass is it- that's fine with me, actually prefer wood to coal, but I wouldn't pass up a high grade coal if the price were right).

Nick, thanks for the thoughts and the links.
 
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Marcos Buenijo wrote: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/



I have been tempted to use anthracite coal in my woodstove (a small amount of nut coal added to the wood to extend the burn through the night). When I take a look at the strip mining involved I hesitate.
http://www.atlanticcoal.com/Gallery/index.html

The NEPA forum members do love the heat they get from coal.
 
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Location: Canadice (Finger Lakes) NY
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We bought a house from the local coal furnace installer / store owner, so it has a fairly elaborate system for radiant floor heating and domestic hot water. We added a wood stove in the living area to add redundancy and supplement the coal heat. The coal supplier is less than 1/2 mile away, so we have easy access to our supply of coal.

I am wondering about using the bottom ash. There is talk online about the components of the ash including arsenic. However, the conversations I find are typically geared to large scale use (power plants etc). I would like to find a way to productively use the ash or manage it in such a way that it won't do any harm. Currently we empty the ash as the previous owner did, which is to maintain the parking area behind the shop and I use it to create access to gates to the winter livestock fence etc.

Does anyone have a suggestion on how to handle the ash? Geoff Lawton talks about neutral soils not picking up heavy metals. Also, could a water element with a reed bed or an element with fast growth trees on the downslope side of the parking area capture any of the heavy metals that may get into the soil?

Thanks!
 
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