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Unlimited Fuel In Perpetuity for Free in Theory - ethanol from spirulina  RSS feed

 
Winston Greene
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DISCLAIMER - Unfortunately due to some legal restrictions in my home country I cannot pursue this in an off grid way here in the United States. I caution any fellow Americans to not try this at home and to only use these methods if you have the proper permits within the united states or are outside the united states in a jurisdiction in which the distillation of ethanol is fully legal and not against the law in any way.

Spirulina platensis is an algae that grows in puddles, pond water, sea water, even human wastewater ponds. It is a single celled blue green algae. It uses minerals in the water and the power of the sun to reproduce incredibly fast - a culture can double it's total algae mass every forty eight hours. This algae has been extensively studied and known about ever since the seventies. In India, this algae is cultured on a large scale for use as a green dye, and is also sold as food. A person could survive in theory on only spirulina and eat no other source of food because spirulina contains every known amino acid and vitamin that is required for human survival. A significant percentage of the mass of spirulina is protein and carbohydrates. If the spirulina culture is allowed to become too dense in the tank it occupies, it will start to die and during that process will start to produce ethanol by it's own metabolism, 3% or more of the solution will become ethanol, then the culture will mostly die off, leaving a solution of ethanol, proteins, amino acids, and carbohydrates.

CARBOHYDRATES are the important thing here, because carbohydrates are where alcohol comes from. If you simply add normal brewer's yeast to the solution thusly created, then treat it as you would a bottle of new wine, adding an airlock in order to create an anaerobic environment, you will end up with a solution that can be as high as twelve to fourteen percent alcohol content. All of this is legal up to this point in the United States, but it is the next step that is highly illegal and once again I cannot caution american readers enough against the wrath of the ATF. To distill a single drop of alcohol in the united states without the proper permits can land you in federal prison and or end up in you paying a huge fine.

If a person were to distill a fifty gallon barrel of a solution like the one described above at 14% alcohol content, they would be left with approximately 7 gallons of 100% pure 200 proof fuel grade alcohol that would be certainly unsafe to consume. Remember, this algae can be cultivated in human urine and water, or in sea water, or in pond water if your pond water is high in certain minerals and nutrients. It is already cultivated on a mass scale in sea water. In theory, if you were locked in a room with the right materials, electricity and a water source, you could produce ethanol for yourself in perpetuity. NASA is currently studying this algae as one of the resources that we will likely bring with us into outer space one day on long voyages. This is a resource that can produced reliably in a sustainable system.

If all the plastic engine parts in a given gasoline powered engine are replaced with stainless steel parts, then gasoline engines as they are today can be ran on pure ethanol with no problems. Of course if you are willing to do some damage to your lines by dissolving the plastic with the pure alcohol, you could even run your car off of pure ethanol today. If you make the initial investment in a few large aquarium tanks, some air pumps to keep the algae alive, some home brewing equipment, and distillation equipment (ONLY IF YOU ARE IN A JURISDICTION WHERE IT IS LEGAL,) and the right sorts of farm equipment with specially modified engine parts, a person could theoretically run a farm with no external fuel input, producing all the fuel necessary to farm a particular plot of land on site.

I don't expect you to take my word for it. I have peer reviewed sources to back up my claims.

This study proves that spriulina can be made from seawater -
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960852410011235

This study proves that spirulina can be brewed into ethanol -
http://pubs.rsc.org/-/content/articlelanding/2013/ee/c3ee40305j#!divAbstract

At this point because of legality issues I have never done this myself - but I know intellectually that this is technically possible. I need help from home scientists in jurisdictions where this sort of real world viability testing can be done without fear of legal repercussions. If you are in a place where distillation is legal, please do this at home and post your results for the online community to see. The oil companies don't want the people to know that ethanol can be made from things other than corn or sugar - the oil companies want to keep you a slave so they push for more and more regulations on ethanol all the time. There isn't any reason to wait for some new technology to be invented - we have it right here! This technology could make fuel free for you today and it could make fuel free for everyone eventually one day. Imagine a world where energy is truly cheap and abundant and produced locally in relation to each community's needs. Imagine a world where fuel was as cheap as sea water, a world where energy is so easily produced that it is seen as a right and not a good, a world in which the means of production truly lies in the hands of the common person thanks to technology. Please help me make this a reality by proving the viability of this concept to the world.
 
David Livingston
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Unfortunately I think there are a number of problems with your idea it's going to need a lot of kit for starters  would it not be easier just to grow colza/ osr and power your farm that way ? An oil press would not cost that much and it's perfectly legal , you could sell the oil too

David
 
Dale Hodgins
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There is no legal restriction, preventing me from doing this. I have no plans to do it, because it's just not that simple.
.......
There is a much simpler means of getting energy from algae. It can be gathered and dumped into a methane digester. Methane can be used as a motor fuel, but due to its bulk and difficulty in being compressed, I think it makes more sense for stationary engines and of course to be burnt as a cooking gas.

I agree with David on the complexity in turning it into a liquid fuel product. Certainly doable, but probably not practical on a small scale.
 
Winston Greene
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David Livingston wrote:Unfortunately I think there are a number of problems with your idea it's going to need a lot of kit for starters  would it not be easier just to grow colza/ osr and power your farm that way ? An oil press would not cost that much and it's perfectly legal , you could sell the oil too

David


I disagree for several reasons - the first being that from start to finish this entire process would take approximately three weeks. One week to grow the algae, two weeks to ferment, then you distill it into fuel. This is far faster than any other method of fuel production. Rapeseed oil takes a full season to produce. Also, the inputs required are far less costly than the inputs required to grow an oilseed crop. Growing oilseed takes large amounts of arable land as well as nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer, these inputs would not be required for ethanol produced in this way. A person could have an aquarium tank large enough to produce all the fuel necessary for a whole farm and he could have that next to the fermentation tanks and distillation facilities and the whole footprint of the fuel production facility could be less than 900 square feet, if a person had access to sea water and a very small amount of electricity (enough to run a few air pumps.) To grow oilseed, you need to have fuel to run your tractors, processing equipment for the oilseed, and above all else, enough arable land to grow the oilseed. For a small farmer or beginning farmer who doesn't want to spend money on fuel, or for a common person who is not a farmer who has the same aspiration, this is a way to produce fuel that avoids the costly inputs associated with farming, especially the most costly input of all - the land itself.
 
Winston Greene
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Dale Hodgins wrote:There is no legal restriction, preventing me from doing this. I have no plans to do it, because it's just not that simple.
.......
There is a much simpler means of getting energy from algae. It can be gathered and dumped into a methane digester. Methane can be used as a motor fuel, but due to its bulk and difficulty in being compressed, I think it makes more sense for stationary engines and of course to be burnt as a cooking gas.

I agree with David on the complexity in turning it into a liquid fuel product. Certainly doable, but probably not practical on a small scale.


If moonshine was practical for rural Appalachians during the prohibition era during the early 1900's, then I contend that this method of ethanol production could indeed be doable and practical on a small scale. Using primarily corn, one moonshiner in the early 1900's was capable of producing hundreds upon hundreds of gallons of fuel. how many gallons of fuel would a small farmer need to run a tractor for a season? If you have only five to ten acres, you could feasibly only use forty to sixty gallons of fuel in a season. The only reason you feel like it wouldn't be feasible is because you haven't tried it or heard of anyone who has. If you have heard of someone doing this who has failed, by all means refer me to it. As of now, this is a truly untested idea that I believe is feasible and it's all just fortune telling at this point because nobody has ever tried it.

As for methane, yes you can harvest methane through various means but as you have already basically stated it doesn't really serve well as motor fuel. Meanwhile, ethanol is a perfect motor fuel, it is portable and could be distributed through the exact same channels that gasoline is distributed through today. The cost of the inputs involved with ethanol is the only reason that ethanol wasn't always the primary fuel source. But if you can make it from sea water, air, and the sun instead of from corn or sugar, this is a game changer that turns most of the arguments against ethanol on their head. Solar distillation is possible on a personal scale using heat collected from relatively small mirror arrays on sunny days, and air pumps can be powered kinetically from the wave action of the ocean (one notable patent has already been issued for such a mechanism.) 
 
Su Ba
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....."how many gallons of fuel would a small farmer need to run a tractor for a season? If you have only five to ten acres, you could feasibly only use forty to sixty gallons of fuel in a season. "...

I don't have a tractor (too small of an operation), but I do use various small gas engine tools for farming. According to my records, I used 153 gallons of gasoline for these tools last year. I do happen to farm year around in my climate.

It seems to me that I'd need more than an aquarium to grow enough algae for ethanol production. But that aside, operating a still can be quite dangerous. Where I live there have been a few explosions over the years resulting in severe burns on the operators when their home stills blew up. There have also been a couple of mysterious house fires that rumor has it there was a still accident.

One would have to think carefully before assuming it would be simple or safe to home brew one's engine fuel, no?
 
Jeremy Franklin
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It seems like there is some merit to this idea, and some of the naysayers may just be nit-picking.  I'm sure this isn't a golden ticket to free energy, but producing your own fuel on site does have some appeal. Methane digestors are cool, but as I understand it, methane is non-compressible, so storage is kinda tricky, whereas liquid ethanol is a lot easier to produce and store in big batches, and then use as needed. Is there a way to make this functional/appropriate technology?


By the way, it looks like this is legal in the U.S., with some caveats :

Spirits may be produced for nonbeverage purposes for fuel use only without payment of tax, but you also must file an application, receive TTB's approval, and follow requirements, such as construction, use, records and reports.


Taken from: https://www.ttb.gov/spirits/faq.shtml
 
David Livingston
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I still beg to differ getting ethanol this way on a small scale makes little sence practically.
Take Su's figures for example let'sake things easy and say it's 150 gallons a year that means I expect that she will need approx 1500 gallons of stuff plus she will need more alcohol to burn to distill the liquid to a concentration usable for fuel so now she is up to say 2000 gallons a year ......
Moonshine would be different because you are not dependent of big swimming sized pools of algea that will be a nightmare to keep sterile plus much of it was not concentrated enough for fuel production. Size and industrial sized units bring economies of scale the a small farmer cannot hope to achieve .
.
 
Winston Greene
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David Livingston wrote:I still beg to differ getting ethanol this way on a small scale makes little sence practically.
Take Su's figures for example let'sake things easy and say it's 150 gallons a year that means I expect that she will need approx 1500 gallons of stuff plus she will need more alcohol to burn to distill the liquid to a concentration usable for fuel so now she is up to say 2000 gallons a year ......
Moonshine would be different because you are not dependent of big swimming sized pools of algea that will be a nightmare to keep sterile plus much of it was not concentrated enough for fuel production. Size and industrial sized units bring economies of scale the a small farmer cannot hope to achieve .
.


So first of all- you would not need to "burn alcohol" in order to distill spirits if you are in a jurisdiction where spirit distillation is legal. All you need is electricity to run a small refrigeration system to cool a coil that is connected to another chamber that has a heating element underneath it. That heating element could be fully electric and operated with solar power or it could be ran off natural gas, or it could be ran off the literal concentrated energy of the sun in a mirror array that concentrates light at a central point to use for boiling water.

Second of all - I think everyone here is over-estimating the size of area required to produce fuel in this way. You don't need a swimming pool sized area in order to produce most of 150 gallons a year. No farmer on five to ten acres would use 1500 gallons a year, even if we take into account the gallons used to drive a car to town or get to and from market. Three rubbermaid stock tanks that hold 300 gallons each would give you 900 gallons of solution total. If you brew 900 gallons at 14% alcohol content and distill it out, you can get approximately 126 gallons of alcohol fuel at the end of the process. You would only need to run this system twice - six weeks a year, and you could have more than enough for your needs as a small farmer. Three 300 gallon stock tanks don't take up very much space. One of them is only about six feet wide. I stand by my assertion that a plant sufficient for personal and agricultural use could be built on an area that was less than 900 square feet.
"
 
David Livingston
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I have one question - how much would all this kit cost assuming the process works ?
At the moment as far as I can see you are talking about a tank to grow the stuff since it's powered by sunlight this would obviously have to be quite large in order for the plant to have enough sunlight to grow, this tank may have to be sterile in order to grow this stuff as s monoculture, a distillation set up run by a photoelectric set up and storage .
Plus  set up to deal with the waste.
So how much would this cost ?
How big a photoelectric set up ?
Seems to me if you are thinking of doing all this it might be cheaper and simpler just to invest in a photoelectric system and have an electric car and tractor
David
 
Winston Greene
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David Livingston wrote:I have one question - how much would all this kit cost assuming the process works ?
At the moment as far as I can see you are talking about a tank to grow the stuff since it's powered by sunlight this would obviously have to be quite large in order for the plant to have enough sunlight to grow, this tank may have to be sterile in order to grow this stuff as s monoculture, a distillation set up run by a photoelectric set up and storage .
Plus  set up to deal with the waste.
So how much would this cost ?
How big a photoelectric set up ?
Seems to me if you are thinking of doing all this it might be cheaper and simpler just to invest in a photoelectric system and have an electric car and tractor
David


Like most sustainable technologies, a considerable investment in the short term can eventually pay off in the long term. In the short term it is of course cheaper and simpler (but less sustainable in the long term) to buy electricity off the grid and use conventional means for everything. Why invest in any sustainable technology if it's cheaper and simpler in the short term to use what already exists? The thing about electric cars and tractors is that they require special technicians to service them and they also require expensive lithium based batteries to run at this point in time, although batteries may change one day in the near future. Lithium is a mined finite resource, just like oil. Sure you can capture the energy from the sun with expensive solar panels and try to have enough solar panels to run your tractors, but very few people use electric tractors in the USA. I would wager to say that a brand new electric tractor could cost you over 100 thousand US dollars, with the batteries and solar array to power it another fifteen to twenty thousand. So that is the number I am trying to beat here.  - $120,000.00.

Well, you could get three stock tanks used for 200 dollars a piece. These tanks are only two feet high or so, so there will be enough sunlight penetration for them to work. You will need three air compressors, one for each tank, at $130 a piece. After that you would need to hook up air lines to 1 airstone on every square foot of tank floor, this will be maybe $400 in tubing and $300 in airstones. In jurisdictions where alcohol distillation is legal, I have heard that it would not be uncommon to find a still for around $300. I'm not sure how much electricity costs where you are, but here running one air compressor can cost $5,000 during a year of continuous use, so running one for six weeks would cost you approximately $580. We're talking about three compressors for six weeks so that jumps your electricity cost up to $1740. So this is why I suggested that this would not really be a feasible solution if a way to generate your own power was not part of it. A system suitable for a home costs approximately $20,000 right now, but a small system suitable for a need such as this could cost as low as $8,000. If plugged into the grid with such a system running on sunny days, your electricity use from your "fuel plant" would be neutral or even slightly negative.  Installation for such a system would cost $5,000. Then you would want a shed of course to keep some of your more delicate components, tools, etc. I am budgeting $2000 for that.

So to recap -
3 tanks, $200 each -                                                 600
3 air compressors , $130 each -                                 390
Air tubing                                                                 400
air stones                                                                 300
Still                                                                          300
Solar system                                                           8000
Solar installation                                                      5000
Shed to hold compressors, components                     2000

Total cost -                                                         $16,990.00

When considering the fact that as I already stated many home solar systems cost over twenty thousand, it would seem that seventeen thousand for a fuel plant is not such a crazy expenditure when we're talking about infrastructure improvements such as these. Over time it would pay for itself and on top of that you avoid the costly maintenance involved with electrical agricultural machines. Old tractors that are easily fixed without computerized parts can be easily modified to accept such a fuel and a farmer's ability to use such older machines can pay dividends for years to come. This is a capital expenditure, but how many farms have been sunk by a paltry sum such as $450 in a bad year? A farms' ability to continue operations without regard to whether or not it has the credit to pay for fuel can save a struggling farm after a bad year. Investing in fuel is an investment in your future as a farmer, an investment in self sufficiency and a hedge against resource shortages.

Of course I'm not really trying to convince you to spend your money on this, and I expect you won't. However I earnestly believe that this could be a more sustainable choice in the long term than continuing to use fossil fuels or mined batteries such as lithium ion batteries that present their own whole host of technological issues that are much harder for your average small farmer to understand or remedy on his own. There was a time when everyone could fix their own car, now nobody can because they can't fix the computers inside them. An easily fixable combustion engine for a tenth of the price is a more attainable choice for a small farmer than a fancy new electric tractor and solar system that will inevitably malfunction and require more resources in the long run to maintain and fix than the system I propose here.
 
Jeremy Franklin
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Winston Greene wrote:
So to recap -
3 tanks, $200 each -                                                 600
3 air compressors , $130 each -                                 390
Air tubing                                                                 400
air stones                                                                 300
Still                                                                          300
Solar system                                                           8000
Solar installation                                                      5000
Shed to hold compressors, components                     2000

Total cost -                                                         $16,990.00


I think you could conceivably do this for much cheaper.  I would think a 200-400 watt solar power system could run this just fine, especially if you only ran the necessary distillation components during the day and didn't need to run them 24 hours a day.  That would cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000-1500, including installation if you can do a few hours research and have enough handyman skills to install a standard electrical outlet.  You also do not need full blown air compressors for aerating the stock tanks.  One single air compressor for all three tanks would be overkill.  Much better to get a few aquarium air pumps, which can be had new at $60 apiece, and asking anyone whose ever kept fish will tell you that those things grow algae just fine. And you can pick up all the tubing and airstones you'd need at a fish or pet store for maybe $50 tops. By my count that brings the total down to $2500-3000, plus a shed if you really don't have any other storage place on your property already.
 
David Livingston
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But it may not be as easy to grow as you think http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S168742851200009X
there appears to be quite a bit of input required
David
 
Winston Greene
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David Livingston wrote:But it may not be as easy to grow as you think http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S168742851200009X
there appears to be quite a bit of input required
David


And herein lies the intersection of science and practical application. In order to be reproducible, scientists conducting an experiment use medium that can be reproduced exactly down to it's chemical composition. However, one of the links I originally posted above proves that no such fancy medium is required. Sea water works just fine as a medium in large scale spirulina plants in India. In the seventies the Jimmy Carter administration funded several spirulina projects in subsaharan africa - these plants were intended to function as wastewater to food plants, but due to the admittedly off putting source of the food thusly produced, the technology didn't catch on. As soon as the researchers left the sites the locals who were previously involved in food production carried away the materials to use for other things. The food produced from their urine could have saved their children from malnutrition, but consuming a urine derived product was just too unpalatable to people, even starving people in the third world. So, basically the use of alternative mediums other than those used by scientists trying to create a reproducible experiment is well documented. There is a big push right now on part of companies like BP to give the public the impression that producing fuel from algae is a difficult and involved process, that the kinks have not been worked out yet. This impression is being created because BP and the likes of them would prefer the algae that eventually ends up being used in this way to be a proprietary GM algae that they own the patent to for at least fifty years. If the general public became aware of the fact that a well known, well studied, non-patentable algae was capable of doing the same things that the BP GM algae is capable of doing, then the oil companies could totally go out of business during this technological paradigm shift. The value of the US dollar is tied to the value of oil, so anything that threatens the price of oil threatens the value of the US dollar itself. The writing is on the wall and some people at BP likely already see it - they are trying to get ahead of this wave of innovation that is soon to sweep through the fuel production industry, and they are trying to do this by publishing disinformation about "pressing" their special GM algae to get "oil" out of it, when really it is far more efficient in terms of energy produced to turn it into ethanol.

To quote the study you just posted - "many media have been developed using seawater (Faucher et al., 1979), sewage water (Saxena et al., 1982) and industrial effluents (Tanticharoen et al., 1993)."
 
John Wolfram
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While others have pointed out technical issues with your plan, I would add that distilling fuel alcohol is legal in the USA so long as you have a permit, and the permits are quite easy to get. I have one. In general, the only difficulty for obtaining a permit is showing that you will be distilling in a non-residential building that can be locked. A shed is one such building. I have found the folks at the ATF, TTB (or whatever it is called now) are quite helpful in assisting with the needed paperwork. 
 
Winston Greene
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John Wolfram wrote:While others have pointed out technical issues with your plan, I would add that distilling fuel alcohol is legal in the USA so long as you have a permit, and the permits are quite easy to get. I have one. In general, the only difficulty for obtaining a permit is showing that you will be distilling in a non-residential building that can be locked. A shed is one such building. I have found the folks at the ATF, TTB (or whatever it is called now) are quite helpful in assisting with the needed paperwork. 


That is new information to me. I was told that the minimum cost for such a bond was like a hundred thousand dollars and that this was a yearly fee that was levied onto the alcohol producer? I am very interested in how much this permit cost you?
 
R Scott
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Dale Hodgins wrote:There is no legal restriction, preventing me from doing this. I have no plans to do it, because it's just not that simple.
.......
There is a much simpler means of getting energy from algae. It can be gathered and dumped into a methane digester. Methane can be used as a motor fuel, but due to its bulk and difficulty in being compressed, I think it makes more sense for stationary engines and of course to be burnt as a cooking gas.

I agree with David on the complexity in turning it into a liquid fuel product. Certainly doable, but probably not practical on a small scale.


Thank you, Dale.  That solved a pesky issue I had.

My idea is to have a methane digester, then use spirulina to scrub the co2 from the biogas, leaving a higher grade fuel that could be used in natural gas appliances without modification.  Then (thanks to Dale) refeed the extra spirulina back into the digester.  Not quite perpetual motion, but efficient.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I have chosen to not use any liquid fuel at my property. I don't have any tools that use such fuel.

Instead, I bought top quality cordless electric tools. About $4,000 worth of them. I get paid well to use these tools, so my customers have paid for them all.

They are vastly superior to the gas stuff that they replaced. I can cut a hedge faster than with the former gas stuff. I can cut firewood in a reasonable time, but somewhat slower than with gas. I can do all of the carpentry stuff in a faster and more efficient manner than someone running extension cords and plug-in tools.

My tools are made by Stihl, Milwaukee, Makita and EGO. I no longer have any of the junk brands available in department stores and such.

So, although liquid fuel is perfectly suitable and currently the most practical fuel for most large engines, my experience has shown that it is obsolete for many of the jobs that use those horrible, stinky, dirty, noisy little two stroke engines. I show up at jobs that don't have electricity, and I don't even bring an extension cord or a generator. I'm faster than other guys who show up to do the same work, and I get paid more. I have a gas can, somewhere, but it's obsolete too.

A solar array suitable to charge all of these tools, cost about $1,500, where I live.

That's why I won't be operating a still anytime soon.
 
Dale Hodgins
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R Scott wrote:
Dale Hodgins wrote:There is no legal restriction, preventing me from doing this. I have no plans to do it, because it's just not that simple.
.......
There is a much simpler means of getting energy from algae. It can be gathered and dumped into a methane digester. Methane can be used as a motor fuel, but due to its bulk and difficulty in being compressed, I think it makes more sense for stationary engines and of course to be burnt as a cooking gas.

I agree with David on the complexity in turning it into a liquid fuel product. Certainly doable, but probably not practical on a small scale.


Thank you, Dale.  That solved a pesky issue I had.

My idea is to have a methane digester, then use spirulina to scrub the co2 from the biogas, leaving a higher grade fuel that could be used in natural gas appliances without modification.  Then (thanks to Dale) refeed the extra spirulina back into the digester.  Not quite perpetual motion, but efficient.


You're welcome R Scott. This sounds very intriguing the idea of cleaning up the CO2, biologically. Seems like we're going a little off track, so maybe this should be a separate thread.

One thing I'm wondering, is if spirulina has any advantage over azolla. It seems that some filtration method is required for spirulina, while azolla occupies the surface of the water and can be easily removed. It also leaves quite clean water beneath, for other uses. Because it sucks out all of the nutrient, the water is quite suitable for irrigation or livestock watering . When it turns reddish, you know it's time to add phosphorus. Does anyone have information concerning the rate of production, of the two? Do you know of any trials were the two are compared, for labor and other management costs. My understanding from videos I've seen and from personal experience at ponds, is that it seems to create a pretty pure monoculture, on its own. It also suppresses mosquitoes.
 
Jeremy Franklin
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Dale Hodgins wrote:
I agree with David on the complexity in turning it into a liquid fuel product. Certainly doable, but probably not practical on a small scale.


Can we expand on this a little bit?  Certainly, this is experimental, unproven technology.  Just as the rocket mass heater was at first. (Have you ever seen the post where that thing was first suggested? The prototype looked like a cob monster took a dump on the garage floor!)  There's some scientific principles at work with this idea that, from my perspective, seem to pan out, and it obviously needs a lot of experimentation and repetition in different circumstances to get it to the point where we can all trust it as appropriate technology. But that process has to start somewhere, right? Why are we dumping on this idea and saying it can't be done before it's been tried?  Isn't that kind of against the whole Permies vibe?

Here's what I know from my experience:
* Algae is easy to grow.  It's a nuisance problem - a weed, if you will - in any fish aquarium or aquaponics setup, or even in rainwater storage. Set up a few IBC totes in the sun and fill them with nutrient rich water, and you will grow algae without trying. It doesn't need a sterile system or fancy, expensive equipment to grow algae.  The ocean (nature) does it all by itself without intervention.

* Distillation is not that hard.  Alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water, so all you're doing is boiling the alcohol off, capturing the vapor, and cooling it down again to liquify it.  The most common way of doing that is just by running water over the tube that the gas is in.  Hillbillies are famous for it.  Prisoners do it (while in prison).  It's not that difficult and doesn't require sophisticated machinery.  Yes, of course there are stories of people being stupid and getting hurt.  That's always the case when you're talking about fire.  It's true for RMH as well.  Just be sensible, take reasonable precautions and be careful.  It's no more dangerous than using gasoline.

* Liquid fuel is handy.  I don't know that I'll ever retrofit my car or my tractor to run off this stuff.  I'm not that mechanically inclined. But as a cooking fuel?  A hot water heater fuel?  Even emergency generator fuel? Heck yeah.  And being that much more independent and off grid sounds like a winning scenario.  I am currently using propane for these three things, which is nice because it doesn't go bad and I can buy a year's worth from a non monopoly, but being able to produce and easily store the fuel for these myself is a better solution.  Methane digestion is cool and may be as easy to produce, but not as easy to store.  Oil is easy to store, but not as easy to produce. Wood is easy to produce and easy to store, but difficult to pipe or to automate. A sustainably produced fuel that stores as liquid at room temperature in ordinary containers is decidedly a good thing.

What I don't know about (from my own experience, I mean) is the whole fermentation process.  Is it as easy as throwing some brewer's yeast into a vat of algae?  Does pressure or specific temperature ranges need to be maintained? Also, what about the byproduct after distillation? I assume, being mostly botanical, that it could just go on the compost pile or thrown on the ground somewhere, but maybe the chemical changes involved make it more icky?

I'm wondering if the reason we're being so wet blanket here is because the title of this thread looks like another hairbrained idea for free energy.  So maybe there's some kneejerk negativity going on from people who have had to deal with hundreds of posts from people who don't understand thermodynamics.  But this idea is not violating Newton's laws here.  All we're doing is converting solar energy into a storable, liquid form, similar to growing trees, which converts solar energy into solid fuel.

Am I missing some other aspect?  What about this process doesn't work on a small scale?
 
David Livingston
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I accept that maybe we are being a wet blanket about this but maybe because it's wet well damp at least
It's just complex and with any system that complex the possible error factors increase . Yes folks can grow this stuff but can they grow it in big enough quantities / concentration ? How much will you need to grow for one gallon of fuel .  Secondly what treatment does it need before you can ferment it ? Do you need to add anything else for growth or fermenting  ? Do you need to filter before distillation ? How many times do you need to distill before you get a high enough concentration to use as a fuel ? How will you power the distillation?
Lastly what are you going to do with it as most motors will need some modification or an additive that will cost and effectively defeat the whole idea of the operation.
Oh and one more very important consideration many folks forget ,how much of your time is this going to eat up doing it .
Contrast that with either going all electric or making your own desil ( ie powering everything with colza)
 
Dale Hodgins
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 I think a simple test is in order. The least expensive step, seems to be getting some sort of container, filling it with water and growing some blue green algae.

Let's see how long it takes to produce 10 lb of wet algae. Now, dry it out, to see how much of it was water weight. None of your water will turn to alcohol, (unless it had a very bad childhood)

Once we know the dry weight of a given amount of material, we have some hope of estimating the alcohol yield, based on how much carbohydrate is present. All of this could be accomplished in a kiddie pool. Figure out how much energy that kiddie pool can produce, and you'll know how many multiples of it you would need.
 
Winston Greene
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Dale Hodgins wrote: I think a simple test is in order. The least expensive step, seems to be getting some sort of container, filling it with water and growing some blue green algae.

Let's see how long it takes to produce 10 lb of wet algae. Now, dry it out, to see how much of it was water weight. None of your water will turn to alcohol, (unless it had a very bad childhood)

Once we know the dry weight of a given amount of material, we have some hope of estimating the alcohol yield, based on how much carbohydrate is present. All of this could be accomplished in a kiddie pool. Figure out how much energy that kiddie pool can produce, and you'll know how many multiples of it you would need.


Using dry spirulina could work but will actually decrease your yield as I understand it vs using the solution as is. From what I understand, ethanol is produced by spirulina's own internal metabolism once a certain concentration of algae is reached, and if the aquarium is made into an anaerobic environment with a simple air lock it should reach a certain concentration of ethanol on it's own with no extra steps needed. Luckily, some tests have already been done of the nutritional content of spirulina so it's already fairly well established the sorts of carbohydrate yields in the form of glycogen that can be expected. For a detailed peer-reviewed study of the nutritional content of spirulina, here is this study http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2621.2003.tb09615.x/full

Very happy to hear that someone else thinks this might be a viable idea. I realize it sounds odd but there really isn't any reason why this shouldn't work in my view. Spirulina is grown indoors by hobbyists the world over. An even simpler test might be for someone with a still to purchase some spirulina powder, create a solution, add some yeast, brew it out and see what sort of alcohol content they are capable of achieving. Can they achieve the 14% achieved by the scientists in the study I posted in my first post, or will they only be able to achieve lesser alcohol concentrations using more inferior mediums? These are all technical questions that can only be answered through real world testing.



 
Winston Greene
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David Livingston wrote:I accept that maybe we are being a wet blanket about this but maybe because it's wet well damp at least
It's just complex and with any system that complex the possible error factors increase . Yes folks can grow this stuff but can they grow it in big enough quantities / concentration ? How much will you need to grow for one gallon of fuel .  Secondly what treatment does it need before you can ferment it ? Do you need to add anything else for growth or fermenting  ? Do you need to filter before distillation ? How many times do you need to distill before you get a high enough concentration to use as a fuel ? How will you power the distillation?
Lastly what are you going to do with it as most motors will need some modification or an additive that will cost and effectively defeat the whole idea of the operation.
Oh and one more very important consideration many folks forget ,how much of your time is this going to eat up doing it .
Contrast that with either going all electric or making your own desil ( ie powering everything with 


All these are good points, and I was probably a little too exclamatory in my initial title for this thread. Nothing is free, and the idea of using a whole new system like this poses some serious obstacles that would still have to be overcome. I don't claim to have good answers to all these questions, but for me, this idea just keeps nagging at me because I think this might be the most sustainable way in the long run for our planet to produce the fuel we need. The main thing keeping the third world in poverty today is access to energy and clean water. If this technology proved to be viable, it could provide energy to energy-poor regions and at the same time clean their water of heavy minerals and other toxins that the spirulina eats to survive. If distillation were powered directly via solar means in the same way that some solar energy plants concentrate solar energy with mirrors in order to boil water to run steam turbines, then the distillation could be truly energy neutral. Ultimately, the realization of this technology could be more energy for everyone. A poor person living near the ocean could produce their own fuel without having to afford expensive gasoline traded in US dollars, using moonshining methods already present in the regions in question. Another great thing about this way of making fuel is that it removes carbon from the atmosphere. Solar panels may work for our society for now, but what happens in five generations or so when we run out of mined lithium to produce our batteries with? If ethanol could be produced abundantly using resources found commonly across the planet, this would change the whole structure of global society. Knowing the potential ramifications of a technological advancement such as this, I feel that it is my duty to try to see if it works. It would have been far cheaper for Thomas Edison to use a candle, but after investing huge amounts of time and capital into his light-bulb invention, he finally produced a working version. What eventually resulted was cheaper light for everyone. Anyone attempting this should do so knowing that they are taking part in an experiment that will not necessarily personally benefit them in any way. However given the obstacles put in place by the mammoth machinery of industry, there isn't any funding for research like this right now. To know for sure if this is possible or not, it will take the active participation of citizen scientists succeeding in doing this on their own. I really hope that someone reading this will take it upon themselves to try testing this out. If this is proven to work, then this invention won't belong to anyone. This algae is in the common domain, it cannot be patented. If we prove the viability of this method, then no corporation, not BP, not Halliburton, not Exxon Mobile, none of them can ever own the energy output of our society ever again.
 
John Wolfram
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Winston Greene wrote:
John Wolfram wrote:While others have pointed out technical issues with your plan, I would add that distilling fuel alcohol is legal in the USA so long as you have a permit, and the permits are quite easy to get. I have one. In general, the only difficulty for obtaining a permit is showing that you will be distilling in a non-residential building that can be locked. A shed is one such building. I have found the folks at the ATF, TTB (or whatever it is called now) are quite helpful in assisting with the needed paperwork. 


That is new information to me. I was told that the minimum cost for such a bond was like a hundred thousand dollars and that this was a yearly fee that was levied onto the alcohol producer? I am very interested in how much this permit cost you?


I don't remember the permit costing anything...actually, when I applied for the permit the government paid you $1 for every gallon of fuel ethanol produced.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I followed the link in your initial post. It contained one free page of information. There are many more, for sale for 45 British pounds. Did you read the entire article, or did you read that first free page and then extrapolate from there?

Are you willing to do a simple production test for yourself, to see how much raw material you are able to produce? I'd be interested in the results and if they looked promising, I'd be willing to pay you to produce a working unit at my place. It would have to produce at least 15 gallons of finished alcohol fuel, for every man hour spent in producing it.

I'm not suggesting distillation right away. Just suggesting a test to see how much raw material can be made with how much space and labor. Is this something that you are willing to do?
 
Su Ba
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Interesting idea and discussion. Even if I never have the need to produce my own ethanol, having the knowledge of how to is worthwhile to me.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I haven't been able to find any prices on spirulina, when purchased in large quantity. Not directly related to producing alcohol but I was just wondering if that would be the highest and best use for it.

This is the price per kilogram when purchased in the United States in smaller quantity. It looks like it could be a promising cash crop for anyone with a clean water supply and the desire to start a mail-order business.

I haven't been able to find any prices on spirulina, when purchased in large quantity.

This is the price per kilogram when purchased in the United States in smaller quantity. It looks like it could be a promising cash crop for anyone with a clean water supply and the desire to start a mail-order business.

I can't make that link work. $21 for a 1kg bag. 2.2 pounds. This is a food-grade dietary supplement.

 http://m.ebay.com/itm/2-2-lb-1000g-100-PURE-SPIRULINA-POWDER-ORGANICALLY-GROWN-nonGMO-nonIRRADIATED-/251039179954
 
Winston Greene
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Dale Hodgins wrote:I followed the link in your initial post. It contained one free page of information. There are many more, for sale for 45 British pounds. Did you read the entire article, or did you read that first free page and then extrapolate from there?

Are you willing to do a simple production test for yourself, to see how much raw material you are able to produce? I'd be interested in the results and if they looked promising, I'd be willing to pay you to produce a working unit at my place. It would have to produce at least 15 gallons of finished alcohol fuel, for every man hour spent in producing it.

I'm not suggesting distillation right away. Just suggesting a test to see how much raw material can be made with how much space and labor. Is this something that you are willing to do?


I am actively in the process of doing my best to learn how to grow spirulina myself. At this point, this whole thread is purely a theoretical enterprise for me. A brief survey of the youtube videos available on the subject show a small number of companies who are actively selling spirulina as a product and also as a culture to grow in a home or apartment. These setups typically might consist of one small aquarium, a pump that moves the water to the top of the tank and a filter that collects the algae after the water falls into it. The companies selling such products claim to achieve fairly high yields. Here is one such company - http://www.grow-organic-spirulina.com/

So here's a full disclosure on my part- I am a poor student and I don't have the resources to pursue this sort of endeavor at this point in time. I came to this forum with the theoretical idea and I was hoping that someone else out there in the world might have the resources and time to devote to a promising potential sustainable solution in the interest of philanthropy and general human progress. If this should be discovered to be a viable fuel production technology, this should not be a solution that is credited to one person. I would far rather the whole internet community "discover" this, that way nobody has a right to monopolize this resource that should belong to no one corporation but rather all of humanity in aggregate.

This being said, I am currently doing my best to marshal the resources to test these ideas, but I don't have the resources to do actual tests of any of these ideas at this point. All I can offer is my general understanding of the research surrounding this topic and hope that someone else who recognizes the merit of these ideas decides to test them. Perhaps within a year or two I will have the facilities to perform more extensive tests, but for now I come to the internet community a theorist in need of testers.
 
Dale Hodgins
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If there is anyone on Vancouver Island, who wishes to test any of this, but lacks sufficient space, I have a spot where it can be done.

I expect to grow a small amount, to test the viability of producing it as a dietary supplement. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to grow a very small quantity in something like an aquarium, to test alcohol production.

We weren't trying to beat up on you, just testing every avenue. I always like to look at things from many angles, before committing any resources.
.............
Here's another waterborne option for everyone to examine. It is a very simple loop. Azolla is a very easy crop to grow and harvest. It makes good food for a number of farm animals. Its inclusion in a bio digester, is said to speed the production of gas. The effluent liquid from a bio digester, is said to be a great fertilizer for an azolla pond. This uses very simple technology, but does not produce a liquid fuel. Something like this could be pulled off for a few hundred dollars. You would get lots of chicken feed and enough gas to cook those chickens and/or their eggs.

  I will create a new thread for it.
 
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Interesting topic, and one I have started reading about. I think it was after listening to an episode of TSP with jack spirko interviewing Steven Harris about alternative energy sources, that I had heard about a book by the title of Alcohol Can Be a Gas, by David Blume. Fascinating read so far, hearing some of the history behind using alcohol and views on why we use gasoline today. I'd like to hear what anyone else has to say about the viability of the book. He discusses making micro stills and small stills, and gives options for what to do with the by products, such as methane, CO2, heat, DDGs, etc.

I plan to leave the city in 2 years ideally, might be 3-4 according to my wife, but to buy 10-20+ acres in SE Missouri. So, I am trying to learn as much possible now to help with homesteading and being more self reliant. Producing my own fuel would help with that! I also have the Wisner's book on RMHs and have been asked to design a system to heat a greenhouse (when I finish reading the book) along with maybe 2 or 3 more RMHs for their other greenhouses, so by the time we get some land I should be able to do that at least. (Anyone live down near Vienna, MO?)

Anyways, having no experience in this area yet, it sounds viable to me to make a still, ferment crops such as maybe cattails for the alcohol, turn around and re-ferment to catch the methane, somewhere in there he mentions using the DDGs as a substrate to grow shittake mushrooms to harvest before feeding the (improved!) substrate to some cows/sheep/pigs, or using some of the by products in some way to maybe raise some shrimp or tilapia in a greenhouse for locally grown, mercury and PCB free fresh fish, and finding a way to use the heat from the still's cooling water to warm a greenhouse floor or storing it in tanks to preheat water for a solar hot water heating system.

Yes, it will take some money, hence the reason my wife is thinking 3-4 years so we can buy some land outright and build our retirement home over time. (Suggestions on type? Earthbag, shipping container, or?)
 
stephen lowe
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I have space to conduct a modest production test of spirulina. What would be the simplest system you think might be viable Winston? I have some largeish (maybe 100 gallon tops) reservoirs I could use. Can I just use hose water? How would I seed the spirulina? I'm very much into giving this a shot, at least south of the fermentation and distillation phase at this point. It seems like a potential system of great use to certain areas.
 
Winston Greene
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stephen lowe wrote:I have space to conduct a modest production test of spirulina. What would be the simplest system you think might be viable Winston? I have some largeish (maybe 100 gallon tops) reservoirs I could use. Can I just use hose water? How would I seed the spirulina? I'm very much into giving this a shot, at least south of the fermentation and distillation phase at this point. It seems like a potential system of great use to certain areas.


I continue to be excited by anyone else who is interested in finding solutions and actually doing the work it takes to test them. As I understand it the primary nutrient spirulina requires is actually iron in addition to nitrogen. The algae thrives in stagnant lakes and ponds that have high concentrations of heavy metals and salt, and blooms after heavy rains when nitrogen rich matter is washed into the lakes. I believe it is possible to purchase scientifically produced sterile algal medium solution to start your spirulina culture in from powder in a small aquarium and then it should be possible to keep it alive and expand it over time using a variety of vastly different feeding strategies ranging from dropping rusty nails into the tank to adding small amounts of commercial fertilizers to literally urinating into the tank. I would suggest reading any available literature available about spirulina and then doing your own tests. During the Jimmy Carter administration it is said that successful methodology was established for growing spirulina from wastewater. which could bring the input cost in theory down to almost nothing. I think there is likely good information about this that could be found by someone with enough motivation but I have tried and I'm warning you that even though it is historically clear this research definitely took place it has been incredibly hard for me to find the research itself. It's almost as if this information is being suppressed despite the fact that there are many public references to the government program that President Carter started to research spirulina, the almost never talked about "aquatic species program." Basics found here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquatic_Species_Program   ; I know that many have tried growing spirulina and succeeded, it seems to be something that has been fairly well studied by home scientists. A youtube search of 'home spirulina grow' yields almost ten thousand results so many people have experimented with this. I think the thing that you may be about to do that perhaps only a very small handful of people have ever done worldwide is actually turn the spirulina into alcohol. Once the spirulina has reached maximum density in a five gallon aquarium I would suggest transferring the contents of the aquarium to a five gallon plastic brewer's bucket with an airlock and letting it ferment with a brewer's yeast that works well with glycogen (which is spirulina's primary sugar.) This may take some extensive research to find the right yeast for glycogen. Although all yeast will process glycogen, some strains may work better or more efficiently than others and this quality "glycogen sensitivity" is unlikely to have been extensively studied due to it's total irrelevance to the alcoholic beverage production industry, most beverages being produced from glucose or sucrose. It is however a scientific fact that yeast will metabolize glycogen into alcohol. I can't answer many basic questions about this - how long will it take, what concentration can you achieve with conventional beer vs champagne yeast, etc. What I can say is that I am almost entirely certain that this process will produce alcohol in the end, as has been proven by peer reviewed studies in the past. What I will suggest as a wine brewer not based upon scientific knowledge but based upon my sort of personal gut opinion is that using a champagne yeast to start may give you better results because champagne yeasts tend to finish at higher concentrations than other yeasts, but of course that is in discussion of conventional fermentation solutions that are primarily made up of glucose and sucrose. With trial and error it may turn out that a different sort of yeast works more efficiently with glycogen for chemical reasons I don't claim to have a really good grasp of. This is why we need tests. I know that yeast doesn't like "hose water" if hose water is municipal water containing chlorine, so it's likely that any algae may also be averse to plain tap water that is undistilled or filtered.
Thanks for your interest and I hope you try this and post it for us to see!
 
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