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?