Monday, July 28, 2008

Going green: Powering it all (Part 2)

Boy, this whole "Let's save the world" thing takes a bit of time and effort ;)

Things are moving slowly, but they are moving, thankfully.

Initial design and simulation for the whole wave/tidal power generation thing is promising, which is nice to find. I'd initially planned to set out and build a small prototype in a MacGyver-esque fashion, but have held off for the time being. Rather than slapping something together willy-nilly to demonstrate feasibility, I feel it would likely be more beneficial and fulfilling to put together a more sound prototype, and demonstrate what's necessary to be able to power n homes by scaling up the design. Knowing me, I'll wind up building a prototype that's a compromise of the two in the coming month or so.

Meanwhile, I've been concentrating more on the solar/thermal power generation side of things, for a couple of reasons:
- it's where I feel the most bang for the buck will be found, long term, when considering all factors
- I can make and test prototypes at home -- no travelling to the shore required
- small-scale prototypes will still demonstrate proof of concept, and have negligible cost

Much work has already been done in the field, and things like improvements to Sterling Engine design and implementation are currently being researched by a variety of organizations.

What's a Sterling Engine? Well, it's a type of heat engine -- one that operates simply by applying heat (from combustion, solar energy, geothermal, or what have you). They are quite simple, with very few moving parts, and have been demonstrated to operate with just a few degrees difference in temperature between the cold and hot portions of the engine. (Some will even operate off of the heat from the palm of your hand) Google will lead you to a whole variety of resources, including how to build your own with a few tin cans.

With all that's been done in mind, why bother? Hrmm...well, I've got a variation on the theme in mind which I hope will scale up nicely -- at the moment the main design has only one moving part, although some additional parts may be incorporated to offer better efficiency, if needed. I'd like to run some computer simulations, however many of the nice simulation software packages that include computational fluid dynamics are rather such, I'm simply hoping to execute a design that works, based on simple high school/undergrad calculations. If the design can be shown to work, well, then I'll put in some effort to further optimize it.

Of course, if the variation doesn't work as intended, it'll be time to sip a soda and gather my thoughts. If it does, well, I'll wire it up as a generator to see what average power it'll generate over a reasonable amount of time. I'll keep you posted with the results, either way.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Going green: Powering it all

For the planned initiatives, a realiable and steady source of power would be a good thing, and of course choosing a green means for generating that power is the order of the day.

If the means established has enough of the desired features, there may even be the opportunity to connect it to the grid and sell surplus electricity to the power companies. A number of regions "out there" have good initiatives and processes for such things, making it easy to get connected, and offering nice rates. (for example, NC has, I believe, an easy plan in place for anything up to 10kWh) Here, things are a little more difficult...the capacity has to be greater than X, and it has to be consistent -- no wind/solar, unless you have a means to store the energy so that it may be delivered to them at a constant rate. Wind and solar are hard sells regardless, since it doesn't guarantee that they'll get anything from you. Additionally, last I heard, if you're after a rate greater than 2.5 cents per kWh, it has to go to tender -- at that amount or lower, though, it won't have to. (Meanwhile, elsewhere, two, three, even up to 15 times higher than that rate can be found)

Photoelectric, solar/thermal, and wind generation are nice, and will likely play a part in the overall design...I'll likely use them to augment the primary power source, though, rather than serve in that capacity. (Long term, if the whole shebang gets off the ground, I _would_ like to shift the primary source to solar, but that will only be possible with appropriate capitalization -- ideally generated from operating revenue...with the lessons learned in that implementation, I hope to establish a process that's easily duplicated and portable. If successful, it may provide a low cost means for power generation abroad, wherever it's needed most.)

I think I've got a pretty good handle on tidal/wave action power generation, and believe that this could prove to be an economically viable route to take at the onset, with a seemingly lower cost per kWh for setup and maintenance. It's been nice to see that more progress is being in this area...when the attention turned to some of the innovations for harnessing wave action out of Scotland, it made me think "ah, good, someone's on the right track". Theirs is a few steps removed from what I'd envisioned a number of years ago, but shows good promise. Me, well, I'll be seeing whether I can bring one of my old designs to light at long last.

Time permitting, I'll do an experiment or two this weekend to that end. In spite of the movies, with "1.21 gigawatts" popping to mind regularly, the interim goal is much more modest -- the planning at the moment is to provide a proof of concept for somewhere around 1 megawatt, although I'll be satisfied with 0.5 to 1 megawatts to begin with.

I'll let you know how it goes...meanwhile, wish me luck!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Going green: General overview (Part 1)

Alright, I admit it...I feel as though there are things that we can do to have less of an impact on the environment. I may as well take a moment to mention them here, as they've been keeping me preoccupied of late.

Some time ago I referred to the Virgin Earth initiative. I've put in some effort to create one or more solutions to be suitable for submission, and it's been an interesting path. Once I've formalized some of my findings, I'll go into additional detail -- for now, though, you just get a teaser.

First, it seems as though economically self sustaining processes can be put in place that will offset what's currently going on in the world. Where the economic side of things begins to run into challenges is in scaling it up to the point where it makes a notable difference on either a global scale, or at least on the scale represented by our global production of such things that we'd want to offset.

It turns out that the mechanisms for dealing with some of the notable byproducts aren't that complicated, and much research has already been done in numerous areas on the matter. Heck, you can even take the initiative to deal with those byproducts and wind up with an interesting variety of commercially viable end products as a result. Where the problem arises, though, is in the realization that for a number of those end products you'll wind up producing more than there's demand for (and so doing so will only be profitable to a point).

The approach I'm considering at the moment is a somewhat dynamic production line...that is to say, that a few key processes are in place which can be turned on and off as desired. Directing flow through some of the processes will produce "A", while 'flicking a switch or two' will result in the production of "B", "C", or what have you. In this fashion, you could produce as much A/B/C as the markets would bear sensibly, and turn the profit back into the operation to continue the clean-up initiative as much beyond that as those profits would allow on an ongoing basis.

Initial efforts are for a direct reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere, keeping in mind the target goal of removing 1 billion tons of CO2 per year, sustainably.

It actually turns out that removing CO2 from the atmosphere is relatively easy. That being said, what do you do with what you've captured? Well, I don't feel that sequestering the gas directly is a sensible long term solution...somehow pumping billions of tons of gas underground seems like a potentially bad idea. (What if by some geological quirk or shift it wound up escaping en-masse...sure it might dissipate _relatively_ rapidly, but what happens in the meantime, particularly if this occurred near a populated area? Temporary displacement of breatheable air in a region, even for a few minutes...well, you get the idea)

What, then? Well, solid carbon, water, oxygen when desired, and a variety of marketable byproducts seems like a step in the right direction.

Power for the operation will be using green sources...I'd prefer to leverage sunlight as much as possible, since at first glance it seems more sensible to put that energy to use "directly" -- the same energy which by a variety of mechanisms is what's warming the globe to begin with (enter the laws of thermodynamics). Other green energy sources can be used to good effect too, of course -- just need to keep in mind the end goals so that things don't go off track.

Hrmm...I'm rambling a little more than intended, so I'll close for now with that -- I'm at the tail end of a nasty cold that's making concentration difficult and coherence elusive.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Back at last

Just a quick post for those of you who wander by here, to let you know that I've not fallen off the face of the earth.

I'm rested after a much wanted vacation, and getting back into the swing of things. As is often the case with such things, my to-do list at work has seen a healthy growth spurt in my absence, so it will likely be a number of days before I resume rambling in earnest.

On reflection of recent posts -- namely the one regarding relativity/mass/etc., it does seem that I have a ways to go in order to present some of my quirkier thoughts in ways that aren't prone to misinterpretation. I'm a big fan of Einstein overall, Special and General Relativity included. (When I went out to seek out some answers and opinions, I think I initially came across as saying "hey, I think there's a problem with Relativity", which wasn't my viewpoint at all, but I digress)

Back on track, though -- hang in there, more posts will be forthcoming in the relatively near future!