Posted on October 4, 2011 by
For me one of the most exciting parts of green energy innovation is the decentralization of control of energy production. In my earlier article about the production of biogas last month we saw a similar revolution happening.
The rule of the day is the economy of scales: the more of something you make, the cheaper it is to produce. It’s the entire foundation of our modern society, but more and more we are seeing that the centralization of energy production leads to weaknesses in our system that make us very vulnerable to disruption and failure.
Ask anyone who lives along the coast line how stable their electric power grid is and they’ll tell you that if the slightest tropical storm comes along, they are without power for days, or even weeks.
We experience the same vulnerability with our fuel sources as well. Most of our fuel refining happens at coastal ports and the fuel is then shipped inland to repositories that ship it to the individual gas stations you get your fuel from.
What I want to talk to you about today, is breaking that chain once and for all.
I’ve sort of been on a mini-quest to figure out how to become a self-sustaining entity unto myself. Probably not the most social decision in the world, but it fits my mood as of late.
The cornerstone of our society is fuel. So how do we replace that? Lately, there have been a couple of new technologies that point to a new kind of future. Basically these technologies simplify the process and make it easier for normal people to create their own fuel. Currently, systems are expensive and proprietary, so I’m discussing them as an example of a technology we need to head toward, not the solution we should use today.
The first of the two main kinds of fuels that we use is Diesel. It’s the cornerstone of our transportation hauling economy. Diesel engines are infinitely more efficient than the gasoline counterparts that run our cars.
Recently Darryl Hannah joined with Springboard Biodiesel for the release of their automated home Bio-Diesel creation system. You can watch the videos on their site if you are really interested. You take the fuel oil you are planning to use (any cooking oil will work) and run it through their automated processing machine with a few additives to make sure you get out high quality biodiesel. The low end system allows you to create 50 gallons of biodiesel in 21.5 hours. Not bad all things considered. Minus the feedstock, the system costs you about 90 cents a gallon (supporting materials) to make. It comes with its own fueling hose and everything. This is a major streamlining of the biodiesel creation process at home.
The other kind of fuel that’s critical to our society is ethanol. Unlike diesel, the use of Ethanol is a bit more complicated because it requires engines be built to a higher standard.
Modern cars seem to react negatively to higher ratios of Ethanol in their fuel supply, but someone has finally come out with a similar system for Ethanol production. The E-Fueler corporation is an at home Ethanol production system similar to what I’ve provided above for Bio- Diesel.
Their monthly licensing fee for continuous monitoring of the system causes me a bit of concern. On the surface I assume this is to provide confidence to new users that they will have some sort of support as they take the plunge. Since the production of Ethanol is a bit of more drawn out process, they’ve got multiple pieces to their system. The main being the fuel station, that refines and delivers the ethanol via a fueler handle you stick into your gas tank. And then there are fermentation tanks, with up to 250 gallons of materials fermenting at once to produce the alcohol.
You can produce up to 70 gallons of E100 a week with the system using regular feedstock, and it’s possible to have a generator built to run off of excess E100. The same small engine technology could easily be applied to other gas using technology in our society, such as lawn mowers and leaf blowers, etc.
These inventions point to a mindset of decentralization which will be critical for our long term success. Most of the units are probably best intended for small businesses, since most of us don’t use 50 to 70 gallons of fuel per week as individuals, and this is the lower end of the production capabilities. The upper end of the spectrum can be fairly impressive given the scale of the system.
Most of us use fuel on a much smaller scale. I use a gallon a week on my lawnmower during the summer time. It produces a fairly poor fermentation source that I can pour into my fermentation tanks to try to recoup some of that investment. In my cars, we generally only burn through a few gallons of gasoline a week, because we drive hybrids.
So I put the question to you Greenists: If you could make your own fuel on a small scale or even an intermediate scale would you do it in your garage? Traditionally environmentalists have looked at the car as the enemy, but if you could make it part of the solution and cut the emissions to zero, would you be more willing to make it a part of your life going forward? Could you be convinced to grow some or all of your fuel requirements? What do you think of the direction we are heading? What roadblocks do you see forming?