Friday, April 1, 2016

What Time Is It? Time for Equitable Energy

From youtube, "Wealth Inequality in America" 18 million views, graph at 5:15 mark  

With almost 19 million views to date, this 2012 chart, depicting 1% of the people in the US owning over half the wealth, was predicted by Ivan Illich in 1973.  What is anyone doing about it?

Illich in his 32 page thesis titled "Energy and Equity" mused that concentrated energy (oil) allowed time-space compression at a small relative cost to those already privileged.  He foresaw time space compression via high energy use (think private jets for individuals, F-15's for nations) would make the poor poorer, and the rich richer.  As oil production peaked, time space compression would come at ever higher relative costs to the poorest, eventually pricing them out of the market for oil.

And the many things oil is used for, like transported groceries.

Fortunately, modern woodgas power systems are restricted more by speed limits than top speed capability.

Woodgas is equitable energy at highway speeds, with a small investment in an onboard bio-refinery.

Safe, Clean, Obtainable, and Restorative are great features for the energy of the future that is already possible today.

However equity may be the most appealing feature of biomass energy, because it will drive culture change from an unsustainable exponential curve, back toward the normal curve typical of healthy systems. 

Normal Curve Distribution - Fat in the middle, tapers on both ends

Systems that get "out of whack", tend to move back toward normal.  The farther away from normal, the greater the potential for a catastrophic "immune response".

That warning was the purpose of the youtube listed above "Wealth Inequality in America"  A "snap back" warning was also found in the closing sections of Illich's "Energy and Equity". 

"Liberation which comes cheap to the poor will cost the rich dear, but they will pay its price once the acceleration of their transportation systems grinds traffic to a halt."  - Ivan Illich, Energy and Equity
The good news is that equitable energy is already being done.  And it works well for practitioners and the environment.

African Christians Organizing Network

ACON in Kenya provides an entire value chain from fuel production to stove manufacturing, distribution, sales, and maintenance. 

Pyrolytic stoves generate a byproduct that is beneficial for soils. The charcoal residue (biochar) increases food security for rural households in Kenya. The fuel briquettes produced by ACON are derived from an invasive species growing on Lake Victoria.
ACON harvests water hyacinth plants, crushes the liquids out of them (which is also used as a soil nutrient), dries and compresses them into fuel briquettes for the ACON manufactured stoves. 

These activities result in the following benefits:
* remove invasive species from Lake Victoria
* create fuel that can be used in place of forest wood, preserving forests to provide sustainable fresh water storage and microclimate stabilization in the region.
* employment cleaning up the Lake and selling fuel briquettes
* clean and efficient pyrolytic cook stoves that generate biochar as a byproduct of cooking daily household meals and heating water. These stoves also reduce indoor air pollution and reduce fuel purchase costs for the household.
* the stoves generate biochar, a highly effective soil restructuring agent for plant productivity, additional benefits to food security from household gardens are realized.

ACON isn't doing anything that can't be done in most inhabited places on earth.

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." - Arthur Schopenhauer 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

What Time Is It? Time for Restorative Energy

14 foot tall Biochar Okra
Amazing growth is reported by many folks in these parts who combine biochar into their other best growing practices.  Search "David Yarrow + Carbon Smart" for in depth information.  David is a frequent contributor to Acres magazine and long time soil restoration advocate.  Two images that say a lot regarding biochar - from his touring slideshow:

Biochar has immediate benefits, and long term restorative improvement that is not available from any other soil amendments.

Source: Dr. Johannes Lehman, Cornell University

Using energy from biochar production closes the loop on the only energy strategy that actively reduces atmospheric carbon.  Note that it is also zero waste, and enhances biomass production for next season, so is a self-reinforcing positive loop.

Dr. David Laird, USDA-ARS National Soil Tilth Lab Iowa State University wrote an article highlighting the restorative potential of converting local biomass to energy. The title says a lot.

"The Charcoal Vision: A Win–Win–Win Scenario for Simultaneously Producing Bioenergy, Permanently Sequestering Carbon, while Improving Soil and Water Quality."

In this article Dr. Laird describes the benefits of widespread use of small scale biomass gasification systems to overcome the transportation and distribution cost inefficiencies of transporting low value ag wastes. - Agronomy Journal • Volume 100, Issue 1 • 2008

Restorative energy models are available and not particularly difficult to implement on a local scale.

"And he gave it for his opnion, that whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together."  -- Jonathan Swift - Gulliver's Travels 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What Time Is It? Time to Try Obtainable Energy

Waste biomass is the low hanging fruit of alt-energy.

Stems, stalks and woody debris classified as "waste" can be converted to clean energy and biochar  OR landfilled OR burned out in the open air.  Conversion happens on-demand, exactly when the energy is needed.
"It is obvious that the sun keeps our earth warm with its radiant energy. It is perhaps not so obvious that all living and once living matter on this planet is a form of solar battery, storing the suns energy in chemical bonds.."  - Larry Dobson

On-demand availability makes biomass a fail-safe back up that can reduce physical plant requirements for wind and solar systems during times of high demand.  The technology is already, all ready.  Conversion equipment is easily scaled to the requirement, down to the level of a single home, home generator or vehicle.

Oak Ridge National Laboratories - Agricultural Waste to Energy, 2003

One quad = one quadrillion btu, = 180 million barrels of oil equivalent.  3.73 quads is about 670 million barrels of oil equivalent energy.

Every place water, photosynthesis and soil turn seeds into plant growth, biomass is obtainable.  Every place excess biomass is burned, or wood is landfilled, the potential for clean energy, plus biochar is wasted.  Much effort and expense is often expended to speed up the waste cycle.

Lied Lodge, the hospitality showcase for Arbor Days Farm implemented a wood energy system over twenty years ago.  The Arbor Days folks give tours of the system for guests.

Lied Lodge - Nebraska City, NE
The original plan was to use SRIC, Short Rotation Intensive Cropping, of fast growing wood species, 3-6 tons per year per acre, for energy.  Shortly after installation, local wood waste became the primary source and has been abundant since.  Lied Lodge saves 60-80 percent on energy costs versus similar sized hospitality enterprises by using locally provided urban wood waste.

Beyond Waste - Land and Forest Improvement

Dr. Karl Frogner reports in "Estimated Low Tech Biochar Production by Small Scale Diversified Farmers" 2 tons of excess biomass per acre on small (less than 10 acre) plots in Thailand with rice, maize, and agroforestry cropped in equal proportions.  That is 320 million btu per plot of excess energy, equivalent to about 280 gallons of gasoline per acre, while improving soil, water, and economic conditions.

REAP Canada reports that switchgrass planted on marginal lands in Ontario produces 60 million more btu per acre per year than the energy required to plant and harvest it.  That is equivalent to about 525 gallons of gasoline per acre, per year, beyond the energy required to plant and harvest.

Switchgrass was the native species in the "Great Plains" prior to the dust bowl days.  The deep roots hold soil and water, create excellent habitat for wildlife, excellent forage for herbivores.
"American demand for wood continues to rise, yet the nation's forests are growing faster than they're being harvested." - Biomass Energy - State of the Technology, US Dept of Energy -1993
Timber stand improvement includes thinning.  Decaying wood on the ground produces methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide produced while burning.  The number for the amount of wood that needs to "be gone" varies widely, but over 1 ton per acre seems to be a rule of thumb average.

Slashing and charring one ton per acre in advanced clean kiln designs would produce about 11 million btu of energy plus 500 pounds of biochar, per acre per year.  That is the energy equivalent of almost 100 gallons of gasoline PER ACRE, PER YEAR USING THINNINGS THAT IMPROVE FOREST QUALITY WHEN GONE!

Invasive species management, wildfire prevention, etc, etc.  There is a whole lot of energy right where it needs to be.  It is ready to use, obtainable with very little effort, on a small local scale.

"one moment can change a day,
one day can change a life,
one life can change the world"
Gautama Buddha

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What Time Is It? Time for Clean Energy

"Wood Burns Cleaner Than Oil.

A prototype residential cook stove developed by Northern Light R.&D. (named "Helen") was officially tested by OMNI Environmental Laboratories for the U.S. Department of Energy/Bonneville Power in 1986, burning green sawdust of 44% moisture content, with no catalytic afterburner or stack cleanup of any kind.

Its particulate emissions were 65 times cleaner than the average state-of-the-art woodstove, several times cleaner than the best pellet burner, and considerably cleaner than the average oil furnace.

Carbon Monoxide emissions in the stack gases were 1/7500th of the Federal Auto Emissions standard, 1/100th of the gas industry's standard for "CO-free combustion", and 1/2 of the EPA's standard for acceptable 24 hour indoor air quality."  -- Larry Dobson, "Biomass Energy - State of the Technology" - 1993

Wood Powered Truck - Less Emission than All Electric Vehicle

Wayne Keith accepts award from EPA
It was estimated that Wayne's truck, powered by wood, produced less net emissions than an all electric vehicle powered by the Alabama grid (primarily coal based).

The latest micro-gasification designs such as Wayne's set new standards for clean energy while creating a value added co-product, biochar.  Carbon smart vehicle power is not only possible, it is being practiced today by early adopters.

Cleanest Known Single Meal CookStove Saves Biochar

Source - GA Tech Presentation by Hugh McLaughlin, Phd, PE and Paul Anderson, Phd (DrTLUD) October 2010

The cleanest known biomass cooking technology is a Top Lit Up Draft Pyrolytic Gasifier saving the charcoal (biochar).  The obvious feature when witnessed is that a lit cigarette in the room makes more noticeable smoke than this cookstove boiling more than a gallon of water.   

Equally important, perhaps more important economically speaking, is the creation of a high value product (biochar) from the low value waste biomass that went into the stove.

The magic is made possible by loading, lighting, and leaving it alone.  After operational temperature is achieve, no additional fire tending is needed.

We are powerfully imprisoned in these Dark Ages simply by the terms in which we have been conditioned to think.” – Buckminster Fuller

Monday, March 28, 2016

What Time Is It? Time for Safe Energy

Direct solid wood to gas conversion creates a large percentage of hydrogen as a flammable gas.  Hydrogen is a boon for clean combustion.  Hydrogen energy is kind of a holy grail in energy circles. 

1966 Hydrogen Vehicle Prototype

But when hydrogen is mentioned, it brings up an often asked question - Is this safe?

Any gas with enough power to pop in a combustion chamber, drive a piston, and power a vehicle at highway speeds is obviously explosive.  Gasoline and diesel do their job well because they explode well.  Folks are good with the inherent dangers of this robust explosive power stored in tanks onboard the vehicle.

A wood powered engine operates on "producer gas".  That is gas that is produced just moments before it is consumed.  The suction of the engine powers the process, so if the engine dies, the process stops.  A 120 pound hopper of wood contains about a million potential btu.  Wood requires continuous processing, the engine running, to make useful gas.  A 20 gallon tank of gasoline contains over 2 million potential btu ready to blow up with the right mixture of heat and oxygen.

Relatively speaking, producer gas is far safer than fossil fuels onboard a vehicle in terms of immediate explosive capability.

Safe for Eons vs?

In eons of biomass energy use, there were never any huge scale problems.  Current energy paradigms are potentially unsafe at massive scale.

BP Horizon Blowout Covers the Gulf of Mexico in Oil

Fukushima Nuclear Energy Disaster - Still in Process

Kuwait Oil Field Fire as Nations Fight to control "Cheap" Oil

Wildfires - vast potential energy wasted

Extreme Weather

Fracking is basically the art of pumping clean water from above ground mixed with proprietary chemical concoctions into the earth to create fissures and pressure to drive out "natural" gas.   Fresh water is removed from the above ground cycle, contaminated, then circulates everywhere below ground that water flows.  Next problem, clean water.

So overall big picture, biomass energy is the safest known energy resource.  It operates completely within the existing carbon cycle, powered by the daily passage of the sun overhead.  Done wisely, saving the biochar for use in the soil, biomass reverses the recent global environment change wrought by pump and dump fossil fuel technologies.  Biochar also improves soils, creating more biomass growth, and purifies water.

"If our recently devised economic system puts at risk the air, water, land and biodiversity that we rely on for our health and very survival, we must come up with something better." - David Suzuki

Saturday, March 26, 2016

What Time Is It? - Time to Recap

A TLUD  - makes Carbon Smart Energy - building a better world within the boundaries of the physical law of conservation of matter-and does not use well over half it's energy getting to where it needs to be.

If a barrel of oil contains 10 years worth of human labor, a cord of wood contains 47 years of human labor using the same calculation.

Joining together in community spirit is fun, enlightening, and a big part of who we are as humans.  Hope to see you April 2 at Lutie School in Theodosia, MO as we join in community spirit.

When everything we need is somewhere else, we are at least at risk of supply disruption and may be overlooking ancient wisdom bordering on common sense.

We are at an unprecedented time in human history.  I a great big world, empires grew to discover the farthest reaches.  Todays billions of people know that we live in a finite world.  Cooperation is a succession strategy in the  transition from empire into the planetary era, There are more folks in existence with more choices, than at any time in human history.  How food and energy are produced, distributed and consumed has always driven the direction of change.

"I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses."  - Johannes Kepler

Friday, March 25, 2016

What Time Is It? - Time for Terminology - TLUD

TLUD is an acronym for "Top Lit Up Draft".  Still confused?  That is OK, you are not alone, you are in the majority.

Fire seeking fuel and oxygen is the simple physics of a TLUD, more on that later.

Wildfire VS Controlled Burn

In a wildfire, flames travel with the wind, as fire spreads everywhere it can find the right mix of heat, fuel, and oxygen.  Some areas in the burn zone may be completely skipped as the fire rages past.

In a controlled burn, the fire is lit across the face of the downwind side.  Instead of the wind quickly blowing the fire out as some would think, the fire slowly marches into the wind as it seeks and finds fuel and oxygen.  Usually this gives a much more complete burn of an area than an uncontrolled wildfire.

A camp fire lit underneath that spreads to the top is an uncontrolled burn.  Lighting a camp fire in the middle on top is more difficult, but better controls combustion rate, and maximizes open air charcoal production.

Dog Simple TLUD

Thank you Adam Bacon for pointing out the fallacy of assuming that anyone can figure out what a TLUD is in even a one hour talk.  The "simple physics" happen to be totally counter-intuitive to what was learned through experience.  Fires are lit on the bottom so the flame grows to the top.  That is just the way it works.  People do not quickly unlearn what has been intuitively established by repetition and experience.

All you have to know about this bicycle, is that steering is reversed, so whatever you would normally do to steer, do the opposite.  Simple? Not as simple as it sounds..

It only took me personally one full week with some of the leading biomass energy and small cook stove experts in the world to get a handle on this, so if you don't "get it" from this post, don't feel bad.  But please start experimenting.

Adam's contribution to understanding, what he calls a "dog simple TLUD" is a single wall flue pipe filled with brush, on top of a pile of brush.

Adam Bacon's Dog Simple TLUD

The holes in the side of the tube are for illustration only.  In practice this is a solid tube.

A fire is started on the top of the pile in the tube.  The hot air rising begins pulling air up through the tube.  The atmosphere above the flame in the tube has no oxygen because all oxygen has been consumed.  A flame roars out the top as the hot flammable gas finds oxygen above the upper rim.

The primary fire seeks DOWNWARD, toward more fuel and oxygen, even as the secondary fire roars on top where the hot gas (smoke) finds a fresh supply of oxygen.

This is the essence of solid fuel "gasification".  By adding ever more physical parts (more complexity) engine grade fuel can be made from wood.  Understanding and experimenting with the basics is critical to success with more complex and advanced designs.

Nobody has it all figured out until we are all driving on natures finest instead of fossil fuels.  If you would like to join in a shared educational experience please send email to

Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events, and then the total — all of these acts — will be written in the history of this generation. - RFK
Durable Biochar Producing TLUD Campstove on Instructables..