Geothermal Electricity, Tidal Power Plant, Soy Biodiesel, and More Energy Flashes

Geothermal electricity, tidal power plants, and soy biodiesel were among the active areas of energy research the magazine reported on in 1980.
November/December 1980
Researchers at Ohio State University recycled used french fry oil to make a soy biodiesel fuel blend.


HEAT FROM A FORMATION OF GRANITE located two miles beneath the earth's surface has been used — by scientists from the Los Alamos, New Mexico Scientific Laboratory — to generate geothermal electricity. Simply stated, water under pressure is circulated through two deep holes bored into the granite, creating a closed-loop system in which the liquid's temperature can reach well above the boiling point.

TREASURE OF THE DEEP: Canada has announced plans to build a $46 million experimental tidal-power plant in the Annapolis Basin of the Bay of Fundy. The facility — scheduled to be operating by 1983 — will have a capacity of 1,200 megawatts ... roughly the equivalent of a modern nuclear plant. When completed, it'll be the largest tidal-power plant in the world.

SOY BIODIESEL: Scientists at Ohio State University are operating a campus bus with a 20-80 blend of soybean cooking oil and diesel fuel. The mixture gives better MPG and produces less smoke than does the petroleum product alone! And, there's an additional benefit: The price of the soy "booster" is right. The oil is recovered — after it's been used to cook French fries — from the school's cafeteria.

"HAVING A WONDERFUL TIME ...." Ironically, the crippled Three Mile Island nuclear plant has become a popular Pennsylvania tourist attraction. Between 1970 and 1979, a total of 180,000 visitors stopped at the nuclear facility's observation center. But since March 1979 — when the accident occurred — some 67,000 people have come to view the plant.

DROP THEM A LINE: If you operate an alcohol fuel installation — or are building or plan to build an ethanol plant — the Department of Energy's Solar Energy Research Institute would like to know about it. SERI is developing a data base on U.S. fuel distilleries.

TUCK IN YOUR PLANTS? Tests at Penn State, Cornell, and Rutgers indicate that greenhouse owners can realize savings of up to 60% in energy costs if they pull thermal blankets (made from air-inflated polyethylene or other materials) over beds of growing plants to limit the influence of chilly nighttime temperatures. Researchers estimate that fuel savings will recover the material and installation expense in one to three years.

A DEGREE IN ALCOHOL? Colby Community College is offering a two-year program in alcohol fuel production technology. The curriculum is designed to train persons to operate and manage ethanol plants ... and requires 15 hours a week of experience in an actual working facility.

THE FIRST SAIL-EQUIPPED OIL TANKER was launched in Japan this summer. The 1,600-ton ship is skippered by a computer that automatically determines whether the tanker should be powered by sails and/or its engine ... depending on the strength and direction of the prevailing winds. The ship consumes only about half the oil of a conventional vessel of comparable size.

MORE TREASURE FROM THE DEEP: A marine biologist has received permission from two California public agencies to construct facilities for producing natural gas from giant seaweed grown off Santa Barbara's shores. The state's energy commission believes that an acre's production of the large-growing kelp can — when properly processed — generate as much as 260,000 cubic feet of methane a year.

THE SOLAR SPONGE: Scientists at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario think they've developed a practical method of solar storage for areas in the northern United States and Canada that are subject to extended sunless periods. A cubic yard of zeolite — a claylike mineral used as an ion-transfer medium in water softeners — will store 750,000 BTU ... making the substance a heat-holding material that's 488 times as efficient as water and 1,428 times as efficient as stone.

WHO OWNS THE SUN? Three American oil companies influence 77% of the nation's developing photovoltaic industry. Solarex (18% of whose stock is owned by Standard Oil of Indiana) controls 47% of the market. The other two biggies are Exxon's Solar Power Corp. (18%) and Arco Solar (12%).

AROUND 500,000 TRUCKS, TRACTORS, AND CARS in the United States are now running part time on propane .... The Rocky Mountain National Park has installed its first SOLAR PRIVY. Such self-contained outhouses — which are supposed to cut down on maintenance costs and be nonpolluting — may become fixtures throughout the National Park system .... Former Astronaut Gordon L. Cooper has been piloting A METHANOL-POWERED AIRPLANE across the country to promote the renewable fuel, since he's "damn well tired of OPEC turning off and on the oil faucet" .... An Amoco station in Chicago has installed a 8-KW photovoltaic array and battery bank to become the world's first SOLAR-POWERED GAS STATION .... Tekton Corp., a wood-energy company in Conway, Massachusetts, has started a PILOT PROJECT USING INDUSTRIAL WOODWASTES to produce low-cost, log-like cylinders that may be burned in wood-fired furnaces, stoves, or boilers .... The first documented SOLAR COLLECTOR FIRE in America occurred this past summer in Boulder, Colorado, when the wooden frame of a flat plate water heater caught fire. Investigators believe the blaze started after the collector had been installed, tested, and turned off ... with no water left in its tubing.