Renewable Energy

It's all about energy, from renewable sources to energy-efficient usage.

New Sources of Energy

11/27/2010 12:48:39 PM

Tags: Fuel economy, sources of energy, living within our means, Craig Vetter


Do you think there is some “Yet-to-be-discovered” form of energy that will supply us with the ever-increasing cheap and abundant power we have come to expect?


120 years ago, at best we had one or two horsepower at our disposal. 

5-monster-truck Today we have hundreds ... maybe thousands.  

Do you think this trend is likely to continue? Please share your beliefs. Your decisions and actions will have great implications in determining the future.

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Sean Wenger
7/11/2011 8:09:55 PM
Hello Craig, The turn around time from a crop of algae is listed as weeks to months. The naturally occurring phenomenon that took place millions of years ago was buried for most of the time. The actual capture of the solar energy was not focused or intended. It was a happy accident that we learned to exploit. We can make this stuff without adding carbon to the environment. It’s not the only way. It’s not the complete answer to the problem. There still has to be progress made in batteries and electrical energy storage. The fact that we can use Co2 that has been sequestered from the atmosphere and solar energy to create fuel has put man back in balance with nature. Everything that you have said about using less energy and finding the ways to do more with less, still hold true. In fact, they are foundational to this shift in thinking. With all due honesty and deepest respect, this is all I can say until I can do. Have a great competition in Ohio, and I hope to see you some day in the near future. CM

Craig Vetter
7/11/2011 5:35:17 PM
Crimson: Our fossil fuels seem to be the result of millions of years of daily incoming energy from the sun To reproduce what God has already given us, you would have to add that same amount of energy into the mix. Where would you get that energy? I think it is better to learn how to use the energy that arrives daily, at the rate it is being sent to us. I think of it as ”Living better on less energy” - sort of like what Bucky said but a little more directed to today. Make sense? Craig

Sean Wenger
7/10/2011 10:33:59 PM
Almost everything is solar powered… If you think about it, all fuels today are from the solar radiation that was captured into plants and stored in underground pockets millions of years ago. Using the ancient captured hydrocarbons is causing interesting effects world wide. What if the same (or functionally similar) hydrocarbons could be made in days or weeks rather than millions of years? And what if they were made from carbon that was sequestered from the atmosphere? So, using them didn’t add carbon, it recycles it. Using the ancient hydrocarbons has leveraged a power industry giving it great strength. That strength is waning, but there are valuable lessons to be learned from the era. These lessons have come at price. We need to square our debt. Experience has taught us that we need to work smarter not harder. This is reflected in Craig’s axiom that “We need to do more with less.” I would venture that we need to do it sooner than later. Nature has shown us the way. But the lessons sometimes fall on the deaf ears of those too vain to hear the story. Working within our means is key. For too long we have leveraged our ignorance, allowing a delusion of grandeur to cloud our better judgment. We need to give our heads a shake and remember the wisdom we have lost. Perhaps we should take a good look at where our priorities lie? Given the world with all its awesome splendor, lets move forward with a sense of urgency. Have you considered the alternative? CM

Craig Vetter
6/28/2011 11:54:03 AM
Crimson... it all becomes easier and less expensive if we learn to live - and live better - within our budget of energy. Kind of exciting, isn't it?

Sean Wenger
6/27/2011 11:53:48 PM
Crimson Mavrick correction to a post 6/26/2011 10:54:19 PM I can’t believe I got that bass ackwards: Would it be easy to portray the “MORE WITH LESS” brand as a rebellious stand against the business as usual mentality? You all knew what I meant though, right?

Sean Wenger
6/27/2011 11:40:43 PM
After carful consideration of your posts I would like to put forth the following observations of Bio Fuels and Electric. We are looking at vehicle use for the following: Solar, Wind and even Water turbines can generate electricity. The good points is that it is very direct (usually a stationary process) without a separate refinement stage. The storage of that power is the weak point. The electric vehicle’s batteries will have considerable size and weight constraints. With our current technology the energy density is still comparably low. Batteries also have susceptibilities to cold and wet operating conditions. Bio Fuels must be harvested and refined. Even Bio-mass needs to be broken down to a useable form. Being fuel means it has to be burned either internally or externally in an engine of some kind. Being flammable requires storage safety considerations, but they are of a high energy density. Most of the engines have some system to get the process going and maintained, usually electric. They also have some form of cooling system to dissipate waste heat. When given a choice between the two I say both. I would go with a short range front wheel drive EV, which has an external combustion engine/generator. In the field I could recharge the battery with bio-mass or solar (thermal) if it was low. For extended range I would hook in a rear wheel drive internal combustion engine. The waste heat would charge the electric system for fwd power assist functions.

Craig Vetter
6/27/2011 5:00:35 PM
Two comments from Vetter: Bio Diesel... why would anybody ever want to spend the effort to make the stuff when we can harvest electricity from the sun? Second... after driving my Streamliner around for 3 years as my basic transportation - averaging 85 mpg - I can tell you from personal experience that it is women who seem to be most interested. Who'd have thought that a streamlined scooter would be such a babe-magnet?

Sean Wenger
6/26/2011 10:54:19 PM
I try not to lay blame on any group. I have found it turns into an “us vs. them” situation and has little to offer in the way of overcoming common problems. The “We” mentality is more productive in my experience. So, we need to consider the messages that our youth are growing up with and see if there is an opportunity. Would it be easy to portray the “less with more” brand as a rebellious stand against the business as usual mentality? Are fossil fuels produced? They were produced millions of years ago and stored. At best, we can say that they are extracted and refined. These chemicals (hydrocarbons) have allowed us to live like kings when we add them into our technological portfolio. But could one make them from captured Hydrogen and Carbon? More important, could we replace them with something else? Mechanical work can compress a gas into a container. The container (with our current technology) can be made to take tremendous amounts of pressure. Could this be the easiest way to store mechanical work? What kind of power savings would we achieve if the stored work (compressed gas) was the main drive of a system that uses other engines as a means of compression? Compressed gas is simple because the container could be incorporated into the frame design as a structural member. The addition of valves and compressor/turbine (gas in/gas out) is all that is required. What range would this system be capable of if assisted by an engine?

frank lee
6/19/2011 5:32:13 AM
Don't worry- I can create a rant about guys just as long. But... ladies first!

frank lee
6/18/2011 3:21:52 PM
P.S.: and that was just regarding the roads! Think about the house: would guys choose 5000 sq foot McMansions as their ideal homes all by themselves? I think most guys don't really care about the house- they'd rather have a huge garage/shop/shed and live in a shack. We now have typical houses that are far bigger than they used to be... they must be heated and cooled too. Who is it that's always complaining about being cold and then cranking up the thermostat... the guys? Who runs the hot water for 15 minutes in the shower before stepping in... the guys? I could go on...

frank lee
6/18/2011 3:11:14 PM
Speaking of women, I lay most of the energy problems on them!!! Hang on- it's not simple misogyny: women control the majority of vehicle purchase decisions (true fact!) and they have been choosing huge SUVs and pickups "for safety" and "that high view over the road". Women drive more- I haven't seen an official statistic on that, but look around when you're out and about... Not only are they out tearing around for shopping, errands, and carting the brood all over creation, they drive instead of walk or bike short distances and/or after dark "for safety" but this time against attack instead of collision. It takes more than advertising to make women respond to flashy, fuel wasting vehicular muscle: it is built into their genetic code for the same reason female peacocks select their mate as the one who makes the biggest spectacle of himself (that said, they choose Mr. Flash for "Mr. Right Now", and Mr. Practical for "Mr. Right"). Last but greatest, it is women much more than men that aspire to fertilize as many of their damned eggs as possible- the biggest factor of all in one's carbon footprint.

Sean Wenger
6/18/2011 1:55:18 AM
Hmmm... Making fuel economy cool. I guess it comes down to competing with advertising. After all what young lady would not want to ride in a car that can do more with less? Men do crazy things to gain the attention and admiration of women. If women found men who drive fuel efficient cars attractive, we would not be blogging so far off main stream. Advertising is not the problem. The problem is that industry has cornered that market. The industrial message that they will re-enforce is that she should find a guy that drives a car that reminds her of her dad’s muscle car, or street bike or... You see, no one is selling the message mom tells her daughter that: “The reason I married your father is because he drove an economic car, and I could tell he cared about the future that his children we’re going to live in.” No. They sell the rebel that lives by his rules. Problem is the rebel lives in a shadow of low cost energy. When the light of reality hits it, the facade is exposed for what it is. Too bad most don’t see that though. CM

Sean Wenger
6/18/2011 1:20:36 AM
Hello Craig, I see your point about streamlining and the horse power of the engine. Given that the topic is new sources of energy. I was wondering is it a worthwhile undertaking to develop bio-diesel on a homestead scale? Given its ability to dominate at low end torque and be a feasible renewable fuel crop. Would this be a better choice for homestead refinement than Bio-mass? Or… Are they best if used together (internal combustion, Bio-diesel; external combustion, Bio-mass). Going back to energy density of a fuel; I do envision that Bio-diesel, internal combustion would be best in a vehicle. I see Bio-mass as a good source in an external combustion, stationary role, such as electrical generation. But some times I don’t see things as clearly as others. Also, is horse power really the gage that we want to use? I thought torque was a far more important factor; another reason for Bio-diesel use in vehicles. CM

Craig Vetter
1/10/2011 9:30:23 PM
Crimson: My specialty is streamlining. My love is motorcycles. My goal is to make a vehicle for me... one person. Seems that there are lots of one person vehicles on our roads these days. You sound like you are in the young family mode. You need to design for your needs. I hope I can inspire you to work in your area of interest. I cannot do it all. Actually, I will be better solving the problems I have. You will be better solving the problems you have. The actual powerplant is not a big factor in what I do. It is the horsepower of that powerplant that is important. Any source of energy will take a streamlined vehicle farther and faster. 15 hp or less is all that is needed. Streamlining is my piece of pie in the pie chart.

Sean Wenger
1/9/2011 12:08:59 AM
Hello Craig and Keith, I see you are both looking at the vehicle as a traditional Gasoline or Diesel powered vehicle designed to move an entire family. Could we modify this concept to fit a perspective of, one adult one child and limited storage? This way, the wife could take the other vehicle and child and we could both get a decent amount of storage for grocery shopping. I like how a 2 wheel vehicle banks into the turns and commands my attention to the road. However the stability of a 3 wheel vehicle (takes 3 points to define a plane) is necessary if the road conditions turn slick. If you have seen the video (winter action riding on electric bike), you'll know that I know what I'm talking about here. Could there be a vehicle that banks into turns, has 3 wheel stability and can carry one adult, one child and some cargo? Streamliners will be cool by default, because they will be the only vehicles able to make it to the gas pumps and afford to drive away again. We just might want to re-think their capacity, capabilities and design. When I look at personal transportation from this perspective, I see a whole new world opening up in my minds eye. But, perhaps I am delusional? I’m just tired of seeing single drivers behind the wheels of SUV’s (plus many other vehicles) and wondering why they didn’t just take a bike or motorcycle. Drivers of these “Cage” vehicles talking on cell phones and not focusing on what they are doing. Maybe it is time for a change..

Sean Wenger
1/8/2011 11:41:53 PM
Hello Craig, Let’s start with solar. A standard Photovoltaic Collector may not be the best way to get the energy straight from the sun. There are other ways, some involve those Stirling engines (Thermal) and others such as CIGSS are possibly game changers in this area. Also, using a solar array to concentrate the Sun's energy should increase the efficiency of whatever is at the concentration point. Wood for heating and cooking is a proven idea. Passive solar loading to assist in heating a building means less is required. How did the Biomass harvest turn out? Wood gasification seems like it is a good start to power generation. Don't know if making it mobile is the best idea though. Pumping water up hill is a good way to store energy. Living near a stream means God is doing the pumping for free; worked for the Romans. Moving fluid dynamics have a free source if you can store that energy. Could wind and solar, pump water up hill in an irregular cycle, so that it could flow down in a regular cycle for consistent power generation? What about a water tower/ windmill/ solar concentrator? Unit will take wind and/or solar energy to pump water up into a reservoir, thus storing it. When power is needed the water turns a generator to provide consistent power output, and water pressure for your taps. Solar concentrator will help keep the water in liquid form (not a problem in some areas) or hot so you can shower with it.

Craig Vetter
1/8/2011 3:29:42 PM
Hi Keith: Regarding the 1980s kit for a 70 mpg trike. It is easy to get 70 mpg... or even 100 mpg. Just ride with, say, 10 hp and go the 1980s speed limit of 55 mph in no headwind, no up hills. But what happens at 70 mph, into a 30 mph headwind, carrying a useful load, the way we really drive? This is a very different situation. I don't know anybody that has approached 100 mpg in those conditions. Regarding carrying a family... personally, I believe it would be easier to streamline a 4 wheeler. Powered with 17 hp, I think it could carry 3-4 people and get great mileage at 70 mph in Vetter conditions. I just like 2 wheelers. My wife rides her own 2 wheeler. Our kids are gone.

Keith Karolyi
1/5/2011 5:27:00 PM
Hey Craig, I read the article you pointed me to and I agree that the streamlined shape is the best route to hyper-mileage vehicles. However, I believe you asked if we thought there would be other future fuels over the horizon. Yes, I believe there will be. However, having hyper-mileage vehicles will make a significant dent in the amount of that future fuel we'll need to produce. I agree with you about the future of electrics. No one can guarantee how they'll pan out. I believe they have a niche that they could fill very nicely but they're still a large technological experiment in the marketplace. As for building high mileage motorcycles, the idea is not new. There was a kit for a 70 mpg,fairing-covered three wheeled vehicle classified by most states as a motorcycle back in the eighties that actually looked pretty cool. Unfortunately it proved that the only consumers who were interested in driving one were those who were already motorcycle enthusiasts. (they were also hellish rollover hazards!) While ultra mileage is a great goal, we need to keep in mind that the average driver more urgently needs space for kids, boxes, grandma, and our spouse/partner too. We've also become attached to the ideas of keeping warm in the winter, dry in the rain, cool in the summer and protected from the idiot who blows off a stop sign and plows into us. These factors play about as heavily into a driver's purchase decision as the "cool factor." Just my two cents. Your mileage may vary. Peace.

Craig Vetter
1/4/2011 8:38:26 PM
Keith: We really don't know how the technology for electric vehicles will play out in the future. We do know that there is only one shape that goes thru the air with the least energy and that is the streamlined shape: round at the front and pointed at the rear. There is no alternative. We may not be sure about the energy source. But we do know the shape. Why are vehicles not streamlined? Because they are not considered to be cool. Read my modest proposal for making fuel economy cool:

Keith Karolyi
1/4/2011 3:23:36 PM
Hi All! I'm not a real fan of electric cars unless we first find a cleaner, less polluting way of generating all that electricity we'll need to store in our batteries. Wind and solar come to mind for meeting a chunk of the daytime demand but we'll need a concentrated storage medium for energy that can be transported, stored, and used at the point of use for all those applications that are just impractical to power with sun or wind energy directly (Like cars and trucks that need to go more than a hundred miles before spending hours on a recharger). Liquid fuels fill the bill nicely and can be produced with things like algae right now. Perhaps we'll see progress on creating these liquid fuels directly from waste CO2 instead of using plants to perform the conversion for us. Hydrogen sounds sexy as a fuel, being totally non polluting and all, until you realize how little energy is actually contained in a given mass of H2. I don't see that being a contender in the near future. In the short term we'll need a combination of all available fuel solutions, greater efficiency, and less consumption to to get us to the point where we can all have a "Mr. Fusion" machine in our trunk or backyard powered by waste beer and pizza boxes! ;-)

Craig Vetter
1/2/2011 11:53:57 PM
Crimson: Looks like it just you and me here. And there is not enough space in our little box to say all we have to say, is there? Here are some basics as I understand them: Energy from the sun is the only energy we should plan for. We need to use it as directly from the sun as possible since every time we change it something else, we loose efficiency in the conversion. The sun seems best at making things grow. Like food for us, trees for construction and eventually burning for heating. It takes a lot of real estate and a lot of time, but it works. Wood burning stoves surely are the most effective way to cook and maybe for adding final heat to water after the sun has done most of the heating. Turns out that pumping water up hill is a wonderful way to store water and energy. It looks to me as if the hierarchy of electrical solar panels ought to be pumping water first, then putting electricity into batteries for doing other work. Does anybody produce a Stirling engine in the 5 – 15 hp range? Can we buy them like Honda engines?

Sean Wenger
12/24/2010 5:59:20 PM
Sorry to comment so much, but I have see little on this topic and have been waiting for quite some time for someone else to post... I see our needs as being able to produce and store: food, water, clothing, warmth, refrigerate, and to go places. If we could live with a system that transforms the energy around us into forms we can use to do these things, what would that look like? Could we have it work with no outside refined power input? We need water, so that is why I see it being a key resource. We can freeze it to ice, heat it to steam, fracture it into Hydrogen and Oxygen. It is very abundant and versatile. I also see using a stirling cycle as a means to gain the energy that was usually lost as heat. It can also cause temperature differential (heating or cooling) with mechanical input. Electrical generation and storage of that enegy is also do-able with the above systems. Hope someone else comments soon...

Sean Wenger
12/24/2010 5:27:23 PM
Hmmm, A new source of energy. I'm not a scientist so I don't know of any new sources of energy. However, as I study and think about this question; I start to see how inefficient our homes are layed out to provide the needs of their inhabitants, from HVAC to Transportation. It is a law of thermal dynamics that energy is neither created or destroyed it is merly transformed. Is there an efficient way to transform energy into a useful form, much like the oil, gas, and electricity we use today? Do we need these or do we just want the ease of lifestyle they provide? I still believe transportation is heavily influenced by energy density in order to be efficient. con't...

Craig Vetter
12/21/2010 10:54:20 PM
Hi Eagle: 120 years ago we already had water wheels and windmills to harvest solar energy. These machines go back thousands of years. Combustion engines, on the other hand, are not sources of energy. They are consumers of energy. Electric cars also consume energy. Batteries simply store energy. The question is, do you think there is some “yet-to-be–discovered” source of energy? Craig

12/17/2010 7:47:18 PM
Well people 120yrs ago surely didn't foresee combustion engines, water or wind turbines so i'm sure there will be new sources of energy that we can't imagine in the future. It may not happen in our lifetime, i'm past 50, but our kids may see it. With the advances in electric cars and batteries i hope they have a future of less poluted air and no oil spills.


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