Solar Powered Boat, Hydrogen Home, Peat Power Plant, and other Energy Flashes

A solar powered boat, plans for an all hydrogen home, and a methane-producing peat power plant were among the energy-related news stories covered here in 1981.

| January/February 1981

  • 067 peat power plant - Fotolia - umabatata
    In 1981 the Institute of Gas Technology began operating a peat power plant that converted peat into methane.

  • 067 peat power plant - Fotolia - umabatata

SUN SKIFFS: China has developed a five-passenger, solar-powered boat — reported to make no more noise than an electric mixer — that ferries tourists across West Lake near Shanghai. The roofs of the conveyances contain 3,100 silicon chips, which convert the sun's rays into electricity and store it in a bank of 300-watt batteries. The crafts are fumeless, and can be started by flipping a switch ... and they are capable of traveling for up to three hours on accumulated energy, if the day turns cloudy.

THE ALL-HYDROGEN HOME: Billings Energy Corporation is seeking a $20 million federal grant, part of which will be used to construct 25 hydrogen-fueled homes in Independence, Missouri. The houses will use hydrogen — rather than natural gas or propane — as their primary cooking and heating fuel. If awarded, the government funds would also be applied to hydrogen vehicle development and the building of coal gasification plants.

PEAT POWER PLANT: Chicago's Institute of Gas Technology has begun operating a plant that converts peat into methane (which is the major component of natural gas). The U.S. has the world's second largest reserve of the decomposed plant product, a supply that's estimated to be equivalent to 240 billion barrels of oil or about 10 times the proven American oil reserves.

WIND POWERED IRRIGATION? Wind energy could easily replace more than half of the fossil fuels currently used to power irrigation systems on the Great Plains. A USDA study estimates that wind turbines would be capable of supplying between 60 and 70 percent of the energy used in the farm belt for surface irrigation purposes, and replacing 30 to 45 percent of the nonrenewable resources used for sprinkler irrigation ... accounting, as it did so, for an annual energy saving of 18 billion kilowatt-hours.

A TRAVELING 2 X 4? An Indiana firm has manufactured a kit to convert 1/2-, 3/4-, and 1-ton Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge "full-time" four-wheel-drive pickups to optional two-wheel drive. The kit is said to improve gas mileage by as much as 30%, extend tire life, and eliminate vibration at cruising speed. The 12-pound package retails for $139.50, postpaid.

BOWSERING FOR OIL: Dogs at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas are being trained to sniff out oil leaks in the insulative jackets that surround underground power cables. The shepherds and retrievers are taught to discriminate between the oil's odor and other environmental smells ... and the animals communicate the location of a potential leak by sitting down atop the spot.

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