Community Supported Energy


Some of you may know that I helped to build a wood chip gasifier last winter.  Basically it is a contraption that takes a carbon source (we use chipped wood) and breaks it down into carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas through pyrolosis (fancy burning).  That gas is then used to power an Internal Combustion Engine.  Our system is sized to run a 30hp engine, and we are working on two systems geared more to heat capture to increase efficiency.  30hp equates to about a 15kw generator -or enough power for a small home.  Plus it makes a stink load of heat so water/space heating are options too.  It cost under $500 and can run full throttle for an hour on 10#’s of chips.
So we now have this virtually free source of heat and electricity.  And I now have a diesel vehicle.  Making Biodiesel takes 3 things (other than the processor): waste grease (I live in Wisconsin), electricity to run pumps, and heat to dry the grease and facilitate the reaction.  The processor I am building can handle up to 12,000 gallons a year.  I need about 600.  That means I have built a machine that can create a significant surplus if I can find enough waste oil.  Huh.
Waste Veggie Oil may not be around forever, and I like to grow things, so I also looked into growing oil seed crops.  For simplicity sake, lets use an annual crop like canola rather than a permaculture perennial fuel crop system (you could use hickory and take the prunings to power the gasifier for starters and still have a complete understory to play with for other plants).  If I can find a farmer to grow 80 acres of Canola I can press 12000 gallons of oil out of it.  I also just happen to know of someone that bought a commercial cold press from Austria a few years ago.  The thing about pressing oilseed is you are left with all this mash.  That mash is still rich in starches/sugars plus protiens and fibers.  Talking with my farmer mentor who is really into ethanol, it turns out that this mash would make quite a bit of ethanol too.  Like another several thousand gallons.  Huh. 
But then we still have mash left after that.  That mash is still full of cellulose and protein.  It can either be fed into a animal digester (hogs, cows, chickens or tilapia come to mind) or a methane digester to further gain efficiencies. Now we are either making even more electricity or a lot more food.  The gasifier would actually partner REALLY well with a greenhouse Tilapia operation solving most of the sustainability concerns, and using cattails as the water filter to grow even more ethanol feedstock. Huh.
All of this permaculture energy and food growing could be bundled up into a Community Supported Energy (CSE) organization. Community members would buy “shares” of energy (ethanol or biodiesel) which would be delivered monthly/weekly/as needed -the literally tons of tilapia would be a bonus!  The subscribers get the energy they want, the budding energy technician can produce clean renewable fuels for a living wage.  If it sounds like a CSA that is the point.  
We haven’t even begun to think this through yet (like canola is a low grade fuel crop planted in a monoculture), but there are ALOT of people who have -David Blume of Alcohol Can Be a Gas fame is one.  As resources decline, people will need local energy as much as they need local food, probably more as making energy is much more specialized than growing food.  Plus its really damn interesting.
Winter Projects?  
I got one…and its a Doozy.
Anyone good at writing grants?
Be the Change



Commuting Commutations

So I have used this forum as a sounding board on many occasions, and will continue to do so since the advice and comments are typically of a pretty high caliber. What we are continuing to struggle with is our transportation conundrum. We had spoken of earlier of the need for another 4 door vehicle. We live in semi rural Wisconsin – which is incredibly pedestrian -UNfriendly. We have a 7 mile drive to the nearest grocery store for example. There is essentially no mass transit Our children are starting extra curricular activites and only having one 4 seat vehicle is starting to be more than just an inconvenience.

We have looked at the new generation hybrids -Civic and Prius, but moving from a 65mpg Insight to a 48mpg Prius is frustrating, especially when the ticket to ride costs well north of $20k for a used one. I am also REALLY interested in plug in technology and we had an earlier post to that effect -but with the economy going to crap my funding scheme (the conversion adds another $10k) is faltering -we still have 15 of our 80 barrels left and it would have been much worse without a Gaia-Sent order of 50 from a Municipality. We need to sell 160 to fund the conversion. Plugins are essentially out. Selling the Insight is no problem -they have actually gone UP in value despite my adding 30k miles to it.

So now what? Still frustrated by the cost of the new hybrids -though that is driven by the fact that I am getting 65mpg now -rationally I think they are worth it. But with the economy crapping out and energy bills for home doubling, adding $13k in debt is not appealing. So I am coming back to diesel. TDI’s are getting cheap as the price of dino diesel goes up. I have some alerts set up on Autotrader and TDI Jettas and Golfs with under 100k miles are availible for less than I can sell my Insight for. New Beetles are to be had for under $8k. We would want a wagon, but both the Jetta and Passats came in wagon models. A 4 Door Golf might also work. I have always LOVED the Passat Wagons -which are an A4 Audi wagon with some very slight body mods, and even more so when I learned that they have a stronger TDI engine (60lbs more torque than our Forester and better brakes!) that would tow barrels just fine. But the Passats are holding their value VERY well and cost as much as a used Hybrid, though they are more useful.

The reason I am willing to get 44mpg on a TDI vs 48 in a Hybrid is that I can make my own fuel. I am firing up my research again on the decades old debate of home Bio-Diesel still vs a WVO conversion in the trunk. Price is similar if you build your own still and we have a Coop in Madison that does installs on the WVO kits and use a very high quality German system. WVO is cheaper and to some extent easier, but I see WVO becoming a commodity in less than 2 years, so either way I would want to get a 4-5 yr “right of first refusal” contract with a local restaurant before I dropped several bills on a kit. BioD takes some time to make, and you have things like lye and methanol in the garage. Both are alot less noxious than they first appear, but still something to think about. There is also the energy consumed in heating the still (though it could mate with a gasifier just fine if I could get one in the garage!) which needs to be considered. That said, making bio-fuel is a skill I want to learn, I would like to be able to grow my own fuel someday. Either way we could have a eco-fueled TDI for about $15k -or $17k less than a Plug In Prius, and $7k less than a plain jane Prius. I want air-bags so the old Mercs, etc are out. But for a farm truck, I have found a BEAUTIFUL old Land Rover pickup out east that was imported from Europe and is titled. Those things are bullet proof! But that is a few years out.

I would love to hear about personal experiences with home Bio Diesel manufacturing and WVO conversions to help me out.


Gasifier Stove: IGNITION!

This past weekend the crew met again to assemble the disparate parts of our gasifier and do a trail run. Not only did no one blow up, but we succeeded in producing and burning hydrogen! If a bunch of chumps (ok we had 2 engineers)from WI can do this, there is hope for us in Energy Decline yet.

Look Ma: we turned wood chips into Hydrogen for $75 and 3 weekends!

Next steps will be adding something to actually use the hydrogen-either to power a tractor, or as a co-gen unit to produce heat/power for a structure. Aquaponics greenhouse anyone?


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