Soliciting Reader Input for Bioenergy Chapter

9/8 Update: Lichtblick/VW announcement is now in the English version of Der Spiegel:

A Power Station in Your Basement

Green-energy provider Lichtblick and German automaker Volkswagen are joining forces and promising to stir up the energy market with an unusual plan. Instead of relying on massive energy facilities, the average consumer may soon have a miniature power station in their basement.

Chief executives of Germany’s major energy suppliers usually don’t have much time for their junior counterpart, Lichtblick. The Hamburg-based green-electricity provider’s half a million customers may be “impressive,” they say, but Lichtblick works in a niche market and is no competition for the larger companies in the industry.

The ambitious new project could be worth billions of euros and generate enough electricity to replace up to two nuclear power stations or even coal-fired power plants in the near future. The technology required to put this plan into practice is highly complex, but — depending on demand and the market situation — the new setup could network 1,000, 10,000 or even 100,000 small natural-gas-powered thermal power stations and, in effect, instantly create a virtual large one.

A giant quantity of electricity could be generated by such a system. Channelled straight from the basements of individual houses, where Lichtblick plans on installing the mini power stations, it could then be fed into the public powergrid. Likewise, the mini stations could also provide a source of cheap thermal energy and warm water for each household.

Calling All Wood Experts

In 2007, I wrote the renewable diesel chapter for a book called Biofuels, Solar and Wind as Renewable Energy Systems. One thing I did when I was working on the book chapter was to solicit feedback from readers on what I might have missed. Some of that feedback turned out to be quite useful, and I provided an acknowledgment in the book for the feedback from readers here.

Once again, I am working on a chapter for a book on sustainable development in the forestry industry. My specific chapter is Bioenergy/Biofuels. I am basically trying to cover all aspects of the energy-related things one might do with woody biomass. Some of the things I am covering are gasification, pyrolysis, torrefaction, hydrolysis and conversion to ethanol, production of steam and electricity, use as fuel for cooking, and use as fuel for home heating. So what am I forgetting?

Volkswagen/LichtBlick Announcement

There was an announcement earlier today that has gone pretty much unreported in the U.S., but has gotten heavy media coverage in Germany. Earlier today, the German automaker Volkswagen announced that it is partnering with LichtBlick – a German company that only sells ‘green’ electricity – to produce small combined heat and power (micro-CHP) units for homes. (For a rare story on LichtBlick in English, see Target Customer Base: One Million). Here is the only story I could find on today’s announcement in English (but if you read German you can find loads of media coverage):

Volkswagen To Sell Home Power Plants

Together with the German Green Power supplier Lichtblick, VW wants to sell tiny natural gas power plants people can install in the cellar of their homes. Besides power the VW home power plants also generate warm water and heating.

The tiny power plants are supposed to be networked and feed power into the grid when it is needed most. The plan is to replace at least two nuclear power plants.

Honda has already entered this market, and have installed their micro-CHP units in 50,000 homes in Japan. Personally I think there is great potential for these units to displace the conventional oil furnaces found in many cold climates. I have been privy to some of the cost/output information on micro-CHP from three different suppliers, and based on what I have seen I believe this will be a very strong growth market.

I should disclose, though, that while I am not invested in LichtBlick, in my new job there is only one degree of separation between them and me. So while I don’t have a direct vested interest, I definitely have a personal interest in seeing them succeed with this venture.

Offline for a Week

Finally, my book chapter is due at the end of the week, and I plan to spend my normal blogging time finishing it up (and hopefully incorporating some reader feedback). I don’t foresee having much time to blog again until after September 11th, when the first draft is due. If there is a particularly interesting story, I may post a link, but I can’t afford to spend much time writing this week.

59 thoughts on “Soliciting Reader Input for Bioenergy Chapter”

  1. What are you forgetting? A bit far out there perhaps, but besides transportation, heat and electricity, there is light. Replacing kerosene lamps (such as still used in developing countries)… with… uh.. torches?

  2. It sounds like Volkswagon has it ass backwards. They should be building two nuclear plants to replace a like amount of Russian natural gas. I've got a natural gas generator to run the house during a power outage. 24 hours of emergency power costs about what my monthly electric bill does. Might as well stay in a hotel. And I live in south Louisiana,where natural gas can be found by poking a stick in the ground.

  3. I know everyone has seen the wood gasifiers pulled behind cars on a little trailer. Toss in some biomass and run your car off the woodgas. Why can't one of these units be designed for the bed of a pickup truck? Turn a truck into a 4 or 5 passenger car that runs off woodgas.

    You're backing a technology that has been around forever Robert. Why not get behind something where advances are still being made?

  4. What are you forgetting? Probably not anything, it's more a challenge of focusing and keeping it tight.

    However, it would be nice to see in the introductory paragraphs some ultimate limits:

    – How many TWh can we replace in electricity production or liquid fuels if we burn ALL the wood biomass that is replaced each year (leaving nothing for cooking, building, etc)? Maybe as a percentage of world consumption of that energy source/feed.

    – What is the absolute maximum energy efficiency one can think of from the highest energy density wood biomass source? This includes energy subsidies for growing, harvesting, transporting turning biomass into fuel/vector (and perhaps delivering that to a point of use). Doesn't have to be a Pimentel boundary. It can much smaller. Regardless, it's still an eye opener.

    – What is the carbon net effect of using such best approaches (highest efficiency / most wood used per year)? I.e. how much less/more carbon does it release compared to what it replaces on the average (mix of coal/oil/natgas/hydro/nuke).

    Some of these numbers will hit hard and bring an issue to scale to the people's minds – yes, even to a technical audience, who often have their nose way too deep in the matter to see the big picture and theoretical leverage/scaling limits.

    Still way too many people out there that believe that a couple of silver bullets are enough. Just solve one enzym in bioethanol production, just solve that pesky photoelectrolysis boundary for hydrogen, if we could only raise the PV cell efficency to X0%, etc.

    Wood based solutions will be a fairly small portion of the whole solution (probably less than 5% of all liquid fuel consumption today) at best and the hard physical limit will also be fairly low.

    Again, this might be completely off the base from your assignment / focus, so just food for thought.

    Also, this is not to say you haven't figured these – hey, I learned most of this stuff (as an approach) by reading your blog!

    So thanks!

  5. Wonder if the small power+heat systems might be better suited for apartment buildings or clustered townhouses, rather than stand-alone houses. Would depend on whether economies of scale in the generation outweight any heat losses in piping it around.

  6. A company called OriginOil reports being able to get algae to "leak" oil by an apparatus they are developing. I'm not able to check it out.

    I have a large enclosed solar on the south of the house. It is used for extending the growing season. It also supplies spring and fall heat for the house. By having fans blowing air through the basement in the summer, it also provides summer cooling, and helps with the winter heat. It is two years since the lase time there has been trouble with the pipes freezing. In this old North Dakota house, that is unusual!

  7. OriginOil bears careful scrutiny. Investor beware. Caveat emptor. Look before you leap. All that glitters is not gold. If it seems to good to be true…add on several more platitudes here, and you get the idea.

  8. You're backing a technology that has been around forever Robert. Why not get behind something where advances are still being made?

    Wood has been around forever. Wood gasification to Fischer-Tropsch fuels has not, and advances are still being made daily.


  9. OT/BTW: The Wall Street JOurnal today has a specal "Energy" section. There is a column devoted biofuels, entield "Power Plays," on page R7.
    Many companies bruited about, including one touting $20 a barrel fuels.
    I wonder if RR could read the column, without bursting into flames–another source of biofuel.

  10. “freewatt owners have experienced savings up to $1,000 a year”

    I am always skeptical of advertising that uses the word ‘free’ while ignoring capital and O&M costs.

    The links that RR provided for home CHP are marketing scams. I am not saying that there may not be good applications for CHP just that is not how it is being marketed.

    The best wood/natural gas home heating system was a unit that gasified the wood in one chamber and then burned it like natural gas in the adjoining chamber. If you were not home for the daily wood feed, then NG took over. It was a bit pricey if you did not live in a very cold climate.

  11. Blogger Clee said…

    What are you forgetting? A bit far out there perhaps, but besides transportation, heat and electricity, there is light. Replacing kerosene lamps (such as still used in developing countries)… with… uh.. torches?


    Kerosene lanterns are being replaced by solar lanterns in many places where there is no electricity.

    At $30 a pop they are still cheaper than kerosene lamps when you consider the on-going fuel costs for kerosene.

    An East Indian company recently announced a deal with South Africa for 1 and 1/2 Million units.

    I wouldn't wait around for syngas/Fischer-Tropsh biomass derived lantern fuels at 5 to 10 bucks a gallon.


  12. Anonymous John wrote:
    Kerosene lanterns are being replaced by solar lanterns in many places

    Yes, I have been well aware of that for years. However RR was asking about covering "all aspects of the energy-related things one might do with woody biomass" and solar doesn't count as biomass. Also, I was trying to be funny. Light is an energy-related thing compared with "socializing".

  13. “Wood, it was the best of fuels, the worst of fuels” Dickens

    “A wood stove saved is a wood stove earned.” Franklin

    The environmental impact of renewable energy is often forgotten. The simpler good old days are romanced forgetting that splitting fire wood is woman work and chimney fires were (are) common.

    “At the time, Philadelphia, where Franklin lived, was the biggest city in British North America and wood was becoming scarce and costly, …”

    There is also environmental impact of not harvesting biomass. Rotting biomass is major source of ghg and air/water pollution.

    The first step of using wood is understanding the environmental issues. The second step is selecting the technology.

    The primary product is protecting the environment, the byproduct is energy. The present system promotes selling junk over protecting the environment. The right technologies solving the problem in the right place will still be producing energy 30 years from now.

  14. Clee,

    Horse drawn wagons brought the first oil pipe to my little town here in Central Texas in the 20's.

    The first and original oil fields were pumped by guys jumping up and down on spring-board pumps.

    Then came the steam engine fired with wood. (not a fossil fuel)

    Just as the oil age was ushered in with horses and manual labor, so will the coming age be ushered in with "fossil fuels"

    They used to pour the volatile gasoline out on the ground and into streams.

    They were after kerosene for oil filled lamps to replace whale oil.

    Just as the horse drawn wagons were used to displace themselves, so will oil be used to displace itself.


  15. I have a wood stove (a very efficient catalytic type), and use it for cooking and heating during the winter. Though perhaps outside the scope of what you're writing, I think we should be advocating change in the way people use heat. Last winter I read news stories about how some people in the US were trying to centrally heat their homes with wood. If lots of Americans try to do that, the forests will disappear in no time.

    We have to give up central heating. I heat only the room where the stove is. The rest of the house is cold. I was born and raised in the US, but I got used to it, so other Americans can, too.

  16. Robert,

    I hope you mention St. Paul Minnesota's biomass fueled CHP system, as a model for using urban waste wood a source of fuel for the city. I saw part of a story on PBS and it seems to be a large succesful operation. I'm sure they would be happy to give you more details if you contact them.

    Check it out :
    district energy
    a power point pdf
    ever-green energy

    good luck with the book

  17. I hope you mention St. Paul Minnesota's biomass fueled CHP system

    I was looking for a good CHP application to mention. I will check that one out.

    Thanks, RR

  18. BioEthanol Japan was said to be "the world’s first company to produce cellulosic ethanol from wood construction waste on a commercial basis."
    Though at 1.4 to 4 million liters per year, it doesn't seem like much. I haven't heard much details since the original announcement, but they seem to still exist. I can't read the website other than the parts google can translate. I wonder how much their ethanol costs to make.

  19. CHP makes sense, but I am wondering where the role for MCHP. Honda say they have installed over 50,000 units in Japan, over 5 years or so.

    Japan is not known for spacious houses, so I wonder they put these things. In the UK few houses have cellars, so you would need an outhouse or adjoining garage, which are not so common either.

    The other major problem is they generate electricity as a byproduct of heating, and not much electricity at that. So I guess in summer you turn the thing off and use the grid.

    I guess if you have a large badly insulated house with cold winters, you would save money replacing an oil furnace. There seems to be an element of Jevons paradox here.

    Plus transferring from one FF to another just means NG runs out faster, and doesn't help AGW.

  20. Umm… would a certain degree of nitrating affect the qualities of the fuel in a useful and cost-effective way? Maybe making it more amenable to use in some of the other ways? My gut feeling is that it might be useful but wouldn't be cost-effective, but since I don't actually know I thought I'd throw it out for consideration by those who do know.

  21. I'm pretty skeptical of residential sized CHPs. It might work in Germany where residential electric is expensive and there are a lot of heating days. But for the US? What do you do with the waste heat during the summer?

    District cooling/heating could used chilled/heated water. Then you can justify the cost of absorption chillers. Residential HVACs use seperate heating and condensing units. Less efficient, but cheaper to build.

    If I had $35,000 to spend on CHP I'd rather put it into a ground loop geothermal system and more efficient appliances.

  22. “We have to give up central heating. … so other Americans can, too.”

    There is no reason to do this. With well insulated houses, modern ground source heat pumps and nuclear power, I can provide all the energy you need to keep a family comfortable at a low cost.

    More than twenty years ago, I heated large (2000+ sq feet and not very efficient by today’s standards) houses in cold climates. However, the amount of wood to heat a house is small compared to the resource available.

    Wood provides heat twice, once when you burn it and once when you chop it. The limitation on wood heat is that it requires a lot more work on the part of the home owner. It something I enjoy doing. Wood heat is inexpensive if you do your own work. However, if you have to pay for wood, the economic value decreases. Heating with wood also requires skill. It is not rocket science but I knew a guy with a masters in nuclear engineering who had a chimney fire. My neighbor also had a chimney fire. Wood heat provides a sense if satisfaction for those who did not become Darwin award winners.

    It is hard to get Americans to heat with wood when they can afford anything else. Killing your family and burning down your house is not good for the environment.

  23. Takchess:
    Thanks for the cite.

    Here is a line from Wikipedia, on propane:

    The supply of propane cannot easily be adjusted to meet increased demand, because of the by-product nature of propane production (a byproduct of natural gas production). About 90% of U.S. propane is domestically produced.

    The United States imports about 10% of the propane consumed each year, with about 70% of that coming from Canada via pipeline and rail. The remaining 30% of imported propane comes to the United States from other sources via ocean transport.

    After it is produced, North American propane is stored in huge salt caverns located in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Canada; Mont Belvieu, Texas and Conway, Kansas. These salt caverns were hollowed out in the 1940s,[20] and they can store 80 million or more barrels of propane. When the propane is needed, most of it is shipped by pipelines to other areas of the Midwest, the North and the South, for use by customers.

    Salt caverns hollowed out in the 1940s. Can you top that?

    I think propane has a great yet oddball future, as we will have more propane as a result of rising natural gas use (CNG cars).

    Propane is interesting, as it can be made into a liquid and used in cars, unlike NG, which is only pressurized to 3500 psi or so.

    Propoane joins the long list of reasons why "Peak Oil" is more of a scaremongering idea than an enlightening concept.

  24. Propane (known as Liquid Petroleum Gas LPG) in the UK is very common in cars.

    We've got a surplus of the stuff due to the north sea oil & gas industry.

    I believe much of it is consumed as refinery fuel feed stock along with butane. RR can possibly confirm.


  25. Regarding "Calling All Wood Experts" . . .

    Don't neglect the lessons of permaculture. Extracting biomass from forests for the purpose of generating electricity today, without returning nutrients to the soil, may create unsustainable conditions and dependencies.

    Consider the value of terra preta.

  26. “Wood, it was the best of fuels, the worst of fuels” Dickens

    Dickens knows. Many people seem to have forgotten that in the 15 and 1600's, England almost denuded their green and pleasant land cutting down trees for fuel — and obviously they weren't using energy at anywhere near the level we do today. About all they did with it was cook, and huddle around a smoky fire on cold nights, and they still burned almost all the wood they had. (There rudimentary iron industry also used a lot of that wood. They also cut down a lot of oak trees making ships of war. A man of war needed about 60 acres of oak trees.)

    When they discovered coal would burn, was energy dense, and that they had a lot of it, is when England surged into becoming a world power and the Industrial Revolution got under way.

    I doubt there would have been an industrial revolution had they tried to do it using wood and the biomass that grows at their latitude. Had they had no coal, England would have ended up like Haiti — an island completely denuded of wood that can't support its population, even though Haiti once had fertile soil and is at a favorable latitude.

  27. Wendell

    You are are right about some of the lessens of the past, Spain cut down her trees and young men in route from going from the world's greatest power to a second tier nation.

    However, I was quoting Bob Dickens who was Franklin's blacksmith. Improvements in metallurgy made iar tight stoves much more efficient. That achievement marks coming 90% from living in caves to the all electric homes.

    BTW, looking at the pictures for adding wood to the CHP project gets me all tingly inside. That type of project can be duplicated thousands of times. If look closely at the pictures, you can see all the equipment needed to take wood waste and put up a 50 MWe power plant every 25 miles. Not as shiny as solar, but clearly good for the environment.

  28. Back during the energy crisis in the late 1970's one of my classmates did an economic paper on wood heating. He came to the conclusion that you would be better off working at a minimum wage job and using the after-tax take home pay to buy natural gas or propane, even if the wood was free. If you owned land and would have paid workers to clear it and haul away the wood, then you were at maybe breakeven.

    There are roughly 12 million BTUs in a cord of firewood that weighs 2,700 lbs. At today's Henry Hub gas price of $2.76, that makes the energy value of wood about $33 per cord. Figure about 6 person hours per cord. That comes to $5.50/hour. Of course, you pay more for the gas delivered to your home and that doesn't count transportation and equipment costs for chainsaws, splitters, etc. You also have to figure in the cost of disposing of the ash, maintaing your wood stove or fireplace.

  29. If you owned land and would have paid workers to clear it and haul away the wood, then you were at maybe break even.


    In my part of the country (the Upper Midwest)the rule of thumb for the size of wood lot one needs to provide yearly heating on a sustainable basis is somewhere around 6 acres depending on terrain, type of trees, etc.

    Six acres would be a lot of land* to devote to heating each individual house if we were on a "wood energy economy." It's easy to understand why countries such as England and Spain nearly cut down all their trees in the 15 and 1600's before coal came into widespread use.
    * Why there would hardly be any land left over on which to plant corn to turn into ethanol.

  30. King

    Is it okay if I suggest your classmate was a clueless college student?

    First, back then lots of folks were out of work.

    Second, I heated one house with oil; the second was all electric using resistant heat. Cleary the investment in a wood boiler (the previous owner took his) and then an air tight stove + chimney, were excellent investments.

    “Henry Hub gas price”

    What about delivered retail energy cost with all the taxes the gummermint piles on? Firewood is a barter or cash business.

    “cost of disposing of the ash”

    What big city do you live in King? Wood ash goes in the garden assuming you are not burning construction debris.

    I just had a very large white oak tree cut down. My neighbor took most of the wood because he heats his and his mother’s house entirely with wood. I kept some for the fireplace. An air tight stove would not be a good investment because I invested in a good heat pump, have mild winters, and cheap coal fired electricity. The same reasons I would not invest in CHP or Solar PV.

    The point here is that each application of renewable energy must be considered on the three most important variables. Location, location, location.

    This is why I have so many fundamental disagreements with RR’s generalities. The reason I focused on biomass to energy was because the major local environmental issues were forest health and odor from dairy farming. Existing technologies could be adapted to convert the problem of high BOD (biological oxygen demand) to energy.

    The bottom line is that having access to NG from a pipeline means that you have fundamentally screwed up by choosing to live in a city. That is okay but King try and avoid calculations explaining how others should be smarter.

  31. “Six acres would be a lot of land”

    Not really! It sounds like the ideal lot size. In Pennsylvania, I had 7 acres adjacent to a large area of state forest land (many dead trees from gypsy moth problems). In California, I had five acres. However, I never had to harvest a healthy tree for energy. The California house I built was a 12” log house built from bark beetle damaged trees.

    There is not a shortage of wood waste; there is a shortage of smart people to use it.

  32. Not really! It sounds like the ideal lot size.


    Six acres could be an ideal size for ONE family in a single house. But how do you spread out all the houses in Chicago, or Saint Louis, or Denver so each house can be surrounded by its own six-acre self-sustaining wood lot?

    That's what I meant by saying a "wood energy economy" would use a lot of land.

  33. When they discovered coal would burn, was energy dense, and that they had a lot of it, is when England surged into becoming a world power and the Industrial Revolution got under way.

    I doubt there would have been an industrial revolution had they tried to do it using wood and the biomass that grows at their latitude.

    That is the traditional idea of the Industrial Revolution, but it was a whole lot more complex. In fact, the industrial revolution started with water power. Early textile mills and forges were built near water courses, and used water wheels.

    There were a great many factors creating a demand for energy, increasing population, the creation of factories to employ workers displaced by the Enclosures Acts, the arrival of new materials such as cotton which enabled entry to textile markets otherwise protected by craft guilds and Royal grants.

    It's true wood was getting short, and coal provided a massive impetus to the Industrial Revolution, but the use of coal was in great part due to demand for mill engines away from water sources, and only a smaller part due to the lack of wood for traditional uses such as cooking.

    Necessity was the mother of invention, and coal stepped in to provide the energy need, but there was nothing magic coal, as today there is nothing magic about oil.

    The industrial revolution would probably still have happened, but a greatly slower pace without access to FF. It could have skipped FF and gone to electricity generated from wind turbines.

  34. "That is the traditional idea of the Industrial Revolution, but it was a whole lot more complex. In fact, the industrial revolution started with water power. Early textile mills and forges were built near water courses, and used water wheels."


    I recently watched a PBS tour presentation of an early New England factory run entirely by a water-wheel. It was a mill that produced window sashes, stop moldings etc.

    In the early days of the infudtrial revolution horses were used to draw large planes to make moldings, No electric molding machines or routers in those days.
    Also no fossil fuels.


  35. The industrial revolution would probably still have happened, but a greatly slower pace without access to FF. It could have skipped FF and gone to electricity generated from wind turbines.

    bc ~

    Maybe, maybe not.

    You make a good point about water power which I left out in my very condensed digest* of the Industrial Revolution.

    Though without coal, the road to the Industrial Revolution would have had to surmount a serious roadblock. It's difficult to imagine how — without coal — they could have gone to electricity from wind turbines.

    Generating electricity requires some fairly sophisticated metal and metal work. Without coal, it would have been very difficult for them to progress beyond the crude wrought iron they were able to make using charcoal, and with only crude wrought iron it's hard to imagine a wind turbine/generator set with the wiring, aerodynamic surfaces, and lightweight, high-strength materials needed to be able to generate large amounts of electricity. (My grandparents lived on a farm in the 1930s with a fairly rustic 40 ft steel windmill that was capable of generating enough electricity so they could charge a car battery with which to listen to the radio at night and light a couple of bulbs.)

    My own opinion is that without coal, Great Britain would have had trouble forging and smelting the metals needed to develop beyond an agricultural economy. It would be possible to make a wooden windmill, but making a generator from wood and using wood to transmit the current would have been a real challenge.

    It's an interesting question — thanks for bringing it up. It's probably one that Jared Diamond should answer.

    * My main point was that energy from wood was being seriously depleted in the 15-1600s, and that without coal, they would have soon run out of trees. (And I will now add the supplement of water power.)

  36. As we are well aware (according to propaganda from the fossil fuel industries) the Egyptians could not have built their Pyramids without huge fossil fuel inputs.

    Sorry, but I started laughing so hard at this thought that I fell out of my chair.


  37. If you have a biomass power plant operating near-by, does it make more sense to recycle newspaper, cardboard, and other waste paper, or should you burn it for power?

  38. “rule of thumb”

    Yes, Wendell I understand your point. With no experience with heating with wood you did a calculation and based on no experience with wood sources and came to a non-sequitur conclusion.

    “would use a lot of land.”

    Do yourself a favor, go back and look at Dennis Moore's links to the 25 MWe CHP. From the pictures visualize what it takes to produce energy.

    Every 25 miles radius, there is enough wood waste to fuel a 50 MWe power plant that will produce electricity at $60/MWh.

    After you run out wood waste, then you can calculate what the sustainable level is wood harvesting would be.

  39. Let's see… a 25 mile radius is 1,963 square miles or 1,256,000 acres, enough to supply 50 MWe for, say 50,000 households. That's 25 acres per household. That's a bit more land than 6 acres. I'm obviously missing the point.

  40. "In fact, the industrial revolution started with water power. Early textile mills and forges were built near water courses, and used water wheels."

    I wasn't there at the time, but I did read a very interesting book a while back on the Industrial Revolution and the development of thermodynamics.

    The problem with water power in England is intermittency — doesn't rain all the time there, whatever people tell you. Steam engines started out being used to pump water out of mines, but early steam engines had their own problems with intermittency, aka 'breakdowns'.

    Some forgotten genius saw that putting the two intermittent energy sources together would allow a water-mill driven factory to have a much more reliable power source. The steam engine pumped water from a pond below the mill race to a storage pond above.

    As steam engines became more reliable, the need for this inefficient system drifted into history. Take it from your ancestors — intermittent power sources suck.

    Of course coal was critical to the Industrial Revolution. Worry about Mother England's finite coal resources is what led Mr. Jevons to discover his famous Paradox — greater energy efficiency results in more energy use, not less. A lesson that still escapes Al Gore's followers today, about 150 years later. Those guys sure are slow!

  41. “I'm obviously missing the point.”

    Yes, WOOD WASTES! No new land is required. Did you need a bigger roof when you installed solar your panels?

    Clee did you read Dennis Moore's links?

    I was at a BIOCYCLE conference in SF about 10 years ago. There was a tour of Alameda County landfill where I saw of the grinding equipment in operation.

    The amount of wood waste is staggering. Recently my company expanded. When the land was cleared, the timber and wood waste was recover and used. I have also seen some lots cleared the same way. However, most often the clearing land involves pushing every thing into a pile to burn or rot.

    As a matter of disclosure, my company is planning to build 10 – 50 MWe wood power plants in a partnership with one of the utilities I used to work for. Been there, done that and have a more promotional T-shirts than I could give a way. I am not involved with those projects so I do not know the details.

  42. So, despite the fact that they currently have large power plants and considerable power over the market, things may soon turn a little less comfortable for energy giants like E.on and RWE.

    Lichtblick — the name translates as "glimmer of hope" — is no longer content with distributing eco-friendly gas and electricity.


    I guess I'm off base here as the 48th comment or something. When I read Lichtblick's pages, my own heart soared with principally just one word coming to mind. And that word was "Decentralization." Hurrah!

    I remember only too well a japanese bicycle mechanic's treatese published about 1977 – the man's name was Isao Fujimoto (sp?) and his short yet meaningful chapter was entitled,


    Thus I wish Lichtblick and VW the best of luck and hope that they transfer 100,000 of these co-gen contraptions into the marketplace as quickly as can be achieved.

    –Uncle Cliff

  43. "Decentralization." Hurrah!

    Cliff, you are correct. There have been some pretty uninformed comments here that I haven't taken the time to correct. When you consider that there are oil furnaces throughout Germany, and as these come to the end of their lives they can be replaced with something that produces heat and electricity – decentralized as you say and feeding into the grid as needed – and I think you have a winner.

    Cheers, RR

  44. RR

    Yes. Why not just de-centralize the grid and save the line losses. Plus use unique local resources to make electricity. Fewer brown-outs.

    They have gone back to using DC lines in China to get power from the Gorges Dam to Shanghai. (cheaper transmission than AC)

    Why not just use local resources and produce the juice on home turf ?


  45. No, I hadn't actually read those links to the St. Paul CHP district energy before. Looks good. I side more with RR's uninformed. I think CHP district energy makes more sense than individual CHPs in the home, particularly in warm climates like where I am.

    I've looked at the FreeWatts and that only runs when heat is needed for hot water or space heating. Since I set the thermostat to 58F in the "winter", a FreeWatt would hardly ever turn on, and it would be a waste of capital; idle capacity. Much as the idea of a home CHP appeals to me, I don't think I would buy one unless I could use it as a backup generator. Unfortunately the current FreeWatt does not work when the grid is down.

    The Lichtblick CHP looks like it could run even when heat is not needed. To a point that could be nice, as I would be more comfortable at 75F than as low as 58F in the "winter". But here in California, the peak power demand is during the summer when when everyone turns on their AC. At that time, if a Lichtblick turned on in our utility room, (we have no basement,) then they would be using our house as a convenient heatsink, which would be inconvenient for me.

    District CHP makes more sense because they could run the generator at a higher utilization factor and be sure that the heat will go to those who want and need it. But maybe there's more to the Lichtblick than I'm reading in English. I suppose if you can't convince the utilities to do more CHP, district or otherwise, home units are at least an alternative.

  46. The article says the efficiency factor of the Volkswagen mini thermal power plant lies at around 94 percent. How much of that is electric and how much of that is the heat? If the electric part is not better than the 40 to 60 percent of regular power plants, I don't really see the point. (Unless it could be used as a backup generator when the grid is down.)

  47. Some of you think having a million ICE (non-point source) in you utility room fueled by the most volatile fuel produced by ruthless friends like Putin and Pickens, makes you more self reliant than all electric homes fueled by one nuke plant with a wood pile as a backup.

    The energy for fuel has to come form some place. It is either a truck bring oil or propane or a pipeline.

    I bought my first wood boiler with my new neighbors words still ringing in my ears, 'Didn't they tell you the oil truck can not make up here in the winter.' When you heat with wood, you know how much energy is used. When you grow and slaughter your your own meat, you know where it comes from. There is something to be said for adjusting the thermostat for comfort and buying your meat already packaged.

    If you waste lots of energy on home heating and hot water fueled with oil maybe a CHP is a better choice. However, a little bit of conservation and a ground source heat pump is a much more cost effective route to saving energy.

    Let someone else make your electricity because if think a CHP is better you have failed the clueless test. The clueless end blowing their house killing their children after spending lots of money.

  48. Yes, WOOD WASTES! No new land is required.

    Kit P.

    What is your business plan for how you will handle the logistics of collecting the wood wastes within a 25 mile radius?

    I have also seen some lots cleared the same way. However, most often the clearing land involves pushing every thing into a pile to burn or rot.

    And think of all the solar energy that goes to wastes. It just falls on the land, and no one does anything with it.

    rule of thumb

    Yes a "rule of thumb." Where I live, the rule of thumb is that if you want a wood lot that is self-sustaining, and that can supply your personal home heating needs, you need about six acres of timber. That allows you to harvest enough wood each year to heat your home, and have it grow back at the same rate.

    Where you live may well need a different rule. Where I live, timber land is mostly oak , hickory, yellow poplar, hackberry, locust, and walnut, with sycamores appearing as one heads south. (I live at about the northern limit of the sycamore line.)

  49. Kit P – I think we are in violent agreement here.

    I used HH because it is a standard reference price. Gas price delivered to your home can vary greatly depending on where you live and the costs of distribution. It does close the gap between wood and gas heating.

    IF you live on land that produces wood products – it probably is a much better deal to heat with it. But most Americans don't live like that. Most now live in cities and suburbs. We can't all have 6 acres or 25 acres or whatever number is right of forrest land.

    I meant the TIME it took to dispose of the ash. Yes it is great if you have a garden – and the land. So you are right, location, location, location determines if wood is a good energy source or not.

    We need to talk about the externalities of wood. While it is a renewable resource, so more CO2 friendly, burning it does create not so pleasant particulates, nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxides, and other listed pollutants.

  50. “We need to talk about the externalities ..”

    What big city do you live in? I just love this big city talk. If you have NG piped to your house, you live someplace where air quality precludes heating with wood.

    I lived in a house once that had a coal furnace converted to oil, NG hot water & cooking. This house built in 1935 had no insulation but storm windows. After the the 70s oil crisis, the house got insulation and an efficient gas furnace.

  51. Well, the article does say that what Sierra Energy is doing is a bit like the Ze-gen technology… not that I understand what is this "liquid metal system" Ze-gen has, or what Sierra Energy's "steam-enshrouded oxygen" is, and how the two might or might not be related.

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