The Big 3 Energy Sources You Can Make

Last week I hammered really hard on methane. It deserves the beating. There are too many of you out there thinking it’s some kind of light saber- Some kind of magic bullet. There are situations, perhaps where its production is justified, but for the most part, it’s too little energy for the effort you put into it. To put it plainly, why heft 50lbs. of manure every day into a sealed container to get enough gas to cook your meals when you could heft 50lbs of firewood once a week for the same energy output? Now, let’s move on to the “Big 3;” Ethanol, CO, and H2.

Ethanol, despite many of the misleading myths surrounding it will be a mainstay for cooking, driving, and medicinal uses. Not to mention the occasional party! Why? Because it’s not too complicated to make and a family devoting just half an acre for ethanol production could produce over 1000 gallons using the right feed stocks, more than enough to get you to town daily. What’s amazing is you can use land you’d never use for food crops to accomplish this, like that half acre of swamp or desert on the far side of your property.

What’s even more amazing is what’s left over when you distil ethanol. The leftover mash, sometimes called DDGS has Weed & Feed beat to a pulp. If you spread it over the land you got your feedstock from a week before sowing, it gives your next year’s crop a huge advantage because the distillation process only takes the sugar away, all the nutrients your crop needs are right there at the surface, letting your crop out-compete the weeds (and it actually kills most weeds too- according to experiments done by David Blume). You can also feed it to your livestock, the dead yeast adds protein and your animals will put more weight on faster without the excess sugars to make them sick. This is how the U.S. government used to find moonshiners- they’d investigate the farmers with the largest animals at the local fair!

So what can beat miracle of ethanol? Carbon Monoxide can (often called town gas). Although it was pumped into homes for over 150 years for use in ovens, lamps, and furnaces, our country has correctly moved on to natural gas. Carbon monoxide is very dangerous in confined spaces, especially around those you love, but it is so cheap and easy to make that you can’t afford to ignore it. So where do you use it? Outside! Build a generator shed several feet from your house on the side that’s least likely to blow any leaked gas toward it, and let your wood scraps, your grass clipping, your leaf waste, agricultural waste, dried DDGS, coal, coke, used oil, metal scraps, excess manure, and even road-kill power your home. With some modifications, you can even use carbon monoxide in your tractor or truck as long as you don’t mind a little less horse power than you’re used to. Why isn’t this being done already? Good question. It is! It has been for over 100 years! It was used extensively during WWII when gasoline and diesel were unavailable or in short supply. Another benefit is the ash which can be used to improve soil or used as insulation. To see Carbon Monoxide in use, watch this video:

Hydrogen is produced as well in the process mentioned above. It can be burned alongside carbon monoxide but when it’s in its pure form it’s only exhaust is water vapor. The water vapor will weigh three times that of the hydrogen you’ve burned, and when condensed will be usable for drinking water. Hydrogen can be used to change the characteristics of fuels burned in an engine, making them burn faster and more completely, but it’s very “fluffy” and hard to keep enough of it in your (current) engine block to be of much use, however when it becomes possible to inject high pressure hydrogen after the fuel is in the chamber, the difference will be dramatic. Hydrogen has also been used historically for lifting immense loads and will be again. Yes, you could use a small blimp to float your goods to market, or even pull the blimp with a small car that could never handle the load on it’s own.

To help you understand the economics of hydrogen vs. methane, for 1 cubic meter of methane; you need to shovel 50lbs of horse manure per day. Methane holds 34,785 BTUs per cubic meter. Hydrogen is less energy dense at 11,301 BTUs per cubic meter which means you need a little more than 3 times more hydrogen to do the same job as methane. For 3 cubic meters of hydrogen; you would need 12.5lbs of scrap iron, and 5.3bs of water- this can make 3 cubic meters of hydrogen in an hour, not a month. It is possible to use that 50lbs of horse manure to make hydrogen, but the variables are far too many to make a brief objective comparison. This will yield enough fuel to drive a 3-ton truck 1.8 miles or provide 3 hot family meals. For a good example of how much hydrogen can be made with a little material, watch this video:

In short, methane production isn’t really necessary, but if you have a lot of material which will rot anyway, it’s a good fit and it makes plenty of fertilizer. Ethanol is the most complicated of the “Big 3,” but it was still within the grasp of the ancient Greeks… a bright teenager could pick up the basics and run with them as long as he or she had the capital to get started. Carbon monoxide is so versatile and cheap in both capital and operating costs that most of us could build a suitable gas generator for about $100 and start using it in an outdoor stove, lantern, as a car fuel, and as a generator fuel with a little modification, just avoid breathing it in (Of course, a hammer mill and pellet mill would be necessary for many of the feed stocks I mentioned and those are far from cheap, but if you have an abundance of wormy walnuts or acorns, just toss them in husk and all!). Hydrogen is an ok choice for energy production, but if you’re going to put in the effort to refine it then its best use is as a lifting gas.

Next week, I’m going to get further into the energy system I’m building into my house (and my car). I’m hoping to steal a camera from a friend for an afternoon so I can show you how to put a basic system together. It’s so easy you’ll be slapping your forehead saying “Now why didn’t I think of that!” Until then, Dream BIG!

Last weeks article, Why NOT Methane can be found here:

3 comments to The Big 3 Energy Sources You Can Make

  • Marvin Motsenbocker

    Re: the “miracle” of “carbon monoxide” [Carbon Monoxide can (often called town gas).]

    It is inaccurate to introduce CO as a type of gas called town gas. In fact, almost all town gas has more hydrogen gas, and methane gas, than it has carbon monoxide gas in it. Further, from an energy viewpoint, the methane (and smaller amounts of ethane) are much more important than the carbon monoxide component in this crude mixture of gases. This crude mixture of gases (dominated by methane, hydrogen, smaller amounts of carbon monoxide and some ethane and others), which can be made by heating biomass (incomplete combustion) is extremely dangerous (because of the carbon monoxide present in it) and it is a bad idea for people to start making this crap as an energy solution. Calling it a miracle because of the contaminating carbon monoxide (which does burn and contributes to the energy value when not inhaled, leading to death) seems wrong.

  • Rob

    True enough that it’s a simplification, but no one is saying YOU have to use it. You don’t want to, DON’T. I am not asking you to. If you think that it’s dangerous, you’re right! I’ve said as much. So is the little plastic box mounted on your wall within reach of toddlers and furry pets called an electric outlet. If electricity were discovered today, men would cry to outlaw it immediately because it “might” be dangerous in some circumstances. It can KILL you. Men that can take responsibility for their own actions don’t need your “protection” nor your opinion to keep them safe.
    Also, I explained that Hydrogen is another component of town gas- I never said carbon monoxide was it’s only component, however, name your source that says it is mostly hydrogen and methane. Whenever you have red hot carbon coming in contact with atmospheric air, your principle output will be NITROGEN, then carbon monoxide (from the hot carbon and atmospheric oxygen), then hydrogen (which comes from water vapor), with some methane if the temperature sags below 850 degrees Fahrenheit. (See also “water gas,” if interested in higher caloric value)
    The “miracle” of “carbon monoxide” is not town gas, but that you can make it from any source of carbon… what’s made of carbon? What isn’t made of carbon? It can be made from all the things I mentioned, and much, much more allowing you to get energy from what we now call trash. If that isn’t a miracle, I don’t know what is!

  • Thomas Griffing

    All this discussion about energy is fine for entertainment, but I think hydroelctric power is preferable over all technologies mentioned so far. When looking for land for the Silver Shield location, make sure that it has a good supply of reliably flowing water.

    Proven designs are commercially available and range from tiny systems to those for Hoover dam.

    Here is a video on a “micro hydro” installation:

    Micro Hydro

    Hydro power is extremely simple and as reliable as the water that powers it.

    Since we have yet to select a site, we can include the water source in our criteria.

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