While the products you read about below will save energy and money, some contain highly toxic materials. Be sure to look for the most environmentally friendly brands you can find. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
Want to make some room in your budget for next year’s holiday shopping? Here are three steps to earning up to $300 dollars in energy savings in one year.
Even better, these do-it-yourself improvements will continue to pay dividends for as long as you live in your house. That means extra dollars in your pocket every year. It also means that when you’re sitting in your living room enjoying next winter’s holiday cheer with family and friends, you’re going to feel a lot more comfortable — no cold drafts, warmer floors, and less furnace run-time
1. Buy 3 or 4 cans of insulating foam sealant
Insulating foam sealant is a high-R, closed-cell insulating foam that gradually expands as it cures. Applied in a bead, foam can be used to seal joints in much the same way as caulk. It can also be used to fill bigger gaps. There are several formulations available, including one for gaps up to 1 in. and one for gaps larger than 1 in.
Don’t simply begin squirting foam wherever you suspect an air leak. There is a learning curve to using the stuff, and it can be messy even after you get the hang of applying it. In addition, you’re going to have to use the entire can all in one session — or else the foam will harden and clog the spout before you can use the rest.
My recommendation is to make a list of where you can use this product. It should include the gaps around recessed light fixtures, ceiling fans, vent and heat register openings, wire and pipe penetrations, and voids behind window and door jambs. Then make sure you have access to where you will apply foam by lowering lighting trim rings, fan canopies, and anything else that’s in your way.
Spread a drop cloth — the disposable paper ones are ideal — and don safety goggles, latex or vinyl gloves, an old hat, and a long-sleeve work short. Have a rag and a can of acetone handy to wipe up spills.
When applying insulating foam sealant, shake the can vigorously for 30 seconds prior to use, and hold the can upside down while applying the foam. For joints with narrow gaps, gently pull the trigger until foam begins to emerge from the straw-tube applicator. Drag the tube along the joint, leaving as narrow a bead as you can.
When tackling bigger gaps, fill only about 50 percent of the void and keep moving. Expect some foam to fall when you’re working overhead, so stay clear of it! It’s tough to remove. You can avoid much drippings and droppings by always applying the foam to one edge of the gap, not simply aiming into a void.
Remember that the foam is going to expand several fold, so be conservative with your application. You can always add more later. When you’ve emptied the first can, pause the job for an hour or so while the foam expands and cures. Based upon the results, adjust the amount of foam you apply with the next can.
2. Add 3 cartridges of caulk to your cart
For air sealing, latex caulk (sometimes called acrylic latex) is usually the best choice because it is easy to apply, adheres to any clean surface, can be painted, and is easy to clean up. Use a silicone caulk when flexibility and temperature extremes are an issue, such as in the gap around a duct where it passes through plaster or drywall.
Caulk is easier to control than foam, and a lot less messy. It is better suited to sealing joints with very narrow gaps, such as baseboard moldings and window and door casings – especially when they will be visible. Use a caulking gun and buy your caulk in cartridges rather than tubes. Cut the nozzle at an angle, break the cartridge seal, and apply the caulk by pulling the nozzle along the joint as you squeeze the trigger. Use your fingers to wipe away any excess.
Caulk can be used to fill bigger gaps, too, but you may need to use backer rod to fill the space first. Backer rod, available at most home centers and hardware stores, is available in various diameters. With the backer rod stuffed in place, you can apply your caulk in an economical manner.
3. Pick up a gallon of duct sealant
Duct sealant, also called mastic, is the right stuff for sealing ducts that carry heated and cooled air. Ducts typically lose up to 20 percent of the heated or cooled air that passes through them — air that you’ve already paid to heat or cool!
To seal duct leaks, brush the mastic directly over duct joints, holes, and seams with a disposable bristle brush. For gaps that are 1/16 in. or wider, apply a bed of mastic and lay fiberglass tape over it. Then apply a second coat of mastic to cover the tape. Don’t rely on duct tape for air sealing. It won’t stay put for long. Pay special attention to high-pressure leaks near the blower.
If you don’t have ducts because your heat distribution system is hydronic (water carries the heat to radiators or to pipes under the floor), buy pipe insulation instead of mastic. Made of insulating foam and split along one side, it can be slipped over pipes. Install it around supply and return pipes to radiators as well as to the first 6 feet of hot and cold water pipes coming from your water heater.
You can buy everything you need to perform the above energy-saving tasks for less than $40 and complete them in a weekend. In addition to preventing heat loss in winter, air sealing will keep cool air inside your home and hot air outside during the summer.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
About the Author
Joe Provey writes for Basement Systems, Dr. Energy Saver, and is the author of several books on green living, including Convert Your Home to Solar Energy.
Today’s post is by Mark Moran, who works for Toaster Oven Guide. Mark offers tips about making your cooking more efficient. As you might also expect, he suggests using a toaster oven as an alternative to large ovens and microwaves. If you have a toaster oven, please let us all know what you think. Do you find it more efficient than a full-sized oven? Do you agree with Mark that it’s a great cooking alternative? What other energy-saving tips would you add? — Julia Wasson, Publisher
Many of us spend a lot of time in our kitchens, but at what costs? Consider this:
- The kitchen uses the most energy of any room in the home.
- It can cost a lot of energy, time, and money just to make one meal, depending on how you make it.
- Outdated kitchen appliances can waste a lot of water and power; they can also produce large amounts of CO2 emissions.
One good tip is that efficient refrigeration is a big part of efficient cooking. You can’t cook if you don’t have raw materials, right? So, if you want to cook more efficiently, you also need to look at how you use your refrigerator. Start by looking at the age of the refrigerator.
- On average, an older refrigerator uses about 1,700 kWh of energy per year.
- Newer refrigerators use about 700 kWh of energy per year.
What that translates to is that you can save about 1,000 pounds of CO2 emissions per year by getting a new refrigerator, especially one that has a high Energy Star-certified rating. You can also save a lot of money in the process.
One of the best things that you can do to save money and conserve energy when you cook is to plan your fridge use. For instance, if you know that you need five ingredients out of your fridge, get them all out at the same time. If you open the fridge door five different times, you only waste more energy. To be precise, you can lose anywhere from 5% to 25% or more of the energy efficiency from your fridge by frequently opening the fridge door when you don’t absolutely need to.
Have you ever found yourself staring blankly into your fridge when you’re trying to cook? Another tip is that every trip into your fridge should be an exercise in efficiency. Know what you want and where it is and get in and out as quickly as you can.
7 Tips to Extend Your Efficiency
Extend that sort of efficiency to everything that you do in your kitchen. For instance:
- Set up efficient stations in an assembly line format in your kitchen. Each one should be for a certain task, like chopping meat.
- Make sure that you only have to wash your hands a minimum number of times to avoid contamination. That will save time, water and soap.
- Install a low-flow aerator on your kitchen faucet.
- Make sure to keep your vacuum your refrigerator coils at least twice a year.
- Don’t pre-heat an oven unless the recipe wants you to.
- Turn off your oven a few minutes early and let the remaining heat do the remaining cooking.
- Don’t use your large oven unless you have to.
The Great Cooking Debate
Finally, there’s often a huge debate over how to cook. For instance, cooking food in a large oven takes quite a while. It also uses a lot of energy and puts out a lot of heat and CO2 emissions. Not to mention the fact that it can take a long time to clean an oven. Stove tops, meanwhile, are good for some things—like boiling pasta—but not others. You can’t bake a pizza on a stove top, for instance. The same goes for a crock pot.
A microwave is probably the fastest way to cook food. So, if you want to save time and energy, it might seem like a good option. However, there are situations where toaster ovens are a much better option. A Breville toaster oven or other modern toaster oven can often make up to 6 slices of toast at a time. They’re also capable of cooking many other items in less time than a large oven and with better flavor than a microwave.
When it comes to saving time, money, and emissions while you cook, use only what you need to, and use it only how and when you need to. Cooking can still be fun, even while being efficient. In fact, you’re likely to enjoy cooking even more, if you know that you are saving money, time and energy in the kitchen.
Website: Toaster Oven Guide
In part three of this three-part series, writer Cesar Zambrano suggests how to get started investing in Green technology. Please note that these articles do not constitute specific investment advice and are merely the opinion of the author. If you have investment questions, please speak with a licensed investment counselor. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
In my last two posts, I wrote about how attractive stocks in the Green sector have become for investors and how to prevent investment fraud from spoiling a Greentech investing experience. Now it’s time to discuss an investment strategy and where to invest precious capital.
Perhaps we can learn from one of the world’s richest men and most renowned investors. Warren Buffett once wrote that to invest successfully over a lifetime does not require a stratospheric IQ, unusual business insights, or inside information. What is needed is a sound intellectual framework for making decisions and the ability to keep emotions from corroding that framework. Our goal now is to design our own “intellectual framework.”
First, assuming we’re novices in this arena, let’s agree that capital retention is paramount. We are not prepared to lose everything by taking unusually high risks. This objective eliminates private placements, highly speculative ventures, and stocks valued below $5 from consideration. Diversity and liquidity are also necessary objectives. We do not want all of our eggs in one basket, and when we want to sell, we do not want a thinly traded stock that has few buyers to stabilize market prices.
Safety is the rule at this point, but did we leave any options open? Yes, we have, and the stock market has us in mind. The best options were created in the past decade for investors like us. They are called Exchange-Traded Funds, or ETFs for short, and a definition provided by investopedia.com follows:
What Does Exchange-Traded Fund – ETF Mean?
A security that tracks an index, a commodity or a basket of assets like an index fund, but trades like a stock on an exchange. ETFs experience price changes throughout the day as they are bought and sold….
Because it trades like a stock, an ETF does not have its net asset value (NAV) calculated every day like a mutual fund does.
By owning an ETF, you get the diversification of an index fund as well as the ability to sell short, buy on margin and purchase as little as one share. Another advantage is that the expense ratios for most ETFs are lower than those of the average mutual fund. When buying and selling ETFs, you have to pay the same commission to your broker that you’d pay on any regular order.
These funds give you strong exposure and diversification within their specific clean energy sectors. You can also spread your investment between different funds. As you become familiar with this type of investing, you can always review the actual company holdings and weightings for each fund. If you are inclined to invest in a specific entity, you would now have a sound basis for making that decision.
The main point is to be safe and have fun with your investment experience. Successful investing is tied to knowledge, experience, and controlling one’s emotions. The last part comes when disciplined decision making is the rule. Warren Buffett followed these simple rules. Now it is your turn to do the same and “Go Green.”
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Cesar Zambrano is a writer for ForexFraud.com.
It’s no secret — and, sadly, no surprise — that those of us living in industrialized nations are using up more than our share of the planet’s resources and releasing alarming amounts of greenhouse gases. In 2006, for example, the Sierra Club reported, “industrial countries with less than 20 percent of the world’s population are responsible for more than 60 percent of the total carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere.”
Yet, when we talk about making small sacrifices to save our species from extinction — or from future water wars, as the planet heats up and snowfalls all but disappear — most people resist making changes. We all have our limits, certainly. But without making sacrifices now, what quality of life will we leave our children or our grandchildren? What gives us the right to run lights, TVs, and air conditioners with no one in the room? To drive huge, gas-guzzling vehicles with no passengers or cargo? To plant and water lush lawns in the desert? To waste space, resources, water, energy — all of which are in limited supply? …
An environmentalist friend vows never to fly. “I won’t ever see Hawaii,” he says, “but that’s okay.” He doesn’t want his carbon footprint to be that big. And I applaud him for it. But I don’t know that I’ll join him in his aeronautic boycott. My elder son lives in California. If we’re ever to see each other, one of us will have to travel.
A retiree we know refuses to give up flying, but she makes other choices that reduce her impact. She and her husband live in a compact condominium. Though they have the resources to live more grandly, they deliberately choose to live small — and have throughout their careers. She also bikes or walks or takes public transportation, rather than driving where she needs to go. Her goal is to live an eco-friendly life, and other than the luxury of travel, she’s well on her way to achieving it.
Other friends keep their thermostat so low in the winter that I want to wrap myself in a blanket when I visit. They’re used to it, and consider it environmentally responsible as well as economically beneficial. When I visit, I find it hard to keep from shivering. As a young woman, I lived for several years in an old farm house with a single oil burner; the dog’s water froze in the kitchen over night, and I had to wear gloves to do household chores. I won’t do that again, if I have a choice at all. Yet my friends’ conscientiousness inspires me.
Trimming Our Footprint
Joe and I are alone now, with our two sets of kids grown and gone except for visits. So it’s easy to get consensus on what we two can do. Here’s how we are cutting back, trimming our collective footprint, at least for now. And like the increasingly tight fuel standards and tougher Energy Star ratings, we will work to make improvements every year.
No more meat and dairy. Perhaps this is the most significant contribution we are making, and one of the toughest. The meat industry is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the auto industry. The antibiotics injected into and fed to swine, poultry, and cattle are reducing our own immunity. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) in milk cows has been shown to be harming our children. And none of this even begins to address the cruelty of mass animal confinement operations. We’re well on our way to becoming vegans. But we’re finding it challenging. (Suggestions will be appreciated.)
Become a locavore. We’re not truly locavores; we don’t exclusively eat local foods. But we’re working on it. We’re opting more for locally grown fruits and vegetables, and less for imports from thousands of miles away. We want to help sustain our local farmers and growers, but our choices are limited during the off season — and the off season covers two-thirds of the calendar here.
Buy organic and natural foods. This takes some work. And it isn’t always easy on the budget. But if we want farmers to invest in growing organic and natural foods, and if we want the cost of those organics to come down, then we must support organic farmers and producers with our dollars.
Use only natural cleaners. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in many of the cleaners on the market are unhealthy to breathe. And the harsh chemicals used to scrub our toilets and our tubs are unsafe to touch, let alone drink. If we want the air to be safe for our children and ourselves, we must not use dangerous, gaseous products. If we want clean water for future generations, we must not send toxic chemicals down our drains. We’ll save money, too, as the natural cleaners (vinegar, baking soda, water) are far more economical than other cleaners.
Grow food. We are transitioning part of our lawn into a vegetable garden. We’ve planted peas, beans, tomatoes, zucchini, and squash — all vining plants that we hope will climb the trellis Joe built. If I could, I’d plant fruit trees, but our yard is tiny and doesn’t get much sun.
Compost. All of our food waste now goes into the compost. Our gardens will soon be reaping the benefits of the additional fertilizers. We even recycle tissues, coffee filters, and Q-Tips. Will it all break down? We’ll find out in a few months.
Use less water. This means turning the water off between each dish we rinse, not letting it run as a constant stream in the sink. It means wearing our jeans a day or two longer than we used to and washing full loads, not partial ones. It means shorter showers, or showering together. It means not flushing every time — and purchasing dual-flush toilets when we next replace the ones we have. And it means we are filling up watering buckets rather than carrying a hose to water individual plants. (Yes, a nozzle on the end of the hose would work well, too, but we’re waiting till we have additional hardware needs instead of driving across town to the store for just one item.)
Heat/cool small spaces. We have a large house, which was designed for a lot of people. Our own numbers have dwindled, but the house hasn’t shrunk. So, we find ourselves heating or cooling just one room at a time. The rest of the house isn’t unbearable, but we don’t keep the thermostat set at our preferred temperature. We save a lot of money and resources by using a small space heater in the winter and a window air conditioner in the summer. (Did you know: “Only 2 to 3 percent of the energy produced by burning coal in a power station is eventually used to light a bulb or boil a kettle, because of inefficiencies at every stage of its conversion to electricity, its transmission and ultimate use.” That’s according to the AAAS Atlas.)
Shop with care. Americans in general have a lot of stuff. And we’re no exception. We’re used to finding bargains and getting excited by how much we saved on any given item. But we’re learning to shop more selectively, purchasing only what we really need and seeking the best quality we can afford. We want every dollar to count, and we don’t want junk that will fall apart and head to the landfill before it has time to gather dust. It’s not economical or good for the planet.
Buy quality used items. We know lots of people who’ve gotten great bargains on used clothes, used cars, used homes, used wood, and used furniture. We’re not big shoppers, but when we need something, we’ll consider the option of quality second-hand goods.
Don’t buy over-packaged goods. We look critically at the containers holding the products that we buy. Can the packaging be recycled? Is it made from post-consumer waste? How many layers of protection are there?
No new gold or gems. We don’t purchase a lot of jewelry, so this particular action doesn’t affect us much. After learning about the pollution associated with mining gold, silver, and precious gems, we won’t be buying jewelry unless it’s used or recycled. (Did you know that six tons of rock must be mined to yield two average gold rings?)
Print less. I used to think I had to have paper copies of just about everything. Those reams of paper took a huge toll on my time and consumed many square feet of space in my office, only to end up in the recycling bin after months and years of neglect. Crazy, eh? And I shudder to think of all the chemicals I used to print those papers, the trees that died unnecessarily, and the money that I wasted.
Here are a few sobering facts from the American Association for the Advancement of Science Atlas of Population and the Environment:
The average European uses 130 kilos of paper a year — the equivalent of two trees. The average American uses more than twice as much — a staggering 330 kilos a year. The paper and board industry is the United States’ third largest source of pollution, while its products make up 38 percent of municipal waste.
Replace old appliances. With rebates and incentives, in some states it makes a lot of sense to replace old appliances before they wear out. We’re not quite ready to do that — most of ours are less than 10 years old — but when we do, we’ll buy appliances with solid Energy Star ratings.
Pass stuff on. For 33 years, Joe ran the local university’s surplus system. He’s fond of reminding people that having stuff requires energy. If you rent space, you have to waste good money storing stuff you’ll never use. It requires space that has to be heated or cooled, and whatever you store has to be handled, dusted, moved, repaired… We are selling — or giving away on Freecycle — the things we do not need, passing them on for others to use and enjoy.
NOTE: For a good read filled with helpful suggestions about how to trim the stuff in your life, I highly recommend our friend Greg Johnson’s book, Put Your Life on a Diet: Lessons from Living in 140 Square Feet.
Recycle more, trash less. Because we have increased our recycling dramatically, we have reduced what we send to the landfill by about 60-70 percent. Our city requires us to sort recyclables for pick up. It takes time to evaluate every item in our trash, but it makes us more conscious consumers.
Collect rain water. This isn’t legal everywhere, but in our city, we can collect our rain water for watering our garden and flowers. A friend gave us clean, used 55-gallon drums to make into rain barrels. Now, all we have to do is camouflage them so they don’t stick out like sore thumbs at the front of our house where all the gutters run. We are still working on that one.
Refuse lawn chemicals. It’s not worth having a pretty lawn when it comes at the cost of clean water. If you should see a dandelion in our turf, great! I hear they make great salads. In fact, we’d prefer to get rid of our lawn entirely and use our small plot in a more productive way. But that’s for another day.
Use alternative energy. If we get this done, it will be at a significant cost. We’re looking into adding solar thermal panels for heating our water, and setting up a geothermal system. But this is an older home, and retrofitting is expensive. It might not yet be feasible with today’s technology.
Use less gasoline. When we were faced with a long-distance move last year, we had no choice but to replace our old cars with a newer one. We bought a hybrid that gets 46 miles per gallon. It’s not a perfect solution. But we now work out of our home, and we limit our travels. We try to walk if the distance isn’t too great or time is not pressing. We’re toning up on a stationary bike, with plans to hit the actual pavement in the near future (if our knees don’t rebel too much).
No more newspapers. We save a lot of trees by getting our news on line. The down side is that newspapers are going out of business at record rates as consumers turn to electronic media. The world still needs investigative reporters, the likes of which are rarely seen outside of printed publications (with the exception of National Public Radio).
Toss the television. We haven’t owned a TV for about two years, and we rarely miss it. Besides the huge electricity drain, it’s a brain suck. (Ask us how we know. We used to have our brains sucked regularly.)
Our (Current) Non-negotiables. We all draw our own lines somewhere. Joe and I won’t give up our computers. We won’t give up our cars entirely. We won’t say “never” to air travel. And we will take daily showers. Will we always feel so tightly bound to these conveniences? Perhaps not. In the meantime, we’ll do our part by cutting back on the things we can live without.
I started the article by calling the things we do to limit our footprint “small sacrifices.” But as I look over the list, none of these things Joe and I do are sacrifices at all. Some take a bit more time, some take more energy, and they all take discipline. But the payoff — the small reductions in our carbon footprint and the lessened amount of pollution for which we must take responsibility — is well worth any extra effort.
So, I challenge you. Reimagine your own life with a smaller impact on the environment. Cut back on those things you can do without. Trim your household’s waistline. Reinvent your way of interacting with the world. Do what you can — whatever it is, whatever you’re willing to do now, today. Then tell us about it. Let’s learn from each other.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Fort Walton Beach, Fla. (March 27, 2009) – The Gulf Coast Energy Network, in cooperation with the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, the Bay Area Resources Council and Okaloosa County, is bringing together a group of energy leaders, policy makers, scientists, engineers, green building specialists and more for Power Up 2009 Energy Conference & Expo April 8-11, 2009 at the Emerald Coast Conference Center in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
Power Up 2009 is the largest event of its kind in the Southeast and will feature a diverse, experienced panel of speakers discussing new and emerging technologies to address the nation’s energy challenges.
“The conference will bring energy experts together with policy makers and elected officials to create a dialogue and help provide solutions to meet our growing energy demand” says Dave Robau, executive director of the Gulf Coast Energy Network. “We are excited to bring speakers of this caliber to the Gulf Coast.”
Franklin Baker, Florida’s watershed coordinator for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be the keynote speaker during the Friday lunch session.
Other conference speakers include:
- Larry K. Acker, Advanced Conservation Technology and ACT Inc. D’MAND Systems – Structured Plumbing® Sustainable Design for Water/Energy Savings
- Mike Antheil, Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy – Feed-In Tariffs/Renewable Energy Dividend Program
- Tim Center, Collins Center of Public Policy’s Sustainability Initiatives – Moving Toward Sustainability: People-Planet-Profit
- Bob Cole, Santa Rosa County Commission and Florida’s Great Northwest Energy Council – Biodiesel: Production and Usage
- Suzanne Cook, Florida Green Building Council – RePower, ReFuel, Rebuild: Building a Sustainable Future
- Don Davis, Capital City Bank – Economic Development in the Renewable Energy Sector
- Victor Garlington, 70 Cents A Gallon – Algae-Based Biofuels
- David Gwisdalla, Tetra Tech – Implementing Low Impact Development: Planning, Design, Construction Considerations and Case Studies
- Dr. Rick Harper, University of West Florida’s HAAS Center for Business – The Stimulus Plan and the Advancements of a Green Economy
- Mike Hess, Mariah Power – Vertical Axis Wind Turbines in an Urban Setting
- Dierdre Irwin, St. John’s Water Management District – Building Green Communities
- Michael Joachim, MJA Consulting, LLC – Planning for Energy Uncertainty in Florida
- Dr. Tawainga Katsvairo, ArcHorizon – Grants, Loans Guarantees and Private Investments: Achieving a Balance
- Glenn Langan, Gulf Power Company – EarthCents Program 2009: Energy Efficiency Education and Demand Side Management Programs
- Dr. Jennifer Languell, Trifecta Construction Solutions – Tax Incentives for Green Building for Homeowners and Builders as well as The Seven Key Concepts of Building Green
- John Manzanet, 70 Cents A Gallon – Algae-Based Biofuels
- Dr. Marian Marineau, University of Florida’s West Florida Research and Education Center – RePower, ReFuel, Rebuild: Building a Sustainable Future
- Todd Miller, Insulated Concrete Technology – Energy Efficient Construction Using Alternative Building Systems
- Tracy Mullins, MJA Consulting, LLC – Planning for Energy Uncertainty in Florida
- George “Ron” Omley, HQ Air Force Special Operation Command, Hurlburt Field – Plasma Water-to-Energy Systems
- Cosimina Panetti, Building Codes Assistance Program – Building Energy Codes Focused on Energy Efficiency
- Scott Pogue, Agrisa Bioenergy – Energy Security and Energy Independence
- Jeramy Shays, American Council on Renewable Energy – Renewable Energy Policy: What is Happening in Washington?
- Sandy Sims, Gulf Power Company – RePower, ReFuel, Rebuild: Building a Sustainable Future
- Dr. Sesha Srinivasan (invited), University of South Florida’s Clean Energy Research Center – Advances in Clean Energy Technologies
- Benjamin Stuart, Florida Governor’s Energy Office and Florida Energy and Climate Commission – Florida’s Renewable Portfolio Standards
- Keith Swilley, Gulf Power Company – Taking Advantage of Geothermal HVAC Efficiencies in Hotel Properties
- Ben Taube, Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance – Moderator for RePower, ReFuel, Rebuild : Building a Sustainable Future
- Paul Thorpe, Northwest Florida Water Management District – Approaches to Long-Term Sustainability of Northwest Florida Water Resources
- Christian Wagley, Alys Beach – Moderator for Practical Applications: Building Green Communities
- Brian Watson, Tetra Tech – Implementing Low Impact Development: Planning, Design, Construction Considerations and Case Studies
- Al Wenstrand, Florida’s Great Northwest – Woody Biomass Strategy for Northwest Florida
- Chris Williams, E-MortgageConnect.com – Understanding Energy Efficient Mortgages
FOR MORE INFORMATION
To register or review detailed information on each speaker as well as a specific agenda for each day, visit the Power Up Conference website. Pre-conference workshops on April 8, will also be offered for professionals seeking Continuing Education Units (CEUs). Space is limited, so advanced registration is encouraged.
The conference concludes with a Vendor Exhibit Hall open to the public on Sat., April 11 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at no charge. The public can visit with vendors and learn about innovative building technologies, new products to increase energy and water efficiencies, and other green products and services.
For attendees traveling to Florida’s Gulf Coast for Power Up 2009, the conference has secured special rates at two local properties. The Ramada Beach Plaza Resort, which is certified under the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Lodging Program and located within a mile of the conference location, is the official hotel of Power Up 2009 with rooms starting from $135 per night, plus tax. For reservations, call (800) 874-8962. Special room rates starting from $199 are also available at Emerald Grande at HarborWalk Village in Destin (just miles east of the Emerald Coast Conference Center). For rates and reservations call (866) 705-1478. For both properties, space is limited and attendees must mention the Power Up conference to secure special rates still available.
Power Up 2009 sponsors include Gulf Coast Energy Network, Gulf Power Company (platinum), Apollo Windows & Doors (gold), Insulated Concrete Technology (silver), Chevron Energy Solutions (bronze) and BG Dealer Services (bronze).
For more information about Power Up 2009, visit www.Power Up2009.com or e-mail info@PowerUp2009.com.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
An air conditioning unit that runs on a fraction of the electricity of traditional AC units? I was reading an article about Coolerado’s AC unit using 90 percent less electricity than the standard Freon-filled systems. 90 percent! My curiosity was piqued.
Nearly everywhere on the planet, air conditioning units are the primary power drains for utility companies during the summer, but this drain is especially bad in some areas, like the US Southwest. The article stated that there were some drawbacks, but for people in a dry climate with low humidity, this unit is the AC of the future.
To find out more, Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) contacted Mike Luby, CEO, at Coolerado. He told us about the company’s unique method of cooling the air. Joe Hennager, BPGL Co-Founder
LUBY: Our air conditioning system operates on an entirely different thermodynamic principle than traditional air conditioners. We are able to cool air using only the energy of a fan, and we can cool air to what’s called wet-bulb temperature. We typically can do this most efficiently in an environment that is dry, and for about 90 percent less energy while achieving the same results as a traditional air conditioning system.
BPGL: Is this new technology, or have I just been asleep?
LUBY: We’ve been in business for about 9 years, and the first 4 years were really just research and development, you know, proof of concept. We’ve had units installed in the field around the United States and internationally for the last five years, mostly larger commercial units. All of them have had excellent success. We are just now focusing on marketing to smaller commercial users and, eventually, home construction.
BPGL: I’m familiar with the wet-bulb effect in large cooling towers and large evaporation systems that cool water for big buildings, but I’ve never heard of smaller applications of this principle. And I find it hard to believe your 90 percent electrical reduction figure.
LUBY: I usually hear that this is too good to be true, but our technology has been independently verified by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). They endorsed us for all federal buildings to help these structures meet the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This act requires energy-saving reductions, including a 30 percent reduction in electricity for federal buildings. They endorsed us specifically — by name — as a product that is helping them achieve that.
We have also been studied by a number of independent utility companies in California and other states, and they’ve written reports that verify we do what we say. Our products are eligible for rebates from utility companies in six states, and we are working to expand that.
We have a very unique technology. It works best in dry climates. We do use evaporative techniques to cool the air, and the whole principle is based on thermodynamic research by Dr. Valeriy Maisotsenko. It is called the Maisotsenko Cycle.
BPGL: What can you tell me about Dr. Maisotsenko?
LUBY: Dr. Valeriy Maisotsenko was born and raised in the Ukraine. He was the director of the Thermal Physics Research Laboratory in the former Soviet Union before coming to the U.S. He developed his theories of thermodynamics about 40 years ago. In the industry, in thermodynamic circles, it’s called the M-Cycle, or the Maisotsenko Cycle. Dr. Maisotsenko is a partner, and works with us at Coolerado.
BPGL: Does Coolerado have a patent on his research?
LUBY: Yes, our first patent application was for air-cooling. We have domestic and international patents protecting both the use of the cycle, the M-Cycle, as well as the specific heat exchanger that we’ve created, the HMX.
BPGL: Is most of your market residential or commercial?
LUBY: Our focus is on the commercial market, although we have units that are appropriate for residential use. The reason for focusing on the commercial market is because, where you sell one, you’re more likely to sell many. With residential, you are selling one unit at a time, typically as an upgrade replacement. We do have some developers building green projects, and they want low-energy units, but again, they’re building dozens of homes. We sold 70 systems to one green builder in Colorado. For new residential and residential builders, we will certainly address that.
BPGL: I’m sure that LEED 6.20 certification would have something to say about that, too.
LUBY: Very much so. Our systems do not use refrigerants. They do not use compressors. The carbon footprint of the unit itself is very much smaller than the traditional air conditioner. There is a fraction of the metal and no chemical refrigerants. We don’t use as much energy. It’s an invention that is elegant in its simplicity, and yet the results are really amazing.
BPGL: I watched your company video showing the Maisotsenko Cycle in operation. The unit forced extremely hot air into one end of a very small box — a tiny 15-inch unit — and the temperature dropped 100 degrees by the time it exited the other end. And the only thing added was one cup of water. That was amazing!
Obviously, people are looking for technological ideas that help save energy. And right along with energy savings is the need for water conservation. How much water does it take to run one of these units?
LUBY: That’s an excellent question. We use only about a gallon of water per hour to achieve cooling with a heat-and-mass exchanger that’s equivalent to a 1-ton unit. Our 6-ton air conditioner uses about 6 gallons of water an hour when it’s operating in the heat of the season. You might say, “Oh my, 6 gallons, that’s a lot.” But look at how many gallons of water are used in a typical shower. That would be 1-2 extra showers a day. In the Arizona area, you might spend another $100 for water during the cooling season, but you save thousands in electricity. There is an order of magnitude difference in the cost of the electricity vs. the cost of water that you use.
That’s the first question, but the second point is; Yeah, but you’re using water, that’s a precious resource. At the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, they did a life cycle study of the water use of our system. They concluded that it takes water to create electricity, whether it’s hydro or nuclear or coal. On average, producing electricity takes about 2 gallons of water per 1 kilowatt hour. NREL concluded that the amount of water we use will be saved by using 8 times less electricity. In the end, the water we use in the Coolerado unit is less than the water used to create the electricity that we save. So on a regional basis, we are at least net water neutral and probably actually save a little bit of water.
BPGL: Does the water you use in your AC units have to be fresh, or can you use 2nd grade, or grey water?
LUBY: We can put any kind of water into our heat-and-mass exchanger. Since different air streams don’t mix, the water that is evaporated by the air stream is never mixed with the air that goes into the building. We have used some pretty nasty water, nasty in the sense of pretty hard, pretty salty. So suppose you had an enormous supply of water that was salty, like ocean water. You could use that water to cool the air, then the air that is 100% humidified won’t be salt water, it comes out as fresh water.
BPGL: It comes out as fresh water? Is that a direction your patents could be going toward — that desalinization and purification are possible?
LUBY: It is. It is very possible to do that. It’s not very efficient, but it is a byproduct at no extra energy costs.
BPGL: Obviously, from a production standpoint, my curiosities were the water costs and the costs of the filters. How often do you have to change the air filters? And what about the chamber where the process takes place? Does the chamber have to be cleaned very often to keep the process efficient?
LUBY: The unit uses a standard air filter, and you change that just a frequently as you would any other filter for an air conditioner. It depends on how dirty the air is and the environment that you’re in. We have a standard 2-inch filter for the home unit, and larger filters for industrial units.
The heat-and-mass exchanger, which most people look at as a filter, isn’t really a filter. It looks simple, but it’s not; it’s really complex inside. Each heat-and-mass exchanger has about a half a mile of air channels inside of it. We don’t know when you will need to change it, because some of them have been in the field five years and are still working fine. People will say, “Wait, it’ll turn into a calcium-carbonate brick.” Or, “It’s going to get mineralization.” The answer to both of those is “No. The design of the system does not allow minerals to precipitate out.”
In the heat exchanger, the minerals precipitating out are actually part of a chemical reaction. When there is a solution, there are no particles. When the chemical reaction occurs, it takes about 20 minutes from the time it starts. So, we don’t let water sit in the heat-and-mass exchanger. We have a control board that monitors the temperature and how much water the heat exchanger needs, and it puts just enough water in to prevent mineralization. There is a slight overflow, keeping the water running through, so it never evaporates. We have not had any mineralization issues.
BPGL: So your system blows hot, dry air across wet surfaces, and the evaporation causes the air to cool. How fast does the air have to move through your chamber for it to achieve that temperature variant? Does it go slowly, so that it takes time for that temperature change to occur? Or can it occur very fast?
LUBY: it actually cools it in 20 successive stages, so it moves pretty quickly. Each heat exchanger has about 300 CFM moving through it. And a heat exchangers size is about 10 and a half inches high by 20 inches long and 18 inches wide. We’ll move 200-400 CFM through that heat exchanger.
BPGL: So, you are pushing 300 cubic feet per minute through a space that is only 20 inches long?
LUBY: Yes. It’s about 20 inches long by about 18 inches wide and 10 ½ inches high.
BPGL: It’s a phenomenon to achieve that in such a small space.
LUBY: it really is. It just shows the efficiency of evaporation. The real key to this is we’re taking heat off in successive stages. So, by the time air is coming out at the end of the heat exchanger, it is on average at wet bulb temperature.
BPGL: What is the cost of these units?
LUBY: Well, I can’t tell you that directly. It’s not because I want to be evasive, but it really depends on the installation; that’s the key issue. In all cases, customers have saved money over buying a traditional air conditioning unit. One reason is that they did not have to upgrade their electrical panel, which can be hugely expensive. We use so little energy compared to a normal system.
BPGL: What is a normal kilowatt usage for one of your units?
LUBY: Our 6-ton unit uses about 600 Watts of power. So if you run it for an hour, it’s 600 Watt hours. Compare our unit’s 600 Watts to a traditional 6-ton AC unit running at over 6,000 Watts. Or compare our unit to a hair dryer. Now, you don’t run a hair dryer for an hour, but when you run a hair dryer, it’s going to draw between 1500-2000 Watts of power.
BPGL: Your unit runs on one-tenth the electricity of the same size regular AC unit. Now that’s amazing.
LUBY: Yes, it is. It is, indeed.
“It’s big, it’s bold, it’s green, and while winning it wasn’t pretty or easy, it was well worth the effort,” said Andrew Huff of Environment Iowa, referring to the recently enacted economic recovery package.
On February 17, President Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Then, in an address to a joint session of the Congress on February 25, he told our nation, “Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector — jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.”
“We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.
“But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest $15 billion a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.”
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
President Obama’s budget priorities will include those signed into law in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, so let’s look there for more specifics about what our Congress has promised in the 1,073 page document. How much of the spending will actually go to green jobs, like those Mr. Obama mentioned in Wednesday’s speech? With help from Andrew Huff, BPGL has pulled together the following list of not-to-miss items from the economic recovery bill:
- $80 billion for clean energy, public transportation and green infrastructure, the largest such investment in our nation’s history.
- 1.6 million new green jobs, including 135,000 green jobs created by a $4.5 billion investment in greening federal buildings.
- A 68 million ton reduction in our nation’s carbon footprint, a cut equivalent to a city the size of Chicago, IL going completely carbon-free.
- Energy renewability and efficiency through research and development of biomass, geothermal, hydrokinetic, hydropower, advanced battery systems and electric vehicles.
- Thanks in part to 20,000 online petition signatures urging congressional leaders to keep President Obama’s recovery plan clean and green, Congress dropped a controversial $50 billion loan guarantee for the coal and nuclear industries.
Did you know? The law also includes:
- River restoration projects as well as habitat restoration on public lands.
- Watershed infrastructure improvements, including purchase and restoration of floodplain easements.
- Increased assistance for residential and business renewable energy and energy conservation projects.
- Weatherization assistance programs for government buildings, private homes and business.
- Modernization of the nation’s electrical grid to conserve energy and accommodate new energy technologies.
This represents an enormous down payment on a new energy future for America. Now it is the task of the Obama administration, the various governmental agencies who will be implementing some of the projects, the major recipients of the green dollars, and the public (you and me) to pay attention and provide feedback to our governmental leaders as we witness these projects unfold. Transparency only works if people are watching.
International Editor/Contributing Writer
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Look at the sky over any city or town on a winter day. See those columns of steam or smoke rising from the chimneys? What you’re looking at is wasted energy. Amazingly, at least 56% of the energy produced in the U.S. is wasted. It escapes as heat, radiating out of boilers, leaking through the roofs of power plants, and billowing out of smoke stacks and steam pipes.
Here’s a little math lesson that doesn’t add up: 3 + 2 = 1. No, I didn’t make a mistake. To generate 1 Watt of power, a utility company needs about 3 Watts of heat input and dumps into the environment the equivalent of about 2 Watts of power in the form of heat. Not very efficient, is it?
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 20 to 50 percent of the energy of the 24 quadrillion BTUs generated by industry across the nation is lost in waste heat. That figure may be as high as 70 percent in coal-fired power plants.
Loy Sneary, CEO of Gulf Coast Green Energy, thinks that’s got to change. Sneary’s company sells the ElectraTherm “Green Machine,” a generator that transfers waste heat directly into electricity, while using no fuel and creating no emissions. Sound too good to be true? It did to me, too, until I saw it in action on the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, where the first 50 kw Green Machine was installed.
Gulf Coast Green Energy was a sponsor for SMU’s Geothermal Energy Utilization conference in June of 2008. During the conference, Sneary showed off the Green Machine’s power-generating capabilities for its first-ever test run. I watched as he switched it on, and the meter shot from 0 kW to 50 kW in a matter of seconds. That’s kW out, feeding power to the campus grid.
Sneary, a Texas farmer, businessman, and former judge, has been busy in the intervening months since that demonstration, making presentations to industries and municipalities throughout the South. He’s also working with the Texas Legislature and the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association to classify waste heat as a renewable energy resource for the first time ever.
What follows is an interview with Sneary while he was stopped along the road somewhere between Houston and Oklahoma.
BPGL: I understand that the Green Machine takes industrial heat and transfers it into electricity. How does it accomplish this?
SNEARY: In the back of the 50 kW machine, a 6-inch supply hose feeds in cold water, and another feeds in hot water or a hot fluid. Inside the machine is a closed-loop, organic Rankine cycle system.
The temperature differential (delta T) between the hot water and the cold water causes the refrigerant in the system to expand and contract. Two things come out of the machine: lukewarm water and electricity.
BPGL: Most heat that industry wastes is in the form of hot air. How do you transfer the industrial hot air into the hot water/fluid that you are pumping into your machine?
SNEARY: To capture the hot gas, we hook a heat exchanger (economizer) up to the exhaust. A fluid, either water or glycol and water, runs through the economizer’s coil tubing. As hot air goes through the stack, it heats up the fluid in the coil tubing. That hot liquid is pumped into our waste heat generator, where the refrigerant is pressurized and vaporized. The resulting hot vapor drives the twin-screw expander, which drives the generator.
BPGL: What are the best applications for your waste heat generators?
SNEARY: There are so many uses. The best way to answer that question would be to describe the projects we are working on.
Let’s start with methane gas from landfills. If a landfill is flaring excess methane, we can tap into that heat source and make electricity.
We’re working at a gas turbine and compression station in Louisiana with the goal of putting the Green Machine on the exhaust system.
We’re also working on a couple of projects where excess steam is vented off. We’re taking that steam and turning it into electricity. In each of those cases, a single machine will generate 50 kW. That company is trying a simple application first, but they have a number of applications within that one plant and they have similar plants all over the world.
For another company in Louisiana, we will be taking geothermal fluids out of non-producing gas wells. We expect that site to produce 100 kW.
We’re working with a company that uses hardening furnaces. This is a foundry that makes steel, and we’re using the heat from those furnaces to make electricity.
BPGL: Loy, today I talked with Jeff Voorhis of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. I asked what he thinks about capturing waste heat and turning it into power. He said, “This kind of technology has great potential. But it needs to be evaluated by companies to see if it’s technologically and economically feasible.”
As the CEO of Gulf Coast Green Energy, you’ve already given us your opinion on the technology. What about economics? If a company were to purchase one of your machines, what would be their return on investment, or ROI?
SNEARY: Depending on the job, there’s a lot of variables. We need to know the cost of power at that location. We have one customer in the ship channel in Houston that overhauls barges. They pump out the gas and flare it. We take that flare gas and use it as a heat source. In their case, the ElectraTherm Green Machine will pay for itself in 2 ½ years.
But every situation is different; other sites may require quite a bit of ancillary equipment. The ROI could be anywhere from 2½ to 5 years, depending on the cost of power and how complicated the job is. There a lot more at 2½ years than there are at 5 years. And that’s not including any carbon credits or incentives. In the new bailout, there are investment tax credit provisions for equipment like ours. But our equipment stands on its own without any subsidy.
BPGL: You described your generators as “plug and play.” What does that mean?
SNEARY: Right now, our systems come in two sizes, 50 kW and 500 kW. If the location emits enough waste heat to generate, say, 20 megawatts of electricity, we can just hook these up in a series. It gives us the flexibility to pull one out to work on it, while the others keep running.
BPGL: Combined heat and power (CHP) is getting discussed in a few state legislatures and now, finally, at the federal level. If you were to be standing in front of a state Senator right now, what would you tell him or her?
SNEARY: The first thing you have to do is educate them. I testified to the Texas House Energy Resources Committee. Everyone there knows a lot about wind, solar energy, and geothermal energy sources. But no one had even heard of waste heat generation, because no one’s been educating them.
BPGL: Loy, I see that your waste heat generators have been getting a lot of attention lately in the press. Where should our readers go looking for you?
SNEARY: Well, Popular Science just named the ElectraTherm Green Machine one of the top new green technologies for 2008. And we were interviewed on television on the 700 Club as an alternative energy source. The Green Machine has also been talked about by Gizmodo, Green Tec, EnergyCurrent, and Ecogeek. It was even on Fox News the other day.
BPGL: That’s huge, Loy. With such great press, you’d think people would be beating down your door trying to get the Green Machine. Why doesn’t every factory have at least one?
SNEARY: The ElectraTherm Green Machine is relatively new in the marketplace. We have the technology right now to not only capture some of that waste heat, but also to reduce carbon emissions that are going up the chimney and becoming greenhouse gases.
By reducing the heat, we slow the gas molecules in the chimney. By slowing the molecules, stack scrubbers can work more efficiently, keeping more greenhouse gases out of the air. So, it’s a winning proposition not only for a company’s ROI but also for the environment and the air that we breathe.
BPGL: Thank you Loy, for what you are doing to save the planet and for the time you have given me.
SNEARY: Glad to do it, Joe.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Steve Fugate, biofuels ecopreneur and co-owner of Green World Biofuels, talks with Joe Hennager of Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL).
BPGL: Steve, I’ve known you for about 10 years as a chef at Iowa City’s best-known local diner. I know everyone around here asks you this, but what made you give that up and get into biofuel production?
FUGATE: I had been making biodiesel for a couple of years and had begun conducting workshops to educate people. I quickly grew tired of troubleshooting the inadequate equipment that was on the market. My wife, Wende, and I had extraordinary success producing our own biofuel and I had expertise in acquiring waste cooking oil from restaurants. So, I decided to pursue marketing an effective turnkey biodiesel production system and educating the fuel- and education-hungry masses full time.
BPGL: Tell me about your production system for people to make their own biodiesel.
FUGATE: We have one model, the Ester Machine, that has proven to be the perfect balance between efficiency, time and cost. The Ester Machine is capable of producing 80 gallons in 10 hours or about 24,000 gallons per year at full capacity. We’ve found that smaller batch sizes increase cost and time per gallon. We also sell a production enhancer, The Double Dry System, which triples the production capacity of the Ester Machine for a combined output of 80,000 gallons per year.
BPGL: How much would someone have to invest to begin making their own fuel?
FUGATE: The Ester Machine retails for less than $8,000 and is the most complete system on the market today.
BPGL: Obviously, a potential customer will be someone who is driving a diesel vehicle. Who is your typical customer?
FUGATE: We have an extremely diverse customer base that includes contractors, cooperatives, a trucking company, a university, government agencies, farmers and individuals. Some use their systems a couple of times a month, and one produces 2,000 gallons of biofuel per week. They are all inquisitive and eager to do something right now to reduce their fuel bill.
BPGL: The price of fuel is going down right now. How is this affecting your sales?
FUGATE: Right now, gasoline is $2.19, Diesel $3.25, and biodiesel is around $4.00. The gold rush mentality that we saw has cooled considerably but that is okay with us. The folks that are still interested tend to be the more forward thinking, intelligent folks we have always sought. Desperate people make poor decisions and, with the pressure off, now is an excellent time to get busy and lock in the feedstock that we are dependent on.
BPGL: How cheaply can you produce a gallon of biodiesel? How many gallons of fuel consumption, at today’s prices, will a customer of yours have to burn to pay off one of your systems? What’s the average person’s return on investment (ROI)?
FUGATE: I hate to give simplistic answers to complicated questions, but the cost of the chemicals and electricity were about $.86 per gallon last month. The cost of the oil, collecting it, and the value of your time are highly variable. I was saving over $3.00 per gallon this spring. At that rate, a machine can pay for itself in a couple of months. We offer a great deal of support to our customers in achieving high levels of efficiency and reducing total cost of ownership.
BPGL: What do you think is the most important issue harming our planet right now?
FUGATE: The most pressing issue that we can actually change right now is the absolutely staggering amount of energy that we use. Our very existence and the American way of life is put at risk by our unwillingness to reduce consumption, recycle, conserve or even fully utilize the resources we have paid for. European power plants are twice as efficient as ours, and the average citizen uses half the power we do. Thirty percent of all cars on the planet are in the US! Our economy is based on cheap petroleum and with the cost of oil up several hundred percent, we are at serious risk of driving off the proverbial cliff.
BPGL: Why should people produce their own biodiesel? What difference will it make? Why should we care? Pretend I am McCain. Convince me.
FUGATE: Producing your own biodiesel from post-consumer oil not only reduces foreign oil imports but also allows you to keep the money not spent at gas stations at work in the community. We are shipping trillions of dollars to OPEC nations. Exxon profited $15 billion last quarter! Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to keep some of those dollars in our own pockets? Don’t expect our government to do anything meaningful; it’s up to each of us to begin to do what we can. WE must start now if we hope to get anywhere.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Learn how to improve the health of the planet in Grinnell, Iowa, October 31 – November 2, 2008, at the Bioneers TALLGRASS Conference.
The conference “will feature live plenary speakers and workshops on a range of topics, from renewable energy and sustainable farming, to art, design, and social activism.” BIONEER plenary speakers will be broadcast live by satellite from California.
Local speakers include Steve Fugate of Green World Biofuels; Brad Young, who teaches about natural building; Lonnie Gamble, founder of Abundance Ecovillage and Big Green Summer; Mark Kreskowick of Interfaith Power and Light; Jerry Young Bear, speaking about Nature and the Folklore of the Mesqwaki People; and more.
“Sitting in a rice paddy one day in 1995, I watched a Viet Cong soldier pour vegetable oil into his tractor,” says David Sieg, co-author of the Down and Dirty Guides to Making Biodiesel.
Sieg is the subject of BPGL’s first interview, with environmental pioneers, leaders in some aspect of the green movement, writers, inventors, visionaries, and “regular” people, who are putting the principles of “organic, green, and natural” to work in their daily lives. BPGL asked Sieg to talk about how he first got interested in biofuels. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
SIEG: Keep in mind, this was a time when Vietnam and the U.S. were still technically enemies. [BPGL note: On July 11, 1995, President Clinton declared that the U.S. would normalize diplomatic relations with Vietnam, breaking a 20-year standoff.] The farmer was a relative of my future wife, whose family included soldiers on both sides of the conflict. He was one of the rich farmers who could afford a tractor. He couldn’t afford to buy fuel for it, though. I asked him what he was doing, and he explained the tractor would run on vegetable oil, but wouldn’t start on it. So, he used a little bit of diesel to start it, then switched over to vegetable oil. That was my introduction to biofuels. Later, I learned this was something both the Allies and the Nazis had used in World Wars One and Two, which is where the Viet Cong picked it up.
No one had even heard of biofuels or biodiesel at the time. I was hooked. Of course, there was very little information regarding biofuels. But, for me, this was where the foundation was laid. I studied everything I could get my hands on. Later, I found out that Rudolph Diesel invented his engine to be run on vegetable oil as a means for farmers to always have their own fuel supply.
Once the Internet came about, I was able to study biofuel a lot more in depth from some of the true pioneers. I made lots of trips overseas, shared what I knew, and word got around. In around 2004 or so, I returned to Vietnam, thinking at the time that I would live there. It was easy to see, at that point, that the whole energy system was unsustainable and would soon be in crisis. I knew from experience that the hardest hit would be the third world.
BPGL: When you moved back to Vietnam, you became something of a local expert. Tell us about that.
SIEG: I started teaching at a technical college in Vietnam. People soon approached me about what I knew about biofuels. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a pro. I was just a guy whose hobbies included alternative energy. The school asked me if I could make enough biodiesel to run their generators. I was sure I could, so I did. My students and others got involved. They told their parents, many of whom were business owners. Soon I was consulting on lots of projects. This led to using different kinds of oils, like catfish oil, palm oil, etc. And that led — eventually — to algae.
BPGL: You and your wife, Tram Nguyen, have authored a series of books about biodiesel. What motivated you to write about the topic?
SIEG: I started writing about biodiesel simply because, at the time, there was very little “down and dirty” information about it. I mean, I just wanted information I could use, now. I didn’t care about the politics or the technical reasons. It didn’t matter. I just needed hard-hitting information that I could immediately put to use. It started out as my own notes and grew.
The lack of information was even worse about algae biodiesel. There was really no information about it at all. It was brand new and cutting edge. It still is. Unfortunately, I couldn’t use any other information or draw on research of my own. I was working for someone else and confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements pretty much forbade even talking about it. This meant I had to start over. What saved me was that most of the information I had drawn on were public records or studies conducted by the U.S. government that were in the public domain. I was able to recreate a lot of info from that, putting what I knew into it as I went along, adding to it where more explanation or details were needed.
BPGL: Your research covered many different types of oils. Is there one that stands out as more efficient as a fuel, not from a producing point of view, but from an engine point of view? Which provides the best engine efficiency?
SIEG: To me there is no right or wrong answer. Different feedstocks can be used in different places, for different things, for different reasons. In a particular location, one feedstock may be better than another, but there is no “hands down” winner in my opinion. It’s like asking, “Which is better, penicillin or ampicillin?” It really depends on which one you need, right? For example, palm oil is a great feedstock. But in northern climates it gels faster when it gets cold than canola (rapeseed). Does that mean rapeseed is better? That depends on if you live in Europe where it is cheap and plentiful. If you live in Asia, where rapeseed is not that plentiful, or cheap, and the temperatures are warm, then maybe palm oil is better.
Come to Iowa, and I’m sure people here will tell you corn or soybean oil is the best. If however, you can’t abide using food crops for fuel, then neither is any good. Of course, waste oil is a good choice. But the problem with that is, “waste” oil is no longer a “waste”; it has now become a commodity. So the profit advantage from that is now gone, or is shrinking fast.
BPGL: From all that I have read, algae presents the most promising future — high oil content, high number of crops per year and barrels per acre, non-food source, etc. What is your opinion of the future of algae as fuel?
SIEG: Excellent. It has the POTENTIAL to solve a lot, if not all, of our fuel problems. However, there are still lots of hurdles to overcome in producing it commercially. I’d say we are at least two to four years from doing so. But we’re getting there.
BPGL: I understand you’re planning to build a small biodiesel production facility. What fuel source will you use? Cooking oil? Algae? Something else?
SIEG: Algae is cutting-edge, for sure, and still in its infancy. It remains to be seen whether it can become commercially viable. Truthfully, at this point I want to use junk grain. Corn, soybeans, anything that is being thrown out, and/or used as cattle feed. The whole point of alternative energy is to use what is being thrown out, a waste source, and/or free source — such as solar, wind, or geothermal — to create something valuable either from nothing or from trash. You can’t, however, interfere with the food crops. This is a compelling reason some people are using to trash alternative fuels — and they’re correct. It makes no sense to feed engines and furnaces at the expense of food.
However, fuel is a symptom of the disease, not the disease itself. The disease is called the “Internal Combustion Engine.” If we could move beyond the internal combustion engine (and we can) the entire peak oil crisis becomes moot. It would solve the entire fuel debate in a heartbeat.
But my uses will be personal and small scale. I’ll use it to run a generator, maybe a truck. I’ll also be experimenting with sugar beets to distill biogasoline. I’m hoping to be able to do it from household waste or a small energy farm. We’ll see. I have no desire to do it commercially.
BPGL: You said the word “experimenting.” This implies research. Directed toward efficiency? Different sources? Perhaps data for your next book?
SIEG: What I want to do at this point in my life is show people they can become completely energy independent, and do so in ways that doesn’t mean reading by candlelight or eating Spam out of can. To be as comfortable as we are now by re-directing our energies in different way. This can be done NOW. Not 10 years into the future. The technologies are here. It is our thinking which is getting in the way. You can easily eliminate almost 75 percent to 85 percent of your utility bills simply by doing small week-end projects and changing your thinking. You can eliminate it completely using solar and/or wind energy. So I’m looking to buy an old farm house on 10 acres, and make it produce all it’s own energy. Not everyone can buy an old farm, I agree. But everyone could eliminate their utility bill by making small changes in thinking, and very little elbow grease.
BPGL: You were a teacher of bio energy alternatives when you were in Vietnam. Do you intend to teach at a college or junior college here in the States?
SIEG: No. To teach here would mean to be constantly defending every breath you take to fools. Publishing papers for the sake of publishing papers. Life is too short. Why not talk to people who want to listen, rather than trying to convert those who don’t? Let life itself convince them.
SIEG: It’s not that simple, and too many factors come into play. There also isn’t a “one-size-fits-all,” or a “paint-by-numbers” method of doing it. What you have to remember is that using algae for oil isn’t a “static” process like mixing biodiesel. Algae is not an inert material, it’s a life form.
Biodiesel is a pretty straightforward process: Mix “A” into “B,”,then mix “A” + “B” into “C” to make “D.” People make the mistake that making fuel from algae is the same process. Algae, however, is a “dynamic” process, meaning it changes all the time. Introducing a life form into the equation forces that change. The capacity for variation is almost endless. To that end, trial and error, in any personal situation, is almost guaranteed.
But to answer your question, an individual can start by getting any local strain of algae and see if they can make it produce and reproduce. It’s not easy to mimic nature, not even for a one-celled organism. The complexities of even simple organisms are staggering. But that would be the beginning of the journey. After that, they need to find an oil-bearing strain of algae, and see if they can get that to reproduce. Sounds simple, right? I mean after all, the stuff will grow in your birdbath. Give it a try. Easier said than done.
BPGL: Tell me about your Down and Dirty series of eBooks.
SIEG: They cover just about everything you need to know about biodiesel at this point. My books are more expensive than most and they’re worth it.
BPGL: Who is your target audience? Who do you think needs these books?
SIEG: Anyone who believes in thinking globally and acting locally, anyone who wants to make a difference in the environment, anyone who believes that oil companies don’t have to be our natural destiny, anyone who wants to be energy independent, anyone who doesn’t believe in wars for oil. In short, just about everyone, sooner or later.
In my next set of eBooks, I’ll be getting away from biofuels (sort of) and concentrating on making people energy independent. Like I said, it’s possible. I’m going to show people how.
BPGL: Describe your average reader.
SIEG: Describe your average person. About 75 percent of my customers are from the USA, I’d say 10 percent from the EU, or Australia, and about 15% from everywhere else.
BPGL: Why is it so important for people to have this information? How is this information going to help the planet?
SIEG: Change is going to happen. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when. I think most thinking people understand this now. Either we have to take a pro-active step in cleaning up the global consequences of climate change, or Mother Nature will do it for us. The first step, once again, is going to be weaning ourselves off of hydrocarbon fuels. Then, second, taking away the nipple of the internal combustion engine. Period. End of story. If we don’t, then history is full of lost civilizations and we’ll become another one of them. I’m not trying to be “Doom and Gloom” about this, but to me anyway, at this point the outcome is pretty clear. We either clean up the mess, or we suffer with it. I don’t see a third choice.
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