Tag Archives: energy production

A tribute to Jean Pain and Solar Impulse

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I WAS thrilled to hear that the world’s first fully solar powered aircraft, Solar Impulse, successfully completed its first international flight last week. The Swiss solar powered aircraft flew for a full 13 hours from Payerne to Brussels without using a single drop of fuel. Granted that the aircraft is slow moving (with a top speed of around 50 km/h), Solar Impulse represents an astonishing feat of engineering and shows just how much can be achieved with renewable technology. Gizmag.com suggests that we may even look back on this period as a “Wright brothers moment” in the history of aviation.

According to Gizmag: “A rough calculation tells us that a Boeing 747 would have used around 7 570 litres of fuel to make the same trip. Of course it’s not much of a comparison when you consider that a commercial airliner can carry hundreds of people, but one can’t help but think that the seeds of a new era are being sewn. Solar Impulse is powered by 4×10 horsepower electric engines, the Wright brothers had 12 horsepower at their disposal when they flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903.”

We should not neglect these significant moments in history. It brings to mind the ecological work done by a Frenchman who died in 1981. My attention was drawn to this great innovator by a contact living in Russia who happened across a video made by some permaculture students living in New Zealand. Ah, the joys of Facebook!

Jean Pain (1930-1981) was a self-taught organic gardener, forester, and biotechnologist who developed a compost-based bio-energy system that produced 100% of his energy needs. It can be argued that he was a genius ahead of his time, as three decades later we continue to develop efficient bio-energy systems with new technologies that are as efficient. Pain’s work is certainly worth celebrating, so I wish to offer this as a tribute to the great man.

The Jean Pain Method

"This power plant supplies all a rural household’s energy needs. It is a mound of tiny brushwood pieces (three metres high and six across). This compost mound is made of tree limbs and pulverized underbrush. The 50 ton compost is in a steel tank with a capacity of four cubic metres. It is three-fourths full of the same compost, which has first been steeped in water for two months. The tank is hemetically sealed, but is connected by a tubing of 24 truck tyre inner tubes, banked near by a reservoir for the methane gas produced as the compost ferments" — www.daenvis.org

"This power plant supplies all a rural household’s energy needs. It is a mound of tiny brushwood pieces (three metres high and six across). This compost mound is made of tree limbs and pulverized underbrush. The 50 ton compost is in a steel tank with a capacity of four cubic metres. It is three-fourths full of the same compost, which has first been steeped in water for two months. The tank is hemetically sealed, but is connected by a tubing of 24 truck tyre inner tubes, banked near by a reservoir for the methane gas produced as the compost ferments" — http://www.daenvis.org

The method of creating usable energy from composting materials has come to be known as the Jean Pain Method. By distilling methane, Pain was able to run an electricity generator, fuel his truck and power all his electric appliances. Pain lived on a 241-hectare timber farm, so had free access to the raw materials needed to produce energy.

Pain essentially constructed a compost power plant (of his own design) using brushwood and pulverized underbrush, which supplied 100% of his and his wife’s household energy needs. Pain estimated that 10 kilos of brushwood would supply the gas equivalent of a litre of petrol.

Jean PainPain spent considerable attention developing prototypes of machines required to macerate small tree trunks and limbs; one of these, a tractor-driven model, was awarded fourth prize in the 1978 Grenoble Agricultural Fair, according to Wikipedia.

When compost decomposes or ferments it produces heat. By burying 200 metres of pipe within a large compost mound, Pain was able to heat four litres of water a minute to 60 degrees Celsius. A sizeable compost heap continues to ferment for 18 months, after which the installation is dismantled, the humus is used to mulch and fertilise soils, and a new compost system is erected.

Jean Pain’s methane generator took 90 days to produce 500 cubic metres of gas. However, this is enough to power two ovens and three burner stoves for a full year. Pain’s methane-fueled combustion also powered a generator which produced 100 watt-hours of electricity every hour. Pain was also able to store this current in an accumulative battery, which could be used to power lights.

The Jean Pain Method is an amazingly simple and incredibly inexpensive system of extracting both energy and fertiliser from plant life. Pain worked within the balance of nature to become truly self sufficient. May history honour his memory.


The Future: energy production and longevity

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THE FUTURE: Drinking water, energy, food production and longevity

WHAT we call “the future” may be closer than we think. The technology and solutions for many global issues already exist both in theory and practice; they just need to be properly implemented. Growing populations, clean drinking water, electricity, food production and even longevity are all on the cards within the coming decades…

Energy production in major cities

electricityFIRSTLY let’s just get something out of the way here. The whole energy crisis mumbo-jumbo is a complete myth. When there is something like load-shedding, this is the result of inefficiency. There is no longer a need to burn finite fossil fuels to produce electricity. Geothermal energy alone (which comes from the Earth) could power the entire planet for billions of years to come.

What’s more likely to happen, however, is that cities will use a combination of sustainable and renewable energy sources. We are all already familiar with tidal, wind and solar power, but some scientists are looking at heavy pedestrian areas as a possible energy source.

American inventor Elizabeth Redmond is looking at ways of generating electricity from human kinetic energy­, or foot traffic, using what she calls the POWERleap Flooring system. Thin and spongy smart panels which contain micro generators, produce piezoelectricity from applied mechanical pressure.

Power is produced and stored on the spot as people walk over them and go about their daily business. Placing these panels over busy sidewalks or pedestrian areas would produce enough electricity to power a large portion of a city’s electrical infrastructure (traffic lights, elevators­ etc.). Not only that, but sidewalks and cities would be a lot quieter too.

Longevity and Ageing

Anti-AgeingIT would be such a shame if all of this was to come to pass and we weren’t around to experience it. Exercise and diet aside, genetics are the way forward if we wish to enjoy longer life spans.

A good start for advancing longevity would be to have a personal copy of your genome or genetic profile. Iceland is already having its entire population profiled, which is a logical start as Iceland is a relatively small and closed population. Having­ an accurate copy of your body’s instruction manual, will allow you to take preventive measures in advance before the unfavourable genes strike.

Advances in modern medicine are also promising to extend our lives within the coming decades. A longevity gene has already been isolated which is currently extending the life span of mice two-fold. Fortunately we all possess this gene, it’s just a matter of triggering it. It may very well be possible to simply pop a “longevity pill” in the near future. You might also be delighted to know that the active ingredient for the longevity gene is found in red wine.

According to Cambridge scholar and founder of the Methuselah Foundation, Aubrey DeGrey, keeping our bodies young and youthful is just a matter of maintenance. DeGrey believes that we can combat ageing by treating it as a simple engineering problem. “When things break, we can fix them”, says DeGrey.

DeGrey’s Methuselah Foundation is offering a whopping grand prize of $4,5 million (roughly R31,5 million) to the research group that can most successfully extend the life span of lab mice by breaking the world record for the oldest mouse. The “Mprize” is designed to directly accelerate the development of revolutionary new life extension therapies, and it’s working.

The Future: What comes next?

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THE FUTURE: clean Drinking water, electricity, food production and longevity

WHAT we call “the future” may be closer than we think. The technology and solutions for many global issues already exist both in theory and practice; they just need to be properly implemented. Growing populations, clean drinking water, electricity, food production and even longevity are all on the cards within the coming decades…

Distilling fresh drinking water

Water splashDESPITE our little Earth being more than two-thirds water­, only three percent of this is drinkable. To make matters worse, a large portion of this miniscule percentage is either polluted or contaminated. Despite what some doomsayers might say, a lack of fresh water is single-handedly the biggest threat to the survival of our species and many others.

So how can we produce more of it cheaply? Simple. Boil dirty water beyond recognition. Boiling water at extreme temperatures not only kills germs, but rising water vapour leaves behind any sediment or pollutants, which don’t vaporise. Water vapour collected via this distilling process is highly pure and drinkable.

American inventor of the Segway, Dean Kamen, has invented a small portable device that can produce clean drinking water from any source — even ocean water and sewage. He calls it the Slingshot, which is designed to produce 1000 litres of clean drinking water a day and can be manufactured for under $2 000 (roughly R14 000).

Of course it takes huge amounts of energy to boil water at such temperatures. To counter this, Kamen uses­ a heat-exchange device which is powered by heat and produces the energy needed to create heat. This closed loop of energy allows the Slingshot to run on less power than a toaster.

Food production in major cities

Sky farmIT is estimated that about 80% of what grows in the ground can be grown indoors under controlled environments. Indoor farms and hydroponics (growing plants without soil) make so much sense when we consider that the majority of the world’s population lives in densely populated urban areas.

Furthermore, growing food directly where it’s needed, will result in lower inflation and therefore cheaper food. No fuel or transport costs would affect the price of staple foodstuffs. Weather conditions would no longer be an issue and we would no longer need to worry about farm attacks.

According to Dr Dickson Despommier from the University of Columbia, a 30-story high sky farm about the size of one New York city block, could consistently feed around 50 000 people per year. The logic is quite simple: to produce food where the people live. The result would be being able to get freshly picked fruit and vegetables easily and cheaply on a daily basis.

Link: The Vertical Farm

The power of the planet

ELECTRICITY: All you ever wanted to know about power generation but were too afraid to ask

Planet powerDO you remember when South Africa experienced what was portrayed in the media as a “power crisis” last year? You know, when the country was experiencing regular power cuts due to poor planning on our government’s part? Does “Eishkom, she’s broken” ring a bell? It almost seems like a distant memory now.

What concerned me most about that little historical moment was not the thought of sitting in the dark burning candles for a good few months, but rather everyone’s poor attitude toward the whole ‘crisis’.

Some people (not only South Africans) really believed that SA was going to be left in the dark for an entire age. The majority spent their new-found energy — after being freed from watching TV, surfing the Internet and playing on computers — to slate Eskom and the government and express their hasty thoughts that South Africa was going to the dogs.

Also huddled in the dark during the same crisis one might have heard the reassuring utterances of a few positive South Africans who believed that everything would be fine and order and light would soon restore itself. And that it.

We’ve got the power!
Due to the non-renewable nature of fossil fuels, which are burned to produce the majority of our electricity, it is only natural to be fearful of it one day running out and leaving us in the dark. However, few are aware of our current state of technology regarding energy production. A large portion of the public is also unaware of how sustainable and abundant our planet actually is.

Currently we don’t have to burn fossil fuels at all. There are many renewable sources of energy available that are clean, sustainable and abundant.

Hydro, solar and wind are three powerful sources currently available that require virtually no preliminary energy to harness (unlike coal, oil, gas, biomass, hydrogen and all the others). Scientists are even developing better ways to harness geothermal energy from deep beneath the bowels of the Earth itself.

If used in combination, and efficiently harnessed through technology, these four mediums alone could power the world forever…

Wind powerWind power is the conversion of wind energy into electricity using wind turbines. Several countries have already achieved relatively high levels of wind power penetration, such as 19% of stationary electricity production in Denmark. As of May 2009, eighty countries around the world are using wind power on a commercial basis.

Wind energy has long been denounced as weak, and due to it being location-driven, impractical. However, this is simply not true. The US department of energy admitted in 2007 that if wind was fully harvested in just three of America’s 50 states it could power the entire nation.

Using wind energy as a power source is an attractive alternative to fossil fuels, because it is plentiful, renewable, widely distributed, clean, and produces no greenhouse gas emissions.

Theoretically, wind power available in the atmosphere is much greater than current world energy consumption. The most comprehensive study to date found the potential of wind power on land and near-shore to be over five times the world’s current energy use in all forms.

Solar powerSolar power is the result of converting sunlight into electricity. This solar energy has such abundance that one hour of light at high noon contains more energy than what the entire world consumes in a year. If we could capture one hundredth of a percent (.01%) of this energy the world would never have to use oil, gas or anything else ever again.

The question it is not availability but the technology to harness it and there are many advanced mediums today which could accomplish just that. Some technologies, such as solar thermal concentrators have an element of thermal storage, such as molten salts. These store spare solar energy in the form of heat which is made available overnight or during periods that solar power is not available to produce electricity.

Many developing countries are building solar power plants, replacing other sources of energy generation. Since solar radiation is intermittent, solar power generation is usually combined either with storage or other energy sources to provide continuous power.

On a slightly larger scale, in Germany, a combined power plant has been demonstrated, using a mix of wind, biomass, hydro-, and solar power generation, resulting in 100% renewable energy.

Geothermal power is power extracted from heat stored in the earth by a process called “heat mining”. This energy originates from the original formation of the planet, from radioactive decay of minerals, and from solar energy absorbed at the surface. Through a simple process using water, heat mining is able to generate massive amounts of clean energy.

Geothermal wells do release greenhouse gases trapped deep within the earth, but these emissions are much lower per energy unit than those of conventional fossil fuels. As a result, geothermal power has the potential to help mitigate global warming if widely deployed in place of fossil fuels.

Geothermal power

Geothermal power is also highly scalable, with a large geothermal plant being capable of powering entire cities. It is cost effective, reliable, and environmentally-friendly and recent technological advances have dramatically expanded the range and size of viable resources, especially for applications such as home heating.

In 2006 an MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) report on geothermal energy found that 13 000 zettajoules of power are currently available in the earth with the possibility of 2 000 ZJ being easily tapable with improved technology. The total energy consumption of all the countries on the planet is about half of a zettajoule a year. This means about 4000 years of planetary power could be harnessed in this medium alone. And when we understand that the earth’s heat generation is constantly renewed, this energy is really limitless and could be used forever.

Hydropower stationHYDROPOWER
Hydraulic power or water power is power that is derived from the force or energy of moving water. Hydroelectric power currently supplies about 715,000 megawatts or 19% of the world’s electricity. Hydropower produces essentially no carbon dioxide or other harmful emissions and can be far less expensive than electricity generated from fossil fuels or nuclear energy. The chief advantage of hydroelectric dams is their ability to handle seasonal (as well as daily) high peak loads.

  • Tidal power
    Tidal power is derived from tidal shifts in the ocean. Installing turbines which capture this movement generates energy. The trapped water turns turbines as it is released through the tidal barrage in either direction. In the United Kingdom 42 sites are currently noted as available – forecasting that 34% of all the UK’s energy could come from tidal power alone.
  • Tidal stream power
    A relatively new technology, tidal stream generators draw energy from currents in much the same way that wind generators do. The higher density of water means that a single generator can provide significant power. This technology is at the early stages of development and will require more research before it becomes a significant contributor. Several prototypes have shown promise.
  • Wave power
    Harnessing power from ocean surface wave motion might yield much more energy than tides. Generators either coupled to floating devices or turned by air displaced by waves in a hollow concrete structure would produce electricity. For countries with large coastlines and rough sea conditions, the energy of waves offers the possibility of generating electricity in utility volumes. In fact, it is estimated to have a global potential of up to 80.000 terawatt-hours a year. This means 50% of the entire planets energy usage could be produced from this medium alone.

This post was inspired by the documentary film Zeitgeist Addendum. To join the global Zeitgesit movement visit www.thezeitgeistmovement.com and become a part of the solution to the global crisis.

You can read the next two parts to this series below:
Part 2:
A world without money
Part 3: Incentive to work