Low cost techniques for heating, cooling, energy generation, and conservation

(...continued from How to Live Well on Very, Very Little)

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(latest update of this section on or about 9-1-2002)

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Heat against the cold

Conserving any heat already present reduces the need for more. Staying dry and protected from the wind or drafts both help conserve heat. Wearing multiple thin layers of clothing is better than depending on one thick layer for insulation. An insulative head covering can make a bigger difference in retaining warmth than many would expect. Insulating a home and sealing or reducing the sizes of holes and cracks (or blocking them) also helps retain heat. Applying transparent plastic sheeting over windows helps reduce heat loss while still allowing daylight in and visibility out.

A methane digester can be built and operated to produce methane gas suitable for burning for cooking, heating, lighting, and other purposes. However, such a digester requires large amounts of animal waste to be practical. A single family household's cooking needs alone would require at minimum a steady supply of wastes from hundreds of chickens, or from two large animals like cows or horses.

Such a digester also produces a sludge suitable for use as crop fertilizer.

Construction and operation of a digester is not complex, but does entail some important safety precautions, as methane is flammable and potentially explosive. Be sure to research well your digester project before undertaking it.

In wartime some people were known to adapt methane digesters to produce fuel for automobiles. However, this required giant bags of the gas be attached to car roofs to store the stuff.

-- Methane Digesters; page 123, Reader's Digest Back to Basics [shop for this]; 1981

The heating costs for a home or other structure may also be minimized via careful planning, design, and construction, to maximize the building's exploitation of sunlight and convection ventilation.

Links relating to this subject may include:

| California Solar Center _ Passive Solar History | California Solar Center - Solar Thermal History | California Solar Center _ Photovoltaics History | California Solar Center - Solar e-Clips | Greenstar solar power, MP3 music, art, digital video, culture | Solar Power FAQs | 7 Solar Water Heating System Designs by Michael Hackleman Issue #65 | Is steam power in your future by Skip Goebel Issue 43 | A solar primer How it works, how it's made, what it costs by Jeffrey R. Yago Issue #72 | Making and using a solar cooker by Joe Radabaugh Issue 30 | Solar Building Design by Steven Heckeroth Issue #63 | Solar Energy | solar-powered home

For example, you should include the biggest reasonable store of thermal mass (material which stores heat during surpluses and releases it during deficits) you can in your design. Sheltering the house via surrounding earth can help tremendously in keeping it comfortable all year around at minimum expense (Just make sure to thoroughly water-proof and insulate it all, too).

It's possible by way of methods like the above to build homes which remain comfortable all year round with little or no energy consuming, active heating and ventilation (only passive)-- and do it successfully in many regions of the world . Likewise with water needs-- at least in intake. Suitable rainwater collection and processing can provide all of a small to mid-size household's needs in many regions of the world, if such systems are correctly designed and maintained, and the users are not extravagant in their consumption.

Passive solar heating and gas or wood burning appliances remain the most cost-effective means of producing highly concentrated heat sources for homes circa 2002. Electricity is a costly source of heat at this time.

Landscaping can also have an impact on a home's energy efficiency, by offering a sun shade in warm seasons and windbreaks in cold, as well as other benefits. Shading-Natural Cooling and SAPLING Architecture, Planning & Landscape INformation Gateway may offer more info on this subject.

| Generators | Building your own generator | Bicycle Powered Generator | Pedal Powered Generator | $300 solar power generator | Energy | Diesel generator power is a sensible choice especially when integrated into the total system by Skip Thomsen Issue 43 | Don't discount a generator, especially a diesel generator, as your primary power source by Skip Thomsen Issue 28 |

An electrolysis device developed in 1999 by Paul Zambo in Cameroon economically uses a small electricity source to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gas, which in turn may be burned as fuel (for up to a 90% energy cost savings compared to previous cooking fuel sources in regions like Cameroon).

-- A miraculous new device created by an inventor in Cameroon is turning water into gas, 30th June 1999, BBC Online - Tomorrow's World - Features - Cameroon Inventors, http://www.bbc.co.uk/ (possibly found online on or around 7th September 1999)

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Please note that a suitable system for catching and condensing the exhaust from the burning of the hydrogen and oxygen gases above (including a stove hood of some sort?) could also produce a supply of purified drinking water for users. If suitable photovoltaics (solar cells) or wind or water powered generators were available, they might provide a free or very low cost source of electricity for the electrolysis process. END NOTES.

In some cases large scale sewage facilities may be revamped to provide energy from the wastes they process. New research turns sewage farms into power plants, Sewage turned into hydrogen fuel, and team engineers hydrogen from biomass offer some information on this subject. Battery powered by leftover food and Food scraps could help power homes might offer more cutting edge ideas on power generation from readily available raw materials.

Another potentially low cost and low maintenance way to produce hydrogen and oxygen gases for fuel and pure water purposes might be the engineering of shallow covered ponds or enclosed mats of algae which are stressed in cycles during exposure to sunlight. Staggering the cycle schedules among multiple mats could in theory produce a continuous supply of the desired gases during daylight hours. Scaling up the operation might even produce commercial or industrial quantities.

Algae can be made to produce substantial quantities of hydrogen gas by way of photosynthesis. This breakthrough means valuable high quality and pollution-free fuel may be generated with a combination of water and sunlight. The process may require another 10 years or so of development to be made commercially viable. By simply removing all sulfur from the algae's surroundings, the algae can be forced to begin using its internal stores of food in a different manner than normal-- thereby releasing hydrogen gas. The algae must periodically (every several days) be given a chance to recharge themselves with their normal metabolic processes, however.

-- Common algae can be valuable source of hydrogen fuel, 21 FEBRUARY 2000, EurekAlert! Contact: Kathleen Scalise; kms@pa.urel.berkeley.edu; 510-643-7741; University of California, Berkeley http://www.eurekalert.org/releases/ucb-cac021800.html

Another related URL was http://www.urel.berkeley.edu/urel_1/CampusNews/PressReleases/releases/01-27-2000b.html

Chlamydomonas reinhardtii algae makes use of the enzyme hydrogenase to split water into oxygen and hydrogen in a form of biological electrolysis. Properly maintained, the fuel producing algae appear capable to continue cycling through the hydrogen production process indefinitely. Despite its many theoretical advantages, hydrogen fuel does pose challenges in the area of safe storage, among other things.

-- Algae May Be 'Green' Fuel of Future - Experts Reuters/Yahoo! Science Headlines, February 21, 2000

Cheap production and safe storage of hydrogen fuel is somewhat of a Holy Grail in energy circles. Now it appears common algae may offer half of what's required to reach the goal.

Algae's ancient capacities to switch from digesting carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight to produce needed nutrients as well as waste oxygen, to subsisting off internal stores of carbohydrates, water, and sunlight to produce the same nutrients but output waste hydrogen might offer us some pointers for future technological breathing backups for soldiers, astronauts, and undersea workers. The algae uses the backup system wherever there is no sulfur or oxygen. This alternative breathing system is not shared with other plants in nature-- but scientists envision it being added via genetic engineering to higher plants perhaps. It would also be helpful if the process could be reworked to operate in normal atmospheric conditions (where oxygen is present) as well.

It may be 20 years or longer before hydrogen fuel serves as a major pillar of the world's energy usage. At present hydrogen must be made relatively expensively from natural gas.

-- Pond algae can be prompted to produce hydrogen on demand By PAUL RECER, February 21, 2000, Nando Media/Associated Press, http://www.nandotimes.com

Lastly, relating to heat sources, possessing the skill and resources to readily create and maintain a flame on demand-- without modern aids like cigarrette lighters or matches-- may be the most important single survival skill under harsh or adverse conditions. There's a wealth of methods to choose from here. Just one is keeping a magnifying glass handy, which will allow you to use sunlight to start a flame. The same result can be accomplished with a suitably shaped chunk of ice. Other types of lenses can be used as well. Even a glass bottle filled with water sometimes works for this. Electrical sparks from batteries of various sorts may be used to start a flame too. Obtaining a detailed how-to book for these methods and others should make you forever self-sufficient in fire-starting. Many of the books in this vein are of the 'survivalist' variety.

-- Survival With Style [shop for this] by Bradford Angier, Vintage Books, 1972

Always keep in mind the danger from smoke inhalation or carbon monoxide stemming from inadequate ventilation with regards to indoor fires or gas stoves, wherever such heat sources form a part of your home energy usage.

Cold against the heat

Preserving any coolness already or naturally present, as well as shielding against the entry or absorbtion of more heat, will both reduce the need for active cooling resources.

In hot climates, underground storage will typically stay cooler than aboveground facilities. As cool air sinks and hot air rises, underground repositories will also retain cold longer in general. Minimizing or sealing gaps where warmer air might enter or flow around the spot you wish to keep cool would also be advisable.

In certain cases like entry points to homes or ice houses, building in an air lock or at least an L-shaped entry corrider could help preserve interior temperatures. An air lock is essentially something like a small roofed and walled-in porch, hopefully large or lengthy enough so that it'll be unusual for both the outer door and inner door to both be open at once. Thus, neither heat nor cold passes easily between the outside and inside of a home through such airlocks.

An L-shaped corrider can deflect excessive wind and sunlight from an entry way.

When designing air locks and L-shaped corridors keep in mind the most useful entry points to a home are large and straightforward enough to allow even the largest furniture and appliances to be easily moved in and out through the doorways when necessary.

A non-electric refrigerator which works in hot regions and can be built for under one US dollar, may be built thusly:

Put one earthenware pot inside a larger one, packing the space inbetween with wet (but not dripping) sand. Store the system in a guaranteed dry but well-ventilated spot. Evaporative cooling of the water in the clay structure of the pots and the sand keeps the inner pot cool, stretching the storage life of some vegetables from hours to days.

This idea won a Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2000 (www.rolexawards.com).

-- Scientific American: Science and The Citizen: Desert Fridge by Naomi Lubick: November 2000

Cooling a home or other structure may also be done via careful planning, design, and construction, to minimize the building's absorption and retention of heat from various sources. Evaporative cooling, shading from landscaping or artificial means, strong ventilation, and other measures may all prove fruitful.

Simply painting a roof white to make it reflect rather than absorb some solar heat can help keep interior temperatures tolerable and safe for the elderly and infants.

-- Saving lives with white roofs

One active refrigeration method may be available as a byproduct of electricity generation (see next section).

Related links include:

| Keeping your food cold Solutions to refrigeration when electricity is scarce by Michael Hackleman Issue 56 | Crosley IcyBall | DO-IT-YOURSELF ABSORPTION REFRIGERATOR |

Miscellaneous unorganized links

The links below are some I'm considering for inclusion in one or more categories above, or other reference for future updates. Some of the links may end up being discarded later for reasons of broken URLs or others. So consider this list to be 'raw'; that is, not all of the sites will necessarily be good and valuable links for the purposes of this page. I include them here because (A) this is a handy place for me to personally check them out when I get the chance, and (B), where some of the links do prove valuable, having them here gives YOU the earliest possible access to them. I've included my personal first impressions on various sites too, where available.

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If you have suggestions for improvements or additions to this page, please send them. You never know: it might be your idea that saves the world.

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The above article(s) come from and make references to a collection copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 by J.R. Mooneyham (except where otherwise noted in the text). Text here explicitly authored by J.R. Mooneyham may be freely copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes in paper and electronic form without charge if this copyright paragraph and link to jmooneyham.com or jrmooneyham.com are included.

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