Thursday, January 7, 2016

Electro-technology Dreams

Offshore wind turbines may or may not appear off the coast of Maryland.  The US Wind lease of over 125 square miles of ocean to build a 750 MW wind power array by 2020 would be a first for the U.S. In spite of the apparent progress (ocean surveys, turbine purchase actions), financial headwinds face Italy where US Wind's parent company, Renexia, resides. Just recovering from the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Italy will face the coming worldwide recession too early.  Renexia's lack of financial transparency is not at all reassuring.

Aside from solar and wind, generating electricity on a residential scale from biomass, fuel cells, or closed-conduit hydropower include the opportunity to net-meter (that is, sell power on the grid) in Maryland.  Micro-combined heat and power (CHP) installations also qualify. Micro CHP (not to be confused with microchip) is exactly the kind of power that can be generated from a heat source such as those used to make biochar.  A start-up company called NanoConversion Technologies is coming out with a thermoelectric generator that they say beats Stirling engines, cost-wise.  The problem of capturing and using the waste heat from biochar could thereby be made a lot more feasible, since the operating temperature is near that for these devices. The components, which hold sodium, alumina, hot and cold fluids, and electro-magnetic fields, seem like they would cost considerably, so economics may prove to be the difficulty with this technology, as well.  However, they show humanitarian relief as a possible application of the device, so I may be pleasantly surprised at the price-tag.

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