26 April, 2007

Salt-Cracking Biodiesel

I've just seen this in my searches but I don't know if I'm convinced. There are several companies that claim to be able to do this, here's one, but I wouldn't know if I would trust a diesel engine to this technology. Also, of course, there's the energy balance requirement, i.e. is it cheaper in terms of initial energy to produce several kilos of salt and then use an electric blender to crack the oil or will it turn out cheaper in energy terms to use the traditional KaOH method?

I've read that the magic crystals will absorb the ionic parts (like salts and alkalis) out of the fuel but that introduces another stage that needs energy to produce, being the crystals. (And if there's a way to re-use them, that too will cost energy.)

Plus, I wonder what the effect of pouring salty fuel into an engine? Since that can happen, if the absorbent crystals are spent or you don't do a good enough job of cleaning the fuel.

My money's on making biodiesel by whatever methods you find most useful, then washing it with water and evaporating the water out, preferably using solar energy. I still haven't had a chance to play with the technology yet but it's on my list, and then I'll try a variety of methods and keep you posted on the cleanest and most economically produced diesel. This will take a while but I will do it.

24 April, 2007

Subsistence Gardens

I have a few things on the go, for the high vege prices expected soon. Let's say - if you could grow some of your own veges with minimum hassle - would you? If so I may have an answer. And as long as you have a balcony or north-facing window, you too could be reducing your food bills.

I'll try and write up these instructions and get them online in the next few weeks, as I am experimenting as I go which always makes for slow going.

At the moment I'm making up a small frame to test how well it goes, and will try and keep it going through this winter as well. (As this should be able to produce vegetables all year around, otherwise we might as well shop at Woolies and pay top dollar for poor produce...)

Yes it will be Zen and no there will be no GroLites - you're welcome but the amount of speculation you'll put yourself up for is not worth the hassle... hehehe...

18 April, 2007

Where The Bloody Hell's Yer Head At?

I love a good solution to a water crisis, I really do. But this isn't it. Look, it was enough of a worry that we are looking at smaller and smaller dam water volumes every year, to the point where we may yet have to forego our great Suburban Icon, the Green Lawn. Politicians and spokespeople for the tourism and hospitality industries quite correctly point out that if we lose the Green City image and acquire a Brown City image, we will lose a significant amount of hospitality-related income. And I agree - that way lies a slow slide into the dustbowl. Less appealing city, less people. Less people, less rates and incomes. Less money, less resources to throw at the water crisis... Repeat until ghost town status is achieved...

So why is Mr Derry's plan not the answer then? After all he's right - the Kimberley has vast reserves of groundwater. Okay then let's examine the alternatives. I have a pretty green bias as most of you will know, and it will show in the following paragraphs.

My favourite plan(s):
Yarragadee aquifer / Collie dam / Desalination.
I recently had occasion to spend an evening at a BBQ with an engineer whop has been involved with establishing whether or not the Yarragadee aquifer would be viable and ecologically sound. His (totally off the record, totally honest - he had no idea I'd blog about it) summary is that the plan calls for 45GL of water to be drawn off the Yarragadee annually, and that this would reduce the amount of overflow from the Yarragadee from somewhere between 200GL and 340GL per annum to 155GL to 295GL - in other words, the aquifer would remain overfull at all times and continue to run off excwess water into the sea.

That kind of makes a hash of all the "ecologically unsound" protests which are being touted as the reason to refuse to do this. Combining this with Mr Derry's plan to blend saltier Collie water would produce a far cheaper source of water for the urban area. That's around 90GL extra water per year, at what turns out ot be the lowest cost, and the lowest impact on the environment. In combination with desalination plant, this can actually make the desal plant idea look good too.

Desal plants.
These are not desirable, not because of direct impact on the environment, but because of the energy bill. Energy bills have to be paid for with greenhouse gas emissions, unless someone can make solar/wind energy do the entire desalination process.

And the local impact? As measured in the fairly enclosed area of Cockburn Sound where our first desal plant has been running at 105% of nameplate capacity (around 155ML per day) for the last two or three months as a shakedown run: The plant returns saline water and the extracted salt back into the sea, and from there it disperses extremely rapidly. The extra salt was undetectable at any point 50m or more from the discharge pipe, that is, within 50m all that extra salt is redistributed by even the feeble currents in the Sound.

So if you combine blended water with desalination, you have three extra sources of water for Perth, the Collie Dam, Yarragadee, and desal water which will ensure that we have a chance of water supply continuing even if some mechanical failure strikes, it will rarely disable all three sources AND the existing dams.

Kimberley Pipeline:
The Kimberley has huge reserves it is true, but the point at which the water is to be taken up, but in reality it has not that much more overflow capacity than the Yarragadee aquifer. The same issues will apply there too - putting them a few thousand kilometres away from Perth doesn't make any difference to that. Yes there may be a few less people to be affected if anything goes wrong, but then where do you draw the line? How many people's votes does it take before you shy away from a plan? Because of course that's what it all boils down to...

But. With that said, we already have a prodigious pipeline carrying water, to Kalgoorlie. We know the technology of pipes works, and hey - will you look at that - we are actually one of the biggest iron ore resources in the world! Our politicians have for decades played vote-pandering with the idea of a smelter to produce iron locally. We don't have any such value-adding because everyone can find reasons not to start doing something productive. In truth, we could have a Government-subsidised smelter in the middle of the state near Karratha or someplace, and manufacture that iron into steel pipes, and then use those steel pipes to bring water down. Right past the plant, so that it can darw process water from the pipeline eventually, and because we're producing it here, the Kimberley Pipeline can suddenly become a cheap alternative.

Once in production, the pipeline will have the least environmental impact, and the dependence on Yarragadee and Collie water can be reduced, and in fact those pipelines can then carry water in the other directions if needed due to further climate drying.

The Derry Tanker Plan:
As I said, environmental footprint is my major concern. Building and operating a fleet of supertankers and coastal loading and unloading facilities is not an environmentally sustainable plan at all, I'm sorry. Come on! Several million tons of fuel oil burned every year just to push a tanker back and forth, and remember that one direction is totally unladen as you can't in all conscience carry anything else in a tanker meant to carry drinking water back up the coast, so that immediately wastes half the fuel, and means that the plan has generated two loads of pollution per tankerload of water we receive.

Building a supertanker costs hundreds of millions and well into the billions, especially since we would need to develop the tankers specifically for carrying potable water and making sure it stays potable all the way down the coast. You conceivably need at least two of them, and probably would need a fleet eventually. You need to set up a water loading and unloading facility and harbout for the tankers. In addition to the energy bill for hauling it and hauling the empty tanker back, you also have an energy bill to load the water, and another to unload it. And I realise Mr Derry is proposing to use oil supertankers but in all seriousness can you imagine the cost of just cleaning those tanks to make the drinking water safe, let alone re-lining them? Have you ever seen or smelled crude oil? Its main component is decomposed dinosaurs and trees, remember....

And there's maintenance. Ships are notoriously hard on maintenance costs, because there's a lot to go wrong. A pipeline, be it from the Yarragadee or the Kimberley, just has pumping stations along the way, and you can power those from wind and solar energy at each station, and if we do the clever thing and make the pipe locally, we have plenty of spares - eventually one could even build a redundant line to use while maintaining existing sections.

I strongly urge every one of you who reads this to consider what we want. We don't want a quick fix, and we definitely don't want to create an environmental disaster. And right now, taking water from aquifers outside our immediate region may seem a radical thing to do, but increasing our consumption of fossil fuels is the best thing to do. There's no point in establishing a new water source if we're going to ignore the reasons why we have a water shortage in the first place, and exacerbate those very causes.

For those of you who question why an ecologically-minded person would countenance a plan to build a smelter - I am also aware of how much more dearly it costs us to mine the ore here, ship it overseas, then ship the finished product back. These things all have an energy cost as well, and it is an energy cost that's more than the cost of smelting and processing locally.

Lastly, I urge everyone who reads this article to start thinking not about the dollar cost of solutions, but the energy/pollution costs instead. Once you start, you'll automatically become more economical...


13 April, 2007

Cos Its The Season To Make Olives

Want to make your own but not sure how? Seeing as it's the season when the olive trees are bearing loads of plump little darlings, here's the lowdown:

GREEN OLIVES: Avoid them, the flavour is nice but the lye solution processing is hardly worth it. Well, okay - if you must, here are some other people's methods. Personally, I will leave green olives to the experts. Here's another page of olive recipes.

BLACK OLIVES: Two ways to prepare them that are quick and easy, the first way is more trouble and results in olives with less of the very compounds we want for a Body Friendly diet, and involves spreading the olives on a fine mesh and sun-drying them until they get wrinkled and then proceeding as for normal black olives.

To make olives that you can eat without a serious stomach-ache or worse, you need to soak the bitter compounds out for a while. For fresh ripe olives, (yep they will be the ones that have turned black) you need to soak them in plenty of brine for about 10 to 12 days, and a bit shorter for the sundried ones. Up to 14 days is acceptable but remember you're also leaching out the good compounds along with the bitter ones so only as long as necessary.

I tend to put about half a litre's worth of olives with a litre of brine, or even more brine if I have a big container. If using lots of brine like that it's okay to change the brine every second day, if you use barely enough brine to cover the olives you will have to make and change to new brine daily. Your call. I set up Google Calendar to send me an SMS on the afternoons I need a brine change, makes it too easy. Also, I tend only to use a few kilos of olives and process them in multiple small batches like that because that way if I stuff one up I still have the others. Again, your call.

Okay making the brine. People will give you "x" "blah"spoons of salt per litre/cup/ewer whatever of water but that leads to some weird brines and uneven results. The idea isn't to make the olives adjust to a different salinity level each time you change the water, as that stresses the membranes and results in olives that feel like they're soft-boiled. Once you know the measurements that make YOUR brine, stick to them for that batch.

Popular Arab and Greek wisdom says that the most useful brine of all is just barely strong enough that a raw egg will float in it. And it's easy to get to that stage. Here's what you need:
  • 1 fresh raw egg (The fresher the better as gas formation will make eggs float lighter as they age.)
  • Several litres (depending on your situation - I will give the quantities that are relevant, and once you've made your brine once, you will know your measurements) of fresh and preferably filtered water.
  • 2 kilos of rock salt (Don't use iodised salt it will taste horrible and discolour the olives.)
  • Small saucepan and large jug/bowl to mix and test in.
Okay this is the easy bit. Put about half a litre to a litre of water into the saucepan and bring to boil. Take note of how much water you used. When it's close to boiling add about six to twelve tablespoons of rock salt to the water, again take note how many spoonfuls you put in.

If all the salt dissolves, add another tablespoonful of rock salt, keep doing this until the salt can't dissolve in the water any more. There you have what is known as saturated brine solution, it can't hold any more salt no matter what.

Let it cool until you can comfortably dip a finger in it. Now measure a litre of water into the mixing vessel, or whatever amount you've decided is enough to do your batch of olives. I tend to go a bit more than I need. Carefully put the egg into it. It will sink, which is what you want.

Start adding brine and stirring it in carefully, until the egg floats up. Add just enough fresh water to just cause the egg to sink again, very slowly it will descend. That's the brine you want. Take the egg out, rinse the brine off it, and put it back where you got it from...

If you noted that you used about half a litre of saturated brine to about a litre and a bit of fresh water, that's about the right strength, and all you have to do is reproduce that again for the next batch. I.e. if you used 12 tablespoons of salt in a litre of boiling water and then added only half of that to make the egg float, you know that from now on you only need six tablespoons of salt in half a litre of boiling water per batch.

Allow that brine to cool (as water that's too hot will also fade the colour and make the olives too soft) and add it to whatever container you used to brine the olives, and make sure the olives are all submerged. The brine will make them float like crazy, and you need to make sure they are all under brine.

It's for that reason that I use a washed-out plastic cordial or milk bottle to brine the olives, and make sure it's brimful of brine, as the narrow neck stops the olives rising up out of the brine. Also, it's a waterproof seal so once or twice a day I can turn the bottle upside down and back the right way again to make sure that if a stray olive did float out of the brine, it will end up somewhere lower in the pack afterwards.

For storing the olives once they've been leached, use a clean preferably sterilised jar with a good lid and big enough to fit the olives with a bit of space left over, then make a brine as for normal, then mixing that half and half with a vinegar you like, and bring enough salt/vinegar brine to boil as you'll need for the final jar. I add two cracked garlic cloves to the brine while boiling it, and make sure they end up in the jar. Make sure the salt/vinegar brine is cooled properly before putting into the jar, and if you like you can put a thin layer of olive oil over the water. But that just ends up looking bad if you're storing the olives in the fridge, so I tend not to do it.

In the fridge these should last until the next year's crop, but if anything develops that looks nasty - stop and throw them out... Otherwise, take out the olives you want to use, rinse in fresh water, and depending if you like the pickle or not, you may want to stand the olives you're about to use in fresh water for an hour and up to a day beforehand to take the strong salt and vinegar taste off.

More Energy Thoughts

Time to start laundry days again, and get rid of energy-wasting lights and replace them with low voltage CCFL and CFL lights. I keep harping on this subject, I know. But come on - a cheap solar installation of two panels and regulator/batteries coupled with low voltage lighting will reduce your house's energy use by anywhere between 10% and 35%. Just switching to CFL globes will reduce your energy use (and associated greenhouse gas emissions and pollution) by between 5% and 10%. And either way will help rebalance our climate and environment. [note 1]

I'm still also urging city commuters to get onto their Member of Parliament about legitimising the REVA and other all-electric cars, and let's also see if we can't get a few local solar businesses to put some money into designing a "solar carport charger" for such cars. Think about it - you get a reasonably cheap little car, you get a reasonably cheap little solar installation, and you get to save the estimated $2250 a year in fuel costs as well as saving the environment! [note 2]

Oh - on the subject of electric and hybrid cars - one more snippet you may be interested in knowing: A certain well-known hybrid car that is widely perceived as very green, and in fact Ms McTiernan drives one, has a little conundrum attached to it. Because the car is produced on a production line same as all the other cars produced by that manufacturer, the basic petrol engined car costs as much in greenhouse gases and emissions as any other car to produce. That very large polution load by itself would be enough to render the relatively small advantage of the car irrelevant.

But wait - there's more! Because the car has to have batteries and electronics and electric drive motors as well as the fossil fuel components, it in fact costs far more in pollution load to produce, than it will recover over the life of the car...

One possible solution is for car manufacturers to switch their plant to environmentally friendlier power sources, use less steel and more easily produced plastics, and to stop dicking around with fossil fuelled cars and start seriously developing electric-only, biodiesel, and electric/biodiesel hybrid cars. (Electric-only cars, while the electricity still has to be produced by a power plant somewhere, at least don't use another lot of dirty fossil fuel, and thus have a lower impact on pollution load than petrol hybrids. And biodiesel is a cleaner and more "now" energy, you extract it from biomass that got the energy from sunlight in the last year or two, so there's no million-year-old energy being dug up and put back into the atmosphere, and it also burns considerably cleaner than fossil fuels.)

1. I'm averaging between calculated power usage for houses which have 60W filament globes, an inefficient refrigerator, a tumble dryer, and in about 45% of cases some form of air conditioning, and houses that just have a basic refrigerator, and that and the lights form almost all the power usage. I'm basing this on observations of houses around Perth, as air conditioning is pretty easy to spot, and so are things like average affluence and therefore likelihood of having the latest 4 energy star fridge versus a new 52" TV, etc.

2. I am basing this on our usage in an average six cylinder sedan, and including only the trips within the city for work and shopping that an electric car would be used for. We spend another $1000 a year on country trips and longer trips. If we had a biodiesel hybrid electric instead, we might conceivably use about a quarter of the fuel, a tenth of the cost, and only produce about a quarter of the pollution load.

09 April, 2007

Empirical Pace Setter.

I think this guy was responsible for Australia's renewable energy policies, and probably our Industrial Relations laws as well.

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