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Ethanol, Wind, Solar: Green Energy that Burns Green

April 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Science Fairs are funny.

Between the rows and rows of insulated foam core tri-fold backboards stand students proudly perched in front of their respective science projects, awaiting the appraisal of the slowly pacing judges; many of them teachers, with baited breath. Undoubtedly, among the throng of young pupils, stands one of two projects that seem a requirement for each and every science fair held worldwide.

The first has absolutely nothing to do with the second and neither of them have anything to do with winning a science fair. They are the guaranteed “last placers” but they’ll gain the credit needed for the grade for those reluctant participants.

They’re known in lofty scientific circles as:

1.) “The Volcano”

2.) “Electricity from a Lemon” (some of those deprived of citrus fruits will do the same project with a potato; they will not however, avoid scurvy)

The volcano project is simply a volcano project.

Its requirements are simple. It must resemble a volcano more than a pimple and it must spray or bubble something from the mouth/vent/caldera and that liquid must not blast the judge(s). The method is irrelevant as long as there is a mound of brownish/greyish/blackish/mountain-ish rock or clay with a hole in the pinnacle of the finger-printed cone through which synthetic magma turned lava spews. Some over-achievers are creative and paint streams of orange and red down the sides of the volcano. They use food coloring, they make messes that stain. There is another school of thought that lends itself to utilizing the chemical reaction found in the mystery of that sweet cold relief known to old-schoolers by the jingle: “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, Oh! What a relief it is!” Alka-Seltzer. There has never been a more simple volcano than an Alka-Seltzer volcano. Bury half a cup into a blob of brown clay, pour a little water into the cup and throw that white fizzy disk into the water and watch a jacuzzi happen. This doesn’t go over well with the judges because of how utterly simple and lazy it is. There is a large problem with all of the presenters though (no, not the fact that their parents actually do most of the work) and it is quite plain: a volcano is a volcano and people can’t simulate it in any way that does that spectacle justice. Television broadcasting destroyed an imagined comparison. When molten rocks erupt from the earth with cataclysmic force spewing up-swirled dust and ash and liquid death, there is no reproduction for it in any setting, let alone a child’s science fair. This project fails unless someone loses an eye and torches the gym, then it would probably result in an expulsion with a consolation arrest.

2.) Electricity from a lemon is another standard project. Two inches of gloriously shiny copper wire, two inches of a steel paper clip, straightened of course, and also stabbing fruit. Roll the lemon on the table, impale the posts into the lemon near one another, side by side and place a human tongue on the electrodes. The slight tingle one feels in their tongue is .7 volts of electricity. It’s the citrus equivalent to Frankenstein without all of the lightning and Igor.

This lemon battery is actually a voltaic battery, or a battery that converts chemical energy into electrical energy.  Substances that contain free ions (which makes a substance electrically conductive) like acids are the reason the battery works. The copper and paperclip play the role of electrodes as the current (or the movement of electrons through a conductor) flows from the negative to the positive terminal. The tongue closes the circuitous track.

Unlocking the electrical current present in citrus fruits is something that any first grader can do for fun as most science textbooks include this or the synergistic (multiple lemon power) version of this project in the pages for children to learn about electricity.

It’s not really a bad idea. Lemon Energy.

The possibilities are endless, in theory.

Lemons are a renewable resource.

They are, from a baby-sized lemon, the simplest of voltaic batteries. This means less moving parts; all that’s needed is come copper wire and some steel or zinc and the electrons will do what electrons do: create a current, though small, that can work in concert with other lemons to increase the production. With enough electrolytes (electricity producing solution), America can power more than just football teams in hot weather. Citrus is the answer, it is a good thing here. The Ancient Egyptians figured this out with citric acid and gold. Grab some acidic electrolyte looking to fling a bunch of electrons around and BAM, instant renewable energy.

This is, theoretically, a decent enough idea. So is the perpetual motion machine, turbines that turn because of opposing magnetic fields, and the flux capacitor but the present feasibility of the previously mentioned projects is worthy of ridicule.

Ethanol ringing a bell yet?

There is a lot of innocent corn out there, struck down in its prime for the sole purpose of creating a “Green” alternative to fossil fuels. Turns out, ethanol is one giant bust. The fuel is corrosive so storage an use is a continual problem. It is simply one of the most economically insane ideas ever BUT, at some point the movers and shakers worked into a tizzy and decided that it would be wise and prudent to start mandating its integration into American fuels. Farmers paid more for corn because they were threshing it to make that fuel instead of feeding people. It takes a lot of land to grow enough corn to produce 62.2% of the world’s ethanol fuel, which is exactly what the USA did in 2008.

A lot of people bought into it as pretty little blades of green grass appeared magically betwixt the emblems of major car companies and on the signs at gas stations. Ethanol was well marketed, it still is.

But, it is undeniably impractically demented in the mostly costly of fashions and Americans have little to no say about whether or not they would like to pump it into their engines. In some states, there is no requirement to include it’s usage in fuel sources; even though using 10% ethanol blended fuel will invalidate some warranties on engines because ethanol is hygroscopic. This means that ethanol attracts and holds water molecules from the surrounding environment. Ethanol is also quite corrosive. An excellent solvent, ethanol dissolves rubber, fiberglass, and plastic. Ethanol doesn’t have much of a shelf life and its price is going up. Farmers are paying more for fuel that comprises 10-85% of gasoline mixtures at the cost of harvesting crops for the purposes of food. This drives the prices for food up.

There is a trend in green energy that looks a lot like this: “Green Energy” is referred to as such because it burns money to operate.

Solar Companies burn money and go Bankrupt; Wind Turbines have exorbitant maintenance costs and terrible power production. The UK learned this the hard way.

Green folks condemn fossil fuels but they fail to provide energy solutions that involves light after dark or cool air in the summer. A solution to fossil fuels is the only thing we need out of anyone willing to have that conversation. Unless there is a realistic alternative that can successfully step up to the plate and shoulder the same workload, the conversation should be irrelevant.

Instead, the United States government has decided to mandate increased inclusion of ethanol, solar, and wind power with total disregard to the simple fact that powering a country based on solar, wind, and ethanol would require all the land in the US to be covered with solar panels, wind turbines, and planted fields whose crops are distilled into fuel.

Until technology progresses to the point wherein these power sources are improved toward practicality (ethanol) or evolve to be capable of creating and storing enough power to make sense (wind and solar), the US needs to stop burning their much needed money on failed project after failed project. Commerce depends on fossil fuels. Trains and big rigs cannot run on batteries.

Businesses that repeatedly invest poorly, betting on losing horses tend to go out of business before long. When the commitment to losing horses continues long after the onlookers know the score, one can only wonder about the intentions of the CEO of the business and whether or not he would like to see it succeed. So, what can one assume about a similar enterprise when the business is the government and its energy policies and the CEO is the commander in chief?

Failure begets failure and not one company on earth can perpetually operate from the red. With a growing glut of natural gas in the United States and the faulty science used to detract from its benefits falling short, it is time for our policies to enable the citizens to make money rather than penalizing the successful by allocating money that provides no current benefits.

Believe it. Green Energy is a waste of time and money. Prove that it can do more work, invent systems that make that possible without siphoning government monies before crashing (what happens to all those tax dollars when government backed companies go bankrupt?) and then this is a conversation worth having. Live in the real world.

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