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Special note:
While doing research on this project using this link, US DOE Energy Efficiency and this link, EPA Global Warming, I found this link, HARC
(Houston Advanced Research Center).
I will be doing most my research via DOE, EPA, and HARC and I am attempting to open an open dialog with the Houston Advanced Research Center concerning this project. I will also get input from various blogs and word search via Google.


formerly titled


by Charles H. Tankersley, you can E-MAIL me.

Home Power is the story of my dream home that I would build if I had it to do all over again when I was about 22 to 25, fresh out of the Army, and going to college. Back then, we were not so concerned about global warming or about pollution. With today's technology and hindsight, I go forward in hopes this article might inspire others to capture the pioneering spirit of our forefathers.


  1. Introduction:
  2. Site Selection:
  3. Planning and Layout:
  4. Construction:
  5. Options for Electrical Power:
  6. Options for producing fuel(s):
  7. Co-generation:
  8. Food Production, Drinking Water, Irrigation:
  9. Landscaping and Maintenance:
  10. Transportation:
  11. Communication:
  12. Entertainment and Recreation:
  13. Conclusion:
  14. Late Breaking News:

1. Introduction:

Both of my Parents are from pioneer stock. My grandfather Tankersley was an "Boomer-Sooner', making the Oklahoma land run of 1889, and his brother, Rush, making the Cherokee Strip land run of 1893. Both built their own homes and raised their family in Oklahoma while playing a major role in the development of the state. My Grandfather Served on the Territorial Legislature and was the legislative co-founder of that is now Oklahoma State University. Uncle Rush served as a vigilante, the only law enforcement of the time, and was involved in the capture of some of Oklahoma's infamous outlaws. My Mom's mother was an Irish lady who traveled with her family, the Garretts, in a covered wagon to make their home an the small village of Union City, Oklahoma, where she met and Married Mr. Harry Coates, who was a construction engineer for the Katy railroads. My Dad's brother, Paul Albert Tankersley, Pat for short, built his own home during and after World War II. After my Parents moved back to Oklahoma when I had been discharge from the Army and was in college, Dad and Mom bought some land some land in a recreation area not far from Oklahoma City. Dad built a cabin on the land with his own two hands and a little help from my mom, sister, brother and me.. As you can see, my heritage has been to homestead and build a home. As far back as I can remember, My Dad has had a garden at the back of every house we ever lived in while I was a child. As I grew up, before WWII, I remember my grandmother sending we three siblings out to gather 'greens' for along side the fence line for our dinner. Before we had today's 'organic free range chickens and eggs, we had 'yard chickens and eggs for breakfast and for dinner. The pioneer spirit runs deep in my blood. For more information on My family history, see Family Trails, Item 3 on The Dinosaur's Thinktank.

For my entire life I have wanted to find better ways to do things. I wanted to build my own home on my own land and grow my own food. In time, I wanted to find a better and cheaper way to make electricity, fuel for my car, and produce safe fresh drinking water. I researched all these wishes as I grew into my Career and read the many journals, periodicals, and magazines on alternate energy, on sod and compacted earth homes, on doing things the natural way. Mother Earth News was one of my mainstays, so was Scientific American, Nature, and many other technical journals. With the advent of the computer, these magazine subscriptions were ended as the information they contained was far better found on file in the Internet. Finally, now that it is too late in my life, I can find all the information I need to build my own home with all the latest tools to make the home self sustaining, self sufficient, and pollution free. This article details the steps I would use to design build my dream home. I hope that someone, somewhere, will want to follow along and design their own home the same way, a home that will last many lifetimes for their children and their children's children while not polluting and destroying the earth.

2. Site Selection:

If it were in my power today, I would begin by looking for 10 to 160 acres of unimproved land in horticultural zones 8 or 9 with rolling hills somewhere in East Texas. It should be within a reasonable driving time to Houston. I love Texas and I really did enjoy my career, retiring as a Principle Mechanical Designer for a major engineering corporation. Houston is a major center for Engineering in the energy and space industry and for this reason I select rural Southeast Texas as the location for my dream house. It could have been in Oklahoma, the place of my birth, but that is in horticultural zone 7 and much too cold for tropical plants. I truly like the people of Oklahoma and learned to admire the Indian Heritage that resides there. One must, however, choose his location carefully and consider the attributes he, his mate, and his family most want for a permanent home. Often a compromise will have to be made.

Farm land around Houston, Texas, currently (1998) runs from around $2,000 to $5,000 an acre, with unimproved land being on the cheaper end. This means that I would most likely be looking at budget of $20,000 for 10 acres. I prefer it have lots of trees, but regrowth trees and some partially cleared land will do fine. Of course, it needs to have access, a paved farm to market road should run next to or very near the land. It should have access to an electric coop, but this can be waved and generator brought in for the early construction needs. All in all, let's say this is 10 acres with a hill or rise from a low point to high point of 50 feet and the highest point next to the access road. With the land purchased, it is time, now, to start finalizing the plans for the house and move a temporary shelter onto the land. A steel tool shed that can be securely locked and a small, perhaps used, mobile home will do fine as long as one is still single.

When I was 14 years old, we moved from San Antonio to Washington DC area where my Dad got a job working with Dr. Van Allen (Physics PhD) doing research on radiation and how to protect man from its effects and dangers. While our house in Kensington, Maryland, was being built we stayed on a 110 acre farm that was bordered by the famous Patuxent River. We stayed in the farmhouse for three months of the summer, early June to late August, leaving just in time for the start of school. The house was situated in the side of a hill, with the basement level with the ground at the back and the first floor level with ground at the front of the house. The house was basement, first or living floor, second or bedroom floor, and a large unfinished attic. The memory of this house is the model for the house designed for Homepower. As is typical for that part of the USA, our house in Kensington, too, had the basement at the back open to ground level.

3. Planning and Layout

Before one is to build anything, a detailed plan must be made the completed structure. Minor changes can be made after construction has begun, but the overall plan must be established and maintained. The best place I have found for planning and building a home for the future is the Department of Energy's Building Toolbox. Our government does provide us with the latest and greatest research for building an environmentally friendly, energy efficient home at the lowest cost possible. See Building Envelope Components for the an outline of all methods researched by DOE. One material that DOE so far has overlooked is carbon fiber composites, the same material that is used in high performance aircraft and in our space vehicles. This composite material is inexpensive and readily available. It can be formed with the same ease and techniques as with fiberglass and the carbon fibers and fiberglass can be combined. Also, 'panels' can be fabricated on site to be installed for the structure. They would be light enough for the home owner, with minimal help, to fasten in place, stronger than steel, pre-insulated, pre-wired, pre-plumbed, and more waterproof than concrete or steel construction.

The entire structure will be built of steel and concrete, with as little wood as is practical being used in the construction. As an alternative, the entire structure except for the foundation and basement floor could be built with the carbon/fiberglass composite panels mentioned above. The basement of my dream is 48 feet (14.6 m)wide by 36 feet (11 m)deep, containing a large family room, a kitchen with wet bar, two large utility rooms, three small utility rooms, and a full bathroom. This part, when finished, will serve as the living quarters and will have enough space to bring in a mate and start a family while the rest of the structure is being completed. See the DOE file for basements and foundations. My choice here is for the North side to be open to ground level with a full length 10' (3 m) steel porch covering. The East, South, and West sides will be earth filled to the top of the basement wall to a width of 10' (3 m) and with a concrete slab cover.

The rest of the house, including the interior walls of the basement will be galvanized steel. See the Wall Systems for a complete DOE discussion of the systems. I suggest that the basement roof/upper building floor be an industry standard open web beam supported reinforced concrete floor. A commercially available wood veneer overlaying can be used after the structured is weathered in, if desired. There are a number of commercially available steel house packages available with the cost (1998) running from about $45 to $60 per square foot. The upper price would be the labor cost for construction, do-it-yourself is somewhat cheaper. For my purposes, I would choose either the Augusta or the Savannah plans for the roof line that would allow for large direct sun exposure for solar panels. The plans can easily be adapted, too, for stairway to the basement. Of course, one can use his own design and purchase the building materials of his choice.

4. Construction:

After surveying the land and locating the place to build, find a spot near by to set up a mobile home and construction shed. Remember, these are temporary buildings but they need to be secure. One is likely to be working 40 hours a week and thus be away from the construction site for 10 hours or more at a time. It is wise to lock up the tools and temporary home to keep naughty hands away from the "stuff". The storage shed, too, should be large enough to store the building materials. Thieves like to take concrete, steel, and lumber. If you have a generator, lock it up!! If a generator in not obtained, a hook up to the local Electric Coop will be needed. For some reason most electric power tools, TV's, lights and such work best when plugged in to an active electrical circuit. Keep in mind, this is only temporary until the basement is complete and moved into to become the new home. It is designed to provide plenty of living space while the rest of the house it being built. One more thing, a helpmate, one who is willing to share the labor and hardships, perhaps a mate with whom to share a lifetime and children, would come in handy. This happened many times in the pioneering past as the nation moved west.

Finally, keep in mind, if one already has his home, then he needs to look at retrofitting in order to make his home environmentally friendly and energy efficient. The DOE - Homes has a full line of documents for doing just this. The site is big and loaded with information. More sources, mentioned in the DOE site is anther government agency, The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA; a local Texas group, the Houston Advanced Research CenterHARC, a non-profit organization.

5. Options for Electrical Power:

Since an Electric Utility hook-up to a Rural Coop is specified, it naturally become the first option for electrical power. However, this hook-up to the "grid" will become useful later for reverse metering when access electrical power is provided with this Home Power house. Much of information and schemes are provided for this by the US Department of Energy. The federal government has been involved in in Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy for years, with funding for the work coming and going depending on who is in Congress and President. In 2006, President Bush saw the light and is in support of the program, at least to some extent. This program will include more than just electrical power. The next section, Options for Cooking and Heating fuel(s), is a part of the program, also. Perhaps it will come to pass that excess hydrogen can be produced and recycled into the natural gas grid.

Let's look at all the options for producing our own electricity to see which methods are best for our purposes. We will first eliminate those methods that are not feasible for the individual home owner or contributes to the pollution problems.

Options not feasible:
  • Electric Power Plants - This includes all the items listed below, atomic, coal, fossil fuels, oil, natural gas, etc.

  • Nuclear Power - The reasons for this are quiet clear, no way can we build an Atomic Power plant. However, fusion power in on the way in 20 to 100 years, not for the home owner, but for the government and power industry.

  • Fusion Power - This technology is very close to being a reality today. NASA is actually building a Fusion Rocket for use to go to Mars. The technology for this will also produce clean (without radioactive residue) electricity. Again, the Technology is out of reach for the private home owner.

  • Geothermal - Unless one lives right on top of a thermal vent or very close to one, he is out of luck. Of course, costs and safety are an issue. Who wants to live over a caldera or live volcano, anyway?

  • Hydro power - Hydro power has been used for centuries. Not just to produce electricity, but to drive grinding wheels for turning grain into floor, run tools, and, yes, even to pump water. Unless one has a free running stream or river near at hand, however, using hydro power in our home is not feasible.

  • Fossil Fuels - This includes the items in the list below, coal, oil, and natural gas, all of which are in short supply and are pollutants to the air, water and soil. Our home will not use these items but rather will contribute to the establishing the Hydrogen economy in the United States and the world.

  • Coal - The United States happens to possess half the known coal reserves in the world. Coal is used today for many purposes and is likely to continue to be used for many years to come. But it is mostly carbon, with very little hydrogen content, and is loaded with sulphur and other pollutants. Our home will not use coal in any fashion except when it is coverted into resins for fiber composites.

  • Oil - Oil, like coal, is a major energy source today. It is the main source for the greenhouse gas entering the atmosphere, with automobiles contributing 25% of the carbon dioxide emissions. We will save oil to be used for other purposes, such as the production of plastic and nanotubes.

  • Natural Gas - We cannot eliminate natural gas entirely from our home, but rather, we will slowly replace our need for the gas as we develop our Hydrogen sources. Also, in the long run, we can "enrich" the natural gas used by our neighbors by injecting the excess Hydrogen we produce back into the pipeline.

We have removed all the traditional electric power sources from our home. What do we do now, live in the dark ages? No, the time has come to make our own electricity using the most abundant of all fuels, Hydrogen. Hydrogen is also a renewable energy source, one we can obtain on our own from a number of sources or we can buy it ready made for us. I choose to get my Hydrogen from water by electrolysis, i.e., by using electricity to break water down into its component parts, Hydrogen and Oxygen, and storing the hydrogen to make electricity. Hydrogen is also available from hydrocarbons and carbohydrates. Examples, derived from "renewable", are Methane, which gives four hydrogen atoms for every one carbon atom; Methanol which gives the four hydrogen and one carbon with an oxygen thrown in for good measure. Recent discoveries have given us the means to cheaply, safely, and easily filter the Hydrogen from the hydrocarbons and carbohydrates. See this for hydrocarbon stripping and this for carbohydrates. Sounds like perpetual motion, does it not? No, not exactly! God gave us a lifetime source of energy and it is for all of His creatures on earth, the sun. However, as these new technologies are developed and with the cost of solar cells still out of reach for most of us, the ceramic filter developed by the Japanese looks quite inviting in the short term. The earth is powered totally, fully, and completely by the sun.

I will use the sun to produce my energy. I will use wind turbines and solar panels during periods of wind and sunshine. For times when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing, I would consider hydrogen, methane, alcohol, and even though it is a greenhouse gas, pipeline natural gas. Solar panels will produce DC electric power to run a water hydrolysis system rather than batteries, to produce hydrogen to be stored when the sun does not shine. Other economical means for producing hydrogen are being developed, too. The best place for storing the oxygen produced is in the atmosphere. The stored Hydrogen will be transmitted, upon demand, for use in a hydrogen/oxygen fuel cell system. The DC electric power will then go to an inverter to produce AC electric power for use 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Yes, that is, in a nutshell, what would be done with the following schema:

Feasible options:
  • Hydrogen - Hydrogen is the key to ending our dependence on foreign oil, for controlling and ending global warming, and for providing all the energy all human life on earth will ever require, even to explore the entire Universe. The link for Hydrogen is full of links to the many hydrogen resources and these links will be presented again several times in this article as it progresses. To provide those of us who are not scientists with additional understanding of Hydrogen, here is one more link for Understanding Hydrogen.

  • Renewables - Renewables will also be used throughout this article. In addition to water, hydrocarbons are a source of Hydrogen, but is also a source of clean burning, almost carbon free, liquid fuel, ethanol, that we can use in our automobiles, aircraft, and liquid fuel powered engines, including internal combustion, jet, and rocket engines. More discussion about the Renewables will follow in the "Options for producing fuels: The ultimate in recycling".

  • Solar - This is the ultimate source of all energy on earth, the sun. One method for collecting this energy is with solar panels, otherwise known as Photovoltaic. There is a great push to use solar cells to augment or replace commercial electric power with solar power. The federal and state governments in the USA give grants, tax breaks, and low cost loans to induce the homeowners to install solar electric power. Keep in mind, however, solar energy is available only when the sun shines and some means of storing the energy, such as with batteries, must be provided for those times when the sun does not shine. For the purposes of this article, however, this is the first step in producing the Hydrogen needed to operate Fuel Cells and in enriching the alcohols and Natural Gas supplies.

  • Wind - Although wind power is discussed in the rejected Hydro-power list above, it is discussed here again since there are many commercially available small wind turbines for producing electrical energy. These would be feasible for those of us who happen to live in windy locations, i.e., where the wind is sustained most of the time at least to 8 mph. Recently, several new methods have been discovered for producing Hydrogen on demand and are described in section 6, Options for Producing fuels.

  • Fuel Cells - The Fuel Cells are the final ingredient for our pollution free electrical energy self sustaining home. This is where we use our Hydrogen and Oxygen, sometimes mixed with Natural Gas and/or Alcohol, to produce all the electricity we need and when connected to the local electric grid, supply some of our neighbors, too. It is our contribution to stopping or even reducing global warming.

The next question is where do we get these items and at what cost? For each component part, one can go to Google and do a search, for example; type the key words 'commercial solar systems', commercial hydrolysis systems', or 'commercial solid oxide fuel cell systems' and come up with 10's if not 100's of hits. For solar cells, BP (British Petroleum) seems to have a good handle on residential systems, but as yet, the pricing is not openly published. In addition, it is the entire system that is needed, not simply parts of the system. If we can find a one source fits all at a price to fit our budget, then glory be, we can take a major step toward saving our world for our children. Thus, we may not yet go the route of the dinosaurs. Now let's put it all together and make us an electrifying home.

The Electrifying Home:
  • The heart of the system that will produce the electricity to run the many appliances; lights, refrigerator, computer, TV, radio, Air Conditioning, fans, heaters, stoves, all the things that we use electricity to make our lives comfortable is the Fuel Cell. I choose the Solid Oxide Full Cell produced by Acumentrics. As an alternate is the Siemens SOFC. Both are nearly ready for the market place and both will likely sell for about the same price. Now, lets keep that meter, but before we distributed the metered current to our home, let's place the SOFC in the circuit. The Acumentrics 5000 system come ready with all the 'stuff' needed to tie directly into our house circuit right after the meter and can put 5 kW of electricity into the home or back fed into the grid. One thing I would do, however, is to install an uninterpretable power supply (UPS) on the house side, right after the SOFC tie-in. This unit, designed specifically for this purpose, is also supplied by Acumentrics. This connection point is place so that we can send any excess electric energy we have back into the commercial electric grid. This becomes a source of profit for the home owner. Our government has mandated that the utility companies must pay you for any electricity you supply back to the utility system. This varies from state to sate and locality to locality, but still! Find out more here with our Government-DOE and with /DSIRE. One point to keep in mind, at the current time the Acumentrics 5000 is still in the testing and demonstration mode, a unit selling for $175,000. However, one can expect that price tag to be much lower, perhaps in the $2,000 to $5,000 range, when the unit goes into production for the consumer. Siemens has forecast their fuel cell to be priced at the $400 per kilowatt range which translates into the $2,000 for a 5 KW fuel cell.

    Now that our SOFC is installed, we need to fuel it. Hydrogen is the fuel of choice, but let's be able to supply other fuels as well. Later, we will be designing and installing Bio-digestion units to produce our own Methane and Alcohols for use as motor and tractor fuels and as we gain surpluses of these fuels, we will be able to use them, too, in our SOFC. SOFC's operate on most any fuel, Methane, pipeline natural gas, Methanol and Ethanol, jet fuel, gasoline, you name it. A possible and recommended fuel would be syngas. It is interesting to note, too, that the Japanese have developed ceramic filter through Nanotechnology that will let Hydrogen (H2) through but reject Methane, H2O (steam), and Carbon Monoxide (CO), that remains in the pipeline stream after reforming This makes it easy to supply the SOFC with pure Hydrogen, thus extending it lifespan to well beyond the 50,000 to 100,000 hours of full and active electricity production. With this system, we may have surplus Hydrogen and this can be re-injected, along with any surplus Methane, back into the Natural Gas supply lines. Hydrogen is actually a safer gas than Methane as a energy carrier utility. Also, by enriching the Natural Gas with Hydrogen we are reducing the Carbon Dioxide (a greenhouse gas) emissions and, at the same time improving the BTU value of the gas stream. Hydrogen has about 5% more energy than does Methane. This is why the Space Shuttle Rockets use Hydrogen rather than Methane.. Be assured that the SOFC is quite capable of reforming the fuel feed without help, however, one must be very careful that all sulfur has been removed from the feed stream. Natural Gas is delivered to the home sulfur free, usually.

    There is one more advantage to using the SOFC. Not only does the fuel cell produce electricity at about 50% efficiency, doing so while reforming many different and easily available fuels, it has an exhaust temperature of about 800° C (1472° F). If this exhaust heat is used to drive a steam boiler, it can be used to drive a steam turbine driven generator and to use for heating the home in winter and for cooking in place of using a combustible fuel such and natural gas or electricity. This will increase the efficiency of our fuel cell to 90% or better. By doing this simple thing, with the efficiency so high, we have already reduce the normal carbon dioxide emissions by more than 50% even though we are using only natural gas for our Fuel Cell's fuel. With this kind of efficiency, think how much greener our car would be if it used ethanol in a fuel cell powered automobile. To top that off, ethanol can be made from plant wastes that consumed carbon dioxide in order to grow. In this way, the green house gas emission are a net zero.

    Today, there is also a major push to electrify our homes with solar power and wind power. Although these are on the market now, they are very expensive. The federal government and state governments have tax break, low cost loans, and grants in place as incentives to encourage home owners to invest in solar and wind power. The big problem, however, is beyond the costs of these system; solar power is available only when the sun shines and wind power is available only when the wind blows at a constant 8 mph or above. For those times when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow, either a connection to grid or an elaborate battery system is required. The way I see it is that solar power would be valuable as a source of Hydrogen through hydrolysis of water and the wind turbine is really not needed for most of us. For the hydrolysis of water, one might like to look at Distributed Energy Systems equipment for this purpose. They actually have entire solar/hydrolysis/hydrogen systems for this purpose. I think that if I went to this system, I would like to install a 200 cubic foot tank described before in the natural gas feed just before the attachment to the SOFC and after the gas meter. Thus, the hydrogen can be received before the natural gas and any access can be fed safely back into the natural gas pipeline.

6. Options for Producing fuels: The ultimate in recycling.

Other than using electricity to power everything, heating and cooling, cooking, farm and yard tools, and transportation, we need fuel. We even use fuel to produce electricity with fuel cells as we discussed before. The fuel can come as solid, liquid, or gas, either purchased from a supplier or produced ourselves. For our space station, however, we need to be able to produce and refine our own fuels. The central objective is to use biomass and/or natural gas which we, ourselves, can produce within the confines of our self sustaining space station. This objective leads us to the US Department of Energy's biomass program. Here, we can find some of the solutions for our project. Remember, what we use here must be available or soon available at a price we can afford. Our target for this discussion is for the total costs of our space station, other than the cost of the land itself, to be less than $250,000 US, 2007. However, what we design should be able to be scaled down to less that $100,000 US, 2007, to make it more readily available to the poor people in developing nations throughout the world. If we can share our energy technology with all people, then we are a step closer to world peace and harmony. Greed was the downfall of the Roman Empire's civilization and might well be our downfall as well. History does have a habit of repeating its unlearned lessons. Let's not do as the Romans did, let us share the benefits of our civilization.

Since our goal is to produce our own fuels, we will be looking at using household wastes, all of the kitchen and bathroom wastes. This is normally flushed down the drain in most cities of the world, but in rural areas that have no sewer system, the septic tank is the system of choice. Do you know that the household wastes have been shown to produce about 50 cubic feet of methane gas per day per person? For most of us, this methane and about the same amount of carbon dioxide is dumped into the atmosphere. Do not worry, though, this CO2 does not contribute to an increase in the greenhouse gases. The carbon dioxide comes directly from plants which breath the CO2 and release it back to the atmosphere when the plant dies and decays. It is called the short cycle. However, the methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide. Rather than throw it away, we are going to save it and use it to produce electricity with our fuel cell. I might add that for years the Chinese has been saving the methane produced by there septic tanks and using it as a source for heating and cooking gas. The process is carried out in the absents of oxygen, which if present, converts the sugars in the biomass into alcohols. Digestion without oxygen is call anaerobic digestion and with oxygen is called aerobic digestion.

One more little tidbit about septic tanks many of us do not know. When the bio-digestion used is anaerobic not only is the methane and CO2 produced but in the first stage of anaerobic digestion ethanol and some other alcohols, are produced. The alcohols are available for distillation from the effluent and make an excellent fuel for fuel cells, turbines, and internal combustion engines. Since we are producing alcohols for fuel rather than for human consumption, the water after distillation can be used either for irrigation or can be recycled for use in the later stages of our bio-digestion process. Finally, the sludge produced, that smelly, slimy mess that gathers in the bottom of the septic tank, can be dried and becomes an outstanding fertilizer. We will talk about producing all of the above, saving it, and using it to provide all our space station's energy. This becomes the ultimate in recycling. But, after all, this is our earthbound space station and just as the space stations of the future will have to be self sustaining, we need to make our earthbound station the same. Before we go any further let me suggest we read, study, and understand about anaerobic digestion and what we can do with it. The best primer I can find on the subject is found on this Wikipedia. Because there are some differences in producing gas and alcohol, let's divide bio-digestion into one system for producing ethanol and one for producing Methane. Both products will work in our tubular solid oxide fuel cell. In addition, let's add some alternative methods to produce Hydrogen, too. One of the reasons for choosing the SOFC in the first place is its ability to use all of these fuels. Another reason is that the exhaust heat, some 3 kw worth, is available for uses such as the process heat require for reformation, fermentation and gasification. Some of this heat can also be used for home heating and cooking.

Producing Hydrogen:

There are several methods for producing hydrogen. Some of the methods are not very practical for the home owner and are best left to the government or energy companies. It is important to mention, however, that for any government or energy company to distribute Hydrogen it is most practical and wise for them to use the existing Natural Gas pipelines. As the demand for Hydrogen to power the new Hydrogen Fuel Cells for automobiles that are currently coming onto the Market, this would provide the most rapid establishment of the required fueling station. It is good to emphasis that Hydrogen and Natural Gas it complete compatible. In fact, Natural Gas is a major carrier of Hydrogen, four Hydrogen atoms for every Carbon atom. For our purposes, we will describe only those methods that have a reasonable chance of being practical for the home owner to implement:

  1. Water Hydrolysis:

    For the hydrolysis of water, one might like to look at Distributed Energy Systems equipment for this purpose. Distributed Energy Systems can use one of several methods to obtain the electricity required to generate hydrogen. They have been doing this for years for the power and petrochemical industries that use large quantities of hydrogen in their production facilities. For our purposes, however, we will want to use solar panels or wind turbines to supply our power. This is really the best use of solar power or wind turbines since the hydrogen can be stored in a holding tank along with septic tank methane described in this article. Hydrogen and methane mixing is quite compatible. When the methane enters the fuel cell, it is reformed to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide, both of which are oxidized to produce water, carbon dioxide, and electricity. The added hydrogen just produces water and electricity. The one fly in the ointment is the cost of the solar cells and the wind turbine. At $4.50± US per watt of output, the solar cell is beyond the reach of many of the less well off. The promise by nanotechnology for the future is that solar cells will, one day, reach a state where the cost will be $0.50± and thus a good choice for hydrogen generation. The cost and the need for windy locations is a draw-back for the use of wind turbines. For those of us who can afford to experiment with this system now, please to and report your findings back to us. Perhaps we can incorporate this into the upper end price range of our earthbound space station.

  2. Chemical Reaction:

    A method of producing Hydrogen on demand was patented by Professor Jerry Woodall, Purdue University, to dissolve aluminum in gallium. When water comes into contact with the alloy, the aluminum reacts with the water to form aluminum oxide. The gallium prevents the Al2O3 from forming the oxide film on the aluminum that block the further oxidation of aluminum. The amount of hydrogen produced can be controlled with a pressure valve that limits the water injection as the hydrogen reaches a set pressure within the reactor vessel. Research needs to be done to see if recycled aluminum cans can be used without polluting the gallium to the extent it would interfere with the reaction.

    Tareq Abu-Hamed, now at the University of Minnesota, and colleagues at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, have devised a scheme that reacts water with the element boron. Their system produces hydrogen that can be fed to a fuel cell to generate electricity. The aim is to produce the hydrogen on-board at a rate matching the demand. Abu-Hamed method is to use the boron to save transporting and storing the hydrogen. The only by-product is boron oxide, which can be removed from the car, turned back into boron, and used again. What's more, Abu-Hamed envisages doing this in a solar-powered plant that is completely emission-free. Simple chemistry. The team calculates that a car would have to carry just 18 kilograms (~40 lbs) of boron and 45 litres (~12 gallons) of water to produce 5 kilograms (~11 pounds) of hydrogen, which has the same energy content as a 40-litre (~10.5 gallons) tank of conventional fuel. Note: The typical tank in USA automobiles has been ~16 gallons giving ~200 to ~300 mile range between fill-ups. At 20 miles per gallon, 320 miles. With a 50% increase in fuel efficiency that a fuel cell could provide, this would give nearly 500 miles between fill-ups.

    The two methods mentioned in the paragraphs above are most suitable for use in automobiles and can be the fuels of the future to the Hydrogen Fuel Cell. The one fly in the ointment for the AlGa scheme is the availability of the Gallium. Like Silicon, Gallium is used in the computer chip industry and is in a somewhat limited supply. The demand for Gallium for producing Hydrogen for the automobile industry would be astronomical. Boron, on the other hand, is quite plentiful and would be rather inexpensive, even at the demeans rates that the automobile industry would place on it. There are also other metals and chemicals which can produce hydrogen but these two would been to be in the forefront at this time.

  3. Bacteria Produced:

    This method is the use of carbohydrates in enzymes that produce copious amounts of Hydrogen cheaply and easily. The process was developed by Researchers at Virginia Tech, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and the University of Georgia propose using polysaccharides, or sugary carbohydrates, from biomass to directly produce low-cost hydrogen for the new hydrogen economy. Further Research is continuing. For more information, contact: Susan Trulove, 540-231-5646, Virginia Tech.

Producing Methane:
  • Septic Tanks:

    For our first gasification project we will be using one of the oldest and proved methods to produce methane. Every house needs some way to dispose of its wastes, human, animal, and kitchen. This is the common septic tank. The technology and equipment is readily available and a a very affordable price, too. The one difference it that the gases formed in the digestion of the wastes are not to be released into the atmosphere. The gas mixture is about 50% to 60% methane and 50% to 40% carbon dioxide. There is a small amount of water vapor, a little ammonia, and some sulfur dioxide and perhaps a tiny amount of hydrogen sulphide. However, the Acumentrics 5000 SOFC has a sulfur scrubber that is designed to remove all the sulfur from the gas stream. As for the carbon dioxide, it does not interfere with the burning of hydrogen, and is, in fact, produced by the natural reforming of the gas within the fuel cell. Also, keep in mind, the carbon dioxide, all of it, is derived from the organic wastes and regardless of how these wastes are disposed of, it is part of the natural carbon cycle. It does not contribute to the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. In fact, Methane is 20 times a stronger greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide and consuming the methane we are actually reducing the greenhouse gas effect by replacing the methane with carbon dioxide molecule by molecule.

    The type of bio-digestion used in the septic tank is called Anaerobic digestion. This type of digestion uses three types of Bactria to eat all of our wastes. These bacteria all require different living conditions and because of this, our septic tank will be divided into two, perhaps three or four, separate compartments. If four are to be used, the first compartment will simply be a collection and mixing tank. All of the biomass that comes into this tank will need to be reduced to as small of particle as is practical. Then, in order to provide hydrolysis of the mass, we will bring the slurry to a boil in a low pressure boiler. After cooking to obtain as much sugar as we can, we will move the cooled slurry to the second compartment where the Acidogenesis digestion will take place. These two compartments can be combined into one is desired and the pressure boiler can be eliminated if desired or the costs are becoming too high. The mixing and Acidogenesis digestion will still take place but will take a longer time to happen. This digestion produces a number of compounds to be used in the next stages of digestion, but we can interrupt the flow to distill the alcohols from the fluid stream. If distillation is done, the sludge and the liquids would need to be recycled through the first to compartments before they can be sent to compartment three. In any case, the gases produced in compartment one and two need to be captured and transferred to compartments three and four.

    Compartment three is the Acetogenesis section. The products of this section, the gases and liquids, are the transported to the fourth compartment where the final product is called Methanogenesis digestion. This is where the methane is produced. These two compartments or usually combined into one in two stage septic tanks. However, just as with the products from Acidogenesis digestion, the products of the Acetogenesis digestion produces alcohol that can be diverted to the alcohol distillation process as well. If this is done, again, the distilled water should be either recycled to the beginning of the digestion process or used as agriculture water. the Distillation process should provide sufficient heat to destroy and harmful bacteria. In the final process, we will have the gases methane and carbon dioxide. The gases will be stored in a 50 cubic foot storage tank (30" diameter by 10 long) for use upon demand in the SOFC. The effluent form the last compartment can be passed through the distillation process as well before being used as agriculture water. Any and all process heat required for this septic tank will be produced with the SOFC, possibly supplemented as needed from the methane storage tank.

    We need to provide piping to collect the gases from the septic tank and transport it to a holding tank. Likely a 50 cubic foot pressure tank (30" OD by 10 feet long) at 200 psig design pressure should be fine. If standard wall or extra heavy wall pipe and pipe caps are used to manufacture the tank, the the pressure rating can be even higher that 200 psig. Also, a commercial propane tank should work quite well even at lower psig rating. The holding tank needs to be place out of direct sun and also have a petcock drain at the base to allow removal of the water that condenses from the gas. At start up, too, it would be wise to fill the holding tank with water which is drained off as the methane/carbon dioxide fills the tank. This is easily done by inserting a 1/2" pipe to 1/2" from the bottom of the take and out the top with a valve on the outside end of the pipe. As the gas enters the tank at the top, it will drive the water from the tank. And remaining water at the bottom of the tank can be removed by opening the petcock until the last of the water is gone. From the holding tank, the methane/carbon dioxide is fed to the fuel inlet piping for the fuel cell any convenient place between the natural gas meter and the fuel cell. The natural gas is at a very low pressure at this point but will also help to push the water from the holding tank, but as the methane/carbon dioxide gas pressure increases, the flow of natural gas will be stopped naturally at the meter. In this way, the fuel cell will be using the sewer gas until the pressure is low enough for the gas meter to kick back into play. This will work much the same as the electrical hookup to the power grid, except that the sewer gas will not enter into the natural gas distribution grid.

    We will not send our effluent directly to the soil but first ship it together with the alcohols produced with the fermentation process described later to a boiler heated by the fuel cell's exhaust. To extract the alcohols, the effluent will be heated to near the boiling point of water, 100° C. All the alcohols we wish to extract boil away at a lower temperature than does water. Also, the heat kills the bacteria that is in the water, making is safe to use for irrigation purposes. The alcohols will then be enriched with a vacuum still to be described later in the fermentation section.

Fermentation: Producing Ethanol.
  • Moonshine at its best:

    When it comes to the production of alcohol, in 1980, S. W. Mathewson published The Manual for the Home and Farm Production of Alcohol Fuel and Mother Earth News produced an extensive article on the subject. For a very long time, this magazine has been touting alternate energy and conservation. Much time was and is devoted to fighting pollution of our land, water, and air, including the fight against global warming. Mother Earth News has been in the forefront of this fight long before Al Gore ever became a factor. I recommend the magazine whole heartily, you can subscribe here. Also, Mother Earth has a branch called "Mother Earth Living", in which they e-mail tips to subscribers on a regular basis, you can subscribe here.

    Although I recommend Mother Earth News and Mother Earth Living, the current publishers have change the formula somewhat and are using the alternate energy format to promote products that have little or no real connection to the subject. I hope that they receive enough complains about this greedy practice and discontinue being a source of spam. One way to convince Mother Earth News or any other such green energy information source to stop spamming us is to not buy the products. As soon as the selling of unwanted products becomes unprofitable, the practice will be discontinued. Spam, defined as not specifically requested e-mail advertisement, is a nasty reality. For those of us who use the Internet will do what we can to fight spam regardless of its source.

    After reading, studying, and understanding the Mother Earth News article and The Manual for the Home and Farm Production of Alcohol Fuel, it is easy to realize that much has changed since 1980 but that these two articles remain applicable and practical. After all, they were published in 1980 when we were just beginning to realize the effects of greenhouse gases and feel the effects of using foreign oil. We need to look at what is being done to improve the use of agricultural wastes rather than using feed grains for alcohol production. This will include looking at the Enzymes that are being improved for the breakdown of cellulose in addition to the starches to produce sugar for fermentation. There is another thing to consider; we are can use alcohols other than ethanol as a fuel,too. We need to look at distilling methanol, propanol, iso-propanol, butanol, and iso-butanol. All of these alcohols are liquid, but with different boiling points - useful to for distillation, and all are useful fuels in engines and in fuel cells. We will make some adjustments to our alcohol production facilities to take into account these new technologies.

    Both the Manual for Alcohol Fuel and Mother Earth News give detailed information on how to build alcohol fuel production facilities, from the hydrolyze to the vacuum still and storage, denaturing, and blending of the fuel. It would be best if we sat down, first, before we do anything else, and create a complete process flow diagram. This is exactly what our fossil fuel plants have done prior to their construction and before one drop of crude oil is refined. The Process flow diagram identifies each and every piece of equipment, tools, and controls required for the volume of output desired, including the required amount and type of feedstock. All of the information needed for the creation for a process flow sheet is within these two articles. I will, in due time, below, in this part of this article, produce my own suggested flow diagram.

Gasification: Producing syn-gas
  • Golden trash:

    The final and, perhaps, the most important method for turning ALL of our trash into energy is the gasification equipment that was produced for use in German some 30 years ago. Siemens Gas Generator has been operating successfully, producing not just syngas but the raw materials for the production of motor fuels and plastics. I cannot understand why our nations cities have not already adopted this method of disposing of all of our municipal wastes, including garbage and sewer wastes. Yes, this can produce the motor fuel alcohols, too. Siemens does claim that this equipment can capture all the carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide as well, thus making it a clean fuel. The concept, then, becomes a skid with one 5 KW SOFC, a hydrolysis unit, a 200 cu ft storage tank. A second skid would house the gas generator. Heat form the SOFC will be used for the second skid and a third skid for alcohol distillation. The remaining heat would be used for heating the home. The skids, 1, 2, and 3, will have solar cells on their roof. By using this method, the skids are modular and skid one is the only required unit for electrifying the home. Cost for the one skid should be in the $2000 to $5000 range. Quite affordable!!

    One method for removing all contaminates from the hydrogen stream of Syn-gas consists of a ceramic membrane composite developed by the Japan Fine Ceramic Center (JFCC). This process, like several others being developed, will allow only hydrogen to pass through it while rejecting all other gases. This makes it possible to reform natural gas (Methane) with steam to produce H2, H2O, CO, and left over CH4. All the other gases are rejected by the filter, with Hydrogen being the only gas to pass through. Certainly this same filter will work with any Syn-gas, regardless of its composition. This, then, makes it possible for the home owner to 'filter' his gas, regardless of its source, for use in his Solid Oxide Fuel Cell system.

7. Co-generation:

Earlier, when I proposed that the excess Hydrogen developed for use in the Fuel Cells could be injected back into the Natural Gas pipeline, I failed mention that even though we seek a 'clean blue flame' when we use the burners on our stoves that it is the carbon in the fuel that makes the flame visible. When Hydrogen burns, the flame is all but invisible. However, if the flame were to come into contact with a few small wires of the right composition, the flame would be quite visible. This, then would be a safety precaution to prevent burns. Since the product from burning Hydrogen is pure water, one would never have to worry about Carbon Monoxide poisoning when using Hydrogen as the cooking and heating fuel. In fact, one could let the Hydrogen flame be open in any closed room without fear of any harm. To make things even better, the Japanese have developed a ceramic filter system that will reform Methane, using steam, to make pure Hydrogen. The filter is composed of three layers created by Nanotechnology that will pass only the tiny Hydrogen molecule (H2) and reject the left over Methane and the Carbon Monoxide (CO) that was formed. Here is the story of the ceramic the Japan Fine Ceramic Center (JFCC).

8. Food Production, Drinking Water, Irrigation:
9. Landscaping and Maintenance:
10. Transportation:
11. Communication:
12. Entertainment and Recreation:
13. Conclusion:
14. Late Breaking News:

This link is important to both the electrical power production section and to the fuel production sections: One needs to take a close look at the "tutorial" in this link. It will be incorporated into any anaerobic digester design, including the septic tank and the fermenter tanks.

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