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Monday, March 26, 2007

Venting in the wind and other hopeless acts

North Dakota blows and Nebraska sucks. That's why South Dakota ranks fourth in the nation for wind energy. The U.S. Dept. of Energy map, above, shows the windiest places and the grid lines in the state that can transmit electricity produced through wind turbine generators. You might try clicking on the map to enlarge it, but sometimes there is a sticker in the clicker or a louse in the mouse, and it doesn't work. In that case click this.

Doug Wiken comments on the previous post that getting hung up on tying wind generators to grid lines limits the ways we can develop energy independence and obtain an economical, dependable, and clean energy supply. He cites using wind energy (and possibly solar energy) to produce hydrogen through electrolysis. The energy from wind power is converted to hydrogen which can be stored and used on demand to fuel automobiles, farm machinery, and electrical generators. The only by-product from burning hydrogen is water. No green house gases or pollutants.

Some work needs to be done on the technology for handling hydrogen because it can make a big boomy if it gets ignited in the wrong situation. Story. My high school chemistry lab partner, Dan, and I were the most cautious experimenters in the class. When we got to the experiment where we had to make hydrogen and burn it, we worked carefully. We formed our glass pipette where the hydrogen flame would burn with precision (Dan's dad was a jeweler and watch maker) and we waited longer than anyone else to insure that all the oxygen was out of the flask and it was producing pure hydrogen before trying to light it. The chemistry lab was on the top floor of the high school and had sky lights. We blew the whole damned experiment through the sky light. Luckily, it went straight up. So did the chemistry teacher. And the principal. But some other guys kept asking, "How did you do that?" We had no idea.

The point is that hydrogen can drive things. Wind energy can be used to make hydrogen. And as Doug points out, letting huge corporations come in and take over our energy supplies not only takes the resources and control out of South Dakota and moves them to foreign countries, but it contributes to the corporate consolidation of agriculture. It makes people serfs on their own land. They end up giving away their resources and working for foreign corporations. As farmers used to say about the huge collective farms in the old Soviet Union, which did not work well at all, it doesn't make any difference to the serf on the land whether his boss is the Kremlin or a big corporation. The worker has no prospects for himself and his family but drudging at someone else's behest.

The huge wind turbines being built on wind farms by the energy corporations cost about $1 million each. They are built to be hooked up to grid lines and the electricity is redistributed. At this time, no energy companies are looking into using wind energy to make hydrogen. However, BP, among others, is working on producing hydrogen from existing carbon fuels, coal and oil. This process is expensive because it still requires a method of disposal for carbon by-products, such as greenhouse gases. The reason the big corporations are going this route for hydrogen is because they have control over the coal and petroleum deposits and would be left holding the mines and the wells if we rapidly converted to generating hydrogen by electrolysis.

Many smaller wind turbines are available that can supply the electricity for a large farm or a small town.

This generator sells for about $25,000.

This one is in the $50,000 range and can be used to tie into a grid or stand alone with the energy it produces stored in batteries.
Other units costing in the $100,000 range can be hooked together to power large regions.
The big problem in converting to renewable, clean energy is the way farmers are tied into to the corporate structure. They fear losing their markets if they declare energy independence. But farmers hold the land on which wind turbines can be placed.
The Indian reservations are other places where wind turbine systems can be established, but the corporations who are behind the wind farms do not want to deal with tribal autonomy anymore than they want to contract with individual farmers.
So far, no one but a few people in the Department of Energy are talking about using wind power to make hydrogen. The last thing global corporations want is energy independence. Cooperatives should be leading the way in developing clean, inexpensive, and reliable sources of energy, but they, too, are involved with the huge corporations and live in fear of creating corporate displeasure.
Like it or not, we are forming a new global feudalism and corporate headquartes are the 21st century manor houses. Whether it's the war on Iraq, global warming, or American agriculture, the wealth and the power go to the corporations. People are regarded as serfs again. A majority seems to like it that way.

1 comment:

Douglas said...

Thanks for continuing this discussion and adding more information to the mix.

The book by Dr. George Olah is titled "Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy. He is not pushing hydrogen as the end point, but rather methanol which is stable and can be made by combining hydrogen and carbon dioxide..apparently.

Rockets were the rage when I was in highschool. One of my friends mixed a bunch of things together, used a fired 30-06 shell as the container or rocket chamber. Ignited it and filled the chem lab with smoke. It seemed to be mighty powerful combination. Unfortunately he could not remember what he had mixed together. We didn't blow the roof off the lab, but it was enough smoke to put most of our experimenting under more direct control of a faculty member.

Even so, I don't think we want to generalize from experiments that have more in common with Red Green than with Nobel Chemists.

Keep up the good work. Of course, my opinion might not be totally unbiased since you did quote me. Reader's MMV.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States