ISLAND INVENTOR PUSHES ALTERNATIVE ENERGY
One of the people driving the cutting edge of alternative energy is
a South Whidbey man who is better known for his
clowning around. Entertainer Larry Dobson is more than just a stilt performer when it comes to making people's lives
better. An engineer and inventor, Dobson is currently working with the federal Department of Energy to produce an
electricity and heat generator that would be practical and affordable for home use.
Dobson is building what he calls the "heat plant" for the system. It
is a super-efficient, combustion run heater which
he first operated as a prototype in the mid-1970s. One of his prototypes, he said, was able to take 95 percent of the
available energy out of almost any fuel -- from green logs, to leaves and wet sawdust. What he has engineered is
definitely not a wood stove. It is a heat plant that operates at such a high temperature that even wet fuel and waste
plastics can be burnt inside of it without producing thick, water-laden smoke or dioxin gas.
"the emissions are so clean that you can't smell them," said Dobson.
Sometime in the next 18 months, Dobson's heat plant -- which is still
in the design phase -- will be paired with a
high-tech electric generator being developed by the private company, Sunpower, Inc. The heat will run the generator
and should, said Dobson, make electricity that is both clean and cheap, especially in our area of the country.
The sheer availability of waste plant materials, he said, could bring
the fuel for the system as close as a homeowners
"The Pacific Northwest is a tremendous source of bio energy," said Dobson.
"With the waste materials from logging
and agriculture, we could produce several times the energy we're producing now."
Dobson's work is being funded by federal grant money designated to build
energy partnerships between private
business and the government. The system is planned to produce enough power to run a small household and, with
any luck, should be priced low enough for homeowners to purchase. Eventually, the size of the system could be
increased for households and businesses that use more electricity.
Energy from biomass - NEW DIRECTIONS
Fossil Fuel is a Dead End
It has become obvious that we must soon cease our reliance on fossil
fuels and nuclear energy, but the price we are
paying for continuing our energy habits is greater than most of us realize. Consider the hidden costs of damage to the
environment, crop loss, illness from pollution, disposal of radioactive waste, economic and employment effects,
destruction of forests, lakes, buildings and infrastructure from acid rain, the long-term effect of greenhouse gas
buildup, interest on the money we owe for imported oil, and the military costs of defending our foreign oil supplies.
Recent attempts to quantify these "hidden costs" show that every U.S.
citizen is actually paying over $1,000 in
"subsidies" to fossil fuel and nuclear energy prices. According to a World Resources Institute report, our
society is really paying over $4.00 per gallon for gasoline, and the list of penalties continues to grow.
Alternative energy urgently needs commercialization funding now.
Biomass Energy is Hot!
A U.S. Department of Energy study concluded that 88% of the economically
accessible energy of the future will
come from solar and biomass. The world now derives less than 15% of its energy from 1% of the solar energy that is
continually being captured in the chemical bonds of growing plants around the earth.
We now waste far more energy than we use efficiently. If we kick our
fossil fuel/ nuclear energy addiction, use less
energy more efficiently, and restore the 40% of Mother Nature's bounty we humans have destroyed throughout
history, we will be rewarded with far more stored solar energy than we will ever need in the form of continuously
renewable biomass. Several studies indicate that biomass can contribute 40% to 90% of our future energy
needs, with many benefits.
Throughout the world there is enough energy available from society's
residues, from harvesting, processing,
manufacturing, packaging, human discards and natural disasters, to provide much of the energy needs of mankind
without relying on fossil fuel or nuclear power, without destroying our forests or depleting our soils. Biomass
plantations can supply additional energy.
Unlike fossil fuels, biomass does not contribute to the greenhouse gas
buildup when replanted on a sustained
yield basis, nor is it explosive, dangerous or contaminating to the environment like gas, oil and coal. Wood ash is also
an excellent fertilizer.
Waste is Everywhere
a Potential Fuel
Waste biomass is produced in the wood-and food-processing industries
and at construction and demolition sites. It
takes such diverse forms as logging waste, yard trimmings, bark, land-clearing debris, manure, orchard prunings,
corn cobs, rice husks, nut hulls and municipal solid waste (MSW). It is often both an expensive disposal problem
and an excellent energy source.
Landfills are filling faster and faster. EPA's strict new regulations
may cost taxpayers $1 million per acre to open new
ones and force the closing of half of the nation's 5,500 dumps by 1996. From 1/3 to 3/4 of our MSW is biomass
suitable for fuel, which could replace nationwide 824 million barrels of imported oil a year.
Yet, MSW is only 2% of the total available waste biomass fuel produced
in this country. In the Pacific Northwest
alone, each year biomass residue is generated equivalent to 160 million barrels of oil or $10 billion per year in
residential fuel oil. It represents the heat equivalent of 1½ times the annual electric power consumption of the Pacific
Northwest. This scenario is repeated across the nation and around the world.
All fossil fuel prices are predicted to escalate at an increasing rate,
while costs for biomass fuels are
dropping as disposal costs rise. Energy costs for wood residues burned in an efficient biomass energy system are
presently only one-eighth the cost of energy from natural gas in most of the U.S. Energy savings are greater yet for
biomass residue fuels that would otherwise be disposed of in costly landfills.
Superior Technology from Northern Light R&D
Over the past 25 years, Northern Light R&D has perfected the technology
to harness this energy and is
now working on two new prototypes to commercialize the cleanest burning biomass energy system yet
tested. By utilizing strict thermodynamic principles, new refractory materials, highly preheated combustion air,
staged pyrolysis/combustion and advanced microprocessor controls, we have developed a combustion system that
operates substantially below all current and projected emission standards.
Extensive testing of 11 patented prototypes of various sizes and configuration,
including official U.S. DOE tests,
prove that a great variety of biomass fuels can be burned in a Northern Light combustor as clean and efficient as
natural gas. Flue gases are odorless and so cool that clear water is condensed out in the heat exchanger, allowing
wet garbage with over 70% moisture to be burned as efficiently as dry pellets. It can be operated without electricity
if necessary. Over 90% of the energy in the fuel is captured, with less pollution than from gasoline, oil or coal. (The
condensate is environmentally benign. It contains no sulfur and is less acid than rainfall near many fossil-fueled
industrial areas of the world.)
No biomass/waste combustion system has been available until now that
is clean burning enough to pass strict new
emission regulations and is also affordable, fully automated, reliable and able to burn the great variety of
waste and biomass fuels produced continually by society. Right now in the U.S. and globally, such technology
is urgently needed for the production of processing heat, steam, cogeneration of electricity, and for the utilization of
steadily increasing mountains of waste materials. Fuel savings over fossil fuel in a 440 kW commercial energy system
can be hundreds of thousands of dollars in just a few years, and payback on investment in 1-3 years. Meeting the
demands of the global market with our technology could replace hundreds of billions of dollars worth of fossil fuels
and contribute substantially to the reversal of atmospheric CO2 buildup.
Because this technology is so clean and simple and capable of handling
such a diversity of fuels, it should be ideally
suited for such applications where biomass waste disposal is the priority need and presently available solutions are
extremely costly and complex, such as the clean conversion of MSW to energy in small, decentralized community
settings. Existing systems are prohibitively expensive and unreliable. Other application for which we have received
numerous inquiries are: direct drying of products such as sewage and cement sludges, wood and agricultural
byproducts; and disposal of creosoted timbers, hospital waste and other "hazardous wastes" that can be burned very
cleanly in our system. International interest has grown steadily in light of a greater European and Asian awareness of
biomass fuel potentials, and a commitment to reducing petroleum fuel consumption.
We are currently working with Pyro Industries and the U.S. Department
of Energy on a 300,000Btu/hr hot air
furnace for heating with fuels as diverse as sawdust and chips to Refuse-Derived Fuel pellets and chicken litter.
Another venture with the DOE and Sunpower, Inc., a major Stirling Engine
company, is to design a residential
energy system, incorporating a free piston Stirling alternator for grid-coupled electric cogeneration. It will provide the
electricity, hot water, space heating and waste disposal needs of a household, with potential add-on cooking and
cooling modules.. The integrated components of the system will be fully automated to provide efficiencies several
times that of separate stand-alone units.
As it becomes increasingly obvious that the continued abuse of fossil
fuels and nuclear energy threaten the very
balance of life on earth, renewable biomass energy will play a major role in the energy game, perhaps second only to
conservation. Northern Light Research and Development expects to be a key player in that field, but at present our
energy systems are not yet commercially available.
Read the Report I wrote for the Department of Energy,
"Biomass Energy - State of the Technology, Present Obstacles, Future