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Old 07-13-2019, 02:07 PM
justin22885 justin22885 is offline
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i like sterlings more than steam.. fewer components, works just as well from any heat source.. mount one up on a 15' parabolic mirror to focus the sunlight and you can damn near power your house
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Old 07-13-2019, 02:39 PM
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Originally Posted by justin22885 View Post
i like sterlings more than steam.. fewer components, works just as well from any heat source.. mount one up on a 15' parabolic mirror to focus the sunlight and you can damn near power your house
I would be interested in a good Stirling engine with useful power, reasonably compact and lightweight, at reasonable cost (including replacement parts), easily serviced by the end user, and reasonably efficient. Such an engine could be brilliant for a CHP system fueled by biomass.

However, with respect to solar, I must argue such an engine cannot compete with photovoltaics UNLESS some form of low cost thermal storage could permit 24/7 production of electricity in such a way that the long term costs are lower than PV with battery storage.

Interestingly, there is a medium scale solar thermal piston steam engine system prototype plant operating in California with thermal storage for 24/7 operation at full power. Cost of the storage is $70 per KWHe. Overall efficiency in converting solar energy incident on the array to grid quality electricity is about 16-17%. Damn good engine.

NOTE: With respect to solar energy, "efficiency" is a four letter word: COST.
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Old 07-14-2019, 12:01 AM
justin22885 justin22885 is offline
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photovoltaic is an extremely inefficient way of getting power from sunlight, expensive AF, you're not going to find replacements when you need them either... just remember the whole green energy movement is about money, not cheap, clean energy
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Old 07-14-2019, 11:29 AM
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photovoltaic is an extremely inefficient way of getting power from sunlight, expensive AF, you're not going to find replacements when you need them either... just remember the whole green energy movement is about money, not cheap, clean energy
Lots to unpack here.

1. Consider the current cost for solar panels, associated hardware, and the solar insolation in your location. Now do the math. Figure how many KWH of electricity an array will provide over its life, and compare the cost to alternatives. You will find in the off grid setting, and in the vast majority of regions, there are no superior alternatives.

2. The availability of inexpensive replacement parts for an engine system should be considered in its cost quite simply because engines generally require periodic maintenance including the replacement of parts. Solar panels have no such maintenance requirements, and they are very rugged. Of course, **** happens. However, the only maintenance cost I would consider for a solar array is periodic replacement of batteries and charge controllers, but these are generally necessary for ANY off grid power plant.

3. Yes, the "green" energy movement is propelled by a lot of bull****. "Climate Change" is a form of mass hysteria, and all kinds of cockroaches have some out of the wood to take advantage. Yet, despite the nonsense, the sun keeps delivering energy at a rate roughly 10,000 times our requirements, and thousands of scientists and engineers have done some great work in developing systems that harness this energy in a cost effective way.
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Old 07-14-2019, 04:36 PM
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All alternative power still depends on where you live. In some places you will never get the kind of brute force power a steam engine can provide from solar.

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but these are generally necessary for ANY off grid power plant.
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However, the only maintenance cost I would consider for a solar array is periodic replacement of batteries and charge controllers, but these are generally necessary for ANY off grid power plant.
Which is what make steam so appealing. None of that is needed.
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Old 07-14-2019, 05:42 PM
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I could cluge together a steam engine and a generator from junk at wrecking yard or abandoned stuff on the side of the road. I took the class in chip manufacturing and there is no way I could make a photovoltic cell. On a good I might be able to harvest some good cells from several panels and make a working one.
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Old 07-14-2019, 06:41 PM
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..solar/wind/hydro + batteries/inverter are good for power.

....
NO Marginally acceptable for an offgrid location that can get by with interuptable power.

Solar/wind are otherwise a tax dodge/handout.
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Old 07-15-2019, 10:16 AM
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I wasn't going to reply, but I feel the need to address what may be the same underlying misconceptions that compelled me to start the thread in the first place. It seems the thread went off the rails. As I indicated in the OP, this thread is for education purposes only. The primary lessons I hope to impart to readers is to not bother thinking about a small scale steam power system unless the design includes (1) full combustion of low cost fuels especially unrefined biomass (such as rough cut wood), (2) emphasis on efficiently harvesting heat from the system for useful purposes (combined heat and power), (3) use of a compact steam generator that operates at high steam pressure and temperature (no boiler), (4) relatively high speed engines with either poppet or bash valves and preferably uniflow exhaust.

Also, since I returned to consider the contents of this thread I started, I am taking the time to more thoroughly and more clearly address the following questions:

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Originally Posted by KeyserSoSay View Post
Explain a bit conceptually why a wood gasifier is potentially an improvement over a directly fired boiler.
A direct fired pressurized boiler is dangerous, heavy, and bulky. Also, improving the performance of a small steam engine system requires higher steam pressures and temperatures that cannot be safely contained in traditional boilers. The solution is a compact steam generator that can safely contain the pressure and easily generate the higher temperature steam required for improved performance.

Wood gasification is simply the most efficient way to burn wood. Mixing wood pyrolysis gas with preheated air in a refractory combustion chamber (how wood gasification furnaces work) also achieves complete combustion of the fuel and the very high combustion temperatures necessary to generate steam efficiently.

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You mentioned this would allow you to eliminate the need for an "expander" and potentially be safer for prolonged unattended operation. I do understand that as a desired design element but can't picture how that would work.
It is possible to design a good furnace and steam generator used to power an old piston steam engine expander. This would eliminate the need to design a new expander. However, the performance would not approach the more modern expanders I describe in this post that can achieve 2-3 times the efficiency of most old double-acting slide valve units. NOTE: The term "expander" refers to the cylinder/piston/crank assembly that converts steam thermal energy to work.

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My instinct is that wood-gas is not the best way to transfer the heat of the hearth to the steam generator over a directly fired "boiler". The wood gas itself will create pressures and require induced circulation- are you talking about a secondary pressurized system? What then, are you taking about using that wood-gas as a conventional fuel or just venting it?
This is probably answered above, but for clarification I will address it. The goal is to release all the energy in the wood fuel and transfer it to water to make steam at high temperature and pressure. Wood gasification is the best alternative because it achieves full combustion at the highest temperature. After the high temperature combustion gases are generated with a wood gasification furnace, then the heat is transferred to the water/steam in the steam generator. So, the steam generator tube must be placed to pick up this heat efficiently with water/steam flowing through the tube in a direction opposite the flow of hot combustion gases (counterflow). A conservative figure for the efficiency of this process is 80% with 90% a difficult but not unreasonable possibility. That is, 80-90% of the energy in the wood fuel can be transferred to the steam and sent to the expander.

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Originally Posted by KeyserSoSay View Post
Whether a direct fired or a wood-gas system, what are the benefits of heating steam to drive your engine over a conventional wood-gas internal combustion? Again, I'm not poking holes, You've obviously given this considerable thought, I'm just looking to hear it.
Benefits include:
(1) A wider range of fuel sources may be used (rough cut wood, wood chips, etc.). One does not have to buy pellets or buy the equipment and spend the time to make pellets.
(2) Inherently quiet operation.
(3) Far superior heat recovery. All the heat in the steam exhaust is available, and steam is an excellent heat transfer medium. By contrast, it is much more difficult to harvest the same proportion of heat from a wood gas engine system, and would require large heat exchangers. You see, all heat exchange in the small steam engine system takes place at the steam generator where the temperature differential is very high - hence, a single compact heat exchanger is required (i.e. the steam generator itself).
(4) NO issue whatever on tar fouling an engine, so no filtering of gases required (although, contamination of water with oil is a potential problem, so an oil/water separator is necessary).
(5) Higher thermal efficiency as compared to a wood gas engine system of similar scale (see * below).
(6) High pressure steam, a high speed engine expander, and no fuel gas filtration and cooling system means a surprisingly compact system. Of course, a steam condenser is required - but this can take the form of a surprisingly small copper tubing coil placed in an insulated store of water (the thermal mass that is tapped for heating applications).
(7) The system can be extremely simple mechanically.

Quote:
Originally Posted by KeyserSoSay View Post
I'm working on a wood-gasifier that runs on wood pellets which might provide this, This would power my pellet milling tools allowing self-sufficiency...
See THRIVE ENERGY SYSTEMS https://www.thriveoffgrid.net/ . You may be interested in their products. I have followed their work since they started and I think they are doing extraordinary work. They have already developed a wood gas CHP system designed exclusively for pellets. In fact, they first developed systems to use wood chips and finally decided using wood chips in a wood gas engine system is a PITA. Using pellets solves serious problems. Of course, one must invest in machinery and time to make the pellets - but that doesn't seem to be a problem on your end. Their systems are fully automated and include sufficient fuel hopper capacity to operate several days without refueling. They also have CHP systems.

* Here is why a properly designed small steam engine CHP system will be more efficient than a small wood gas engine CHP system. Understanding this requires careful reading. The peak engine efficiency of a good wood gas engine system will almost certainly be superior to all but the best small steam engine system. For example, the Thrive Energy Systems can achieve 15% peak efficiency in generating AC electricity from wood pellets. The All Power Labs Power Pallet (a larger and more sophisticated and expensive unit) shows 18% peak efficiency in generating electricity (I listed 15% in a previous post, but that was an older version - they since use a more efficient engine and much more efficient and larger generator head). These figures apply ONLY to wide open throttle conditions in a constant speed generator system (meaning at or near full power). However, the part load efficiency of a gas engine can be very low. Expect on the order of half this efficiency at 1/4 rated output. So, these peak efficiency figures simply do not apply in a real world context - ONLY when running the system at full bore and using the electricity directly from the generator head. Next, it is difficult to harvest heat efficiently from these systems - especially at the very high outputs required to get high engine efficiency. For example, the Thrive Energy CHP unit rated at 8 KWe (approximately 27,000 BTU) provides heat at 40,000 BTU. If you do the math this shows 60% of the fuel energy is lost. By contrast, a steam system need only lose the energy that cannot be captured by the steam generator. Expect 80-90% efficiency in a properly designed system. So, no more than 20% of the fuel energy need be lost.
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Old 07-30-2019, 11:21 AM
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This is a link to about the simplest possible steam engine.

https://www.simplicityboats.com/yulohstoveengine.htm

The picture of the engine at the bottom of the page probably wouldn't run but with a proper valving system and heat shields to keep the heat away from the body of the engine and the general idea could probably be made to work.
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Old 05-31-2020, 08:55 PM
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Thank you all for your comments and input. I have learned a bunch. Still a lot that I don't understand, but that should come with time.

There is an episode of How It's Made that shows the Cyclone steam engine. It is a radial design and appears that it could work with many different fuel sources, hopefully minimally processed wood.

The application that I imagine for a steam engine is to generate on-demand electrical power sufficient to comfortably power a pump in a water well and to be able to charge a battery system that will allow the use of a well insulated refrigerator and possibly a freezer. I don't imagine a system that is going to allow a life little different than the current on-grid life I live today. I had not considered heat recovery as part of this and so I am grateful to Goody for the repeated mentions of not letting all that heat go to waste.

My preps lean more towards a more gentle transition to a new normal than to a vain attempt to keep the current normal alive past it's viability. In our systems classes in college they talked about parallel implementation vs crash implementation. One is a smooth transition, planned and carefully performed. Crash is just what it sounds like, a sudden dropping of the old and bringing the new online with hopes and prayers that it works as intended.
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Old 06-02-2020, 01:57 PM
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Originally Posted by ATS View Post
Thank you all for your comments and input. I have learned a bunch. Still a lot that I don't understand, but that should come with time.

There is an episode of How It's Made that shows the Cyclone steam engine. It is a radial design and appears that it could work with many different fuel sources, hopefully minimally processed wood.

The application that I imagine for a steam engine is to generate on-demand electrical power sufficient to comfortably power a pump in a water well and to be able to charge a battery system that will allow the use of a well insulated refrigerator and possibly a freezer. I don't imagine a system that is going to allow a life little different than the current on-grid life I live today. I had not considered heat recovery as part of this and so I am grateful to Goody for the repeated mentions of not letting all that heat go to waste.

My preps lean more towards a more gentle transition to a new normal than to a vain attempt to keep the current normal alive past it's viability. In our systems classes in college they talked about parallel implementation vs crash implementation. One is a smooth transition, planned and carefully performed. Crash is just what it sounds like, a sudden dropping of the old and bringing the new online with hopes and prayers that it works as intended.

Instead of wanting cut wood to power a steam engine to power a generator to power a battery to power an inverter to power a fridge you may be better of looking into an absorption type fridge that you can run directly on a tiny flame.

Look up icy ball fridge, or water and zeolite fridge or activated carbon/methonal solar cooler.

I built a carbon/methanol fridge last month and am now waiting on my local race track to open up on Friday so I can buy some methanol to get it working properly.
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Old 06-03-2020, 04:54 PM
Goody Goody is offline
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Originally Posted by ATS View Post
Thank you all for your comments and input. I have learned a bunch. Still a lot that I don't understand, but that should come with time.

There is an episode of How It's Made that shows the Cyclone steam engine. It is a radial design and appears that it could work with many different fuel sources, hopefully minimally processed wood.

The application that I imagine for a steam engine is to generate on-demand electrical power sufficient to comfortably power a pump in a water well and to be able to charge a battery system that will allow the use of a well insulated refrigerator and possibly a freezer. I don't imagine a system that is going to allow a life little different than the current on-grid life I live today. I had not considered heat recovery as part of this and so I am grateful to Goody for the repeated mentions of not letting all that heat go to waste.

My preps lean more towards a more gentle transition to a new normal than to a vain attempt to keep the current normal alive past it's viability. In our systems classes in college they talked about parallel implementation vs crash implementation. One is a smooth transition, planned and carefully performed. Crash is just what it sounds like, a sudden dropping of the old and bringing the new online with hopes and prayers that it works as intended.
FYI, Cyclone is a dead company. They never fully developed a product. I understand their designs had fatal flaws in the bearings and crank mechanisms. Right now, the only decent small scale steam engine systems on the horizon include the units being developed by Uniflow Power and Village Industrial Power. Unfortunately, these are rather large for many off grid residential scale settings (and the VIP system is currently too labor intensive).

An excellent off grid system can be had with solar panels, modest battery, small backup generator (with modest commercial fuel storage), and small efficient wood furnace (with wood processing tools and wood fuel storage). A small wood gasifier could be used to power a backup generator. However, I argue a wood gasifier for emergency engine fueling makes little sense (just use a commercial fuel), and they're too much trouble for primary use (due to the onerous fuel processing requirements for all but very large systems, and difficulty in capturing and storing heat efficiently and cost effectively).
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