Solar Power isn't Feasible!

Solar Power isn't Feasible!
This cartoon was on the cover of the book "SolarGas" by David Hoye. It echoes the Sharp Solar slogan "Last time I checked nobody owned the sun!"

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Skill, Baby, Skill! New Energy for Alaska.

The sign on the Alaskan Hotel in the quaint fishing village of Cordova, Alaska (where we are working with the students of the high school science club and scientists from the University of Fairbanks to build a new breed of biofuel reactors based on our Solar CITIES designs created in the Arab Republic of Egypt) reads:

"Palin/Parnell: New Energy for Alaska".

Of course Sarah Palin, the former Alaskan governor and Republican Vice-Presidential hopeful, ran on a fossil-fuel-lobby-supported platform chanting "drill baby, drill!" -- hardly new energy for this historical fuel producing state. But at Solar CITIES we don't think much about the past. Our chief concern, like that of Alaska's now famous "maverick hockey mom", is about our children's future. And their children's future. And our motto is "SKILL, BABY, SKILL!"

Working with the students of Cordova High School, with the State of Alaska, the Denali Commission, the Cordova Electric Cooperative, The Blackstone Ranch Foundation and National Geographic, we are helping to build a culture of environmental technology innovation, developing a truly innovative form of "new energy" -- and a new skill base -- based on Alaska's most ancient heritage: its native wildlife and the pioneering spirit of its people.

Using renewable native natural resources that, managed properly, could last indefinitely, we see a time coming soon when Alaska leads the nation in clean energy and exports "truly natural gas" (methane from methanogens) -- and truly natural-resource-based solutions for the developing world to tackle universal problems in energy and waste management.

Alaska is famous for its sustainable fishing industry, and with Alaska's abundant fish processing wastes (and those of other local food industries, markets, cafeterias, restaurants and homes) as input, its unique cold-loving biogas bacteria (found in lake mud throughout the state) and its indomitable people as transformers and wealth creators, the state has the perfect recipe for a truly new energy, not just for Alaska, but for the whole world.

(photo: Brandon Shaw and Laurel McFadden, working with National Geographic Emerging Explorer's Dr. Katey Walter and T.H. Culhane, teach Solar CITIES how they ignite clean burning bio-methane. Our team is testing to see if we can harness these native microbes to improve the efficiency of biogas digestors.)

(photo: Solar CITIES co-founder T.H. Culhane lights the surface of Cordova's lake Eyak as University of Fairbanks scientist Laurel McFadden punches a hole in the ice, demonstrating the abundant natural gas that Alaska's indigenous psychrophilic lake mud bacteria produce as they consume rotting vegetation)

In that spirit, we invite Sarah Palin to come on down to Cordova and work with us to promote Alaskan bio-methane and the unique "hockey-mom-home-scale" cold-climate bio-digestors we are developing.

How would the kind of technological, educational and political move we are suggesting here fit into America's new energy plan?

Tonight President Obama gave us what we feel is a green light for our efforts when he made the following encouraging statements in his first State of the Union Address:

"I have one simple question: How long should we wait? How long should America put its future on hold? (Applause.) You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting. These nations -- they're not standing still. These nations aren't playing for second place. They're putting more emphasis on math and science. They're rebuilding their infrastructure. They're making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs. Well, I do not accept second place for the United States of America. (Applause.)

"... we need to encourage American innovation. Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history -– (applause) -- an investment that could lead to the world's cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched. And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy. You can see the results of last year's investments in clean energy -– in the North Carolina company that will create 1,200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put a thousand people to work making solar panels. But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives...
It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. (Applause.) And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America. (Applause.)

"I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. (Applause.) And this year I'm eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. (Applause.)

"I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy. I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But here's the thing -- even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future -– because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation. (Applause.)
Third, we need to export more of our goods. (Applause.) Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America. (Applause.) So tonight, we set a new goal: We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America...

"...We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are. If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores. (Applause.)
"Fourth, we need to invest in the skills and education of our people. (Applause.) "
So... "skill, baby, skill -- not drill, baby, drill!"

Do we think developing the Cordova High School student's skills in cutting edge clean energy technologies -- like indigenous Alaskan biomethane -- and inviting former governor Palin to work with us would help make American competitive and healthy AND advance the bipartisan effort we need to end the gridlock that is wrecking our economy?

You betcha!

(Photo: 3 of the 6 Solar CITIES designed gas collectors and water displacement pressure tanks built with Adam Low's science club students, implemented at Cordova High School.)

(Photo: 3 of the 6 Solar CITIES designed biodigestors inside the insulated Conex 40 foot container. The Conex is divided into a "warm room" (maintained at 25 Celsius) and a "cool room" (maintained at 15 degree Celsius) to see how much energy savings different mixes of bacteria can provide. In each room one tank has cow manure only, one tank has Alaskan lake mud and cow manure and one tank has Alaskan lake muc only.)

(Photo: Solar CITIES co-founder T.H. Culhane (gray jacket from REI) explains how to construct his cold-weather HDPE digestor design to team members Brandon Shaw, Laurel McFadden and Adam Low )

(Photo: Cordova High School Science Teacher Extraordinaire Adam Low with students after finishing construction and flame testing systems 6 (mesophile only) and 5 (mesophile and psychrophile mix). Both systems started producing methane after 43 hours, contradicting the "3 week wait period" expectation. We suspect this is because of the design of the reactor which eliminates most air immediately after loading )

(Photo: Cordova High School Students Shannon and Jessica doing the cold weather plumbing necessary for new energy for Alaska )

(Photo: Solar CITIES co-founder T.H. Culhane puts teflon on the outdoor water-displacement/gas collector vessel. Now it is just a matter of adding enough non-toxic anti-freeze (we decided to go with "tri-melt", a combination of sodium chloride, degraded beet sugar extract and calcium chloride )

(Photo: Cordovan High School Science Student Keegan and University of Fairbanks Aquatic Ecologist Dr. Katey Walter Anthony cut PVC pipe for the reactors)

(Photo: Solar CITIES co-founder Sybille Culhane and Kilian Aurelisu Culhane inspect the gas collector and water pressure tank before final hook up)

(Photo: Kilian points out the advantages of simple kitchen-waste-biodigestors that anybody can build at home to his Mom at the Cordova High School Energy Center saying, "this is the new energy my generation has been waiting for!")

For more information on this project see

The National Geographic Blog here:

and Brandon Shaw's blog here:

Plans for the Culhane/Solar CITIES HDPE water-displacement digestor will be available on-line soon so you can build your own. Remember, none of us are engineering professionals, so PLEASE DO TRY THIS AT HOME!


Marcel said...

Brilliant words and pictures T.H. Well done everyone and thanks for sharing. I look forward to hearing more of the results.

Unknown said...

The principle behind geothermal heat pumps is that in winters, the pumps move the heat from the earth into your house and in summers, the devices pull heat from your home and discharge it into the ground.

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Simon said...

Would love to do something simiar for the Lakota

Paulo Mellett said...

When are the plans going to be available for this one? I want to build it!