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Carbon-Negative Energy Machines Catching On

Soulskill posted 1 year,9 hours | from the sorry-carbon-everybody-hates-you dept.

Power 228

An anonymous reader writes "All Power Labs in Berkeley, California has produced and sold over 500 machines that take in dense biomass and put out energy. What makes the machines special is that instead of releasing carbon back into the atmosphere, it's concentrated into a lump charcoal that makes excellent fertilizer. The energy is produced cheaply, too; many of the machines went to poor nations who normally pay much more per kilowatt. '[T]he PowerPallets are still relatively simple, at least as far as their users are concerned. For one, thing Price explained, much of the machine is made with plumbing fixtures that are the same everywhere in the world. That means they're easy to repair. At the same time, while researchers at the 50 or so institutions that have bought the machines are excited by opening up the computer control system and poking around inside, a guy running a corn mill in Uganda with a PowerPallet "will never need to open that door and never will," Price said.'"

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Key phrase (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,8 hours | (#45179537)

"Feed a bunch of walnut shells or wood chips into these $27,000 machines and you get fully clean energy at less than $2 a watt, a fraction of what other green power sources can cost."

A mere fraction ? Imagine that. And you get the bonus gasifier acid ash that you can use to destroy neighbors soil.

Re:Key phrase (5, Insightful)

Zumbs (1241138) | 1 year,8 hours | (#45179611)

Further down the journalist writes:

many energy sources in the developing world can cost 50 or 60 cents per kilowatt, a PowerPallet can do it for a dime

Which does not really add up with costing "less than $2 a watt", unless it should have said "a lot less" in which case $2 is just misleading. I would be interested to know which is true, though. The technology seems both interesting and useful.

Re:Key phrase (5, Informative)

Zumbs (1241138) | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179677)

I found the answer on the producers home page [gekgasifier.com] . The "less than $2 a watt" is the initial expense when investing in a plant: A 10 kW plant costs $19,000 and a 20 kW plant costs $29,000, corresponding to $1.9 or $1.45 per watt capacity (source [gekgasifier.com] ). So, it adds up.

Re:Key phrase (2)

bugnuts (94678) | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179691)

It's a 10kW system, and looks like it costs $27,000.
$27,000 / 10kW is $2.70 per watt, right? That's not less than $2/watt.

many energy sources in the developing world can cost 50 or 60 cents per kilowatt, a PowerPallet can do it for a dime

That was probably supposed to be 50 or 60 cents per kWh. 10 cents per kWh is not bad. You can probably even harness the heat from the unit, too.

Re:Key phrase (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179735)

Shouldn't the 10 or 20 kW be kW/h? They do say "10kw" and "20kw" all over their site, but in this graphic [gekgasifier.com] they say that e.g. the "2-20 kW" power output is at "22 kg / 50 lbs per hour at 20KW" biomass consumption.

Re:Key phrase (4, Informative)

bugnuts (94678) | 1 year,6 hours | (#45179825)

10kW is essentially the "top speed", and the kWh is the "fuel economy" or more like the miles travelled. You don't have to go at top speed, and if you're going at half speed you're only putting out 5kW, but will still get the same amount of power after 2 hours instead of 1.

The fuel consumption is also important to compute cost. For the 20kW machine, it burns 50 lbs of biomass per hour, which means 50 lbs of biomass is converted to 20kW for an hour, or 50 lbs to get 20kWh. (You can probably burn this over longer times than an hour.)

That's actually a fair amount of power, and 20kWh can power several houses for that one hour. If it's linearly scalable to smaller numbers, that would be very good since a house might only use 20kWh over an entire day. It would allow someone to run solar power during the day, and this thing at night (putting out 1kW) and during rainy days, with only a small battery farm.

But there are too many unknowns in the article to make a good guess.

Re:Key phrase (1)

fast turtle (1118037) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180191)

any 3rd world home using 20kw per day isn't what these are for. My house in the United States with all the electronics (4 computers, 2tv's, Cable Modem, Wireless router and such) uses 44kw per day.

A 3rd world rural home would be lucky to hit 1kw per day unless they've got a regrigerator/freezer. Better to go with a commercial style unit with individual compartments for each family as it means a single unit for the village/government to purchase and power it using Photovoltaics (Solar). The benefit is the availability of lighting in the community kitchen and someone can the be assigned to ensure everything is cleaned. Hell washing pots/pans and scrubbing a kitchen is certainly better then the back breaking work of subsitence farming and it's an area where an older individual can supervise a bunch of children to keep em out of trouble nor does it have to be punishment.

Re:Key phrase (1)

fatphil (181876) | 1 year,6 hours | (#45179887)

"less than $2 a watt" is about as meaningful as "less than 2 square steradians per kelvin-volt" in this context.

You're interested in producing energy. Watts are not a measure of energy, but of rate of change (production or dissipation) of energy.

For example, store all this unit's energy in the mother of all capacitors, and discharge that by shorting it, and you'll get a mind-boggling number of watts. So you would justifiably be able to reword the meaningless press-release statement as "less than a tiny fraction of a cent per watt", and maintain its truth. Which is none, as it's meaningless.

Re:Key phrase (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#45180005)

"For example, store all this unit's energy in the mother of all capacitors, and discharge that by shorting it". exactly. you would then measure the cost per max output wattage of your capacitor, which is rated at much higher output than this generator. This generator however has a flat max power output of energy per unit of time, which we measure in something called watts. to find out the cost of the machine, per watt of it's max output rating, you do exactly the calculation in the article. hopefully i have adequately explained it in people speak, but you really should take a basic intro physics class - I am sure your local community college offers them quite cheap. it will clear things up so you can talk about them with others in terms of jewels and archours.

Re:Key phrase (0)

Hognoxious (631665) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180181)

Don't patronize others by suggesting they need to take a course at a community college.

With writing like yours you wouldn't get in.

Re:Key phrase (1)

fisted (2295862) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180157)

For example, store all this unit's energy in the mother of all capacitors, and discharge that by shorting it, and you'll get a mind-boggling number of watts.

Yeah, 0W really is a "mind-boggling number". Maybe not as high as you expected, though.

Re: Key phrase (2)

FishTankX (1539069) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180171)

I think you're mistaken as all powerplants are judged by this metric. Dollars per watt is the cost to add x amount of generating capacity to your grid.

Re:Key phrase (0)

msauve (701917) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180185)

Stop trying to be pedantic, you're failing. Joules aren't meaningful in this context.

They're interested in generating electricity. The things they'll want to run are measured by how much they consume instantaneously - watts or amps. A house with a 120V / 100 A feed can be accommodate with a 12000 W generator.

Watts make perfect sense.

Joules, OTOH, would be perfectly meaningless and misleading. The $10 solar cell which keeps my car battery charged (~14V ~.15A) could be sold as a "100 megajoule power source." I won't bother saying that energy will take many months to deliver.

You almost had it, but ignored yourself in your rush to correct something which wasn't wrong:

Simplifying one of your statements:"You're interested in producing energy. Watts are a measure of production of energy." Whoosh.

Re:Key phrase (1)

fatphil (181876) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180343)

> Simplifying one of your statements:"You're interested in producing energy. Watts are a measure of production of energy."

That's not simplifying, that's removing any reference to a rate of change. And thus completely changing the meaning.

And if you think your solar cell is a power *source*, you are so freaking off base, there's no point in attempting meaningful scientific dialogue with you, you have no respect for terminology at all.

Re:Key phrase (1)

MeepMeep (111932) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180289)

Further down the journalist writes:

many energy sources in the developing world can cost 50 or 60 cents per kilowatt, a PowerPallet can do it for a dime

Which does not really add up with costing "less than $2 a watt", unless it should have said "a lot less" in which case $2 is just misleading. I would be interested to know which is true, though. The technology seems both interesting and useful.

another post cleared up the "less than $2 a watt" as being the initial machine cost

I suspect that the comparison in the developing world of "50 to 60 cents per kilowatt" is a typo, they probably meant "50 to 60 cents per kilowatt-hour" which is the cost of electricity. That the gasifier can do it for 10 cents per kWr is pretty amazing, I pay more than that...but I guess biomass\feedstock for the gasifer is probably super-cheap in the developing world

Re:Key phrase (2)

Nemyst (1383049) | 1 year,3 hours | (#45180395)

Once again, the journalist messes up his units. He obviously meant to say kWh, kilowatt-hours, a unit of energy, instead of just kilowatt, a unit of power.

Re:Key phrase (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | 1 year,5 hours | (#45179953)

And you get the bonus gasifier acid ash that you can use to destroy neighbors soil.

Please explain.

Re:Key phrase (1)

Joce640k (829181) | 1 year,5 hours | (#45179999)

And you get the bonus gasifier acid ash that you can use to destroy neighbors soil.

Summary says: "...concentrated into a lump charcoal that makes excellent fertilizer".

I wonder who's right?

Bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,8 hours | (#45179555)

"Lump charcoal" is carbon that still has the chemical energy in it.

Re:Bullshit (4, Insightful)

Smidge204 (605297) | 1 year,8 hours | (#45179581)

Not ALL the chemical energy of the original fuel, though.

It's a gassifier and engine/gen pair. You heat the fuel in an oxygen-poor environment (the heat comes from burning a part of the fuel itself using what little oxygen is present) which releases volatile compounds and produces carbon monoxide. This syngas is then fed into an internal combustion engine where it's burned to completion to produce power.

Not groundbreaking technology... but proven to work and be a viable means of getting power, especially if you happen to have a lot of biowaste you can throw in there.

Sure, you CAN burn the charcoal leftovers. Might be useful as a cooking fuel, for example. Even if you did that, you're still only carbon neutral. It can also be used to improve soil quality to help grow food or cash crops... which seems like a better use IMHO.
=Smidge=

Re:Bullshit (4, Insightful)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179639)

Not groundbreaking, but the company claims that their machine is reliable and very easy to field-repair. For a small-scale machine used in developing countries, this is crucial. Farms or small businesses in those countries sometimes receive high tech equipment from well-meaning charities, only to have then break down, at which point they find they lack the skill, parts or money to keep the equipment in good repair.

Re:Bullshit (3, Insightful)

VVelox (819695) | 1 year,6 hours | (#45179819)

Nothing about this machine is vaguely high tech or new. Linked to is a basic how to put together by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA208249 [dtic.mil]

And during WW2, the were used in the US, UK, FR, and DE for were attached to vehicles to provide a fuel source.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wood_gas_generator#Origins [wikipedia.org]

Re: Bullshit (4, Informative)

FishTankX (1539069) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180187)

Not quite. the innovations are in the control systems. that is what they have patents for. also standard gasification tech tends to convert the biomass to ash. this machine converts it into charcoal which both creates fertilizer and locks a portion of the carbon away mostly creating hydrogen and co. which are combusted into water and co2. the control over the combustion process that allows charcoal production over ash production is imporant as gasifier ash shakedown to make room for more fuel is the biggest problem keeping gasifiers from being used in diy stationary power generation. This tech they have developed dodges this problem.

Re:Bullshit (4, Insightful)

vikingpower (768921) | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179771)

Operational research I did for a ( very ) large Austrian farm showed that carbon intake in the form of humus can be 100-200 kg / hectare / year, in pure carbon. Adding pure carbon ( without going through the humus stage by e.g. first producing compost ) to the soil can help farmers reach that number: bacteria will fix the carbon, plants - around their own roots - will form symbiosis with the bacteria, and when at harvest time the plant or its grain is harvested, the bacteria around the root will die and be turned into humic acid. The whole humus-as-a-carbon-sink thing is, climatically, all the more interesting as the carbon remains fixed in the soil for many 10,000s of years. Humus survives ice ages and periods of global warming.

Re:Bullshit (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 hours | (#45179843)

Humus survives ice ages and periods of global warming

It also makes a delicious dip!

Re:Bullshit (1, Redundant)

PopeRatzo (965947) | 1 year,5 hours | (#45179961)

Humus survives ice ages and periods of global warming

It also makes a delicious dip!

It makes me a little gassy.

Re:Bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 hours | (#45179837)

Dammit, Smidge, first you infect Fark with your simple-minded crap and stupid signature, now you have to infect Slashdot, too? STOP THAT.

Re:Bullshit (1)

Smidge204 (605297) | 1 year,5 hours | (#45180045)

No.

Plus, I've been doing it on Slashdot much longer than on Fark. Neener neener.
=Smidge=

Re:Bullshit (1)

swillden (191260) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180341)

You heat the fuel in an oxygen-poor environment (the heat comes from burning a part of the fuel itself using what little oxygen is present) which releases volatile compounds and produces carbon monoxide. This syngas is then fed into an internal combustion engine where it's burned to completion to produce power.

So, not carbon-neutral, just carbon-reduced. And definitely not carbon-negative. Carbon-reduced can still be useful, of course.

Re:Bullshit (1)

Joce640k (829181) | 1 year,5 hours | (#45180021)

"Lump charcoal" is carbon that still has the chemical energy in it.

They're not claiming to extract all the energy.

They're claiming to produce a useful amount of energy from widely available material and be carbon-negative, and help crops grow . Win-win-win.

Re:Bullshit (-1, Troll)

rubycodez (864176) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180353)

wrong. ignorant lose-lose-lose so typical when non-engineers do something. they are making a small amount of energy and wasting most of the fuel. using biomass fuel is entirely carbon neutral. it is far more efficient to just burn the biomass and harmless to earth's carbon budget. morons.

Fertilizer? (1, Interesting)

jcr (53032) | 1 year,8 hours | (#45179579)

Since when has charcoal been something to bury instead of burn? Plants get carbon out of the air, they don't need to absorb it through their roots.

-jcr

Re:Fertilizer? (5, Informative)

lxs (131946) | 1 year,8 hours | (#45179587)

Charcoal appears to be a very useful soil addition.
For further reading look into terra preta [wikipedia.org] and its modern incarnation biochar [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Fertilizer? (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,8 hours | (#45179591)

Its not pure carbon, you get all the useful trace elements and minerals as well trapped in the carbon matrix and the ash.

Re:Fertilizer? (4, Funny)

PopeRatzo (965947) | 1 year,5 hours | (#45179975)

Its not pure carbon, you get all the useful trace elements and minerals as well trapped in the carbon matrix and the ash.

It's got what plants need!

But does it have electrolytes?

Re:Fertilizer? (4, Informative)

burni2 (1643061) | 1 year,8 hours | (#45179595)

interesting point:

but it is indeed so that in the agriculture you burn plants on a field to fertilize the new crops, if you want to reduce your fertilizer-costs.

However this technique is used to increase the nitrogen, and other things level in the field.

Re:Fertilizer? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | 1 year,8 hours | (#45179621)

I guess since slash-and-burn growing was discovered.

which is like.. I don't know. couple of thousands of years at least..

Re:Fertilizer? (2)

jcr (53032) | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179631)

Slash and burn is more about clearing forest for cropland.

-jcr

Re: Fertilizer? (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179675)

Not quite. Slash and burn is typical in rain forests where the soil is thin and light. Burning the forest not just clears it for farmland, but deposits the ash into the soil so that it be used for growing crops. Slash and burn is equal parts clearing for farmland and making the soil usable.

Re: Fertilizer? (3, Informative)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179687)

But, in general, it's not the carbon in ash that's a fertilizer - it's potassium.

Re: Fertilizer? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,6 hours | (#45179911)

Which is why it doesn't work all that well: the fields are in South America, while the potassium is in Kazakhstan.

Re: Fertilizer? (2)

PopeRatzo (965947) | 1 year,5 hours | (#45179983)

while the potassium is in Kazakhstan.

And bananas.

Re: Fertilizer? (2)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180281)

Don't be silly. There are no bananas is Kazakhstan.

Charcoal is a soil conditioner. Not fertilizer. (1)

quixote9 (999874) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180357)

If the writer of the article doesn't even know that, what else if he ignorant of? (Any potassium, phorphorus, and trace elements will act directly as fertilizer.) Furthermore, as soil conditioners go, you'd be much better off including it in a compost and then spreading the compost. Straight charcoal will make soil alkaline and plenty of crops wouldn't like that.

So this process is definitely not producing loads of free fertilizer. Energy? Sure. Gasification has been around for decades. And it sounds more carbon neutral than trying to convert bio-waste into methanol or ethanol. Plus the small fact that we're pretty bad at using waste to make ethanol. This sounds like a much more practical process to enable the use of agricultural wastes for fuel.

But spare us the ill-informed blather about fertilizer.

Re:Fertilizer? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179699)

maybe in amazon now, but that's not the general idea.

it's done for planting new forests too, after the sellable trees have been cut. but just clearing wasn't the point in many cultures.

Re:Fertilizer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179701)

No it's not you idiot. The GP is 100% correct - slash and burn works and this also is how forests rebound so quick after fires. Also your earlier post about carbon not coming from the roots? Wrong. It does. let alone the other trace elements and compunds ash has in it.

Re:Fertilizer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179777)

Slash and burn tends to produce quickly depleted soils because all the nutrients in ash wash away with the first rain. A modern improvement is slash and char, where the trees are stacked into heaps and covered during combustion. Partially combusted plant matter is tilled into the ground. This method is more labour intensive but crop yields are higher and the soil tends to stay fertile for much longer.

Re:Fertilizer? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | 1 year,6 hours | (#45179899)

the way it was done at a small forest clearing 20 years ago when I was a kid was that we would burn the leftover(from the trees that were sold) in piles. in the traditional finnish method you wouldn't generally just burn huge areas at a time anyways.

Re:Fertilizer? (1)

jcr (53032) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180231)

Plants absorb CO2 from the air. What do you think that C is? Rotting plant matter fertilizes the ground when NITROGEN-fixing bacteria digest it. What plants get through their roots is water, nitrogen, and trace minerals.

-jcr

You got Slash and Burn wrong. (1)

burni2 (1643061) | 1 year,6 hours | (#45179801)

Slash and burn will enrich the soil with nitrogen(fertilizer) and pottasium(fertilizer).
The CO2 will go directly into the atmosphere.

Re:Fertilizer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#45179931)

It is slash and dot. Gosh, I figured people here would at least know the name of the website. And no, Slashdot hasn't been around for thousands of years (with the exception of Cowboy Neal).

Re:Fertilizer? (4, Informative)

vikingpower (768921) | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179775)

See my comment above. Plants, indeed, can not absorb it through their roots. But the bacteria they live in symbiosis with, can. And that is of benefit to the plant ( its bacteria guests are healthier ), to the bacteria ( absorbing carbon from the soil is energy-cheaper than absorbing it from air ) and to the farmer ( the bacteria decompose into humus i.e. humic acid ) after harvest time . Win-win-win, so to say.

Re:Fertilizer? (4, Interesting)

RedBear (207369) | 1 year,5 hours | (#45180123)

Since when has charcoal been something to bury instead of burn? Plants get carbon out of the air, they don't need to absorb it through their roots.

-jcr

Uh... Since the dawn of time itself? Plants eat each other's bio-nutrients in an endless cycle. The decay of carbon-rich plant matter creates fertilized soil for new plants.

This post is a good example of how disconnected humanity has become to the way nature actually works.

Better yet, outfit these places with urine-diverting toilets and combine the urine with the pure carbon charcoal, maybe mixed with the fully composted solid waste and you'll end up with not just plant crack but plant super-crack. It creates a carbon-nitrogen-phosphorus fertilizer that's just as good if not better than the most expensive commercially-produced fertilizers, for a tiny fraction of the cost. Essentially, free.

If you think I'm just making things up you'll find if you do some research that many places are already using this process both to reduce dependence on commercial fertilizers and to reduce the energy and money required to process waste. Not just on small scales or undeveloped countries either. I'm now wondering how well this gasification process can scale up.

I'd love a scaled down version... (3, Interesting)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179637)

$27,000 is pretty steep. If you could scale something down so you could say, dispose of household greenwaste through it and generate power to feed the grid for a few hours a week, you'd really be on to something. Though this is in a big part because I've always dreamed of having my trash go straight to an incinerator...

Re:I'd love a scaled down version... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 hours | (#45179783)

You know you could always just get an incinerator.
I now of at least one design that passed a copper pipe through the flame bed to heat water into steam which then spun a turbine and generated electricity. This design should work regardless of if you need the steam for radiant heat as well.

The problem with gassifiers that they don't bother to mention is that the "syngas" is combusted in an internal combustion engine which then spins a dynamo. Besides the obvious losses from this system, it also produces exhaust as a byproduct and has the side effect of being much noisier than strictly nessecary if all you are trying to do is produce electricity,

A garbage fueled or even a natural gas fueled incinerator also has the advantage of being able to burn pretty much any kind of waste. However it may produce a mess in the process and a lot of toxic crap that needs to be captured or remediated.

Still for a small application like home use, one could easily build an incinerator / generator at home with a 50 gal oil drum, some copper tubing, a few readily available steam pressure valves and a generator/alternator.

If you wanted to get really fancy it shouldn't be too difficult to use the incinerator as the hot side of a sterling engine.

Re: I'd love a scaled down version... (1)

FishTankX (1539069) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180223)

you would have to sort your trash into foodscraps and plastics as burning plastics could be harmful without catalytic converts and percipitators. and the cost of the control systems wouldnt scale. what would make more sense is the use of one of these units in a neighborhood where people drop off sorted foodscraps into a solar dryer to bleed off energy robbing moisture and are paid an energy credit. sort of like can deposit machines. this would amoratize the cost of the unit over the neighborhood and allow the economics of scale to still be realized. I'm sure a neighborhood could generate the 2000 pounds of foodscraps a day needed to keep this machine running.

Re: I'd love a scaled down version... (1)

beltsbear (2489652) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180375)

With an Arduino I am sure a control system could be built inexpensively and open source, not that the company making this would like that. You would have to work around or invalidate their patent possibly depending on what they have patented.

Re:I'd love a scaled down version... (0)

rubycodez (864176) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180365)

no, don't waste money on this stupid and inefficient early-1900s "wood gas" technology. just burn the biomass completely to make energy, it's carbon neutral process. these unscientific morons are wasting fuel with their "invention"

How is this carbon negative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179643)

At best this can be carbon neutral.
Carbon negative would mean that it reduces the amount of carbon in the air, which this doesn't do.

Re:How is this carbon negative? (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179697)

Indeed. We need to cut down all the forests, replant them, and bury the dehydrated trees in a salt mine or a desert. That is carbon negative.

Re:How is this carbon negative? (1)

Dthief (1700318) | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179725)

If you burn plants and release CO2 equal to the amount they needed to "breath" in order to build themselves, that is carbon neutral

If you instead of releasing that CO2 are turning the CO2 (directly or indirectly) into C you are removing all of that CO2 from the normal carbon cycle.

Imagine doing this to every plant for 1Million years. At some point all the carbon in the world would be in the form of charcoal, and there would be no CO2 in the atmosphere. Not advised, but thats how.

Re:How is this carbon negative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 hours | (#45179805)

The carbon that made this fertilizer that became plants initially came from plants. But energy was released, which means that some CO2 was produced. Nothing has changed. This would still be a carbon positive technology. If you instead buried the charcoal in a place where it couldn't erode and where organisms couldn't eat it, then you would have a potentially carbon negative technology if the amount of carbon from the buried charcoal was greater than the amount of carbon converted into CO2.

Re:How is this carbon negative? (2)

Gary van der Merwe (831179) | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179759)

It is carbon negative if you bury the waste charcoal.

no thats carbon neutral (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179649)

So it uses fuel but generates no carbon dioxide ?? Thats not negative thats 'neutral'.

If it captured EXTRA carbon dioxide from the air and added to that lump of charcoal then it would be 'negative'

Of course to be truely exact -- IF its manufacture and materials used to make it/transport it and its fuel were all 'neutral' then it would be truely neutral. What do you think the odds of that are???

Its like those electric car people who dont bother to mention that the carbon dioxide used to create that electric car (with their high tech batteries) is so far beyond a normal cars INCLUDING its burnt fuel for its lifetime, so that electric cars are actually significantly GREATER creators of 'green house' gasses (and that is BEYOND the fuel burnt to create the electricity for that electric cars charging which these liars also dont bother to mention)

Lets not get into the toxic waste from the batteries which have to be replaced every few years (and the energy any recycling process uses -- yep - more carbon dioxide from in that part too....)

Sorry eco-tards 'smugness in ignorance' doesnt actually help the environment.

Re:no thats carbon neutral (1)

Dthief (1700318) | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179731)

It releases no CO2, while using a source which initially converted CO2 into other organic molecules (plants growing)

Imagine using this burn every plant for a lot of years. At some point all the carbon in the world would be in the form of charcoal, and there would be no CO2 in the atmosphere.

Re:no thats carbon neutral (1)

fatphil (181876) | 1 year,6 hours | (#45179905)

By that standard, this device is also photosynthesising.
Just because a tree did it in the past, doesn't mean this device is doing it by using a tree.

Re:no thats carbon neutral (1)

Dthief (1700318) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180307)

By that logic, bio-fuels would not be considered carbon neutral......

Carbon neutral and non-neutral relate to releasing carbon that is trapped (i.e. oil, coal) and doesnt participate in the "short-term" carbon cycle. You can plant and burn trees for eternity and the amount of carbon going into and from the air will be (almost) neutral. If you turn trees into coal, but can grow more trees, you will slowly deplete carbon from the atmosphere, and have it in your trunk.

If instead you take all the oil and coal and burn them you will be adding a lot of otherwise non-gaseous/non-carbon-cycle carbon into the carbon-cycle

Re:no thats carbon neutral (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | 1 year,5 hours | (#45180037)

Yes, but as soon as you cut down your source it no longer is converting, so if you are going to use the plant's CO2 in your favor, you must also include the loss of CO2 opportunity capture - all of the CO2 the plant DIDN'T capture if you'd let it run it's normal life course.

Re:no thats carbon neutral (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180177)

Hey 'tard, did you miss the fact that this machine is powered on waste?

There is no opportunity cost, since the plants are already dead and have achieved the maximum CO2 capture it is going to.

Re:no thats carbon neutral (1)

Dthief (1700318) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180331)

Thats not true at all. When plants die, fungus and microbes eat them up, and re-release the CO2. In the normal course of events (non-human = "normal") there is a continuous flow to and from plants. Plants breath the CO2, make themselves grow, and eventually they are re-converted to CO2 through natural processes.

If instead when they die (at your hand or otherwise) you convert them to a block of Carbon then that CO2 is removed from the cycle.

Its true, not all carbon in the carbon cycle is in the atmosphere. A lot is trapped in plants and animals, but these are "short-term" not geological scale storage. Carbon neutral/positive/negative is talking about whether the cycle gains or loses carbon.

If you burned the coal that you made with this machine until it was all back to CO2, THEN it would be carbon neutral.

Re:no thats carbon neutral (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#45180091)

It releases no CO2, while using a source which initially converted CO2 into other organic molecules (plants growing)

Imagine using this burn every plant for a lot of years. At some point all the carbon in the world would be in the form of charcoal, and there would be no CO2 in the atmosphere.

Huh? It's got a fairly large internal combustion engine driving the generator. What happens to the exhaust from that engine?

Right. It goes into the atmosphere.

Re: no thats carbon neutral (1)

MSG (12810) | 1 year,6 hours | (#45179815)

If being wrong about electric vehicle pollution makes you an eco-tard, congratulations. You're an eco-tard.

Sierra Club [sierraclub.org]

Popular Science [popsci.com]

Or maybe we can all just conduct ourselves with a little more respect. That would be really nice.

It's not negative, it's neutral at best (0)

bugnuts (94678) | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179673)

If you do anything with the ash, it's carbon neutral. If you use it as fertilizer, it's essentially converted into wood mass which often ends back up into the atmosphere. Subsequent usage of the fertilized wood products in the "machine" would simply harness some of the solar energy and convert it back into a neutral.

The point is that if the charcoal by-product is used in any way, it's at best carbon-neutral. The only way it's carbon-negative is if the carbon is simply buried and never used as fertilizer or anything. In theory, burying it would be the opposite of pumping up oil to burn... you can harness the energy and sequester the carbon. But it's extremely unlikely the by-product won't get burnt directly or indirectly.

Re:It's not negative, it's neutral at best (5, Informative)

Gary van der Merwe (831179) | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179779)

No. The process creates charcoal, not ash. When this charcoal is used as a soil amendment, the carbon is fixed for approximately 10 000 years. Read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biochar [wikipedia.org]

Re:It's not negative, it's neutral at best (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | 1 year,5 hours | (#45180023)

I thought the same thing. Unless you're pulling carbon out of the air and sequestering it, it's not negative. The amount of carbon burned or lost is probably negligible enough to call it "neutral" but it certainly isn't negative.

FWIW - this is similar to how amateur pyrotechnicians make certain types of charcoal for special firework effects. Most commercial charcoal isn't really speciated, so if you want willow charcoal, you have to make it yourself.

The price is right? (1)

jamesl (106902) | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179747)

From the article ...
For now, All Power Labs is making only 10 kW and 20 kW versions, though the U.S. Department of Energy and the University of Minnesota recently gave the company a grant to build a 100 kW version.
If this thing is the greatest invention since sliced bread, why does the company (selling $5 million worth of machines per year) need a university grant for product development. Something doesn't pencil out here.

Re:The price is right? (1)

Zumbs (1241138) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180133)

Assuming a 10% profit rate, a turnover of $5 million would result in a yearly profit of $500,000. While that is certainly a tidy profit, it is not much to both upscale their technology and expand their production facilities at the same time. On top of that, they may also want to improve and refine their technology.

building green equipment for 3rd world... (0)

Joining Yet Again (2992179) | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179751)

...allows first world do-gooders to receive grants and make large profits to buy gas guzzlers and continue over-consuming.

But don't let the cognitive dissonance hit you in the face on the way out. This is our burden as white men: we must help to keep them going, by the rules we'd never live by, as long as we continue to benefit from unfair trade agreements, corrupt government, and worker mistreatment.

proven wood gas technology since 1839 (4, Informative)

colordev (1764040) | 1 year,7 hours | (#45179767)

It works [wikipedia.org] . During the WWII there were around 700,000 wood gas powered automobiles in Germany, France, Sweden and Finland. As those were back then able to power buses and trucks, it's plausible to think modern designs also producing 20kW of bio power - as advertised.

Finland's eco-mobilist association has a gallery [ekoautoilijat.fi] of hobbyist build wood gas mobiles, some even with designs specs and tips. Chairman on the Finland's currently most popular party, which unfortunately isn't The Pirate Party [piraattipuolue.fi] which among others has pirate bay and privacy activist Peter Sunde [wikipedia.org] as a candidate in the coming EU- parliament election, has build his own wood gas automobile - " El Kamina [google.com] " which by the way is build on top Chevrolet El Camino, which...

______________________
No, I didn't just wrote that

About what I was thinking (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 hours | (#45179795)

Wonder how they're taking care of the wood tar. But it makes sense: The size means it's easier to stuff in a barn than mount on a truck.

Re: About what I was thinking (1)

FishTankX (1539069) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180243)

wood tar can be captured and gasified if the non gasified portion is caoturedb in a filter medium made of fuel and cycled back into the gasifier. part of your fuel then becomes the filter.

Re:proven wood gas technology since 1839 (1)

hankwang (413283) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180143)

It works. During the WWII there were around 700,000 wood gas powered automobiles

But those combusted all of the wood and did not leave carbon behind as charcoal.

So is the charcoal worth more as a fertilizer? (2)

NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) | 1 year,6 hours | (#45179849)

Because if it's worth more a fuel I'm pretty sure what the people running these things will do and it isn't use it fertilizer for the good of the planet.

TIA (1)

ProfessionalCookie (673314) | 1 year,6 hours | (#45179897)

"a guy running a corn mill in Uganda with a PowerPallet will never need to open that door and never will"

I live in Africa and I can verify that this is a foolish thing to say. We have to open all kinds of doors never meant to be opened and fix thing using materials and tools that in any other place might seem like a joke. But we can, and we do, not because we don't know better but because the things we need to fix were engineered to be used in friendly climates by people who grew up with machines and who value the benefit of the machine more than the selling price of a part, even for scrap. They were constructed economically and without a clever friend they die much much earlier than they were intended to.

Re:TIA (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 hours | (#45179919)

We have to open all kinds of doors never meant to be opened

There you go, niggers messing with things they don't understand and breaking them again.

Wrong Throusers (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#45180061)

I don't think he meant it in a bad way.

People in sometimes less wealthy , develloping nations can (and are) be very resourceful. Older technologies such as steam powered often coexist with newer one like solar powered ones, etc.

What the original post meant was its its requires little to no maintenance so that anyone can use one.

Re: TIA (1)

FishTankX (1539069) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180253)

I believe the intention wasn't that africans wouldnt repair the machine. rather that you wouldnt need to rebuild the computerised combustion control system which is probably environmentally sealed. which seems accurate. Am I wrong on that point?

Metric (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 hours | (#45179923)

"much of the machine is made with plumbing fixtures that are the same everywhere in the world. "

1/2 " and 1" sizes are hardly 'the same everywhere in the world'
The world is metric.

Re:Metric (2)

gweihir (88907) | 1 year,5 hours | (#45179965)

Actually, plumbing fixtures are one of the (few) exceptions: Coarse treading on plumbing is not metric in most places. Fine threading is, but coarse threading with inch-sized pipes is available basically everywhere.

Re:Metric (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | 1 year,5 hours | (#45179993)

The world is metric

That's true. While only a tiny minority of the world is still stuck on imperial units, the plumbing fittings of those sizes seem to be standard. At least in (metric) europe - not just the UK, fittings are available in "inches". Since they're all made in china, it would follow that the sizes are also available globally, too.

Re:Metric (1)

GuB-42 (2483988) | 1 year,5 hours | (#45180077)

In metric countries 1/2" is called 15/21 and 1" is called 26/34 but othewise they are the same.
The two numbers correspond to the approximate interior and exterior diameter in mm.

Re:Metric (1)

jbengt (874751) | 1 year,5 hours | (#45180109)

1/2 " and 1" sizes are hardly 'the same everywhere in the world'
The world is metric.

Call it 1"NPS or DIN 25, steel pipe dimensions and threads are the same almost everywhere. (Note that the Nominal Pipe Sizes of common small steel pipes are not all that close to the actual ID or OD, anyway.)

Re:Metric (1)

Windwraith (932426) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180393)

I live in metric world, and as a solar thermal installer, I can verify that all plumbing fixtures are indeed measured in inches. Knowing thermal installations made in the US, I can say we use the same copper fixtures.

Self inflicted (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#45179949)

"And the fact that last year, the City of Berkeley honored All Power Labs with a proclamation on its fifth birthday. The city didn't quite appreciate the irony of granting that honor given the company's origins, Price said. "

Irony is a bitch. It has lots of sisters.

I don't know where to begin... (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,5 hours | (#45180065)

I am a a chemical engineer doing research into bio-fuels (especially in the fields of gasification and pyrolysis). We even have a few of the All Power Labs' Power Pallets.

There are so many factual problems with this article that I do not know where to start.

Perhaps the biggest error is the fact that there is a tremendous amount of carbon released to the atmosphere with this apparatus. Basically, all of the carbon in the biomass that doesn't remain as bio-char is converted to carbon dioxide inside of the generator's motor.

This is what happens when you let CNet report on science and engineering---they blew it.

Re:I don't know where to begin... (1)

Barsteward (969998) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180199)

"Perhaps the biggest error is the fact that there is a tremendous amount of carbon released to the atmosphere with this apparatus."

where does it say this in the article. it appears to say the opposite. "...and most energy sources, even others based on biomass, contribute to the problem. That's because, Price said, burning the biomass releases the carbon back into the atmosphere. By comparison, because there's no combustion in All Power Labs' gasification process, the carbon isn't released into the air."

Carbon negative my foot (1)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180263)

This device burns stuff, releases CO2 in the atmosphere that wasn't there before. It'd be carbon negative it if would take out CO2 that was in the atmosphere before. Misleading title, if this was carbon negative, all cars that run on bio diesel are carbon negative as well.

Smug hipster twat (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180293)

during World War II, a million vehicles utilized the technology. But after the war, it more or less vanished from the planet, for reasons unknown.

Actually, the reasons are known. Gas has a poor energy density. This is why you see those huge great balloons on top of WW2 vehicles. Price probably thinks they're to make bombs bounce off.

Compression requires specialized equipment and well made containers, which are expensive. The main active components of the gas are hydrogen (which leaks) and carbon monoxide (which is poisonous).

While it's possible to generate the gas on the fly it's not exactly convenient to warm up the generator in advance and it also makes your car look like that thing out of Wacky Races driven by a bear.

Old technoloogy, readapted. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180335)

Ok folks this is not new technology. This is from prior to world war 1. If I remember it was used on trucks, and civilian people movers prior to wwI. I seem to remember a film, of a car, I think mercedes, with a giant bag over it, to hold the gas. They used it then, to bring crops to the market. I remember reading of the history of germany, prior to the war, thru the first, and thru the depression, where they were developing gassification for the masses. So this would have been one of the 1900-30 textbooks that used to read out of the GM School library back when I was a kid. God that was a while back...wonder where they shipped all that stuff when the library closed down. All that research that was done there destroyed. Damn.

Instead of graveyards (1)

jennatalia (2684459) | 1 year,4 hours | (#45180371)

We could use these plants. The dead bodies would produce a significant amount. They could convert rendering plants into it as well.
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