Sunday, February 10, 2008

Biomass Energy Extraction Device

What is a biomass energy extraction device?

It is device that extracts energy from dead biological material. In this case, I am talking about burning wood to create heat. It is a nice "green-wash" for a otherwise dirty topic.

Wood stoves have a bad reputation. They are noted for lots of smoke and particulate emissions that can result in a brown pale hanging over a town or city. However, wood is a great carbon sequestration device, is renewable and therefore sustainable, and can be burned very efficiently.

The problem is that most operators of wood stoves do poor job of burning wood. The design of most wood stoves promote poor combustion. Wood burns best when provided with lots of heat and oxygen. The fact is that most stoves are not provided with an outside air source (good oxygen) and need to be "choked" to inhibit excess heat production. All that leads to a dirty burn.

The key to a good stove is to provide for proper combustion and provide a place for excess heat to be stored. Masonry heaters do an excellent job of this. Unfortunately, masonry heaters are hard to manufacture and transport.

Lately I have been interested in Rocket Mass Heaters. Curious? Go here:

Again, the problem with these is portability. However, if it can be scaled down to decrease the BTU heat release and provided with minimum thermal mass, it might provide an interesting alternative to conventional stoves.

I have been looking for a better heating solution for my passive solar office. There are some days that I need additional heat. Currently it comes from an electric resistance heater. Some say that is a clean source. Maybe locally...but not downwind from that coal fired electrical generation plant. So, I need an alternate and I am thinking wood. Stay tuned... I have an idea.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Economic Success?

This is a little off-topic, but something that has a big influence in how we live and what makes us happy doing it.

By now I am sure that everyone has read that the economy is slowing and there is a possibility that recession is on the horizon....if it isn't already here now. Fortunately congress has a grand scheme that is billed to save the economy by giving us a tax "refund" to stimulate consumer spending. Terrific. Now each American will have $300-600 to spend at their whim on the consumable of their choice. Sounds like it's time for a trip to Walmart for a shopping spree of quality Chinese-made merchandise.

One might wonder about the sustainability of an economy...or the measurement of an economy...that relies on the increase of consumption. Are we truly better off when we have more stuff? Does stuff make us happy? Or does the stuff do nothing but complicate and eventually run our lives?

My wife and I own some commercial property that has rental storage units. It is amazing how much people are willing to pay to store things that they have no room for at home. Typical rent is $75 a month. That's $900 per year. Frequently the duration of rental runs two to three years. That's more than $2000, well in excess of the used market value of the stored contents. Yet people feel compelled to keep paying to maintain possession of their stuff. In the end, is the person with the most stuff really the winner?

It is not my intention to denigrate a person's need to have the things that they want. The issue is whether we REALLY need those things or are we being influenced to THINK that we need those things? What other reason would motivate people to take on large consumer debt that keeps them awake each night wondering if they will ever be able to pay it off. Having things makes us feel good and ensures that the Jones next door know it.

So what really constitutes economic success? In my opinion, it is knowing when you have enough. It is knowing that having more won't make your life that much better. The mere acquisition of items is not as empowering as knowing you have the capability to acquire them if you really truly absolutely needed them.

And why should we really care what the neighbors think? Does the outward manifestation of wealth really make us more powerful and therefore happier? It certainly isn't working for me any longer. I am beginning to think of the acquisition of things being analogous to the consumption of candy. I seems to satisfy a need at the time and there is that fleeting feeling of quick bliss as that sugar dissolves in my mouth. Unfortunately, it is hard to get rid of the extra weight caused by those hollow carbohydrates. It weighs me down and makes me slow and sluggish. A lot like having too many things. I just can't pack up and move on to that next big adventure with any speed and resolve. I have to drag my burden with me.

Hmmm. Wonder what I am going to do with my $600?? Maybe I need to purchase a health club membership and a couple of "for sale" ads in the local classifieds.

Follow-up: Due to poor performance of our previous investment advisor, my wife and I decided to move our retirements accounts to somebody else. Naturally everything had to be sold and repurchased causing capital gains to be accrued. Guess what? Put us over the combined, married income cap and NO MONEY FOR US! Sorry Wal-mart!