Original Image. (Yeah, I know, it’s a Pepsi Can not a Beer Can…
what can you expect from Wiki…)
What motivates me can be strange and wondrous. What I find when motivated can be more strange and sometimes more wondrous.
Recently I’d been a bit bummed about the lack of practical skill in many of the most educated being produced by our “educational” system, and thinking it might mean Dire Things for our collective future.
Then while channel hopping looking for something on TV to distract me from all the things that need doing, I saw a report on Fox (on, I think, The Willis Report) about the Obama war on coal and how something like 53 Coal Fired power plants had already shutdown due to EPA regulations and a whole slew of more draconian regulations would hit (just AFTER the election) that would likely cause all coal to be shutdown (and electricity prices to “Necessarily Skyrocket” – to quote Obama) and was getting just a tiny bit bothered.
As we saw in comments elsewhere, “It’s a bad idea to annoy the hacker. -E.M.Smith”…
Add to that the fact that, against my will, I’ve been afflicted with a “Smart Meter”, despite having zero “smart” appliances ( and I have no intention of buying any. All ANY appliance needs is a power cord and an on / off switch under MY control.) So the net result of the “Smart Meter” is that now I get nagging letters from the power company telling me that I cook dinner at about dinner time and watch TV then. Oh, and I turn the lights on at night… Who knew? But IF I can find a way to not cook dinner at dinner time and not watch TV then and turn the lights off when it gets dark, I could move my major energy usage time to some other time…
Oh, and it informs me that my neighbors who have 4 single guys sharing a house, have cold cereal for breakfast and eat lunch and dinner out, then come home late to crash; they use far less power than I do between 5 pm and 7 pm… and somewhat less all the time. Again, one house is empty almost all the time, my house has one or 2 people here at all times and 6 or 8 when it gets busy. One household has most meals eaten out; while we cook pretty much everything we eat (and not frozen in the microwave). BUT, PG&E is nice enough to provide a guilt nag for not burning up a lot of gasoline to go eat meals out somewhere…
Oh, the joys of an electric stove and oven coupled with a “Smart Meter”…
And knowing that “electricity prices will necessarily skyrocket”.
We’re already at 23.5 cents / kWhr IIRC once past the “lifeline” allotment that is almost enough to run the refrigerator and a couple of curly bulbs. This IS California, after all. Land of Governor Grey (out) Davis, the last Dimocrat to screw around with the electrical utility system here, who brought us rolling blackouts and brownouts on a regular basis (prior to the recall election that tossed him out. Something “Obama And The Dims” might want to remember when screwing around with the utilities…) Now we have Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown. Elected for a second time after nearly ruining the economy the first time by attacking infrastructure (such as stopping all new freeway construction and selling the right of way… that had to be bought back a half dozen years later, have the newly built houses destroyed, and the needed freeway built). He is facing near bankruptcy levels of deficit and debt, so thinks putting more taxes on rich folks and businesses will grow the economy. We have 2 massive tax proposals to hit the ballot “soon”. Even they will not fix the problem even if they DID work. But they won’t. Sigh. Wonder if we’ll have another recall election?
So I’m thinking about all this and realizing that in about a year, maybe two, we’re probably going back to the land of rolling blackouts and most likely looking at $1/2 kW-hr electricity and maybe, just maybe, I ought to think about a way to “fix it”. At least for me.
Well, one thing leads to another, and I’m thinking about the generator I own and maybe putting a natural gas feed to it (or buying one already set up for nat gas) and how that ought to cut costs a lot… when I remember that the 20 CENT per Gallon Of Gas Equivalent is the wholesale price of Natural Gas and on my last PG&E bill it was more like $1.80 / GGE. Still a lot better than the $4.40 at the pump for regular gasoline, but still… Wasn’t there a cheaper way?
Which brought me back to pondering the piles of “yard waste” constantly put out each week. Tons of the stuff. Each week. And once again I dreamed of a “Wood Gassifier” and running that “wood gas” into a generator. Which sent me off looking for any new ideas or designs on making wood gas. ( It occurred to me that I’ve got an old car with about a 40 kW engine in it and a 1 kW alternator that would probably “tick over” in neutral at about 1500 RPM on wood gas without much trouble… make about the 1 kW average the house consumes…) So what could be easier than just making a stationary gassifier and feeding the gas at constant speed operation into an existing bit of stuff I already own?… (I ponder this particular fantasy about once every 2 months… in the past it was for commuting with a mobile gassifier, now it’s about stationary power.)
So I went off to “Duckduckgo.com” and youtube and such.
As you might guess, nothing much has changed in the world of “gasogens” and wood gas making in the last year…
But somehow, along the way, I got to thinking about my PG&E bill and electric kitchen. Surely I could just make a non-electric solution to cooking? Heck, I’ve already got a half dozen different camping stoves. Just add an oven…
Stoves, Rocket Stoves, and More
I’ll skip over the “looking for an oven” phase. Not interested in building a 2 ton “wood burning pizza oven” in the back yard. (What shows up most, along with giant bread beehive ovens. Too much wood usage for daily cooking and not likely to make morning coffee fast enough…) My bamboo makes enough fuel for a small cooking stove, not a large giant masonry thing.
And I remembered the Rocket Stove. This was invented for 3rd Worlders to have a very efficient stove that can be made from local materials. Home made fire bricks (lining a very small burn chamber) and then a larger space where pots are placed to cook. Turns out a few thousand variations have now been made. Some not so bright. Some really spectacular.
What does this have to do with beer cans? Not much. They came up as a sequence of “after the rocket stove”, so we’ll get to that a bit further down. Not really anything to do with bamboo either, just some neat stove tech.
This video does a pretty good job of telling the Rocket Stove story, along with telling you how to make light porous fire brick from which to make the stove.
The key points are an elbow shaped combustion chamber, a flue with some draw, and the wood sits on a shelf so preheated combustion air is applied to the burning wood ends from below. VERY efficient and very easy / cheap to build. Doing more to “save the world” in 3rd world countries than anything our governments have done. (For the simple reason that it empowers folks to do what they want and improve their own lives).
There are much larger ones than shown in the video, including some with a large iron grill plate (with holes for pots) suited for cooking a dozen tortillas at once along with a pot of beans and who knows what all else. One of them even has a box in the flue for an oven.
So I’m thinking maybe I’ll just build a Rocket Stove and “Embrace my inner 3rd Worlder”. It’s where Obama and the Dims have us headed, so why not just get out ahead of the parade and prepare now? I can likely do most of my cooking just from the annual bamboo production of my yard, and then PG&E will think I have a job and don’t eat meals at home anymore and stop nagging me about my nasty eating habit…
A bit of looking at videos and I’ve settled on “what to do”. No, not the super deluxe make your own paver sized bricks and have a 3 foot grill area type… I’m not THAT committed to it (or “not that to be committed’?) and I’m more interested in things that are “portable” anyway. Perhaps something just a bit more, um, “ersatz”… So if the local “You Can’t Burn Anything” police ( on “spare the air days” the local fire department become PC Police and use IR gizmos to make sure you don’t use your fireplace to stay warm. IIRC, there is an exception for a back yard BBQ, but why press your luck?) so if they show up; I’d rather have something that could “go away” fast, and / or who’s cost to replace would not be large.
A couple of more hours of looking at different things, turned up two interesting ideas. One isn’t really quite a “Rocket Stove” as the wood is not on a decent shelf and doesn’t have a good enough flue. The other is nice, small and fast to make, but lacks any insulation on the burner system so leaks a lot of heat. It also isn’t stable at all, being a few bricks stacked on their narrow ends and some flue pipe. BUT…
If you combine the ideas… One uses standard flue pipe to make a rocket stove combustion shelf / chamber and flue. But just a few standard bricks in an unstable layout as ‘support’. The other uses cinder blocks to make a sort of a stove, but with a crappy fire box so it burns a bit smokey and not very efficiently and with decent outside insulation but no inside layer. That is, it’s just a cinder block and doesn’t have the inner fire channel.
Combining the two would have a nice $10 firebox / elbow / flue with good air mix and draft, inside a cinderblock housing providing some thermal insulation and better stability. ( I suppose I could pack it with old “glass wool” or even just pour some sand / vermiculite / whatever around the pipe if I wanted an even more traditional design… but I like the “just some cinderblocks and pipe as parts” idea… More “mobile”…
So here are the two videos. One more true to the design, but not sturdy, aimed at a ‘field expedient solution after the fall’ mind set. The other more “durable” but less true to the actual design goal of efficiency, low fuel use, and cleaner burning.
So make one of these: (with the 3 inch diameter pipe and the ‘already the right length’ 2 foot or so flue pipe)
and place it inside a fixture / shell made more like this one (where he just knocks out a hole: put the fire tube from above in it) but keeping the grill on top ( I also have a large cast iron skillet that would make a decent ‘plancha’ and could even see putting a Dutch Oven on it.).
So I make that about a $15 to $20 ‘all up’ Rocket Stove that ought to work rather well and lets me relatively cleanly grow my own fuel. Besides, it would help me “Save the world” by setting parts of it on fire…
FWIW, one guy with an extreme stove design manages to cook 7 kg of beans (over about 2 hours) using 700 grams of bamboo… As it looks like Beans may be all most of the folks in the USA will be able to afford in a couple of more years, that’s an important demonstration!:
OK, with that out of the way, I went on to ponder a cleaner stove. Perhaps something small with high heat output for making morning coffee. Something that could be run sitting in a cast iron skillet on the indoor electric stove. I have a rather efficient and dirt simple alcohol stove with no moving parts. It his essentially a cup with the inner ‘lip’ curled all the way down ALMOST to the bottom, and with little holes around the outer edge. Just pour in some alcohol, and light it. The inner wall gets hot, causing the alcohol between the two walls to boil, and making burner like flames out the little holes up top. Nice. Got it years ago. And alcohol stove fuel is widely available and not too expensive. (Many boats use it as it can be put out with water and vapors are less of a problem than with propane or gasoline… exploding boats are no fun. My ‘live aboard sail boat’ had an alcohol stove and I used it for a few years without trouble.)
Well, turns out that some folks can’t leave well enough alone, and / or didn’t like spending a bunch of money for a bit of bent metal.
It also looks like my worries about lack of practical arts and ingenuity may be a bit over done. There are a bunch of folks making such stoves out of beer cans. There is even a wiki:
Though I find this video to be particularly compelling:
Though this next design is more true to the commercial product with both an inner and outer wall. Also note that he pokes the hole inward so doesn’t have ‘tabs’ to trim off.
But what sent me over the edge (or around the bend…) and into making a posting was simply that someone who wanted alcohol fuel but didn’t want to buy it, had designed a multi-stage fractionation tower still to efficiently distill fuel alcohol. Out of beer cans:
Thinking about it, yes, it makes sense. Temperatures are below those of the stove. That adhesives used in the stove will do fine here. All you need is a tube with plates and holes in it.. Yes, all in all, it makes sense.
As I have a small Mr. Beer that has turned a variety of things into dilute alcohol ( that I “upgraded” via the freezer… where ice forms and can be removed leaving, er, “hard cider”… but that doesn’t reach fuel concentrations) it would be nice to have a small column still to take it all the way. (Though I’d likely keep the freezer as the first step. Much less fuel burn that way.)
Some of these stoves can be quite elegant. This one uses a votive candle as ‘preheater’ and gets a spectacular heat level out. Neat visuals too:
So now I’m going to get my commercial stove out of wherever it has gone off to, and see if it works OK on E85 (that is modestly cheap at about $3 / gallon around here) and perhaps pick up a bit of sealant and some beer to make a custom stove designed just for it… Perhaps I’ll also work up a beer can based lamp. I could see a whole matching set. Ought to be simple enough. A bit of oil and wick, a beer can and perhaps a glass holder or chimney…
All in all, it looks like creativity and some practical arts are still alive in the world. As long as there is beer, and beer cans, it would seem that there is hope… Carpe cerevisi!!
If beer (cans) can solve the power problems of the world, perhaps it can save the whole world…
Though I think I’ll use an electric drill to make the holes and perhaps my moto tool for the cutting.
Mixing beer, power tools, flammable liquids, and fire; what could possibly go wrong? ;-)
Sometimes I wonder about people… the rest of the time I’m sure…