ChWS – Charcoal Liquid Diesel Fuel

In the beginning, Dr. Rudolf Diesel set out to make an engine that would run on powdered coal. He moved on to oils and proceeded to make one of the best engines ever invented.

Rudolf Diesel worked on various designs for his engines for over a decade, and he was granted a patent in 1892 for an engine designed to burn the cheapestfuel then available–powdered coal. By 1897, Diesel abandoned powdered coal,substituting kerosene as the fuel.

He went on to demonstrate an engine running on peanut oil at the Paris world fair.

Mr. Rudolf Diesel’s cars at the Paris Worlds Exposition (Fair) in 1900 ran on peanut oil.
Most peanut oil/ diesel combinations run off diesel for the first five to ten minutes. This allows the vehicle to warm the peanut oil up to the temperature needed to for it to burn in the engine. This one hundred sixty degree temperature is what is necessary before the peanut oil fuel should be allowed to run through the injector.

Vegetable oil is more viscous, the heating is just to make the oil flow at the same viscosity as cold #2 Diesel. (For some reason folks run off to flammability as the ‘issue’ when it is viscosity.) But that ‘omnivorous’ nature of Diesels has always attracted me to them. There is a long history of running Diesels on bio-fuels and coal.

But the desire to run on coal and similar solids has persisted to this day. Coal has a major issue from silicate materials in the ash. This tends to “polish” and erode the metal surfaces. I’d always figured that, since coal was dead compressed trees, this same ash problem would show in in using trees / charcoal. In a small way it does, but it is much less and manageable.

There is an organization dedicated to running coal in Diesel engines. Perhaps they can be interested in Charcoal too (hey, my briquettes have coal in them ;-)

Sidebar on Algae

I’ve also seen descriptions of using dried algae dust in the air intake of Diesels.

You can use hard to light high Octane (low Cetane) fuels as a ‘co-fuel’ directly in the air intake of a low compression Diesel. I’ve run propane into an International Harvester Scout and drove it a couple of miles that way. Back in the ’70s I was in a Mercedes Diesel that drove through a ‘propane cloud’ from a venting tank at a Hot Air Balloon Meet and we “surged” until out of the gas stream (about 5 feet). That was what gave me the idea to try it in my Scout in the ’80s. Up to about 3/4 of ‘stoichiometric mix’ it seems to work well, with the Diesel injection acting as a kind of ‘spark plug’ to light it off.

Later, Caterpillar came out with a ‘kit’ for their stationary engines with complete computer control to use natural gas. I like to imagine that they started that investigation due to my postings about it. (There were some Cat guys active in the news group then). But I was levering off of a Masters Thesis that tested stationary Diesels with Natural Gas fumigated in the air intake from the Berkeley Engineering Library ( I did my homework prior to risking my Scout ;-) so they deserve ‘first credit’. So There is a long tradition of this.

I’ve seen a proposal to use Diesel exhaust heat to dry pond algae, and feed that dry dust into the air intake as fuel, recycling the CO2 back to the algae grow pond. It ought to work, and fairly well. Given the paper below, it looks like an ‘Algae Water Slurry” should also work. Don’t know if it is a ‘patentable idea’ to skip the drying step, but it’s “My Idea” ;-) Some algae can be up to 50% by weight oils, especially if grown in a nitrogen deficient environment. (They store energy for when nitrogen does show up, so they can divide fast then…) So a simple dewatering to about 70% algae ought to work fine. Algae can yield 10 to 100 times more tons / acre than land plants. So everything in the paper about tree / charcoal availability is “several times over” for algae.

The Charcoal Paper

This is a fascinating paper out of Mississippi State University. Folks from the North and East / West coasts tend not to think of Mississippi as a forest state, but it is. Lots of paper goods come from “down south” where large areas are farmed on a relatively fast crop basis. A sapling grows much faster than a full grown tree, so if you harvest a load of saplings every 5 to 10 years, you get more wood / acre than if grown to full sized trees. That’s where your “T.P.” and paper towels come from. Not from old growth redwoods or giant Georgia Pines… So these folks are well experienced at high tons / acre fast cropped wood for pulp production.

Coal vs. Charcoal-fueled Diesel Engines: A Review
R. PATTON,1 P. STEELE,2 and F. YU3
1 Mechanical Engineering Dept., Mississippi State University, Mississippi, USA
2 Forest Products Laboratory, Mississippi State University, Mississippi, USA
3 Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Mississippi State, Mississippi, USA

Real Science and honest research from Real Scientists. A refreshing change from the Global Warming fantasy computer toy world. These guys are playing with hot iron, flames, and things that grow. Gotta love it.

What interested me most was that they look at where ash comes from, and how to get rid of it. For trees, the silicates are largely from dirt and blowing dust. Take the bark off, much less issue. This is likely also why coal is so full of silicate ash; the dust and dirt blow in and are incorporated into the coal deposits. Just using charcoal instead of coal is a major reduction in ash content. But they don’t stop there.

They looked at extracting the ash from wood and from charcoal. As most of it is not silicate, but based on soluble minerals, they tried washing with water, hydrochloric acid, and acetic acid. The answer was that water washing worked best. (I got the impression they were a bit surprised by that, but too reserved to say so…) What was more surprising, was that they got the ash content of their Charcoal Water Slurry (ChWS) down to below that for the Diesel used in ships and such. Higher than #2, but lower than Bunker oil.

This level (650 ppm) is between the specification for #2 diesel fuel (100 ppm) and #4D diesel fuel (1,000 ppm). These early results are promising. Wood appears to be relatively easily leached with mild solvents and low temperatures.

“Promising”? Talk about your understatement…

I didn’t see a date on the paper, but it has citations from 2007, so likely about 2008. Reasonably recent. That means their cost data are ‘reasonable’ with only a small uplift in in the costs of oil products since then. So while they find the economics are beneficial, they will be better now.

They also report on some “issues” with Coal Water Slurry (CWS) and ways to fix them. Such as an ‘additive package’. It is not clear if such a package would be needed with charcoal.

2. Development of an additive package. An additive package was developed that allowed the CWS to be stored up to one year, transported over long distances, and pumped or injected like diesel fuel. The CWS used an additive package consisting of a gum (xanthin gum) to reduce settling and a dispersant (naphthalene ammonium sulphate) to reduce viscosity. At high solids loadings, the dispersant was needed to keep the viscosity below 200 cp. Under some cases, a biocide (formaldehyde) was also needed. An oil-antiagglomerant (Triton X) was added near the point of use. It was only needed when the CWS in the fuel lines contacted diesel fuel. Standard diesel fuel is sometimes used as a coal agglomerant in coal cleaning operations; the antiagglomerant prevented this from happening in the engine (Arthur D. Little, Inc., 1995, 44).

Were I doing the design of the fuel, I wold look more at a ‘Coal Organic Slurry’ (COS ?) using a heavy alcohol or gasoline like solvent. That would likely help with the ‘biocide’ aspects along with some of the ‘dispersant’ needs and would allow lower solids loading, so less need for dispersants. But it might increase the need for an ‘oil-antiagglomerant’ if gasoline like materials were used. (Hmmm… need some coal dust, gasoline, alcohols, water, and a jar… quick test to see what works better.) It is unclear if charcoal behaves like coal in this context. The use of an organic ‘carrier’ could potentially also avoid the need for a ‘pilot injection’:

The engine used a pilot injection of #2 diesel fuel (DF2) to assure ignition. Ignition delay using twin pilot injection at 4–5% of the total energy provided ignition delay roughly equivalent to that in a standard diesel engine (Arthur D. Little, Inc., 1995, 69). The engine performance was comparable to that in a standard diesel engine. On an energy basis, brake specific fuel consumption (BSFC) was comparable, whereas NOx and CO emissions were reduced by 50% and 85%, respectively (Arthur D. Little, Inc., 1995, 62).

Bolding added by me.

At any rate, the use of “slurry” has been studied and potential solutions to potential problems identified. Not a large set of ‘unknowns’ here. Just some minor ones with good clues.

The economics are also very interesting.

Economics of Charcoal-fueled Diesel Engines

The average price of #2 diesel fuel, at the refinery without taxes, is $2.18/gal (August, 2007) (Energy Information Agency, 2007). To penetrate this market, slurried charcoal must be sold for substantially less than that. Projected fuel costs are shown in Table 5.

Cost basis: Wood from short rotation woody crops has been reported at $50/ton dry

                            Gallon Barrel
Equivalent diesel price      $1.26 $53.20
Diesel price (August, 2007)  $2.18 $91.56

Savings/barrel of #2 diesel fuel   $38.44

So about 1/2 the recent wholesale price of Diesel. For a truck with a 100 gallon tank, that’s about $100 per fill up. I think that matters…

They go on to estimate the contribution of increased engine cost and maintenance costs on a per gallon basis. It adds about 15 cents / gallon, so it is a strong net win even if there are more engine costs.

All up costs, about $1.41 / gallon of Diesel equivalent for fuel and engine costs. I’d like to be running fuel at $1.41 instead of $4.30 / gallon… ( I know… there’s about 1/2 buck of taxes and another 1/2 buck of distribution and some profit and…)

But how much is there available?

Charcoal Supply

Distillate diesel sold in 2005 had a heat content of 6.81 quads (Energy Information Agency, 2005). This is all use of distillate diesel for transportation—by trucks, barges, and railroads—as well as use by agriculture and off-road diesel. Heating distillate is not included in this demand. This is the target market for charcoal-water slurries (ChWS). At 70% efficiency, to replace 6.81 quads of diesel fuel, 9.73 quads of wood would need to be cut every year, corresponding to 573 million tons of wood, where wood contains 17 million BTU/ton of fuel value. The billion ton vision (Perlack et al., 2005) estimates that there are 141 million tons of logging residues available currently, and in the future there will be 226 million tons available. Moreover, currently energy plantations can grow 5 tons of wood per acre; in the future they will be able to grow 8 tons per acre. Finally they estimate that there are 60 million acres of land that can be used for growing energy crops. Table 8 summarizes these findings.

Thus, the potential wood supply is adequate to supply 76% of current diesel demand with today’s technology. In the future, potential supply will rise to 123% of current demand due to genetic improvements in tree growth and more intensive management.

It is a little unclear if they are talking about USA or Global in these estimates. I’m pretty sure it is “USA”. This graph shows a total of 27 Quads of energy used for Transportation from petroleum, so that 7 Quads of Diesel seems ‘reasonable’ as a USA number.

USA Energy Usage 2011

USA Energy Usage 2011

Original and much larger image

As some folks in Florida growing Eucalyptus have gotten 63 wet tons / acre (year 2 – two year average 38 tons / acre), and some fast growth Poplar species are near that as well, I think they are being understated in the potential yield, likely as they have mostly been focused on species suited to wood / paper pulp production. Dry tons of 10 / acre are also fairly well demonstrated. It is important to note, though, that using grass based biomass is not suited to this process. Grasses have enzymes that let them pick up and incorporate Silicates. The Silicate Ash content of grasses and bamboos is higher than woody species.

Frankly, given the much larger ‘tons / acre’ of poplars vs corn, and the energy losses in ‘corn to ethanol’, I think we could convert some small part of the ‘corn fuel land’ to ‘wood fuel land’ and be way way ahead on energy.

In Conclusion

We have loads of energy sources. Rising petroleum prices (and the insanity of solar / wind electricity for cars and rising electric costs) are running headlong into the physics of other fuels and the low cost of growing trees. Already it is the case that charcoal bought in bags at Walmart are THE lowest cost / lb and almost the lowest cost / BTU of the “over the counter” fuels. (In California. Gasoline is a ‘rough match’ on $/BTU at $4 / gallon and the lowest cost is Natural Gas at about 1/3 that, delivered by pipeline to a fixed location).

The biggest competition to ChWS looks to be cheap natural gas. A comparative costing of the two fuels would be needed to figure out which is cheaper. As natural gas is very ‘engine friendly’, I’d expect most truckers and car owners would rather have a longer engine life. Then again, driving around with 100 Gallons Of Diesel equivalent of CNG or LNG (just waiting for a BLEVE – Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion) might make some folks lean just a bit toward ChWS and the idea of a fuel that can’t be lit on fire with a torch. But the bottom line is just that those two are BOTH putting low cost options in place that makes ramping up transport costs and rising oil costs a bit hard to carry off long term.

The conclusion from the paper pretty much sums it up, so I’m not going to be trying to improve on it.


Charcoal-fueled diesel engines are feasible based on a review of the DOE NETL coal fueled diesel program. Charcoal is significantly cleaner and more environmentally friendly than coal. Cleaning the charcoal should have as its goal meeting current diesel ash and sulfur specs. Converting engines to dual-fuel capability should be much cheaper using charcoal rather than coal because the incremental emission costs should be much lower. Economically, ChWS is much cheaper than diesel fuel at current prices (August, 2007), and hence, provides an incentive to switch from petroleum-based fuels to ChWS. This also provides a way to reduce CO2 emissions and save money. Finally, the potential supply of wood (including plantation-grown wood) is adequate to supply over 3/4 of current diesel demand, and this supply will grow in the future.

From all of these standpoints, research investments in charcoal-fueled diesel engines are justified on economic security and economic and environmental grounds.

The “Doom And Gloomers” and the “Running Out Panic” folks are just flat out wrong.

There is no energy shortage, and there never will be. The “Peak Oilers” will, eventually, be right (in a few decades, maybe) and nobody will notice. Coal for a thousand years and charcoal (eventually algae) for thousands more. Uranium and Thorium for millions of years.

Charcoal, it’s not just for dinner any more!

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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17 Responses to ChWS – Charcoal Liquid Diesel Fuel

  1. adrianvance says:

    You may find my blog “Turning Carbon to Gold” at of interest and let me reocmmend just letting the algae die as it turns to a black slurry precursor to petroleum and you may be able to use that directly.

  2. Bloke down the pub says:

    ”Finally, the potential supply of wood (including plantation-grown wood) is adequate to supply over 3/4 of current diesel demand, and this supply will grow in the future.”

    Except that the UK intends to convert their remaining coal fired power stations to burn US bio-mass instead, saving Kgs of CO₂ emissions in the process. sigh.

  3. p.g.sharrow says:

    In our studies of the cost of harvest and delivery of Bio-Mass from field to industrial plant, we found that the cost was about $50 per dry ton. (per year 2000 prices) No return for production. 50 mile radius from plant. The production of lumber and paper products, at profit, will support the costs of harvest and yield a cost to plant of $15 per dry ton. However, due to utilization of paper and wood products the quality of the waste is lowered. Nearly all of the western Bio-Mass power plants have been closed or converted to Nat. gas. pg

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    Bloke Down The Pub:

    So we are going to be shipping wood to the UK to be burned? That just makes no sense…

    Will you be shipping the ash back or are we going to be mining our soil?…


    It’s that ‘bulky and heavy shipping’ that’s a problem… which makes it even more strange that we’re shipping biomass to the UK…


    Interesting ideas. Though using anything with the word “radioactive” in it means it will never be done. (Though somehow smoke detectors are mandated…)

    Haven’t read the whole thing yet. The idea of root fertilization with CO2 to reduce transpiration losses is interesting. Wonder if anyone has tested / measured it in a hydroponic greenhouse (where everything is controlled so measurements are more accurate / useful ).


    That link wanted me to install some kind of (ilivid) software to get a pdf. I don’t install random software. Sorry.

    The article said it is easier to remove ash from charcoal. I’d assume there’s a way to get it out of coal, but trust that these folks are right that charcoal is easier.

    Personally, I’d do gasification on coal, but nobody asked me ;-)

  5. R. de Haan says:

    E.M.Smith says:
    10 March 2013 at 11:46 pm
    Bloke Down The Pub:

    “So we are going to be shipping wood to the UK to be burned?” That just makes no sense…

    Not only to the UK but also to the Netherlands. The business is strongly subsidized and driven by the massive introduction of wood pellet ovens. The US is losing there woods thanks to subsidized madness in the EU.

  6. Steve C says:

    Bloke down the pub is right, but didn’t mention the main lunacy of the scheme. Those coal-fired power stations were built near (or, in the case of, e.g., Drax, directly on top of) coalfields, specifically to reduce the “fuel miles”. So, in addition to importing countless shiploads of timber, this then has to be transported to the coal-mining areas concerned. Still, I’m sure they’ll be able to afford all that wasted (and previously unnecessary) transport, given the rate at which the gov’t is jacking up energy prices.

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    @Steve C:

    So we are chopping down trees and shipping wood 4000 miles to be burned on top of coal fields?

    When was Engineering replaced by Social (non)Science?

  8. punmaster says:

    ” When was Engineering replaced by Social (non)Science? ”
    When the Evil Bastards realized that all they had to do was appear on a stage with several children and tell us, ” If it saves just one child . . . “

  9. Paul Hanlon says:

    Great post (again). I’ve really enjoyed the whole G70, Lantern, Dutch Oven postings. Here in Ireland at roughly 51 latitude, our need is for space heating more than electricity. In terms of kWH, natural gas is about a quarter of the price vis-a-vis electricity, so it makes sense to have gas boilers / radiators to do the space heating rather than using electricity directly.

    In a previous life as a shuttering carpenter (making the forms into which concrete was poured to form beams and columns) I was working in a remote location so we had to use a diesel generator for the saws, lighting, etc. I can’t remember the name of the generator, but it was a 4kW unit and we could wheel it around to where we needed it. It never failed us once, no matter the conditions.

    So it struck me that if I could find something similar that would work on natural gas, it should be possible to run it to generate the electricity, disconnect the radiator and feed the hot water from the engine directly into the hot water cylinder through a heat exchanger using the engine’s own water pump, to get the space heating. Putting an insulated “shroud” around the engine would maximise the heat given to the HWC, and minimise the noise.

    I haven’t yet done the mathematics, but it appears that I would be getting the electricity for free, and if there was more need for heat it could be supplemented with solar thermal panels, which are much more efficient (in terms of BTUs) than solar PV. Definitely one of those things I would like to try before I die. Maybe rather than using an ACDC inverter, just rewiring the house to run off 12 or 24 V DC?

    I’ve noticed you are very interested in the use of algae to generate energy, but is there a way of doing this on a “human” scale, i.e. in one’s own back yard. Would there be some way of feeding it waste and kitchen scraps for a totally self contained unit in a suburban environment?

  10. E.M.Smith says:

    @Paul Hanlon:

    While it doesn’t fit the “stereotype” of me as a hard core conservative right wing Skeptic… in fact, on many things, my beliefs are much more “liberal” (US sense) than conservative. I’m all for 100% abolishing the “war on drugs” and substantially all drug laws. It’s a medical problem, like all addiction and substance abuse.

    That comes from my “Hippie Days”. Never as long, nor as intense, as most others tour down that road, but yes, at one time “Long hair, bell bottoms, tie dyed shirt, etc. etc.”…

    One of the “other interests” from the time is “how to effectively live with no money from an old school bus repainted in strange colors”. I never “did it”, but wanted to… So I’m perpetually interested in things like “ersatz stoves” and “fuel from strange stuff” and such. Along with making your own electricity on the road or in camp or in the “off the grid Yurt” on the “someday list”… Subscribed to Mother Earth News for a while too…

    But “life happens” and I ended up married in the suburbs with a yard to mow and a 2 car garage. kids in school and a spouse who like shopping centers.

    But a fellow can still dream…

    Thus the G70 stove and POB BBQ and making an oven out of a Dutch Oven and some charcoal. (FWIW tried my first “loaf of bread”. It was a disaster. Burned black in the crust. That ‘one ring for 350 F’ rule of thumb is for several pounds of wet meat. With 15 ounces of fluffy bread in a tin, it gets hotter. Now that I have a new Dutch Oven with thermometer hole, I’m going to try ‘loaf number two’ and get the charcoal exactly right. Good news is that the fuel costs will be much lower ;-) The inside of the first loaf was great… but about 1/4 inch of outside was well burned… I’d guess the oven was closer to 475 F than 350 F… so will try ‘every other charcoal in a ring’ next.)

    Then this posting on charcoal in slurry is from the more ‘tech’ and DIY side of fuels. Just what kind of thing can you ‘make go’ in a Diesel? A bit of my Mad Max side I think ;-) It is curiously attractive to think of making charcoal for your Truck… I wonder if it can be made to stay suspended in Kerosene with a bit of surfactant? Might be able to just run it through the regular injectors then…

    Per houses and “Co-Generation”:

    If I lived in a cold place, I’d be doing it already. Honda sells a very nice unit for a pretty penny… in the UK and the East of the USA. Figure folks ‘out west’ don’t need heat… they need to see our electric vs nat gas tariffs…

    if you just want to toss money at the problem. All optimized and certified and everything…

    Were I doing my own home electric system, I’d certainly make some of it 12 VDC. Had a trailer for a while (camper sized) and lived on a sail boat for a couple of years. It’s not hard to run 12 VDC lights and such. For in a home, 12 V “track lighting” is very available. Just leave out the transformer for mains to 12 V… A ‘quirk’ of the physics is that for Tungsten IC bulbs, the light per unit Watt is greater with lower Volts. Also the light lasts longer as the filament is thicker. So 12 V lights are efficient and last longer too. I have an old car headlight that had the lowbeam die wired to a 12 v transformer in the garage over the workbench. Works fairly well (though needs a diffuser to ‘un focus’ the lens on the front of the bulb… next time I’ll use a QI small new bulb ;-)

    Just remember that a 100 W bulb will take about 10 amps, so you only get one per 15 amp standard house wired breaker line…. My DIY electricity solution (from the last time the Democrats were fiddling with electricity markets in California and we had rolling blackouts) was a generator and a battery box (in which I’d temporarily put an old car battery that was ‘good enough’ but not starting the Diesel well) and 12 VCD to lights in the Garage. Inverter was going to put 120 VAC into one or two selected sets of sub circuits, but we got a change of Gov. and the electricity became stable so never finished it.

    There are a lot of natural gas home generators on the market, even some that are self starting standby units. Don’t know which are sold in the UK, but lots are sold here. Looks like Lowe’s has a 6 kW genset that runs $1900:

    but probably air cooled. (All the little 2 kW to 4 kW units tend to be air cooled unless designed for Co-gen use).

    Though personally I’d get one of these:

    Can run on your choice of kerosene, Diesel, or vegetable oil and water cooled so easy to make cogen. Also the Lister type Diesels are designed to run ‘low and slow’ with full time duty for decades… Some are still running from “before the Great War”…

    For running on natural gas, you need to valve (fumigate) it into the air intake for about 3/4 load and let Diesel act as the spark plug to ignite it. It’s a DIY arrangement, but Diesels are very efficient and the Lister is very abuse tolerant so a minor mistake in testing ought not to damage it. I’ve run Propane that way (and alcohol) and methane has even higher resistance to knock so is even easier to use. It is done commercially in large standby Diesel generators for emergency systems (so you get much longer run times on your tank of Diesel, but can still run some time if the nat gas supply is broken using just 100% Diesel). Unfortunately, those systems are sized to run whole hospitals and shopping centers and are not cheap.

    So basically there’s lots of ways to do what you want to do. Depends a bit on what noise you can tolerate too. A Lister is a joy to hear for a Diesel fanatic, a Honda better for urban use with close neighbors…

    FWIW I once figured out that with a commercial 12 kW Diesel I could make electricity (fuel cost only not amortizing hardware) for a cost per kW-hr that was the price of Diesel in $US divided by 10. So if Diesel is selling for $4.00, it costs about $0.40 / kW-hr to make your own. As Natural Gas is presently going for about $1.50 / GGE (Gallon Of Gas Equivalent), in theory it would be about $0.16 / kW-hr for electricity. Less than I presently pay that is in the $0.23 to $0.30 range and rising. And that is BEFORE one captures and saves / uses the heat… So those Co-Gen units can pay off very nicely in high price places like California. (In places with Sane Power Systems, like Texas, with 7 cent to 9 cent /kW-hr rates, it’s best to let the Utility Company make your power…)

    As we are headed for a $0.50 peak tariff Real Soon Now, it will then be economical for me to buy Diesel at retail and make my own electricity. Silly but true. (Diesel is presently about $4.30 so about 43 cents / kW-hr. That’s 7 cents / kW-hr for amortizing and maintenance. Given that Lister Type engines have been known to go 100,000 hrs without over haul… (Cast Iron piston and 1000 RPM makes for a long long life).

    I haven’t done it largely because the garage needs cleaning out and I’m not sure the spouse would accept the noise ;-)

    On Algae:

    The biggest problem here is keeping the culture pure in ‘raceway’ tanks (as foreign stuff falls in) vs complexity cost and plumbing in sealed systems. It’s nearly trivial to grow “pond scum” and in fact most ponds do it fine. The hard bit is growing the right pond scum… so a sealed system for DIY is better. It’s not hard and you can start with a mason jar… or any old fish tank set in the sun will be coated in algae in no time…

    If you want to play with this, the ‘easy way’ is get a 5 gallon fish tank. Put a few fish in it and set it in a very sunny window. Feed the fish. Wait. You will shortly have algae. This can be sped up by adding some dirty water from a pond with algae in it.

    Now comes the really hard part. How to turn soaking wet and potentially microscopic plants into dry fuel. Lots of ways. Enjoy your hobby… As nobody has yet got anything making money, it’s not yet a solved problem. Lots of methods on line though…

    For DIY back yard fuel, I’d go for yard waste and a “Gasogen” or Gassifier first. Then for Gobar Gas fermentation of the same waste. Then for things like algae that take a lot of skill and capital and are finicky about operational parameters. (For Gobar Gas, bury a large ‘septic tank’ like object, highly insulated so it can be kept at 90 F or so. Add sewage, food scraps, yard leaves, etc. -exact mix of nitrogenous and carbonaceous varies but needs to be close to right – and wait. Feed resultant methane to stove or generator.) it helps to make it big and have lot of space.

    In reality, most such things are fun to play with, but the labor required makes them unsuited to the average home in the ‘industrialized west’ (though very practical in 3rd world / India like places) If we had a brain, we’d be using nuclear power at 7 cents – 12 cents / kW-hr and not screwing around with all this stuff.

    At any rate, hope that helps.

    Your least trouble most effective path will be to buy the Honda Cogen unit and have it installed.

    Your most cost and “futz with factor” is to get the Lister Diesel and set up a ‘used fry oil kit’ next to it. Now weekly make rounds of old fish fry places collecting oil. Take it home and filter / dewater it. Warm and use. Oh, and set up a Gobar Gas fermenter in the back yard and collect yard waste to feed it. Run a hose to the generator intake and every so often use the gobar gas as part of the generator fuel. (As it is slow to ferment, you don’t get all that much, so most systems have some kind of gas capture / storage system. As it needs to be warm, any left over heat from the generator can keep the tanks warm). All up it will cost $10,000+ range, make a lot of noise, use a fair percentage of your yard, and require several hours a week to care for it and feed it… ( I’d get the Honda if I had the cash…)

    So there you go. Many decades of pondering toys my spouse and zoning ordinances would not let me have ;-)

  11. Paul Hanlon says:

    Hi Chiefio,

    Many thanks for the substantive reply. That is really interesting. Here in Ireland, we’re paying 21 Euro cents/kWH for electricity. Over the last two months we got through 1500 kWHrs or “units”. Peak load was 3kW, but this was only momentary. So average price per day is working out at about €5.

    The “Lister” option would be my preferred way to go, but probably without the calling to “chippers” as we call them, for frying oil. Found a great link here. Looks like I could get a secondhand one here in Ireland for around €1500.

    Doing some back of the envelope calculations, it looks like it would cost about €4 a day to generate the same electricity using natural gas, but that’s without factoring in the savings made from using the waste heat. That will have to wait for another day, what with Marcott and CG31313 :-)). I assume that’s taking up quite a bit of your time too. By the way, are you ModE?

    Happy Paddy’s day.

  12. E.M.Smith says:

    @Paul Hanlon:

    You are most welcome.

    I think I’m not supposed to say I’m ModE… but one might guess…

    I wish some day to have a spot of dirt and a Lister to play with. They are great old engines. The nice thing is that being an indirect injection of the old sort, to use vegetable oil just requires warming it up. So you start on clean Diesel, then once warmed, turn the valve to the hot vegetable oil tank / heat exchanger.

    1500 kW-hr / month, or 50 / day. About 2 an hour. Reasonable size for keeping a cogen unit running fairly steady. Put in a small battery and put the house on an inverter for the surge demands (or convert some of it to direct from battery) and you are “good to go”. You could likely have a 6 kW generator and battery set and just run the generator 8 hours a day. ( i.e. shut it off at night when sleeping). A large water tank can store heat for “off hours” too. ( I like ‘very quiet’ when sleeping)

    Oh, and as spouse has Irish citizenship, you can bet we’re doing St. Paddys ;-)

  13. Paul Hanlon says:

    Heh, heh, let’s just say then that he has a distinctive style that bears an uncanny resemblance to your good self :-)). Kind of like the way you would know that REP was moderating, even if he didn’t put his moniker there.

    +1 on the bit of dirt and the Lister. Fixer-upper cottages on an acre of land can be bought for around €50-60,000 in North Kerry atm, which would be my preferred location. It’s not as picturesque as South Kerry, but you have the Atlantic to the West and the Shannon River to the North, and you’re rarely ever going to be bothered about what you do on your own land. Your posting on City v Country kind of convinced me that that was the way to go, once I have some other things sorted.

    Yes, I was basing my calculations on about eight hours of use and a battery bank too. My idea was to enclose it in an insulated shroud so that very little noise and very little heat escaped, maximising the heat going to the large Hot Water Cylinder and wall radiators (all part of the same circuit). Even if it was off the gas grid, there is a well developed market for LPG tanks buried underground over here. Or just go completely hairshirt and grow sugar beet (highest calorific value of all plants) and feed that to the “anerobes” in a methane digester. Anyway, I’m sure you’re busy, so I’ll stop now.

    Maybe I should have said DON’T enjoy St. Paddy’s Day too much :-). Regards to you and yours.

  14. E.M.Smith says:

    €50-60,000 for a cottage and an acre? Hmmmm……

    Spouse has Irish passport (so I can get one also).
    She wants to see Europe.
    I want to leave here.
    I could buy that with my retirement money.

    OK, how far to the nearest “Shopping Center”. That’s all I’m seeing “in the way” ;-)

    I can easily feed 2 people off of one acre, even with Irish weather…

    Need to look up just where Kerry is located. (Sorry to say, I’ve not learned all the counties and where they be…) My Great Grand Mother and my Great Grandfather came from County Mayo (so Gaeltacht and my Grandma was, I think, born here in Iowa. Then she and an Ohio Smith lived on a farm in Iowa and thus was Dad to be ;-) Something like that… I know, I ought to know it better than that. O’Braheny or Braheny ( I’ve heard both… not checked the records).

    Looking at the wiki, Kerry is the same side and a “poking out bit” of Gaeltacht, just more south. That would work for me, I think…

    BTW, as I am Hispanic, too, I’ve been enjoying a few Tequila Shooters. Using a fresh Tangelo from the yard tree, rather than the traditional lime or lemon…. Not too many, Mum was British, after all ;-)

    Yes, welcome to what it means to be a Standard American Mutt. British Mum (that eventually traces back to a set of Celts and Vikings having a party ;-) near London) and Irish / Amish Dad (that traces back, via Switzerland, to the other side of the “Channel” a bit north for the Amish near Holland, and to Ireland). With a small bit of French that I think are from the Atlantic Coast, so Celts. All of them one side or the the other of The Channel and a mix of mostly Celts and Vikings with a bit of German, when all is said and done. So I’m having Tequila, as I’m from California and Hispanic ;-)

    I wouldn’t mind at all growing old and dying in Ireland. Seems, somehow, appropriate for all those wandering Celts and Vikings to “come home”… leaving a Redhead Daughter in California and a Blond Son in Chicago to “carry on”…

  15. Paul Hanlon says:

    Heh, heh, thought that might pique your interest. Southwest corner of Ireland. is the premier property website in Ireland. Type in your location, price you are willing to pay, and away you go.

    South Kerry is a major tourist destination with lots to see, but higher prices for property. North Kerry is flatter and boggy in some places, but closer to Limerick City and Shannon International airport. Listowel is the major town and Cork city would be about a two hour drive through some beautiful countryside. Very American friendly. Cost of living would be on the high side with a property tax and water rates to be introduced. Quite a number of American multinationals dotted around the place. Rose of Tralee, Killarney, Dingle peninsula, Ring of Kerry, Ballybunion Beach all within 60 miles. My ex significant other comes from there so I got the full tour. Definitely worth a visit at some point.

  16. Neil says:

    Have you considered the BTU value of a charcoal slurry? Will this concoction properly fuel the engine and keep the same power load?

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