Electrical charging system and test stand

I met with a senior project team who has expressed some interest in working with us to continue development on our technology.  Specifically, they are looking at designing and building the electrical generation and analytics system that will be connected to our prototype engine.  This is an important piece as it will give us the means with which to measure the efficiency and other performance statistics of our new technology!  We’ll keep you posted as they decide whether or not they’ll choose this for their senior project.

In other news, we purchased a whole heck of a lot of steel from a local machine shop that was closing here in the area.  It’s always fun to look at all of that raw material and dream for a bit about all the different things that can be made with it!   We’re beginning to build the test stand so it won’t be long before the steel gets used for something awesome. We’ll start posting pictures soon!

- Matt

Solar industry grapples with hazardous wastes

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Homeowners on the hunt for sparkling solar panels are lured by ads filled with images of pristine landscapes and bright sunshine, and words about the technology’s benefits for the environment — and the wallet.

What customers may not know is that there’s a dirtier side.

While solar is a far less polluting energy source than coal or natural gas, many panel makers are nevertheless grappling with a hazardous waste problem. Fueled partly by billions in government incentives, the industry is creating millions of solar panels each year and, in the process, millions of pounds of polluted sludge and contaminated water.

To dispose of the material, the companies must transport it by truck or rail far from their own plants to waste facilities hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of miles away.

The fossil fuels used to transport that waste, experts say, is not typically considered in calculating solar’s carbon footprint, giving scientists and consumers who use the measurement to gauge a product’s impact on global warming the impression that solar is cleaner than it is.

After installing a solar panel, “it would take one to three months of generating electricity to pay off the energy invested in driving those hazardous waste emissions out of state,” said Dustin Mulvaney, a San Jose State University environmental studies professor who conducts carbon footprint analyses of solar, biofuel and natural gas production.

The waste from manufacturing has raised concerns within the industry, which fears that the problem, if left unchecked, could undermine solar’s green image at a time when companies are facing stiff competition from each other and from low-cost panel manufacturers from China and elsewhere.

“We want to take the lessons learned from electronics and semiconductor industries (about pollution) and get ahead of some of these problems,” said John Smirnow, vice president for trade and competitiveness at the nearly 500-member Solar Energy Industries Association.

The increase in solar hazardous waste is directly related to the industry’s fast growth over the past five years — even with solar business moving to China rapidly, the U.S. was a net exporter of solar products by $2 billion in 2010, the last year of data available. The nation was even a net exporter to China.

New companies often send hazardous waste out of their plants because they have not yet invested in on-site treatment equipment, which allows them to recycle some waste.

Nowhere is the waste issue more evident than in California, where landmark regulations approved in the 1970s require industrial plants like solar panel makers to report the amount of hazardous materials they produce, and where they send it. California leads the consumer solar market in the U.S. — which doubled overall both in 2010 and 2011.

The Associated Press compiled a list of 41 solar makers in the state, which included the top companies based on market data, and startups. In response to an AP records request, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control provided data that showed 17 of them reported waste, while the remaining did not.

The same level of federal data does not exist.

The state records show the 17 companies, which had 44 manufacturing facilities in California, produced 46.5 million pounds of sludge and contaminated water from 2007 through the first half of 2011. Roughly 97 percent of it was taken to hazardous waste facilities throughout the state, but more than 1.4 million pounds were transported to nine other states: Arkansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Nevada, Washington, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

Several solar energy experts said they have not calculated the industry’s total waste and were surprised at what the records showed.

Solyndra, the now-defunct solar company that received $535 million in guaranteed federal loans, reported producing about 12.5 million pounds of hazardous waste, much of it carcinogenic cadmium-contaminated water, which was sent to waste facilities from 2007 through mid-2011.

Before the company went bankrupt, leading to increased scrutiny of the solar industry and political fallout for President Barack Obama’s administration, Solyndra said it created 100 megawatts-worth of solar panels, enough to power 100,000 homes.

The records also show several other Silicon Valley solar facilities created millions of pounds of toxic waste without selling a single solar panel, while they were developing their technology or fine-tuning their production.

While much of the waste produced is considered toxic, there was no evidence it has harmed human health.

The vast majority of solar companies that generated hazardous waste in California have not been cited for waste-related pollution violations, although three had minor violations on file.

In many cases, a toxic sludge is created when metals and other toxins are removed from water used in the manufacturing process. If a company doesn’t have its own treatment equipment, then it will send contaminated water to be stored at an approved dump.

According to scientists who conduct so-called “life cycle analysis” for solar, the transport of waste is not currently being factored into the carbon footprint score, which measures the amount of greenhouse gases produced when making a product.

Life cycle analysts add up all the global warming pollution that goes into making a certain product — from the mining needed for components to the exhaust from diesel trucks used to transport waste and materials. Not factoring the hazardous waste transport into solar’s carbon footprint is an obvious oversight, analysts said.

“The greenhouse gas emissions associated with transporting this waste is not insignificant,” Mulvaney said.

Mulvaney noted that shipping, for example, 6.2 million pounds of waste by heavy-duty tractor-trailer from Fremont, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay area, to a site 1,800 miles away could add 5 percent to a particular product’s carbon footprint.

Such scores are important because they provide transparency to government and consumers into just how environmentally sustainable specific products are and lay out a choice between one company’s technology and another’s.

The roughly 20-year life of a solar panel still makes it some of the cleanest energy technology currently available. Producing solar is still significantly cleaner than fossil fuels. Energy derived from natural gas and coal-fired power plants, for example, creates more than 10 times more hazardous waste than the same energy created by a solar panel, according to Mulvaney.

The U.S. solar industry said it is reporting its waste, and sending it to approved storage facilities — thus keeping it out of the nation’s air and water. A coal-fired power plant, in contrast, sends mercury, cadmium and other toxins directly into the air, which pollutes water and land around the facility.

“Having this stuff go to … hazardous waste sites, that’s what you want to have happen,” said Adam Browning, executive director of the Vote Solar Initiative, a solar advocacy group.

Environmental advocates say the solar industry needs greater transparency, which is getting more complicated as manufacturing moves from the U.S. and Europe to less regulated places such as China and Malaysia.

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, a watchdog group created in 1982 in response to severe environmental problems associated with the valley’s electronics industry, is now trying to keep the solar industry from making similar mistakes through a voluntary waste reporting “scorecard.” So far, only 14 of 114 companies contacted have replied. Those 14 were larger firms that comprised 51-percent of the solar market share.

“We find the overall industry response rate to our request for environmental information to be pretty dismal for an industry that is considered ‘green,'” the group’s executive director, Sheila Davis, said in an email.

While there are no specific industry standards, Smirnow, head of the solar industry association, is spearheading a voluntary program of environmental responsibility. So far, only seven of the group’s nearly 81 manufacturers have signed the pledge.

“We want (our program) to be more demanding, but this is a young industry and right now manufacturing companies are focused on survival,” he said.

___

Follow Jason Dearen on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JHDearen

Grant Proposals and Perks!

Well we have been busy, busy, busy here as we continue moving development forward on our HydroICE Technology!  Our latest endeavor has involved submitting a grant application to the Department of Energy to request funds under the SunShot Initiative funding opportunity.  It was a lot of work getting the whole proposal together as I had never doen that before so it was also a good learning process.

To go off on a little bit of a tangent, I’m on of those people who firmly believe that “To cease learning is to cease living.”  That said, I aim to continue my education every day and working on the grant proposal helped me to easilly meet that daily requirement. :)

But back to the matter at hand, we’d appreciate your good thoughts as we await to hear whether or not we’ll be granted the funding we need, which should be sometime in late April.  You can be sure that we’ll be updating you as soon as we have some new information!

For those of you who contributed on IndieGoGo-  I’m working hard this week to get all of your perks finalized and ready to ship out. Hang tight!

Thanks again for your support everybody!

- Matt

Indiegogo Results & The Future of PV

After a crazy 30 days, our funding campaign on Indiegogo is complete!  We received $2,160 in contributions, thank you very much to everybody who jumped on board!  While it was a long way off from our goal of $70,000, we still consider the campaign to be a success.  Yes, we still need more funding in order to keep the project moving forward, but the feedback that we received from enthusiasts, people who hated our work, and the curious looky-loo has all been very valuable to us.  In short, our idea has been largely been validated by several of our peers and industry experts which will hopefuly be valuable to us as we move forward.

So just what exactly is our next course of action?   To  be straight to the point, we need money (don’t we all?).  As my good friend Bob likes to constantly remind people, “It’s all about the money.”  We truly do want to deliver a product that will benefit our civilization and are not driven by greedy intentions, but even a goal as noble as that needs money to achieve great things.  Luckily for us, the exposure that we’ve received from our campaign on Indiegogo has caught the eyes of a handful of investors who have the heart to see our technology made available on the market AND the deep pockets to support it.  Please send good thoughts our way as we meet with people and try to secure the funding to make this possible!

In other news, I was browsing through some new articles about solar development and came across one on Forbes that was particularly interesting; “Report: 180 Solar Panel Makers Will Disappear By 2015.”  What? Why are that many companies supposedly closing their doors over the next few years?

The biggest criticisms we’ve received about our project in the early stages of development is that we’re wasting time because the price of PV solar panels are dropping like a rock and will fall below the cost of coal, natural gas, and nuclear any day now.  Half of that claim is true.  PV has dropped significantly over the past few years.  But does anybody know why?

The article details how the market has become flooded with an oversupply of panels and manufacturers are selling for pennies on the dollar just to try and save as much face as possible before going bankrupt.  In the end, it makes it fairly clear that the recent drops in PV prices are NOT SUSTAINABLE.  At least not without a major leap forward in the technology and we have yet to see that come to fruition on the market. It’ definitely worth the read, in case you didn’t click on the first two article links up above, here it is again.

- Matt

One Week Left!

Hi folks! We have ONE WEEK LEFT on our Indiegogo campaign!  We’re still pretty far off from our funding goal, so if you haven’t contributed yet please do so soon!  In addition, please continue helping us spread the word!

If you haven’t seen our project page yet, you can visit: http://www.indiegogo.com/hydroice

I’ve had quite a few people email us to make sure that the project will continue if we don’t reach our funding goal.  Yes, we wil most definitely continue but it will slow the progress down.  We’ll need to begin searching for other ways to raise money in order to move forward and that will take some time.  But yes, we will continue on! 

- Matt

Thermal Solar vs. PV – More of the story

In the cost comparison chart on the “About the Project” page, we analyze the cost to create electricity using both photovoltaic panels and our proprietary solar thermal cycle.  We took the 15% average efficiency of PV and compared it to our system with an assumed 15% efficiency (we’re expecting 25-30% but for the sake of our argument we keep it conservative).  That basically means that of all the energy that the sun is giving, only 15% of it actually gets turned into electricity.  So what happens to the other 85%?  Where does it go?

In PV systems, nothing happens to the other 85%. It does not get utilized, it’s completely gone and wasted.  The panel takes all of the suns energy and converts only 15% of it into electricity.

Now in our system, you could argue a similar point but the keyword in this sentence is similar. While only a small percentage of the energy is converted into actual electricity, solar thermal systems have something that PV does not:  an exhaust. After our engine runs, we have a flow of exhaust that run somewhere around 300F.  Why is that valuable, what can we do with that heat?  To name just a few possibilities:

  • Cooking
  • Heating
  • Hot water
  • Air conditioning (Einstein/Szilard system)
  • Refigeration (Einstein/Szilard system)

The steam has to be condensed back to water before it can be recycled into our system as it is.  So why not put that excess heat to good use?  Using solar thermal energy, you’ve not only cut your electricity bill, but you’ve also cut the cost of every other single utility that you currently pay for.  Does PV do that for you? We didn’t think so.

Oil/Steam Separation Process

Over the weekend our project was featured on the popular tech website, Slashdot. One of the popular concerns by a few folks was the issue of separating the oil and the steam after it had been exhausted out of the engine. We’ll address this here and add it to our FAQ as well.

Believe it or not, the ability to separate steam from oil or water from oil has been around for a very long time. The oil industry has to deal with this problem on a daily basis. Granted, our specific application is different, but the principles remain the same.

Something very important that must be clarified: We will not be separating WATER and oil, we will be separating STEAM and oil. Yes, it does make a difference. Because steam is a gas and oil is a liquid, separating the two is made much easier by the fact that they are in different phases. This makes it an issue of distillation, one that has been solved already.

This is achieved through a baffle system. As the steam/oil mixture passes through the baffles, the oil will have the tendency to adhere to the surface of the baffle and drop to the bottom of the separator column while the steam, being a gas, will merely pass through the baffles and up to the top of the column, leaving the oil behind.

Not only does the oil industry have this problem solved, but the early Stanely Steamer cars also used an oil/steam separator to keep the oil from contaminating the steam supply. That’s a technology that has been available to us for over 100 years!

So, with those few tidbits you hopefully have a better idea of how that process will work in our system. Do we have a custom unit for our system 100% designed, tried and tested? No, we don’t, and we’re upfront about that. Do we know what we need to in order to build one and address the issue? Absolutely.

Something for you all to ponder that we forgot to mention on our main project page… With the oil being injected in at the top of the cylinder and then making it’s way out through the exhaust at the bottom, any reason that it can’t also serve as the engine’s lubricating oil?

- Matt

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve had a great response to our project and as a result have fielded many questions from inquisitive minds! Here are the answers to several of those questions. I’ll leave this article on the homepage for a while before moving it over to the FAQ page. If you have any other questions please feel free comment at the bottom of this post or email us! hydroicesolar@gmail.com

Frequently Asked Questions

1) How does your engine compare to Stirling engines and steam turbines?
This is the question we get asked most often so we’ll answer it first! While all 3 methods have the ability to generate electricity from solar power, they each go about it in a slightly different way. As a result, each have their advantages and disadvantages.

Efficiency:
Both steam turbines and Stirling engines are known to be quite efficient, typically falling around the 40% efficiency range. We won’t know exactly where our HydroICE technology will fall until testing is complete, but we’ll be able to reach at least 15% efficiency with projections falling closer to 30%.

Manufacturing and cost:
Both steam turbines and stirling engines are extremely precise machines and as a result, we see that reflected in the high price that it costs to manufacture and purchase one. This makes them economically feasible only for large industrial scale applications.

In the end, it all boils down to the cost-per-watt of electricity generated. Even if you had an engine that was 90% efficient, it would not be a wise investment if the installed system cost you $1,000/Watt. Of course that is an absurd scenario, but it makes the issue very clear. Cost is what has prevented solar from becoming widely implemented and this is where HydroICE triumphs. Because we can take a very cheap engine and operate it for a low cost, we are able to make up for our lower efficiencies and provide a cost-effective way to generate electricity from solar power.

Safety:
People often overlook this factor, but safety is A MAJOR problem associated with steam turbines and engines. Each of these devices require high-pressure steam that must be created outside of the system in a boiler before being injected into the device. Steam can be extremely deadly at these pressures and the slightest problem or leak could result in fatalities. This is an acceptable hazard when utilized at the utility level by trained professionals, but NOT among homes, business, and communities. Using the HydroICE method, the required steam is generated inside the engine where the work is being done. This eliminates the extreme hazard and makes it safe for use anywhere.

2) How is this any different from a standard piston steam engine?
Modern steam engines face the same safety issue that we mentioned in the previous question: They require externally produced steam and this greatly increases the potential for failure or a problem.

3) Why bother using the oil? Why not just heat the engine and make steam that way?
People have actually done that in the past, but problems with contamination and engine durability arise. Steam is the gas form of water, and water accelerates oxidation (rust). With the introduction of oil as the heat carrier, not only is this problem solved, but so is the problem of keeping the engine well oiled and operational!

4) Can you further explain the oil/steam separation process?
Believe it or not, the ability to separate steam from oil or water from oil has been around for a very long time. The oil industry has to deal with this problem on a daily basis. Granted, our specific application is different, but the principles remain the same.

Something very important that must be clarified: We will not be separating WATER and oil, we will be separating STEAM and oil. Yes, it does make a difference. Because steam is a gas and oil is a liquid, separating the two is made much easier by the fact that they are in different phases. This makes it an issue of distillation, one that has been solved already.

This is achieved through a baffle system. As the steam/oil mixture passes through the baffles, the oil will have the tendency to adhere to the surface of the baffle and drop to the bottom of the separator column while the steam, being a gas, will merely pass through the baffles and up to the top of the column, leaving the oil behind.

Not only does the oil industry have this problem solved, but the early Stanely Steamer cars also used an oil/steam separator to keep the oil from contaminating the steam supply. That’s a technology that has been available to us for over 100 years!

5) If your passion is making this technology available to everybody, why the patent?
It’s no secret that progressive technologies have been stuck on a shelf and hidden because they have the disruptive power to change the path of the market. We realize that, and we want to avoid having that happen. We didn’t patent this to protect our greed and collect every penny possible from our innovation, we patented this to protect the technology. With the patent we have ultimate control in making sure that it DOES reach the marketplace and ultimately your hands.

6) What happens at night when the sun goes down?
This is a common question of all solar products and we’re no exception. Possibilities include: battery storage, thermal storage (storing excess hot oil to continue running at night, probably not very cost-effective for home applications), or a secondary heating capacity (heat the oil using a natural gas, wood, or other similar burner). We’ll continue this exploration as we further develop the system.

7) Can you run a car or motorcycle with this technology?
This is a bit further down the road but it’s definitely possible!

8) Would you mind explaining what steam turbines and Stirling engines are?
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the working principle behind each device, scroll down to the bottom of this page for quick explanation on each one.

a) Standard steam engine
This machine works by creating steam in a boiler and then injecting high-pressure steam into the engine cylinder, moving the piston. A special valve is then moved, allowing for the high-pressure steam to push on the back side of the cylinder, returning it to it’s original position and exhausting the used steam out into the air. This is why old steam engines needed to fill up with water at the station!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steam_engine

b) Stirling engines
Created by Robert Stirling, this is a closed-cycle air engine that is currently being used in some industrial solar applications. It operates by heating a gas inside of cylinder and as it expands, the piston is moved. There is no combustion that takes place.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stirling_engine

c) Steam turbines
88% of The United States’ electricity is generated using modern steam turbines, they can be found in both coal and nuclear power plants. Very simply put, these work with a “waterwheel” principle. Steam is injected into the blades of the turbine which causes it to turn, much like you would see happening with a water wheel down on the stream.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steam_turbine

We’re picking up steam!

Hey folks!

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, I know that I did.  I’m glad that we have one day a year where we can over-eat and indulge our taste buds in a guilt free manner.  I also enjoyed my Thanksgiving for reasons I was not entirely expecting…

Yesterday marked the one week point of our project launch on Indiegogo (www.indiegogo.com/hydroice) and we’re really starting to see some amazing things happen!

A very big thanks goes out to Braden at innovationexcellence.com and Ben at gizmag.com.

Both these guys caught wind of our project and decided to get involved by posting articles on their respective websites highlighting the work we’re doing.  As a result, we’ve seen a huge increase in traffic to our campaign on Indiegogo and we couldn’t be happier!  Check out what they

www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/2012/11/20/hydroice-solar-future-innovation-or-not/

www.gizmag.com/hydroice-solar-powered-engine/25139/

In addition to the increasing contributions financially, we’re also very thankful to have the support of fellow enthusiasts commenting and spreading the information via social media.  It truly is through your support that we’ll be able to make this advance in solar energy possible!

We’ve received many various questions about what we’re doing so I’m going to go ahead and create an FAQ page here on this blog as well as on the indiegogo page to answer a few of those questions for you!  We love the questions, it shows that people are curious and that people care.  It’s great so keep them coming!

If you’ve sent me an email or comment and I haven’t replied yet, just hang in there a little longer. My inbox is the fullest it’s EVER been but I promise I will reply. :)

If you haven’t already, make sure to check out our project page on Indiegogo! www.indiegogo.com/hydroice

- Matt