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

Live on Indiegogo!

So many of you have probably been wondering what our next move was since we were denied on Kickstarter. Well here’s the answer:


Indiegogo.com is a crowdfunding website very similar to Kickstarter, however they are happy to embrace a much wider scope of projects and have fewer restrictions on what they accept. So with that said, we are very pleased to announce that we are now live and ready to accept contributions!

Check out our campaign HERE. (http://www.indiegogo.com/hydroice)

PLEASE contribute whatever you can and PRETTY PLEASE share what we’re doing with your family and friends. It’s by spreading the word that we’ll be able to make this happen!

Now, on to a more technical update…

******************

The Team at MSU checked in with me last week. They’ve been very busy collecting data and preparing the design for the thermal solar collectors that the system will utilize. I must say, we’ve been extremely impressed with the work that they’ve done. It’s great having a team to work with who is as passionate about the project as we are.

I’ve also met with the directors of The Center for Emerging Technologies in St. Louis, MO. They specialize in helping new technologies like ours make it off the ground and into the market by providing support in both the labratory and they office. They’re extremely excited about the work that we’ve been doing and we’re definitely looking forward to working with them more in the very near future. It should definitely help us speed along the process of making affordable solar energy to you!

– Matt

Change of plans

It’s been quite a busy week. After going gangbusters the past 2-months to get our Kickstarter campaing rolling, we received some very dissapointing news. We submitted our project to Kickstarter for approval and 3 days later, a message came back notifying us that we had been declined BUT we could submit an appeal and they would reconsider!

The frustrating part about this process is that Kickstarter will NOT go into detail about why they choose to decline various projects. All they’ll say is that the project does not fall within the website’s “focus.” Huh?

As it turns out, merely 3-weeks ago, as we were zeroing in on our final presentation for submission, Kickstarter changed many of their guidelines regarding hardware projects on their site. Rumor also has it that they’ve also removed somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 projects recently due to issues with intellectual property.

It’s difficult to say exactly what all of this means, or how it affected our project (yes, we appealed and were denied again), but our best guess is that they’ve been facing complaints from people who claim that certain projects violate their IP rights.

Kickstarter is still lively with projects that revolve around the arts (movies, music, books, etc.) BUT it appears that any proprietary projects are suffering and slowly being squeezed out of the equation. That’s truly a shame. Advances in hardware/technology is what keeps our civilzation moving forward and is the best shot for providing aid to our sickly economy. But now, yet another powerful tool is being removed from the innovator’s toolbox. It’s an all-too-perfect testament to the social decay that our country is in the midst of.

So what does this mean for our project?

Luckily we don’t have all our eggs in one basket so we’re still moving forward quiclky, I’ll follow this up with another post in the next couple weeks on our latest and greatest developments.

– Matt