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Sustainable Living — High Tech
Life Off the Grid
from the March 2007 Star Beacon
by Marty Ulrich
Part IV — Power
Power from the earth, hydrogen
clean combustible energy,
a renewable and quite handy resource
solar and wind,
hydroponics and biofuels
life is not going to get simple any time soon. If you want to live a
harmonious life with the earth, then you must free yourself from the “grid.”
Now, by that, I mean that you will provide most things you need for yourself
and your community, not that you will be completely disconnected from the rest
of the world (although you might want to be). And I don’t mean that you’ll
have to give up that nice TV you just bought or that cool new SUV.
is a solution that provides the best of both worlds. It’s been some time since
I last wrote about independent living, but I believe I have found a way to
to the latter half of the first decade of the 21st Century. This is the dawn
of the mobile age. The technology exists to live hundreds of miles from
another human being, yet still be in contact with them via the Internet or
cell phone. The idea is to live in a commune that operates on both capitalist
and communist principles. Everyone does their share of work or service to stay
in the community, yet the community as a whole will act as one nonprofit
organization, raising capital for improvements requiring resources outside of
living there are encouraged as well to engage in the free market, but all
basic needs will be met by the community, as well as a few luxuries.
one thing you will need that nature provides is a water source. Plentiful
water will be the key to survival of the commune. Whether it’s from a well,
river or lake, it doesn’t matter; just as long as it doesn’t run out. Next,
you’ll need power, and plenty of it. This is where it gets interesting. Solar
panels and wind turbines will be used as initial power sources and as backups,
but the main power supply will be provided by a generator.
generator will be driven by a hydrogen-fueled rotary engine. The hydrogen will
be produced from water, on site by electrolysis, powered by the solar panels
and wind turbines, which will either be used or stored, compressed in a tank.
The hydrogen will fuel the rotary engine. Since hydrogen burns over twice as
hot as gasoline; constant use will likely overheat the engine. However, this
heat will be used to our advantage.
the engine reaches operating temperature, hot water is injected into the
engine with a reduced amount of hydrogen, effectively creating a steam engine
— also creating more horsepower. The more horsepower, the more watts you’ll
get out of the generator. A 75 horsepower engine can theoretically produce
about 56 kilowatts of gross power at only 1800 rpm.
generator, water splitter, and engine will be directly built into a house. All
plumbing will be run through a filter, then a distiller (and also serves the
purpose of providing drinking water), and the water fed into the water
splitter will go through a de-ionizer before electrolysis. Water taking heat
from the engine will be circulated throughout the house, providing hot, clean
water at all times. Oxygen (O2) is a side effect of electrolysis of water,
which can also be vented into the rooms of your house (which has been
clinically proven to reduce the risk of cancer).
now, with plenty of water and power, the next step is to grow your own food. A
greenhouse of good size will keep you and your family and friends alive. Some
food and grains can be grown outside (assuming your soil is decent), but most
can be grown hydroponically indoors. Plants grown hydroponically can grow
faster, at any time of the year. It also gives you complete control of what
nutrients your food has. And also, your greenhouse will aid in what is
becoming your own personal ecosystem. A good greenhouse has good ventilation.
You want to change out the air in a greenhouse about every 60 seconds. The
exhaust from the hydrogen rotary engine creates a good deal of carbon dioxide
and water, which can be routed into the growing room (as long as you have
sufficient exhaust). This will make plants yield more food as this is one of
their main foods. I will touch more on hydroponics in another part of this
from hydroponics can be collected and recycled for mulch or for something of
even greater value — biofuels. Heat from hydrogen combustion can be used to
gasify plant biomass into natural gas, and further steps can refine that into
more hydrogen and carbon dioxide.
why a rotary engine?” you ask. First, due to the high operating
temperature of hydrogen combustion, a conventional engine’s valves
would be the first thing to burn up. A rotary engine has no valves
and therefore can run almost constantly without overheating. So why
not use a turbine instead? Turbines create a great deal of power,
but they also require a great deal of fuel, and since our primary
fuel in this generator is water, a turbine would run out of fuel
faster than hydrogen, and can be efficiently generated. Only a
rotary engine, powered primarily by steam, would work.
A 75 horsepower rotary engine isn’t very big — that’s just one
rotor. A 75 hp electric motor creates 56 kilowatts of power (roughly
20 kw are needed to distill water and create hydrogen). That’s
enough left-over power to live a normal modern life, with your
computer, connected to the Internet via satellite, and then you
still can have your SUV converted to run on biofuels.
Live a simple life, with the peace and quiet, yet still be able to
order supplies on-line and have them Fed Ex’ed to a nearby postal
station. This was not possible years ago, but with today’s
communications, it could very well become the norm within a few
Marty Ulrich writes about sustainable living from Oceanside,
California, where he’s cutting metal, cooking pizza, and playing his
music every chance he gets.
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