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View Full Version : What's the most environmentally friendly way of generating electricity?



WA
02-18-2003, 01:17 PM
What do you think is currently the most environmentally friendly way of generating mass electricity? Obviously this would rule out things like solar power due to present technology limitations.

I would say hydro (through dams), but then having seen reports on the kind of ecological damage dams can inflict, I'm not so sure. Nuclear? Do share.

brothercake
02-18-2003, 01:27 PM
I propose biomass energy production based on Hemp. Hemp is *the richest* source of plant cellulose bar none, and could be burnt for energy production with no overall toxic output (although plants do produce oxides of sulphur, carbon and nitrogen when they burn, they also consume these gases when they grow; overall this is a balanced energy cycle).

About 5 years ago, I investigated the practicalities of biomass for energy production - using the UK as my test case. I calculated, from average output per dry tonne, that to provide for the UK's entire electricty needs would require 630,000 hectares (roughly 1.1 million acres) of Hemp to be grown annually.

The European Union operates a scheme called "set aside" whereby farmers are paid *not* to grow crops on portions of their land, in order to avoid over production and consequent devaluation of food commodities (not to mention waste).

This set-aside land is currently being used for .. well ... nothing; it's just sitting there. Some farmers are using it as conservation areas - allowing threatened species, such as badgers, to thrive in relative safety. But it's a tiny proportion - most of the land sits idle ... but could be used to grow biomass.

So I rang up MAFF (Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) as it was then called, and asked them how much UK farmland is designated set-aside.

The answer - just under 700,000 hectares. This means the proposal is viable now :thumbsup:

But it won't happen until the oil actually does run out - if industry was interested in environmentally sensitive energy production we would have abandoned fossil fuels a long time ago - technological development is as much about priorities as it is about capabilities. Oil is too easy to monopolise and profit from; renewable energy sources are virtually impossible to monopolise, and profitable only at a local level.

mouse
02-18-2003, 02:08 PM
iirc plants can only consume "fixed" Nitrogen. Might be a minor problem or maybe not.


Hydroelectric using the tides seems a good method, maybe it's possible to have remote stations using waves in the ocean. I'd be interested in whether geo-thermal energy could be utilised...

brothercake
02-18-2003, 02:14 PM
Originally posted by mouse
iirc plants can only consume "fixed" Nitrogen.

Actually Hemp is a nitrogen fixing plant .... afaik it can consume atmospheric nitrogen and transfer it to the soil (which would make it a good companion plant for others which require high nitrogen levels, such as peas and tomatoes)

Geothermal is intersting ... any ideas how it could be utilised?

mouse
02-18-2003, 02:35 PM
Steam driving a turbine. There'd be no real emissions since it's just phase change.

I always found the Matrix style of taking electricity direct from a living organism quite interesting/scary. Maybe it's possible though.

Spookster
02-18-2003, 04:55 PM
Breed like 10 trillion hamsters, then set up hamster wheels for all of them and hook them to little generators. Ouila!!! Energy problem solved.

sage45
02-18-2003, 04:58 PM
How many keystrokes would it take to light a lightbulb???

-sage-

Spudhead
02-18-2003, 04:59 PM
Not really a viable method of mass-producing energy, but I reckon there's a fair amount to be made in gyms: all those rowing machines and exercise bikes, there's gotta be a pretty serious amount of power going to waste...

brothercake
02-18-2003, 05:09 PM
I've seen something like that ... at the Glastonbury festivals a few years ago, one of the smaller stages in the Green Fields was powered entirely by excercise bicycles with dynamos attached ... and volunteers :)

Quiet Storm
02-19-2003, 12:23 AM
I always thought that solar electricity and wind generators were the best and cleanest ways to produce energy...

But then someone asked me how are those things designed. Meaning the types of chemicals/products that go into building the parts for them. For example:

Solar panels;
gallium arsenide -When heated to decomposition, this compound emits very toxic fumes.
plastic - known problems (http://www.greenpeaceusa.org/media/factsheets/poisonplastictext.htm)


Wind Generators;
enamel on copper windings
lead (http://www.wlssd.duluth.mn.us/safe.htm)/tin used for soldering
Neodymium for the magnets


Just some other things to think about.

I do think solar/wind energy is the best way to go, though.

bcarl314
02-19-2003, 01:41 AM
Well, I remember making a potato battery in one of my sience classes in HS. Maybe potatoes are the way to go? That would make the Oregon / Idaho region of the US the next Middle East!

WA
02-19-2003, 11:21 AM
Solar and Wind power definitely seems to be the least polluting, at least from a non-scientist's perpective that is mine. I've thought about generators that harness the waves of the ocean, but can you imagine the kind of marine evironmental damage that could be done by them?

By the way, Australia recently approved spending $700 million to build the world's largest solar power plant (tower): http://cbc.ca/stories/2002/08/21/aus_power_020821

Roelf
02-19-2003, 11:35 AM
Originally posted by brothercake
and could be burnt for energy production with no overall toxic output (although plants do produce oxides of sulphur, carbon and nitrogen when they burn, they also consume these gases when they grow; overall this is a balanced energy cycle).

it is a common misunderstanding that whatever is stored in one of natures reservoirs, can be harmlessly put back into the environment. The cycle is balanced in just one way, input equals output. The timespan and place where the input is gathered and the output is dumped is not so much balanced.
The burning of oil, and so producing carbondioxide is indeed in balance with the carbondioxide intake of the vegetation, which eventually leaded to the oil we use these days, when they where growing. The time in which all these carbondioxide is produced, is so much shorter than the time it took to extract it from the atmosphere, that it is obvious that there are negative effects to expect.

Maybe eventually the equilibrium (sp?) will return, but we wont be around anymore to see it....

Spookster
02-19-2003, 12:33 PM
Originally posted by Roelf
it is a common misunderstanding that whatever is stored in one of natures reservoirs, can be harmlessly put back into the environment. The cycle is balanced in just one way, input equals output. The timespan and place where the input is gathered and the output is dumped is not so much balanced.
The burning of oil, and so producing carbondioxide is indeed in balance with the carbondioxide intake of the vegetation, which eventually leaded to the oil we use these days, when they where growing. The time in which all these carbondioxide is produced, is so much shorter than the time it took to extract it from the atmosphere, that it is obvious that there are negative effects to expect.

Maybe eventually the equilibrium (sp?) will return, but we wont be around anymore to see it....

Umm oil is not produced from plants intaking carbon dioxide. Oil is produced from mostly plankton and a few plants that decompose and accumulate inside sedimentary rock over millions of years.

Roelf
02-19-2003, 12:57 PM
Originally posted by Spookster
Umm oil is not produced from plants intaking carbon dioxide. Oil is produced from mostly plankton and a few plants that decompose and accumulate inside sedimentary rock over millions of years.
it was just an example to illustrate the big difference in time needed for extracting stuff from the environment and store it into a natural reservoir in relation to the time we take to put stuff back into the environment. Maybe i should have used burning coal as an example.

But you know what i mean

if i extract a big pile of salt from the sea in say 20 years and put it back in a week, the environment is badly disturbed. That was the point i wanted to make.

brothercake
02-19-2003, 04:31 PM
But the point I was making is that plants are growing now and consuming atmospheric gases - if you burn those plants you get a balanced energy cycle.

redhead
02-19-2003, 09:33 PM
interesting... id always considered wind / solar to be the "best"... although wind farms deface landscapes badly... but then again: so do the power stations burning oil/coal...

Quiet Storm
02-19-2003, 09:41 PM
Wind farms, I think, would be great. We've got a few states here in the US with nothing in them (Utah, Nevada) where we could build a whole mess of them! Just line them up like rows of corn... farmers can plow the fields around them!

I think it would be interesting to see the north site of the Grand Canyon get a bunch built. Prob. not a good idea to others, but if you look at it in a way of balancing nature and technology - working together - kinda makes for a good poem. ;)

Spookster
02-20-2003, 12:02 AM
Originally posted by redhead
...but then again: so do the power stations burning oil/coal...

that also depends on whether you are referring to butiminous or anthracitic coal.

joh6nn
02-20-2003, 12:12 AM
socks + carpet. hands down the friendliest form of energy production.

Borgtex
02-20-2003, 12:37 AM
Sea movement: it's continuous and works at day/night/winter/summer/... There's a pilot project in a city of my country to create a buoy field able to use the up & down sea movement to produce energy

cg9com
02-20-2003, 01:49 AM
Originally posted by joh6nn
socks + carpet. hands down the friendliest form of energy production.
im with you man!

Spookster
02-20-2003, 01:56 AM
Originally posted by joh6nn
socks + carpet. hands down the friendliest form of energy production.

Heck I don't even need to do that....I'm a walking static bomb waiting to bump into something metal. I think it has something to do with the shoes I wear. I'm always getting zapped. :(

Kang He
02-22-2003, 10:53 PM
Don't forget it takes years before solar panels and wind mills are actually effective.. while they relatively produce little power.

cg9com
02-23-2003, 04:38 AM
not to mention, there only as good as the weather permits.

maybe we could use natural resources to power one big wind mill, to blow all the other wind mills! lol

redhead
02-23-2003, 05:07 PM
that also depends on whether you are referring to butiminous or anthracitic coalerm... yes.

Quiet Storm
02-23-2003, 09:12 PM
Originally posted by cg9com
not to mention, there only as good as the weather permits.


You could think of this:

Solar panels generate electricity when the sun is out.

If it's too cloudy for the solar panels, it's usually windy... so wind generators would then take over. :)

Combine both with places like Hoover Dam, and you've got the perfect way to create constant clean power.

redhead
02-23-2003, 09:39 PM
...and when its raining the rain can power umbrella turners which drive turbines... :)

mouse
02-23-2003, 11:06 PM
Okay, how about this; students, treadmills, Kylie Minogue in those gold hotpants... :eek:



I think hydroelectric is the best for the next few years, using the sea, possibly with offshore stations.

cg9com
02-24-2003, 02:31 AM
yea, you guys make a good point.
unfortunatly, still to unreliable to power anything of importance in my opinion. *shrug*
but still very friendly, and for the most part effecient.

allida77
02-24-2003, 04:19 AM
I guess I am late to this discussion but I am not sure if there will ever be a "environmentally friendly way of generating mass electricity" it seems that everything has its drawbacks. The most environmentally friendly way to me would be better conservation of energy. I think energy is to often treated like a endless resource.

kwhubby
02-24-2003, 06:39 AM
I say that solar is infact the best way, Not solar panels, but solar furnaces, using big mirors to boil water, and spin turbines!

cg9com
02-24-2003, 07:22 AM
Originally posted by allida77
I think energy is to often treated like a endless resource.
very true.
i think mainly because it will for the most part be endless in our lifetime.
the next generation will feel the same way.
i dont think (at least) america would seriously think of an alternative until it was too little too late.

Borgtex
02-24-2003, 02:53 PM
Who knows, maybe in the future it will be wars to control the most sunny or windy zones, just like these days people go to war only to control oil. :(

bcarl314
02-24-2003, 03:28 PM
Originally posted by allida77
I think energy is to often treated like a endless resource.

Well, since the total amount of matter and enery in the univers remains contant, then energy can be thought of as an endless resource. Really, think about energy production in the world today. For the most part, your actually talking about energy transformation. Chemical energy (burning) -> Electro-magnetic energy (electricity). EM Solar -> EM electricity
Kinetic (wind) -> EM electricity
and so on. The only exception today is nuclear energy which actually converts matter to energy, but since matter and energy remain constant, all you do is convert from one form to another and back again.

It's all about the effeciency of converting energy to a useful format. The amount of energy available is enormous!

Spookster
02-24-2003, 04:01 PM
Originally posted by bcarl314
Well, since the total amount of matter and enery in the univers remains contant, then energy can be thought of as an endless resource. Really, think about energy production in the world today. For the most part, your actually talking about energy transformation. Chemical energy (burning) -> Electro-magnetic energy (electricity). EM Solar -> EM electricity
Kinetic (wind) -> EM electricity
and so on. The only exception today is nuclear energy which actually converts matter to energy, but since matter and energy remain constant, all you do is convert from one form to another and back again.

It's all about the effeciency of converting energy to a useful format. The amount of energy available is enormous!

That's the 1st law of thermodynamics. Energy is neither created nor destroyed.

With that in mind we just need to learn how to manipulate all that energy in an efficient and environmentally friendly way.

Borgtex
02-24-2003, 05:35 PM
However, as sun will dissapear someday and entropy of the universe tends to increase inexorably, all will die out soon or later.

...and yes, I'm a bit pessimist today :)

kwhubby
02-24-2003, 08:45 PM
Originally posted by Borgtex
However, as sun will dissapear someday and entropy of the universe tends to increase inexorably, all will die out soon or later.


yah but a 50 year trip or so could get us to a sun that was not dead, and we could orbit around that in a man made earth thing, like halo or something

bcarl314
02-25-2003, 02:02 AM
Very true, however recent findings from the hubble telescope on the CMB would seem to indicate that the uinverse will expand forever. Thus in a few trillion (10 ^12) years, there will be no stars, just empty space and a few black holes and brown dwarfs.

kwhubby
02-25-2003, 02:26 AM
yes very true, but I can assure you that your genes will have virtually no meaning whatsoever in trillions of years. In fact, I daught that are primitive life form, evolved from apes, will be existant in this primitive form, this species be much more evolved, probobly evolved artificially to Super humans. And maby well be able to develope (at are super inteligent position) forms of travel to allow across universe travel, or be able to re capture all the expanded , and lost energy for our usage. Of course well have super forms of controlled fusion, and capturing, and controlling energy from the wasting blobs of fusion (suns) would be easy, and so we could maby end up with a perfectly resycling energy system and last for eternity.

p.s imagine how un imaginably primitive what are concerns, and activities will appear at that point (far larger than the equivalence from humans now to the first single celled organisms ages ago.)

cg9com
02-25-2003, 03:07 AM
kwhubby, your talking about this human race evolving for a long time.
we arent even mature enough to handle our technology now, just look at the threat of complete earthly destruction from our own bombs. we will kill ourselves off before we evolve to anything better. :(

mouse
02-25-2003, 03:21 AM
Let's not get too political, war has been mentioned a couple of times and has little to do with the subject in hand. :)


We'll be dead way before the sun leaves us and I doubt humans will evolve at all anyway; natural selection doesn't work in a superficial society where differences are pounced on and torn to shreds.

I wonder whether the claim that energy is finite is really true; if we get our energy from the sun, unless we radiate a proportional amount - which we don't - then we've a constant stream of energy. In the context of the universe finite, in the context of our planet infinite.

cg9com
02-25-2003, 04:18 AM
sorry, :)
i doubt engery is infinate.
maybe only in proportion to the amount we could ever use ...

Spookster
02-25-2003, 05:39 AM
Originally posted by cg9com
sorry, :)
i doubt engery is infinate.
maybe only in proportion to the amount we could ever use ...

So what you are saying is the 1st Law of ThermoDynamics/Law of Conservation of Energy is wrong then? That's a mighty bold claim. Do you have scientific facts obtained from reproducable credible experiments to back this theory? :)

kwhubby
02-25-2003, 05:43 AM
don't jump to conclusions, what about genetic enginiering, in even 500 years we will be able to create "genetically" enginiered humans over small mutations per generation, - artificial evolution. If we became advanced enough (wich we will in time) we could do it in one shot, without needing a mother to supply food for the baby pre birth. We could grow creatures out of an egg and some machines to make spicific dna., and machines to keep the egg living.

cg9com
02-25-2003, 06:00 AM
Originally posted by Spookster
So what you are saying is the 1st Law of ThermoDynamics/Law of Conservation of Energy is wrong then? That's a mighty bold claim. Do you have scientific facts obtained from reproducable credible experiments to back this theory? :)
do you have hard facts to back up that ThermoDynamics are correct? and if you do, they are backed up by people, who really have no idea what goes on in the universe.
who are we to say energy is infinate, to me that is an ignorant claim, the earth and universe were here before us, how can we make a statement that has to do with things that not only have we not seen proven, but never will.
this is all human speculation, and at best is an uneducated guess.

how can we be plopped on a big rock in the middle of the biggest nothing we have ever known, and think we know whats going on.

kwhubby
02-25-2003, 06:13 AM
I smell a big argument comming :rolleyes:

p.s much of the energy is just wasted into empty ness as mater is just wasting away into energy, and spreading into almost nothing. ... don't you believe in einstiens (err.. i hope thats how you spell it) theory of relativity... that kind of states that energy is unlimited in a way.. that energy has an equivalence to mass (thus energy can be mass, and mass can then be energy. an unending cycle)

cg9com
02-25-2003, 06:21 AM
Originally posted by kwhubby
I smell a big argument comming :rolleyes:

let me try and diffuse this then.
im just trying to have a stimulating debate thats all :D
no hard feelings to anyone.

infinate energy is a big theory, i just dont think that we can depend on our own theories so much that we change our lifestyles to them, considering how naive we really are.

sorry i dont mean to get off track.
i think we should be humble, and conserve any energy we can, providing we wont have it later.

Spookster
02-25-2003, 07:43 AM
Originally posted by cg9com
do you have hard facts to back up that ThermoDynamics are correct? and if you do, they are backed up by people, who really have no idea what goes on in the universe.
who are we to say energy is infinate, to me that is an ignorant claim, the earth and universe were here before us, how can we make a statement that has to do with things that not only have we not seen proven, but never will.
this is all human speculation, and at best is an uneducated guess.

how can we be plopped on a big rock in the middle of the biggest nothing we have ever known, and think we know whats going on.

Have you ever even taken college level courses in Thermodynamics? Or a better question have you ever attended a higher educational institution....while concsious? The scientists who developed these laws didn't just make uneducated guesses. I think it is safe to say that the people who developed these laws are much smarter than you or I so I wouldn't call them ignorant.

Borgtex
02-25-2003, 11:13 AM
Energy is'nt destroyed, but as I can interpret from the second law of Thermodynamics, energy is finite for us to the effect that it tends to disperse and disorganize in no usable ways (entropy).

The necessary amount of energy to recollect all that floating dispersed energy would be greater than the final result.

btw, somebody else here read "The last question", a short SF history from Isaac Asimov? has some interesting thoughts about this subject.

Quiet Storm
03-11-2003, 08:10 PM
.:bump:.

What's the story on NASA's Fuel Cell?

Used on the shuttles...

Pass Hydrogen through a grid, get electricity and H2O as exhaust...

Anyone have first-hand information on this before I google search?

Quiet Storm
03-19-2003, 04:26 PM
Too slow... ;)

http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2003/18mar_fuelcell.htm?list482998

cg9com
03-19-2003, 06:49 PM
intresting.



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