A carbon-neutral way to power your home

Nov 27, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- A super-efficient system that has the potential to power, heat and cool homes across the UK is being developed at Newcastle University.

It works by burning vegetable oil to power a generator and provide electricity for the home.

The waste heat from this process is then used to provide heating and hot water and is also converted to cool a fridge.

At each step, the waste heat that is produced from engine gases and cooling is used elsewhere to recover the maximum amount of energy from the system.

In addition to this, the plant producing the fuel absorbs carbon whilst growing – resulting in near zero overall carbon emissions.

Using these three forms of energy for home use is known as micro-trigeneration and this new design will take the concept of combined heat and power to the next level.

Led by experts at the Sir Joseph Swan Institute for Energy Research at Newcastle University and drawing on expertise from across the UK and China, the design also includes a unique energy storage system.

This allows home owners to store the extra electrical energy during ‘off-peak’ times – for example during the night – and efficiently releases it when it is needed most.

Project leader Professor Tony Roskilly, of Newcastle University, explained: 'The supply of electricity, heating and cooling can be optimized by this one, efficient and sustainable system.

'The combination of the generator and energy storage provides new ways to respond to changing energy demand in the home.'

One of the potential oils to be used in the system comes from the seeds of the Croton Megalocarpus plant which grows in East Africa.

Croton Megalocarpus oil brings with it the advantage of being able to grow on land that is not suitable for traditional farming or food production – providing a fuel without sacrificing land for food crops.

Drawing on the modelling expertise of scientists at Ulster University, the team will build a full-scale prototype of the system.

The energy storage system, being developed with Leeds University, will supply electricity and cooling - helping to ensure that the correct form of energy is available at the right time and that the engine operates at its optimum efficiency.

Newcastle University’s Dr Yaodong Wang, said that this form of energy system for the home would be highly efficient.

'In the past, a significant barrier to the take-up of domestic scale micro-trigeneration systems has been the availability of the right energy at the right time,' he explained.

'A household has varying energy demands depending on the time of day and the time of year.

'By integrating new energy storage technology with the micro-trigeneration system we have the potential to overcome this barrier and make an impact on future domestic energy supply.'

Provided by Newcastle University

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Soylent
2.8 / 5 (12) Nov 27, 2008
"It works by burning vegetable oil to power a generator and provide electricity for the home."

That's just bloody pathetic.

Vegetable oil(or more properly methyl or ethyl esters of fatty acids derived from vegetable oil) is a terrible enough idea as a vehicle fuel; but at least that's a high value, portable fuel application; now you're just burning food for light and heat.

You're far better off burning natural gas and oil directly instead of green-washing it through farming. Carbon-neutral it ain't.
gpa
3.8 / 5 (9) Nov 27, 2008
Come on editors. No more science fiction, please.
Damon_Hastings
3 / 5 (7) Nov 28, 2008
Soylent: how is this not carbon-neutral? The carbon released by burning vegetable oil was previously sequestered from the atmosphere and has probably been circulating between plants and atmosphere for thousands of years or more. The carbon released by oil, on the other hand, was trapped underground for millions of years before humans released it into the atmosphere.
Soylent
3.3 / 5 (6) Nov 28, 2008
Soylent: how is this not carbon-neutral?


Because more natural gas and oil is consumed in planting, fertilizing, harvesting, extracting the vegetable oil and transporting it to markets than you can ever hope to regain from burning it.
Soylent
3.4 / 5 (5) Nov 28, 2008
The biggest problem is not the GHG emissions, it's stealing large quantities of valuable farmland from food production(and water if ground water is extracted at an unsustainable rate for farming) to produce a trifling amount of vegetable oil.
RAL
4.6 / 5 (5) Nov 28, 2008
Physorg really disappoints me when it bothers with articles like this. Look at the article closely and it throws around a lot of jargon and consists primarily of cheerleading for those working on this project. If there is a reasonable energy storage that they have discovered that smooths out demands over time why is there not a word about what that might be? This is a huge problem facing such episodic producers as wind power, which must rely on backup firing to meet peak demands during relatively calm periods. There have been massive efforts to research and solve the problem, including flywheels and pumping water uphill etc etc etc, enabling the harvest of previously generated energy during lulls in production or peak demand.

Yet the only thing we are told about this in the article is that it is designed by "experts" and is "unique". How likely is that? Why not an article claiming that "experts" have a "unique" solution to allow humans to explore the stars next year, but not say even a single word about what that "solution" is about? Is it some kind of secret? This doesn't even pass the sniff test.

lengould100
4.3 / 5 (3) Nov 28, 2008
Agree wih RAL. Absolutely NOTHING new here, except some wacko coining a new word for CHP. TriGen? Just because some idiot thinks adding an air conditioning system to a standard CHP unit is "new research"??

And battery-electric storage is a stupid way to store energy. Use thermal storage, (hot water/rock or ice) and generate the electricity when required, at the rate required.
Going
1.6 / 5 (5) Nov 28, 2008
There is plenty new here

The system is multi staged to get maximum efficiency from the fuel used.

The system employs energy storage to make enrgy available at peak times.

Croton Megalocarpus grows on marginal land and so does not compete with food crops.

JohnGalt
5 / 5 (3) Nov 28, 2008
So, what is the energy storage method? What kind of engine burns the fuel? How is the refrigeration generated? Not much detail here.
Velanarris
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 28, 2008
Soylent: how is this not carbon-neutral? The carbon released by burning vegetable oil was previously sequestered from the atmosphere and has probably been circulating between plants and atmosphere for thousands of years or more. The carbon released by oil, on the other hand, was trapped underground for millions of years before humans released it into the atmosphere.


And prior to that it was cycling happily through the atmosphere and being taken up by plants in the exact same cycle which you use to justify this idea.

There's a reason why they're called "fossil" fuels.
ofidiofile
5 / 5 (4) Nov 28, 2008
So, what is the energy storage method? What kind of engine burns the fuel?


don't diesel engines burn veggie oil? i thought that was the idea behind "biodiesel".
Velanarris
5 / 5 (2) Nov 30, 2008
So, what is the energy storage method? What kind of engine burns the fuel?


don't diesel engines burn veggie oil? i thought that was the idea behind "biodiesel".
As do any "flex fuel" engines produced by the big automakers. unleaded/ethanol burners.
goldengod
2.7 / 5 (3) Dec 01, 2008
If the African farmers and business people were able to capitalize on the potential that the fuel crop offers they might be able to make a substantial contribution to the regional coffers and provide a sustainable way of generating income for otherwise unusable land.

This in itself is an excellent reason for pursuing this project.
Lord_jag
5 / 5 (2) Dec 01, 2008
If you take away government subsidies, you will always make more money per acre making food than fuel. Dumb idea, move on.
Velanarris
3 / 5 (2) Dec 02, 2008
If the African farmers and business people were able to capitalize on the potential that the fuel crop offers they might be able to make a substantial contribution to the regional coffers and provide a sustainable way of generating income for otherwise unusable land.

This in itself is an excellent reason for pursuing this project.
Yeah, other than the fact they don't have enough food to feed their own people. Perhaps they could grow FOOD on this "marginal" land with the proper practices.
denijane
1 / 5 (2) Dec 03, 2008
I don't get one thing-why do you consider food more important than heating? If it's 15-30 C outside- yeah, it is. But in temperatures anything below 15, heating is just as essential as food and thus, "you burn food" isn't such an offence. And when the temperatures drops below 0 C, you're likely to burn anything that comes handy, if you don't have air condition or central heating /something that happen even in 21st century/. Or if you simply don't have electricity for the moment.

My point? Stop making priorities like you live in Africa. Sure, in Africa food is a problem number 1. But in northern countries, this simply isn't true. You have to balance priorities in the right for the current environment way. Sure, food may be eaten by starving people, but every euro cent you pay for electricity or oil, cent that you didn't save, can be turned into food for someone.

Saying this, I still find this "new way" to be somewhat useless. Burning vegetable oil is not better than burning fossil oil or fossils, probably it is simply cleaner. For me, the answer is not in burning, but in utilising what we already have-solar and wind energy. Even water-if you consider the amount of water that washes your roof, for example, during a rainy day. It's all energy, we just have to harness it. And of course, to be as energy efficient as humanly possible.
Velanarris
5 / 5 (1) Dec 04, 2008
I don't get one thing-why do you consider food more important than heating? If it's 15-30 C outside- yeah, it is. But in temperatures anything below 15, heating is just as essential as food and thus, "you burn food" isn't such an offence. And when the temperatures drops below 0 C, you're likely to burn anything that comes handy, if you don't have air condition or central heating /something that happen even in 21st century/. Or if you simply don't have electricity for the moment.
Let me ask you something. How did ancient man survive prior to the invention of the heating system?

I wonder how well he'd survive if he had no food.

Secondly, this method is not carbon neutral.