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  1. #1
    WA
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    What's the most environmentally friendly way of generating electricity?

    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.
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    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

    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.
    Last edited by brothercake; 02-18-2003 at 02:39 PM.

  • #3
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    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...
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    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?
    Last edited by brothercake; 02-18-2003 at 03:17 PM.

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    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.
    Last edited by mouse; 02-18-2003 at 03:37 PM.
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  • #6
    Supreme Overlord Spookster's Avatar
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    Breed like 10 trillion hamsters, then set up hamster wheels for all of them and hook them to little generators. Ouila!!! Energy problem solved.
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    How many keystrokes would it take to light a lightbulb???

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    Senior Coder Spudhead's Avatar
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    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...

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    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

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    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


    Wind Generators;
    • enamel on copper windings
    • lead/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.
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  • #11
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    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!

  • #12
    WA
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    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
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  • #13
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    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....
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    Supreme Overlord Spookster's Avatar
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    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.
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  • #15
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    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.
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