The HydroICE Solar Project
As the price of energy continues to rise and we continue to experience changes in our climate, the problem has never been so obvious: The world is in dire need of a cheap, clean way to acquire energy. Day after day we’ve all heard that we need to be more responsible with the world which is our home, and day after day our shrinking wallets push us more quickly to action.
But we don’t need to waste your time telling you what you already know, so let’s skip to the important issue: What is the best way to solve this problem? To cut straight to the point, solar energy is the answer IF a truly affordable method of harnessing the sun’s energy can be produced, here’s why.
The most consistent, reliable source of energy that our planet has is the sun. And lucky for us, it doesn’t turn off if we’re late paying the bills. It’s always there and it’s always free. But that doesn’t mean anything if you can’t make those warm rays turn the lights on at night, keep your food fresh, or warm your home when it’s cold outside.
The world has taken steps in the right direction; the photovoltaic panels that are on the market are nice, but the extreme cost has kept them from becoming widely implemented. Even with the recent government incentives the cost has still been out of reach for the average private consumer or business. Large-scale thermal solar plants do a fine job but they are generally built far away from where we live, making maintenance of these plants a challenge.
There’s just something wrong with the fact that it’s so difficult to utilize what is otherwise free and abundant. To be frank, we hate that. We wanted to change the way solar energy is approached. And change it we have!
HOW WE SOLVED THAT PROBLEM
Our project started out small with just 2 “slightly eccentric” inventors: Matt Bellue, an Aerospace CNC Machinist/Programmer with a passion for exploring new inventions and making them real, and Ben Cooper, an engineer and dedicated inventor with extensive background in the sciences. With our experience, passion for inventing, dedication to an affordable clean energy solution, and a healthy dose of outside the box thinking, we knew we could solve this problem. And so we founded our company, Missouri Sustainable Energy.
We spent months just researching what other people had already done. What worked and what hadn’t. What showed promise and what flopped. We hemmed and we hawed, we even played “Pin-The-Solution-On-The-Solar-Donkey” (hmmm, hopefully we get a a few courtesy laughs for that one) And after all that, we finally came up with something that nobody had ever thought of or tried. Are you ready to hear about how we’re going to change the world?
It all starts with a standard gasoline engine. Yes, that’s right; we’re going to make a gasoline engine generate electricity by running it on solar power. Sound outrageous? Well, it might, but keep reading!
The principle in a gas/diesel engine is fairly simple: Inject fuel into the engine, a spark is fired, an explosion occurs and as a result the piston moves, turning a generator, pushing a car, or driving whatever the engine is connected to.
Now here’s where we turn the world upside down. Take that same engine and modify the variables slightly; instead of injecting gas/diesel, inject hot oil (using mirrored parabolic solar collectors, temperatures of 800 degrees farenheit can be reached!) into the cylinder. Instead of a spark, add a few microdroplets of water. When the water contacts the hot oil, the oil’s thermal energy is transferred to the water and it instantly flashes to steam.
When water changes from a liquid to a gas, it has the potential to increase it’s original volume by 3,000 times. It’s this powerful expansion that drives the engine. Just connect a generator to the system and there you have it: An engine that only requires the warmth of the sun to produce electricity.
For just a quick second, let's consider something that is often overlooked: Safety.
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.
So to summarize: A mirrored parabolic solar collector heats the oil, the hot oil is injected into the engine, and then a small burst of water is injected into the engine. When the water contacts the hot oil, it flashes to steam and expands which causes the engine to turn. The engine drives a generator which creates electricity, here's a diagram of the complete closed-loop system.
We’ve had a few people ask to see an example of the oil/water reaction in action. Check out the video gallery at the top of this page for an eye-popping example of what we’re talking about.
In all of our countless hours of research, we haven’t found anybody who has mentioned, let alone come close to trying this idea. Why? Who knows, but we finally did and that’s what matters most.
USING THIS METHOD, IT’S FEASIBLE THAT WE COULD SEE THE COST OF SOLAR ENERGY DROP BY OVER 75%!
Here's a cost comparison between the average cost to have a PV panel system installed versus a conservative projected installed cost of our new system.
For all of you extra-curious types, we also want to mention that the system will include an oil/steam separator because, as we all know, water and oil don’t mix. This technology has been around for a long time and will allow our system to run on a closed-loop, using the oil and water over and over again. That’s it. Not so outrageous after all!
For our prototype system we engineered the conversion of a small, 31cc, 2-stroke engine that you would typically find in a weed-eater or other similar equipment. Once we finished the design, Matt machined all of the parts necessary to make the modification. Matt has asked that we don’t brag too much about him but he’s pretty darn good at what he does and in no time at all we had a finished prototype engine that was ready to be tested. Below you will find a diagram from our patent on this new approach.
The next step is pretty obvious: Let’s test this thing! We started searching for a place to conduct the tests and presented the project to Dr. Steve Watkins, professor of Electrical Engineering and associate chair of the department at Missouri University of Science and Technology. We told him the story of our research, explained the concept and design we had come up with, and let him inspect the modified engine. Needless to say, he was extremely enthusiastic about the work we had done and with his help, we presented the task of conducting these tests to a number of students for their senior design projects. The idea is moving forward and becoming a bigger reality each day!
As it looks now, there will be 4 different senior design project teams working together to test the closed-cycle solar system.
- Team 1, from Mechanical Engineering at MS&T, will design and create the infrastructure around the engine. This infrastructure will include pumps, piping, heat exchangers and the like. Once this is in place, we will be able to conduct all of our tests.
- Team 2, from Electrical Engineering at MS&T, will create the control and feedback system to operate and monitor the engine during the testing phase.
- Team 3, from Electrical Engineering at MS&T, will assemble the equipment that will actually measure the electrical output of our new system, telling us the efficiency of our setup and allowing us to calculate exact costs.
- Team 4, from Electrical Engineering at Missouri State University, is designing and creating the modular mirrored solar collectors that will heat the oil to power the engine.
With this level of expertise working on the project, we shall soon know how well this idea can help the world!
WHY WE NEED YOU
This is where we need you, our fellow clean/solar energy enthusiasts, to play your part. We’ve done the research, we’ve prototyped the engine, and we’ve secured the manpower needed to make this a reality. We've reached our current point by funding the project out of our own pockets but unfortunately our pockets aren't quite deep enough to pay for all of the testing that is now necessary. We need your funding support to reach the next step.
Folks, we’re almost there! We’re asking for $70,000 which will allow us to get a FULL WORKING SOLAR SYSTEM into place and test it thoroughly. Of course, the more money we raise the better! Once we’ve shown the world a full working system, the work will continue toward making it available to people like you at an affordable cost worldwide. Kits will be developed, plans will be offered, and complete systems will be available to you.
Unfortunately, at this point in the project, we are not able to offer awesome perks like complete solar systems. We need to test everything before we are able to do that. Rather, we are relying mostly on the eagerness of our fellow solar and clean energy enthusiasts to finally see a product like this become available on the market.
That is our biggest goal; making clean, affordable energy available to EVERYBODY! And once those details are all ironed out, we’ll be back here on Indiegogo to make it available to you!
We’re hoping that by now everything has clicked and you’re realizing that this has the potential to be a true changing force in the sustainable energy market and that we’re the team to get it done. This is what our world needs, and we need your help to get there. Please support this special project however you can financially and by spreading the word to family and friends.
Every dollar that you back us with and every person you tell our story to helps the world inch that much closer to finally having a clean energy answer. Don’t forget, if we don’t reach our $70,000 goal, we don’t receive any of your pledges. PLEASE help us make sure we get there! Keep in mind, you can donate any amount you wish, you are not confined to the amounts set on the right side for the perks. If you just wish to contribute and not receive any perks, you have that option at the bottom of the contribution page.
We can do this! Help us make AFFORDABLE solar energy available to everybody as soon as possible by backing The HydroICE Solar Project today!
If you have any questions, you are more than welcome to send us an email at email@example.com. To keep in touch, you can find us on the following social media outlets:
Challenges that we'll face and FAQ
Because our solar system is mainly constructed from off-the-shelf components, there really aren't too many risks or challenges that we'll be facing. Thermodynamically speaking, the method that we will be using to create work is well founded. With that said, there are two challenges that we'll be dealing with as we continue on:
The first is that we'll need to test a number of different oils to find one that has a reasonable life expectancy as used in our system. This should not be too difficult, but if it does turn out to be an extensive challenge we'll be consulting with a chemist to explore our options.
The second is in regards to insulation of the engine. It will be extremely important to make sure that as much thermal energy is contained within the engine to assure that it runs as efficiently as possible. There are many different ways to accomplish this, we'll just have to find out which works best!
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