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He Turns Wood Into Electricity
When the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine, Dan Bartmann has another method for charging up the batteries that let him live off the grid in Fort Collins, Colorado. He burns wood in a 1940 boiler that powers a 1903 CB&H 6 hp steam engine that spins an alternator.
  "Running the engine requires constant attention, and the efficiency is only about 5 percent compared to 20 percent from my diesel generator," says Bartmann, who offers Homebrew Wind Power Seminars and manufactures and sells alternator and wind turbine parts and kits. "But it's fun, and it does burn free fuel," he notes. Steam engines have always fascinated him, and he felt fortunate to buy the old steam engine at an auction for $150.
  Bartmann read books, had his boiler tested, and got advice from steam engine experts. He shopped for eBay bargains for the governor, lubricators, steam gauges and valves he needed.
  To accommodate the 200-rpm engine he built an alternator, modeled after the alternators he builds for wind turbines. It has the capacity to churn out 2,000 watts in the form of 3-phase alternating current at about 90 percent efficiency. The current is converted into direct current for battery charging through a 3-phase rectifier.
  Bartmann notes that it isn't practical to expect to produce 600 kilowatt-hours/month to meet his electrical needs, just from the steam engine. But, it has its place.
  "An interesting way to look at it is that if I wanted to live solely off steam, it comes down to 20 kWh per day," he explains. "To keep up with that, I'd have to run the engine 10 hours a day to meet my energy needs. But, if I'm conserving to just keep the refrigerator, a couple of lights and the radio running, I'm down to 2 kWh/day. Then it's just one hour a day. So I can get by."
  Insulating the unit and using a larger boiler would make the machine less labor intensive. Bartmann needs to feed his current boiler with pine every 10 minutes. Coal lasts about 30 minutes before needing replenishing.
  Because it requires so much labor and nearly constant attention, Bartmann doesn't see it replacing his wind, solar and diesel-powered generator. But he has the satisfaction that he built it and it works. And he likes getting energy from free wood, and he likes how it sounds - especially the whistle.
  Bartmann's website includes photos of how he put his steam-powered generator together. He also sells alternators and parts, and has a new book, "Homebrew Wind Power," which goes into detail about wind energy, and building efficient low rpm alternators from scratch.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Dan Bartmann, Other Power/Forcefield, 2606 West Vine, Fort Collins, Colo. 80521 (ph 877 944-6247; danb@otherpower.com; www.otherpower.com).

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2009 - Volume #33, Issue #1