Wednesday, February 7, 2007
The New Agriculture: Energy Farming
Farmers are producing more that just crops. They are producing energy. Not only bio-fuels but energy in other forms.
Diverting food and feed crops to produce bio-fuels will have a dramatic effect on our economy. Corn prices have soared over the last year with only a fraction of the crops diverted for energy production. Realizing that bio-fuels can easily price themselves out of the energy market, farmers are looking into other energy options.
More farmers are installing wind turbines to produce electricity on their acreage. The wind turbines occupy a small percentage of the productive acreage allowing agriculture to continue while power, the second crop is generated.
The not in my backyard mentality is appropriate for wind energy farms. The huge wind turbines can become an eyesore. Remote farm and ranch lands are much more appropriate for wind energy farm sites.
Where the farms are located close to a major electrical grid, the costs of installation is much less expensive. Many farms are so remote that wind farms are unsuitable for electrical grid connection. These areas have other recourses to pursue in the energy farming industry. One being considered is wind powered hydrogen farms.
Wind power electricity is a clean, low cost energy source for generating hydrogen fuel. Remote farmlands can easily produce a large percentage of our fuel needs. With the improved the efficiency of producing hydrogen via electrolysis, this use of wind power grows in importance every day.
The efficiency of the windmills has grown by huge leaps in the past thirty years. With turbines capable of producing 5 mega watts (MW) each, wind power technology is much more viable. With this improved efficiency in wind turbines and hydrogen electrolysis, hydrogen farming is rapidly becoming a reality.
A single wind turbine producing 2 MW hours of electricity can produce a roughly equivalent 1 MW of hydrogen energy in an hour. The equivalent energy of one gallon of gasoline is roughly 2 kilowatts. So each hour at the 2 MW output, roughly the equivalent of 500 gallons of gasoline can be replaced by hydrogen. This assumes approximately 45 to 50 percent efficiency in the electrolysis process (high temp electrolysis).
Assuming that the wind turbine is operating at this power level only 25 percent of the time, each windmill would produce over 1,000,000 gasoline gallon equivalents in hydrogen in a year. With the US consuming roughly 150 billion of gallons of gasoline per year, it would take150, 000 windmills at 2 MW each to produce the equivalent in hydrogen. With new wind turbines producing 5 MW it would take 6000 wind farms with 10 5MW turbines each to produce our annual gasoline needs.
This is not likely to happen, as much of the output of wind farms will be needed for electrical demands. I feel this does illustrate that a sizable percentage of our energy needs can be produced with hydrogen wind farms.
Scientists and engineers will notice that there is a missing conversion factor in computing the equivalent energy of a gallon of gasoline to hydrogen. If the hydrogen were to be used to power internal combustion engines this would be a large error. If the hydrogen were used to power fuel cell vehicles the error is less significant. I am of the opinion that fuel cell technology will prevail in a hydrogen economy. The inefficient internal combustion engine will fade from the scene.
Wind power, which is not constantly available, is well suited for hydrogen production. When sufficient wind is available the huge windmills produce megawatts of electricity for the conversion of water to hydrogen and oxygen. During calm conditions the hydrogen farm waits patiently for the next weather front.
The purpose of this series of articles is to stimulate conversation and create awareness of our energy options. If you feel there is a glaring error(s) exercise your right to free speech and leave a comment. This is one statement you should find it hard to argue with though. The American farmer is taking the lead in reducing our dependence on imported oil. The nation and the world should take more notice of their efforts.
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