The spirit of Research and Development
My name is Devjit, I am an entreprenuer, an inventor and a futurist (at least that’s what I think I am). Although I have a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, I am no engineer. I would have dropped out of engineering college if it weren’t for my teacher’s persuasion. I found college useless for me and felt as if my abilities were being supressed by studying in a college.
During my 2nd and 3rd year in college, I designed and built wind turbines and submitted it to our HOD. Even though it was totally unrelated to our civil engineering branch and had more to do with electrical and mechanical branch, my teachers appreciated my work and enchouraged me in what I was doing.
Somehow I finished college and soon started a company called MAYOL energy solutions (I was however already running MAYOL STUDIOS while I was in college). A company focused on renewable energy and power electronics. I taught myself electronics and created a small electronics R&D unit under my supervision. We make products like solar street lamps, solar charge controllers and solar inverter.
MAYOL energy solutions started with the wind turbine models in my college days, it is a pursuit to obtain clean and renewable energy for mankind. This is an article of a project that I am currently working on, I call it the ambient energy engine project.
Innovation in its truest form is bassically a process of finding the solution to a problem. And truely enough the biggest cause of humanity’s problems right now can be contributed to petroleum. It has led to pollution, climate change, regional conflicts and what not! It is slowly killing us and yet we cannot live without it.
The innovator in me embarked upon a quest in search for a solution to this problem. Sure we can use alternatives like solar inverters for diesel generators or electric cars for conventional cars, but each of them have notable limitations which make petroleum a better option. An important reason why petroleum holds its own against the new renewable energy sources is because of its energy density and hence the portability. Batteries cannot compete with petrol in the amount of energy stored per Kg. This fact makes the idea of an electric commercial plane, a joke. Electric vehicles could replace a lot of the conventional vehicles but for some applications it is unthinkable.
I came to the above conclusion only after my experiences with wind and solar energy. So I started on my quest by first trying to find a better kind of oil. Biodiesel was the first thing I tried. Biodiesel is basically an ester (a type of sweet smelling hydrocarbon) fromed by the reaction of a fatty acid like mustard oil with an alcohol like methyl alcohol in the presence of catalyst and heat.
It is a very simple process but you do need to know the precise proportions to be mixed. This can be found out by titrating a small sample. I tested biodiesel and later pure fatty acid as fuel on my diesel car. There were some issues while using pure fatty acid but biodiesel ran better than regular diesel oil on my car.
In fact it is said that the original diesel engine was tested to run on peanut oil and later found that a particular oil from petroleum fractional distillation was found to be suitable for diesel engine so it was called diesel fuel.
The drawback of biodeisel is that it requires a stock fatty acid like mustard oil, soya bean oil or palm oil and an alcohol like methyl alcohol for its production. These oils are already consumed by us for various purposes and cannot be produced in large enough quantity to fulfill the demand.To solve this problem I started looking for an alternative fatty acids and the obvious answer that came to me was algae oil. Algae oil is the oil produced by tiny microrganisms called planktons or algae. They convert CO2, water and nutrients using sunlight into carbohydrates and lipids (oils), the sun’s energy gets converted into oil and carbohydrates.
The process of producing algae oil involves collection of algae rich water, filtering the algae, drying the algae and extracting the oil by hot pressing it in the same way as mustard oil or soyabean oil is pressed. The key is to cultivate as much algae as possible for a given volume of water in a given amount of time.
With the help of my “nagging” assistant I tested diffrent methods of cultivating algae, using fertilizers, using chicken droppings, using polluted water from the Nambul river, aerating it and not aerating it. Various methods gave various results but I found one thing in common and it was that, after 4 days of establishing the algae culture it always crashed. However during winter this period before collapse extended for up to 2 weeks. In this case more algae could be cultivated before the need to harvest.
Every time the culture crashed it was always followed by an infestation of flies, not the regular housefly but a different species usually found on water bodies, a few days on I could also see the larvae riggling in the water. I know for a fact that maggot (fly larvae) are used in hospitals for cleaning serious cases of open wounds. This was so because maggots only eat bacteria so the healhty flesh of the wound are not harmed and only the puss which containes the infecting bacteria is consumed.
In majority of the fly species the larvae feed exclusively on bacteria. They squirt out digestive juices on the bacterial colonies and suck up the digested bacteria as food. This led me to conclude that the algae culture crash was due to colonies of bacteria spreading and consuming the algae. The fly come on later to feast upon the abundant bacterial growth.
Bacteria however don’t do well in cold conditions and during winter the bacterial growth is hampered by the cold water temperature, giving the algae a chance to grow unaffected by bacteria for longer duration. I was convinced that in order to cultivate a good yield of algae I had to maintain the water temperature at around 10-15 °C and provide good light and aeration to the water. The cold water would also help dissolve more CO2 in the water and hence increase the growth rate of the algae even more.
The obvious method of reducing the temperature of the water is refrigitarion (heat pump), there is no other possible way of reducing the water temperature to 10-15 °C in presence of high sunlight. It is a crazy idea, as it would consume a lot of energy just to cool the large amount of water.
There is a good chance it might consume more enrgy to cool the water than what we would harvest from the algae oil. I then started asking myself, is it even possible ? Is there a place where water is cooled in such large quantities as required in my process? Then I recalled a video I saw about a nuclear reactor in Japan.
In a nuclear power plant the nuclear reactor produces heat by the process of nuclear reaction, in order to keep the reactor from melting and maintain stability, it is cooled by a circulation of cold refrigirated water. The water is maintained at a temperature of 17 °C with the help of a refrigiration process.
The cold circulating water removed the heat produced by the reactor core and a heat pump removed the heated collected by the cold and transfered it to a boiler. This boiler produced steam which in turn powers a steam turbine which generates electricity. This was how a nuclear reactor works.
Moments later it hit me, the sun is also a nuclear reactor and it also produces heat and like the water in the nuclear reactor, the heat is present in the air circulating in the earth’s atmosphere. There was no logic telling me I cannot produce electricity from the sun in the same way as the nuclear power plant.
This is how I ended up pursuing the ambient energy project. This is what the spirit of research and developement is.
If you want to know more about ambient energy engine, than please read my article titled “are you smart enough to understand energy“