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November 2007 - [Sustainable Concepts] UK Straw Bale Home & Ethanol
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Sustainable Concepts )
Design Forward Newsletter November 2007, vol. 56
in this issue
  • UK Straw Bale Home
  • Researchers helping to take the natural gas out of ethanol production
  • Feedback
  •          

    Greetings!

    Welcome to the November 2007 newsletter from Design Forward. Please take some time to enjoy this month's features.

    Quote of the Month: "Even as we work to develop more sources of petroleum for the United States, we must continue our vigorous pursuit of alternative fuels, so that we can be powered by cleaner, more efficient sources of energy."
    -Virgil Goode


    Lisa A. Swan

    UK Straw Bale Home

    Brian Balfern designed his straw bale home based on a previous property he own - a circa 1450 medieval barn. He felt that our current use of materials is a waste and carries high "embodied energy" incurred from its production and distribution. His quest to build more naturally lead him to building with straw. He felt that "straw must have the lowest embodied energy of any building material and is probably the cheapest and most sustainable."

    The barn design has the walls and roof built as one and completely out of straw. The cross section is very similar to the medieval "cruck" frame in shape but made of deep curved composite wooden "I" beams, which serve as both rafters and studding, set onto a plinth wall of local materials. The straw bales will be sandwiched between these beams, which are like "ribs", that continue for whatever length of building is required - at one bale spacing. Paired together like a bowed "A" frame they have the inherent strength of the "A" frame but contain more volume so will easily accommodate an upstairs for all or part of the length of the building. This gentle curved shape allows the straw bales to rise, seamlessly, all the way up to the ridge. The inside and outside is to be rendered with a "breathing" lime plaster and, after allowing a ventilation space, the outside can be battened then tiled, shingled or even thatched according to local sympathies.

    Brain has patented his design. He would like to offer it as a kit for other home owners or builders - just provide the bales.

    Article Lisa A. Swan & Brian Balfern . Photo strawbalehouse.co.uk

    Researchers helping to take the natural gas out of ethanol production

    Burning natural gas to produce all that heat is the second largest expense at most ethanol plants - trailing only the cost of the corn used for ethanol production. One estimate says Iowa's annual production of more than one billion gallons of ethanol accounts for about 16 percent of the state's demand for natural gas.

    That has Iowa State University researchers working with an Ames company to develop a renewable and cost effective alternative to the natural gas burned by most ethanol plants.

    The technology involves partial combustion of biomass - that could include corn stalks, distillers grains, waste wood or other biorenewables - to produce a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane and other flammable gases. The resulting mixture is known as producer gas and it can replace natural gas in an ethanol plant's heaters. The producer gas can also be upgraded to what's known as syngas, a mixture that can be converted into high-value transportation fuels, alcohols, hydrogen, ammonia and other chemicals.

    Producer gas is made by injecting biomass into a fluidized bed gasifier, a thermal system that pumps air up through a bed of hot sand, creating bubbles and a sand-air pseudo fluid. A reaction between the biomass and the hot sand-air mixture produces flammable gases. The process also generates its own heat to sustain the reaction. It's a system that's reliable, produces few emissions and can be efficiently integrated into a plant's existing natural gas boilers and dryers.

    Article Iowa State University. Picture Bob Elbert/Iowa State University

    Feedback

    Design Forward works toward promoting Sustainable Design. If you know of a project that should be featured, please contact us. Let us know why you think it should be featured and give us a basic intro to the project, the sustainable elements and any websites or contact information.

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    If you have any other feedback concerning this publication, please feel free to send an email or use the form.

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