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Sunday
Jul262009

Plumbing and the Man about the Net Zero House

Maybe the ongoing attempt to over-domesticate males is a barrier to sustainable energy. Maybe Swedish feminists are simply insensitive to carbon issues. Maybe Gaia just needs a man about the house. Maybe the essential appliance needed for the net zero energy (NZE) house is a urinal.

A report last week from Ohio University describes a catalyst capable of extracting hydrogen from urine. More efficient generation of hydrogen would be a great step to more effective energy storage, one without the major shortcomings of today’s batteries. Hydrogen storage would not wear out through regular re-charging the way today’s chemical batteries do. Hydrogen storage combined with transfer technologies such as micro-beads might solve the fast re-charge problem for vehicles that do not use carbon-based fuels.

More efficient multi-purpose energy storage is the most important single issue for the smart grid. Want to shift load to reduce the requirement for new generation? Want to manage peak transmission? Storage is essential. Current social and political decisions mandate the use of more unreliable power sources in the grid. Providing instant remediation of gaps in power generation at the grid-level is difficult and expensive; there are reports that efforts to use fast starting gas generation to backstop wind have used more natural gas than if the wind had never been hooked up. Efficient storage, especially distributed storage in homes and buildings, would be offer a profound benefit to grid operation.

Efficient local storage would also make site-based generation more sensible. Selling electricity back to the grid rarely makes economic sense. Expensive grid upgrades can be needed to improve monitoring and guarantee power quality; these costs are usually foisted onto other rate payers. Because the grid cannot rely on the local storage when it needs it, utilities may still need to build the generation to support peak capacity.

With efficient local storage, site based generation would be placed in storage rather than sold back to the grid. Solar generation would go into storage all afternoon. Wind generated electricity, no matter what speed the wind is blowing would simply go into storage. Expensive-to-fix issues in power quality and availability could be simply eliminated.

So what if urine is part of the answer? The problem, of course, is that we typically dilute urine into a lot of water before flushing it away. If the approach in the report pans out, perhaps each home should have urinals to enable the storage system.

Our society’s on-going war against nature has been trying to re-write the old riddle "What does a man do on two legs, a woman do sitting down, and a dog do on three legs?" Man’s ability to stand while micturating has been declared aggressive, oppressive, and unsanitary. Sitting and standing, and whether a teenager preferred the former was recently a critical issue in a custody battle. Legal discussions of this case have been surprisingly impassioned. Maybe they have not been impassioned enough.

Maybe we should be planning for urinals in homes. Water-free urinals are an effective if controversial means to reduce water consumption. Up to 40,000 gallons per year in water savings are claimed for each public urinal that goes waterless. Home urinals could be the foundation for home-based hydrogen generation and storage.

You should install a home urinal. It’s for the planet, after all.

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Reader Comments (1)

Funny you should post on this just now. I'm an American transplanted to Sweden and my wife and I have just broken ground on a house that will be equipped with urine separation toilets, thus no need for a stand-alone (ahem) urinal fixture. I guess I'll find out if I regret having to sit to pee (or if it's possible not to).

The urine will be routed to a collection tank which can be pumped out by the town, diluted and used by us as garden fertilizer, sold to a local farmer, or if that fuel cell research pans out become a fuel source.

We chose a wet composting system (see aquatron.se) for our black water treatment, but since we are close to the coast the town wanted more treatment than that system gives to urine (fear of contributing to summer algal blooms already a problem from farmland runoff), so they made approval to our pan contingent on the urine separation setup.

What I found interesting while planning our project is that Sweden has a large number of competing sewage treatment products available among different technoloigical approaches. Lest I make Swedes sound too advanced however, my understanding is that most people building away from the muni sewer systems are choosing to simply install traditional toilets and a large capacity black water tank and pay the town to make collections. The appeal is a lower capital cost and no management. Being foolishly idealistic (inexperienced) I'm looking forward to obtaining usable sanitary compost.

July 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Gelmis

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