Monday, February 22, 2010

Using Fire in a Science Project

Fire is always something that should be handled with care because it can cause serious burns and damage to property. But amazingly, fire can be a good medium for your science project. With the use of common materials and substances, you can make fire do your bidding and be less of a danger to you. But be warned that fire is fire and should not be played with. It can consume anything that's flammable and volatile fumes and liquids should be kept away from it to prevent explosions. DO NOT DO what's described here without the supervision of adults. You DO NOT WANT to get yourself, your house, or your school burned!

This project is really simple. The problem is to treat a wick that can sustain a flame for long periods of time. We all know that if you light a wick, it will burn, and once it burns out, the flame goes with it. So what can we do so that it will not burn quickly? The answer that is provided here is to treat the wick with chemicals. Note that these chemicals are easily obtainable and relatively safe if handled properly. Again, if you're a kid, ask the help of an adult who cares about your welfare.

First, you must get wick material that does not burn easily. Cotton or wool fabric is ideal. Do not use polyester, which burns easily at low temperatures. Next, get 70 to 95 percent alcohol solution. Mix the 95% alcohol with the same amount of water (50-50; one is to one; add 25% more alcohol if you use a 70% product). Soak your cotton wick in the solution. Pour your alcohol-water solution into the fuel repository of a wicker lamp. Insert the wicker in the wicker tube. Make sure that the wicker is wet with the liquid solution before assembling your wicker lamp. If everything is set, light the wick and see how the cotton wick remains unburned for as long as it's fed with the alcohol-water solution. It will be much like the burning bush (left) in the Bible! Indeed, for novelty, you can shape your wick into a tiny burning bush, and even add the related passage in the Bible. But there's nothing spiritual about the trick. It's really the alcohol that burns and as the water evaporates from the cloth, it takes away heat which keeps the cloth from reaching the temperature that will make it burn for real!

The alcohol-water solution actually also works with paper money, which is really cloth. If you thoroughly soak a bill in the solution and light it, it will burn but will not be consumed. This is a really good stage magic trick. You can show to your audience that the bill is real before secretly soaking it in your special solution and lighting it in front of their eyes.

Did you know? If you soak a ball of cotton or wool cloth in naphtha or kerosene, then light the ball in your hand, you can bounce the ball on your palm without getting burned? Yes, it's true, just avoid the top part of the flame, which is the hottest part. The underside of the ball is generally safe as long as you bounce the cloth ball. Remember that it takes three seconds for skin to get burned. So, do not keep the lit ball in one place on your palm for more then a second to be safe. Do not do this without proper supervision!

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Design a Stove to Burn Methane Fuel from Bovine Dung

Who would think that cow's waste can be a source of fuel? The fact is that many people all over the world already know that cow (more appropriately, bovine) dung is a good source of fuel for heating abodes and cooking food. It's been done through ages by drying cow dung patties and then lighting them up in a fireplace or stove to produce environmental heat or for cooking. Modern society has long forgotten about the value of cow dung for energy. Fortunately, consciousness about the energy crisis and climate change have spurred research into an old custom where new gas-harvesting technology can be used.

When burned, the gas produced from cow dung is over 50% methane - a vital fuel and also a greenhouse gas. This is why burning cow dung is considered by some to be harmful to the environment because methane which works as a greenhouse gas. It traps heat in the atmosphere and warms the earth. To be really environmentally friendly, the gas needs to be trapped and burned efficiently with hardly any getting released into the air. What is needed are good stove systems for harvesting the gas from cow dung and then storing it for later use on a burning apparatus for heating, cooking, or some other energy-hungry function.

Experimenting with cow dung used in specialized stoves is one way of contributing to a better environment. Who knows how many tons of cow dung are burned every day in many parts of the world? If there are no firewood to burn, people would just use cow dung and this, while helpful, still adds to the methane in the atmosphere if the burning process is highly inefficient. What is needed is a cheap yet effective stove, like the SolHuma Vital Stove pictured on top, that burns and utilizes cow dung well during combustion.

Designing and making a good cow-dung stove is one project that is simple yet can be potentially helpful to the environment and millions of poor people worldwide. In approaching the project, do consider the following which your new stove should exhibit:
  1. emits little smoke
  2. leaves little ash
  3. requires minimal dung
  4. heat distribution to cooking utensil
  5. little maintenance
  6. easily transportable
It also pays to know these additional facts about cow dung:

A pound of cow dung can produce one cubic foot of gas when burned at 75 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be enough to cook 3 meals a day for a single person for about a week. One cow can produce enough dung in one year to produce methane equal to 50 gallons of gasoline. Cow dung can be dangerous when burned if it contains toxins that the cows absorbed from eating contaminated grass. Cow dung to be burned for fuel should be sourced well. In India, there have been reports of arsenic poisoning from cow dung used for fuel.

While stove design can have a variety of appearances and engineering, it should be designed for use in third world countries where cow dung is the primary source of energy.

References to existing stove designs:

Cow-dung stove by Kumar and Shende. Click here.

The next link that follows will take you to the web page that features the QB charcoal-burning stove invented by Edelmiro I. Quibilian of the Philippines. The QB stove covers much of the issues regarding efficiency. Although it's not really designed for cow dung, it can be a good example to guide you in designing and making your cow-dung stove.

QB Charcoal Burning Stove from the Philippines

Here is a related video on how cow dung is used in Israel to produce electricity.