Solar Brewing

SOLAR ENERGY BREWING (Keep Moving Forward)

                                                                       by Mike Retzlaff

Many HopLine readers will recall my harrowing experiences with the development of a nuclear steam generator for home brewing.  Well, it wasn’t a complete failure but it wasn’t truly successful either.  My desire to develop a cheap alternative to fossil fuels is still strong but in which direction should I focus next?

Electricity, especially around water, can easily go awry with improper or even slightly worn and frayed wiring leading to fires or electrocution.  The combustion of propane and natural gas can cause asphyxiation by unvented carbon monoxide and there is always the chance of an explosion.  Lastly, radiation, as it turns out, can be a rather large problem both physically and legally.

My quest led me to start thinking about solar power.  The sun has always been with us and only recently has been exploited for a smidgeon of its potential.  Here in south Louisiana, we get plenty of the sun’s rays.  The sun has incredible power and it seems a shame that it hasn’t been harvested for domestic use beyond solar panels and hot houses.

I started thinking of how this tremendous and seemingly inexhaustible power source might be coaxed into providing us with most of the energy required for home brewing.  How could I heat a brew kettle with sunbeams?  I then remembered, as a child, using a magnifying glass to burn pieces of wood and dried leaves.  Being a lad, it all seemed like magic to me and I guess, it still seems that way.

I decided to see if I could build a solar furnace to house a brew kettle.  I wanted to stay with steam as it can work as a buffer to control the immense power available.  I purchased a Fresnel lens which is capable of producing 2000oF under strong sunlight.  This 11” square lens collects the sun’s rays from a fairly large azimuth so that only a rough manual adjustment is needed to keep the focal point in the correct area of the kettle. 

Again with this project, I used stainless steel tubing but encircled the kettle for maximum energy transmission.  I bent the tubing in a “picket fence” configuration to adapt it to brew kettles of nearly any normal diameter including keggles.  I included a gauge and a pressure relief valve to avert over-pressure ruptures.  I could foresee losses during operation due to leakage and venting but couldn’t even guess how to inject more water into the pressurized system during operation so I constructed a heavy walled reserve tank. 

I fabricated a housing and lined it with ceramic wool insulation.  I cut a window in the housing for the lens frame and set the focal point at an optimal position.  I set the frame on a pivot so it can be tilted to align the lens for light gathering during the various seasons.

During the first test runs, I found that the tubing was overheating at the focal point so I welded a 6” square piece of titanium sheet metal to one section of the coils as a target pad to protect the tubing and better distribute the heat across the coils.

The thermo-siphon incorporated into the design really works well in keeping the condensation from collecting in the coils while everything is heating to operating temperature.

I constructed a visor for the lens which can cover a portion of this aperture to regulate the sun light entering the system.  I just watch the pressure gauge and adjust the visor to suit; it’s almost like using the throttle on a lawn mower.  Everything seems to be working better than expected and I am surprised how little “fiddling” is required to keep it all working properly during each stage of the brewing process.  Unlike my last major effort, it can be turned off.  I find true comfort in that as a lesson well learned.  I will issue an update as things progress.

SOLAR ENERGY UPDATE (How Can You Expect the Unexpected?)

As many should recall, I built a solar furnace to utilize the free energy available to most anyone who has the wherewithal to harvest it.  The rig works and, as of yet, can’t find anything to improve but I’m keeping an open mind about that.  As always, I welcome suggestions but have gotten very little feedback so far. I’m sure I could make it more pleasing to the eye but as a prototype, it’s not bad at all.

I left the solar furnace out in the driveway in front of my garage for a few days because of the forecast of no rain.  The summer solstice was nigh but I was oblivious to the extent it would affect my life.  I was wrong to believe that superstition was behind the rituals many ancient cultures developed for such phenomena.  As the sun’s rays moved across the furnace lens, time and space were apparently warped as a spirit was wrenched from the ethereal plane and abruptly appeared before me.  I was quite shaken and wondered if I were about to die.  It spoke in some foreign tongue which I couldn’t recognize or understand.  I quickly regained my composure, grabbed my cellphone, and recorded the raspy sounding noises it uttered.  I also took pictures but the images are amorphous blobs which depict nothing thus rendering them useless.

Once I got this “creature” trapped in my garage, I called Tulane University to set up a meeting with a Professor of Linguistics.  I knew better than to give my real name to avoid another bizarre episode with more governmental agents.  He listened to the recording several times and then summoned a colleague; an Archeological Anthropologist.  He too listened to the recording but broke out in a sweat and seemed dumbfounded.  After conferring, both questioned me about the origin of this recording and how it came into my possession.  I didn’t dare tell them the truth as I didn’t want to wind up in the Psych. Dept; perhaps for days or weeks (after all, I have a cat to feed). They asked a multitude of questions.  Frustrated over the evasiveness of my several obviously contrived stories, they finally revealed, that the language seems to be Enochian.  This tongue is angelic in origin and was spoken by Adam and Eve.  The last human to speak it was Enoch; hence the name.  It was deciphered by two legitimate occult investigators in 16th century England.  It is an ancient language far predating Aramaic, Hebrew, and all other Middle Eastern tongues.  I don’t have any idea if what they told me is true but both Professors seemed rather adamant about it.  I excused myself for a rest room break and slipped out of the building through a side door.  Nobody noticed me and I wasn’t followed.

When I got home, I opened the garage and tried to communicate with this being.  Eventually, it started to speak French, so naturally, I suspected it was demonic in nature.  After nearly an hour and several languages later, it started speaking English and I began to relax.  A tentative trust in each other was initiated at that point.  I asked its name but was told that I wouldn’t be able to pronounce it.  I insisted and it was right; I can’t pronounce it let alone spell it.  I started calling him Bob and he seemed to be okay with that.  The only explanation I could offer him was that he was brought to Earth on a beam of light due to the solstice.  Thinking that he might possess the knowledge of the ages, I thought for a few moments so as to inquire something I felt was really important.  First I asked if he had a preference between Champion and AC spark plugs; if he had any insights on removing carpet stains.  I asked Bob if he had any suggestions to improve home brewing.  “My only expertise in the physical realm” he said, “is in distilling.” but that’s really not my thing so the conversation stalled.

Bob then turned the tables on me and asked “What’s the deal with light beer?”  I hesitated for a moment before saying “Light beer drinkers really don’t like beer but get some perverted thrill in urinating.”  He seemed dismayed, looked down, and slowly shook his head.  Bob did relate a few anecdotes about St. Arnold which I can’t repeat in this forum but let me just say that the stories aren’t flattering and St. Arnold should not be praised by brewers or, for that matter, the church either. 

I informed Bob of several churches in the area; would he care to talk with a priest or pastor?  Bob replied “Those poor souls have enough problems to deal with, why confound them more?  The biblical time-line of Easter doesn’t add up and they pass it off as a matter of faith.”  Bob then went on a tirade over man’s inability to grasp the precepts and concepts contained within the Holy Bible.  He said that Humans tend to settle for buzz phrases in lieu of the many complex principles offered.  He told me that Enoch was the last human to physically appear before Almighty God.  Enoch’s reaction was to shit his pants.  The incident set the policy to only present spirits before the Lord to avoid the necessary clean up.

I plan to send Bob back to whence he came at the winter solstice in December by simply reversing the lens and using a dressing mirror from the back of a door.  I surely hope that works as he seems miserable here and I’m not particularly pleased to play host to my new guest either.  I may make an attempt to send him home at the autumnal equinox but I’m really not counting on it being successful.

HERE WE GO AGAIN (The Fallout Continues)

After the last update on SOLAR BREWING, I was contacted by a group of those “ancient alien” type investigators.  They knocked at my door and said “We know you have an extra terrestrial on the premises.”  While being confronted at the door, I saw several of these mutants scurrying, like out of control Trick-or-Treaters, from their van toward my backyard.  I pushed my way out of the doorway and through my visitors to stop the invasion.  They went up to the garage door and pounded on it in an attempt to gain entrance.  I told them to get off the property but they ignored me.  I turned the hose on them and they scattered as I was soaking their cameras.  Being such a ragtag lot, that hosing may have been the only shower they’ve had in a while. 

Within just a few minutes, the police showed up and demanded to know what was going on.  I said these people had mobbed my property and I wanted them gone.  Their spokesman stepped in to explain I had an extra terrestrial; a being from space in my garage.  That statement not only bolstered my position but determined their immediate fate.  The cops quickly ran out of handcuffs and resorted to plastic zip ties from the trunk of one of the police cruisers.  Almost immediately, every cop car in Harahan was on scene along with the Chief of Police.  This mutant band was whisked away in the cruisers.  Everything was under control by that point so I offered the Chief a chair on my patio and a glass of iced tea while I related the sequence of events.  He radioed to make sure the errant visitors’ first stop would be for psychiatric evaluation.  A tow truck showed up and removed the visitors’ van.  It seemed fitting as token restitution for their domination of the History Channel on cable.  The interview was over in short order and the Chief left with my thanks for such a quick resolution to the problem. 

Later that afternoon, I got another knock at the door.  This time it was two priests and a pastor from area Churches.  They took exception to the content of my article in the HopLine.  I asked if they had actually read the article.  They stumbled a bit before telling me that it didn’t matter if they had read it or not; it was blasphemy.  “Which part?” I asked.  “Well . . . all of it” one priest said.  “If you never read the article, how can you condemn it?  Is that in keeping with Christian ethos?” I asked.  They looked a bit befuddled and I think they felt some tremors in the moral quicksand on which they were standing.  I calmly asked them to go home, read the article, and then come back if they deemed further discussion was necessary.  Still a bit stunned, like having walked into a post, they agreed.

A few hours later I heard a ruckus in front of my house which turned out to be religious picketers.  I told them of my meeting with several church leaders and the matter is settled.  One made a phone call which confirmed my statement and they disbanded. Of course, no apology was offered. 

I went out to the garage to talk with Bob.  I opened the roll up door and was amazed that he had gone through the contents of my garage and really organized all of my junk.  Bob said he thought the straightening might be helpful, and being bored, it gave him something to do.  I thanked him for his efforts.  I told him of the happenings and he seemed glad to remain detached from the hoopla.  He said he didn’t want to deal with the UFO people but would talk with the clergy if they ever came back.  “I’ll simply remind them of their duty to Almighty God in the strongest manner possible.”  By that I assumed, like Enoch, they would need a shower and change of underwear.   

The next day I found a note taped to my front door from the Home Owner’s Association stating that the recent commotion at my residence was unacceptable in our small and quiet neighborhood.  I called the number in the letterhead.  I reminded the woman the victim of these groups is me.  I also pointed out I have the law on my side which will surely be bolstered by public opinion.  If they further victimized me through harassment, they would find themselves defendants in a lawsuit they cannot win.  After a brief period of silence, she apologized and wished me a good day.  I was truly astonished how quickly her threat evaporated.

I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.  In the interim, I am considering anonymously organizing a rally.  I envision inviting Social Justice Warriors, Neo-Nazis, and Antifa for a joint protest.  I might suggest the speakers as being David Duke, Louis Farrakhan, Nancy Pelosi, and Dick Cheney.  If I can identify which HopLine reader has been making phone calls in my behalf, the street in front of their residence should serve nicely as a venue for such an event. 

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