June 23, 2012

by seegarmason

So I’m back at the drawing board with the SHARC design after the failures of the first design. I have two significant changes that need to be made to the design: 1. The inclusion of a glass window and 2. The inclusion of a metallic collector surface.

The primary flaw in the design was that the heat was not penetrating the collector and was being lost to the open air. The inclusion of a small window of high temperature glass and a small sheet of black iron as a collection surface should eliminate this key problem. The Borofloat 33 glass samples that were most generously given to me by Dave Thomas at IRD glass are rated to approximately 900 degrees F before they start to lose their transmissive properties. So this brings up a new problem in the design: The air at the collection point needs to stay below that threshold to avoid damaging the glass. A goal of the design will be to move the heated air into the kiln chamber before it has a chance to conduct into the glass.

A small plate of black iron will be used as a collector surface which will then heat the air. The heated air will travel up a stack and into the kiln body. The stack will provide a mechanism for eliminating damage to the glass and a way to regulate flow. I hope to determine the best stack length experimentally and also devise some methods of flow control.

This will take some extra thinking and acquisition of materials, but hopefully there will be a test of the improvements before the end of the year. Thanks for your interest in the Orb to Orb Project!

A basic concept drawing for the SHARC2

April 22, 2012

Project Update

by seegarmason

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted and that is because I have some personal news that will effect the speed and progress of this project. About six weeks ago I found out that my family has been selected to receive a Habitat for Humanity home in the new ecovillage proposed for River Falls. To qualify, we will be putting in 500 hours of sweat equity building our homes and the homes of our neighbors. Because of this development, this project will be on hiatus through the summer (and most likely into next year).

That being said, I assure any of the readers of this blog that this project is not being abandoned and I intend to continue posting periodically during the break. If you are interested in any of the material covered in this blog, please comment or contact me by email, and I will respond.

“The future of energy can be found by looking up rather than down.”



February 4, 2012

Test 4 Results and Conclusions

by seegarmason

Having received the SHARC back from my ceramicist with a fresh new black iron oxide stain applied to the collection area, I had returned to the field to continue testing. This was a couple of weeks ago, on January 18th. It was a perfectly clear sunny day here in Wisconsin, with windchill brining the ambient air temperature down to -15 degrees F. A good day for solar design testing, but not much else. Long story short, the SHARC performed better than on any other test, including the one I did last August when it was 97 degrees outside. The black iron oxide finish delivered on it’s promise. But was it enough?… No. No it wasn’t. I ended up with a 22 degree gain – a record, but not nearly enough for my purposes.

Once again the combination of the Sun and the Fresnel lens demonstrate their mightiness, actually melting a spot of the iron oxide stain on the SHARC. Once again we see that the energy just cannot penetrate the SHARC’s mass and we lose the energy to the ambient air.


You can see where the beam melted the finish off of the SHARC. This takes 2000 degrees!

As much as I hate to admit it, I have to go back to the drawing board. Glass is going to have to be part of the design. There is no other way to get a sufficient amount of energy into the system. More later, when I formulate a cunning plan…

December 17, 2011

A word on “renewable” energy…

by seegarmason

As I begin to gear up for another round of tests of the SHARC solar kiln, I have been reviewing and reaffirming my reasons for pursuing this project. First and Foremost, I am operating under the assumption of a collapse of our energy and economic infrastructures under the weight of resource depletion and climate change. It is the purpose of this project to find tools to bolster not just quality of life, but the sheer survival of as many lives as possible during these approaching dark times. I am not here to debate the validity or nuance of Peak Oil and Climate Change issues. They are a rational foregone conclusion and all that remains to consider on these issues is: how will they unfold and what will we do about them. It is the latter that is the focus of this project, the former is better served by others more suited to beating their heads against the wall of public opinion. This being said, we enter the secondary reason for this project: the sheer inability of the government/corporate ability to deliver renewable energy in any meaningful way.

Let me clarify. All so-called renewable energy systems are inseparable from nonrenewables. There is no wind turbine, no solar panel, no geothermal system, no biomass fuel in the world that is made/transported/installed free of fossil fuel inputs. Not even remotely. The mining, refining, manufacturing, transportation, installation and maintenance processes behind these systems are soaked with oil. If you dig into why that should be the case you find that all of these “solutions” are developed by the same system that created the problem. The profit drive behind technology always looks to creating something novel, something they can monopolize and patent. Low tech, easy to deploy systems that use a ubiquitous energy source are simply not what they are interested in. There is no way to profit, at least within the current paradigm, there isn’t. They want a system that will deliver the same performance as oil, the same round-the-clock reliability, the same profit, the same infrastructure. They want to rely on the same income and the same bureaucracies that have arisen around oil. They want to come up with an alternative energy system that is as close to oil as possible. These “renewable” systems are a product of fossil fuel consumption, not a replacement for it.

Which leads to the key reason for this specific project: The only source of energy in the solar system is the sun. All other “sources” are just stored solar. There is an energy budget doled out by the sun that we need to learn to live on. When the fossil fuels become prohibitively expensive (financially or environmentally or both) that will be the remaining fact. It is my intention to develop a way to work within this budget to provide a modestly comfortable way of life after the collapse. That is not to say that this system will support things the way they are. It wont. The energy budget of our current way of life is an order of magnitude beyond what can be delivered by any other “source.” Our endeavors in the future will, by necessity, have to be more carefully considered in relation to energy consumption. The thoughtless orgy of waste that have been our habit will be a luxury that we won’t have in the future. What I’m proposing is not a “drop in” replacement for fossil fuels, but what it hopefully will provide is a toolkit for living in a new world.

My goal is to create a portable, replicable, flexible, human scale system that uses ubiquitous materials, a ubiquitous energy source and will be able to provide a modestly comfortable quality of life for the people who will have to live in the mess we’ve created. We’ll see if this is possible…

August 18, 2011

Test 3 Report

by seegarmason

Test 3 was a quickie to test the heat absorbency of a finish I applied to the SHARC’s collector surface. In my quest for a black material to apply to the collector I discovered an artist pigment called Mars Black. This is really Fe3O4, a variant of iron oxide that, in theory should have worked for my purposes. For one, this stuff is really, really black. Secondly, it has a melting point of ~1600 degrees C. I mixed it with water and spread it on the collector surface. However, under the beam from the Fresnel, this stuff vaporized off in a few seconds. Needless to say, I’m back to the drawing board with getting a durable black finish for the SHARC. If there is a good thing that came from this test, it is the demonstration of the sheer power of solar light concentrated with the Fresnel lens. The power is there, it is just not getting into the kiln. The next step will be to get a stain fired onto the SHARC in a conventional ceramics kiln.

More Later!

July 25, 2011

A quick report on SHARC test number 2.

by seegarmason

Last Sunday was about the most ideal day you could ask for in testing a solar system: cloudless and hot. Picking up from where I left off after the first test, I doubled the thickness of the kiln walls making sure to stagger the seams for a tighter enclosure. Also, my associate put a new coating of stain on the SHARC’s collector surface. This was a black iron oxide stain for ceramics. I was a little dismayed that the stain was not black at all, but a rather medium gray of the same approximate reflectivity of the previous stain. I assume this was because of added flux or some other chemical to aid in ceramics firing.

The upshot of this is that the system performed slightly better than before: the kiln produced a stable temperature of 112 degrees F. Not all that great, but it eliminates a weak kiln enclosure as a weakness in this system. The weak link I believe is the collector finish. The gray stain may fire black, but it really needs to be as black as possible at the starting temp. I also tried brushing on wetted charcoal dust, but this just burned off instantaneously. I’ve been looking for a good finish to use on the collector surface and I think that I’m going to get some of the black iron oxide pigment used in painting. This stuff is just pure uncut iron oxide, black as night. I think this will do the job.

Another concern I have is that the system is not thermocycling as intended by the design, but until I get maximum energy collection testing this will be inconclusive.

More Later!

July 20, 2011

SHARC theory and why the first test failed…

by seegarmason

As mentioned previously, the SHARC, or Solar Hot Air Recirculating Collector, is the key device in building a solar concentrating ceramics kiln. This post will explain a bit about the structure of the SHARC and the theory of how it should work. Reaching 2000+ degrees F with solar power is a matter mainly of two factors: absorbing solar thermal energy and holding it. Essentially, it’s like boiling a twenty gallon pot of water on low heat – very hard to do unless you have a lid on your pot. In this case the SHARC is the burner and the lidded pot is your kiln.

Let me explain further. The SHARC is a ceramic piece designed to fit into an insulated kiln with an exposed face to absorb concentrated solar energy. It is made of ceramic so that it will withstand intense heat, so that it is inexpensive to make and duplicate and so that it has thermal mass. The face of the SHARC is treated with a dark stain or glaze so that it may maximize thermal absorption.

A cutaway illustration of the kiln showing the internal construction of the SHARC.

Once the SHARC begins to heat up, the air contained within it will also heat and begin to rise. The rising air will create a thermocycling effect within the kiln whereby air will continuously stir gaining energy with each pass through the SHARC. This effect is contingent upon continuous energy input and a tightly constructed kiln body. Leaks will downgrade the performance, as I have now seen.

Lens and Kiln with exposed SHARC face.

The image above was from my first test run of the whole system… It was a dismal failure. The top sustained temperature from the system was a paltry 107 degrees F. However, this was not a wasted effort – you can’t make a journey to India without first packing your socks. And you can’t arrive at 2000 degrees without first getting to 107. There are several technical and environmental factors contributing to the poor performance. The kiln was not constructed tightly enough – there were gaps that I couldn’t completely shore up. Also, through a misunderstanding with my ceramicist  Ben “Zen” Gavin, we coated the face of the SHARC with RED iron oxide rather than the proper BLACK iron oxide, resulting in anemic collector performance. This will be rectified in future tests. Additionally, although it was a hot day, persistent cloud cover hindered energy input.

We will be moving forward with some improvements like double thick kiln walls and properly coated SHARC face and see if we can set the bar higher on the next round. Maybe the weather will cooperate as well. Speaking of raising the bar, I’ve added a sidebar to the page showing our “high score” on the kiln tests. It is now set at 107, you can see that we have a long way to go before we can begin low firing some ceramics, but I remain confident that we can work the kinks out and have a usable system in the future.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to “Like” and/or “+1” us if you like what we’re up to.


July 16, 2011

Why I am doing this.

by seegarmason

A recipe for a spoiled world:

Unprecedented population growth

Diminishing resources

Monkey wrenched ecosystems

Ineffective leadership

Orthodoxy rather than Innovation

My spidey sense is tingling…

I’ve known that the above items have been valid concerns for quite some time now, but have felt that perhaps they would be addressed by the powers that be and some plan for rectification would be put into place. The fact that this hasn’t happened, and in fact we are further from any sort of sane public discourse on these issues than we have ever been has turned the spidey-sense tingling in the back of my head into a sort of vibrating sickness in the pit of my stomach. This growing feeling of an imminent shitstorm I think is a common feeling among my countryfolk, a feeling that we in this country are not used to experiencing and perhaps are ill-equipped for a proper response. I have children, and my concern is for them and the world and society that they will inhabit. Maybe the actions that I can take as an individual are of the “too little too late” variety, but I can no longer ignore my feelings. I can no longer wait for a solution from the élite class. I can no longer do nothing.

The Orb to Orb Project is my contribution to the solution. A few ideas that I and hopefully many others will be able to develop into a working solution for some of the above problems. As you may have read in my recent posts, the first project we are developing is a solar concentrating ceramics kiln. This may seem an odd thing to develop in the face of these problems, but my reasons are manifold and are part of a larger plan that I’m not prepared to discuss at this moment. I will however, give you a glimpse into my thought process for pursuing this idea.

Consider for a moment trying to make the things you need in a post collapse world. What materials are you going to use? Wood is out of the question. Harvesting 100-year-old trees to make items that may last a few decades is part of the problem that got us here. Trees are vastly, vastly more important to the health of the world alive than as a salad bowl or something. Reforestation is going to be a major solution we will use to replenish resources. How about metal? The mining, refinement, recycling, production and transportation of metals are hugely energy expensive, and in a world of scarce (or no) petroleum will be even more so. Plastics will be salvaged and used until they are no longer useful and will disintegrate. Clay and sand, however are cheap and ubiquitous. Every country in the world is rich in these two things. Silicon is the main ingredient in clay bodies and is second only to Oxygen as the most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. Ceramic and glass will be an easily obtainable material with which to make many useful things, if you have sufficient energy to prepare them. That is where the sun enters the scene. (If you want to be completely accurate, petroleum is not an energy source at all. It is more like a battery than anything – a storage medium for energy. Solar energy, that is.) When fully developed, the solar fired kiln will be a reliable lifeline for nearly anyone in the world to help provide for their material needs.

If you like what we’re doing “Like” or “+1” us. Always feel free to comment, and subscribe to our feed if you’d like to be kept up to date on the project status!

Thanks for your support!

July 12, 2011

The big guns of solar fired ceramics.

by seegarmason

So in my last post, I introduced you to one the key components of my solar fired ceramics kiln prototype: the SHARC. The SHARC is a ceramic collector piece that absorbs infrared light from sunlight and brings the resulting heat into the interior of the kiln. It seems to me that some people think that solar power is wimpy or something. This is not so. An hour in the afternoon sun will burn your bacon bright red, and 1200 Watts/square meter worth of solar power will fire your clay into stony hardness.

“So what?” You say sneeringly and somewhat sloppily, spitting while you talk, “How’re you going to get that square meter of light into your kiln, Mr. Smartguy?”



A giant goddamn lens.

This is a fresnel lens. The same type that lighthouses use to project a beam of light 20 miles offshore. This one is made of Acrylic, is relatively cheap and will propel my little kiln (hopefully, *gulp*) at least to cone 1 (that’s 2100 degrees F to non-geeks).

More later! Don’t forget to subscribe to my feed!


July 10, 2011

SHARC Attack! (or What the hell is that thing, anyway?)

by seegarmason

The SHARC. This is the heart of the solar fired ceramics kiln.

You don’t need to worry about being food for this guy, he only eats sunlight!

This is the S.olar H.ot A.ir R.ecirculating C.ollector, the key component of the first project here at Orb to Orb- a solar fired ceramics kiln. As you may or may not know, there is a lot of energy emanating from the sun. By the time it passes through space and the atmosphere, you’re looking at 1000 Watts, maybe 1500 Watts per square meter of power striking the Earth’s surface. Is this enough to fire a small ceramics kiln? You’ll have to check back to find out! Subscribe to my feed to get all the latest info!

%d bloggers like this: