Tag Archives: Solar Power

On the Quest for Lye

This is part three in an n-part series about soap. Check out the other parts if you’re interested. Part one: On the Quest for Soap and part two: What is Soap?

Our living room reeks of chlorine. You don’t notice it too much if you sit in the room awhile, but if you leave for just a few minutes your nose adjusts back to smelling normal air so when you return you’re hit with a wall of chlorine. It smells like a swimming pool even though there isn’t a swimming pool within a quarter-mile of us. It smells like someone mopped the floor with bleach but no one did.

The room smells like chlorine because I’m making chlorine gas. That’s not my goal but it’s a side product of my goal: making my own lye.

I said in the bread post how I love getting as close to the source of things as I can. Baking bread means I don’t have to pay some guy at the bread factory to make it for me but you can only go so far back before you hit another wall. In bread’s case I still need to buy the raw ingredients. Flour, oil, salt, yeast. And none of these products are within my reach. I don’t know how to grow or harvest wheat, where are you supposed to get salt from besides the store?, and oil I could make but it would be messy and a pain in the ass. (The idea would be to buy oil sunflower seeds, the black ones, from Farm and Fleet. It’s sold as bird seed but you could smash them up and harvest the oil. Maybe I’ll actually try that…HMMMMMMM!)

Soap is oil and lye (sodium hydroxide, which sounds a lot cooler than ‘lye’). I mentioned how getting oil would be a pain in the ass, but what about lye? You wouldn’t think so — it’s a harsh industrial product — but it’s apparently really easy to make with only three ingredients: salt, water, and electricity.

If you read the sodium hydroxide Wikipedia page it tells you it’s created by something called the chloralkali process. To sum it up: get salt water, pass electricity through it, and you’re done. Sodium hydroxide. Lye. One of the two things you need to make soap.

The details are a bit tricky though. You can’t just toss a battery in a cup of salt water and get a glass of lye. As the reaction proceeds (its called “electrolysis”) it forms a bunch of nasty stuff that eats most metals. The actual wires (electrodes) you use need to be non-reactive. Good metals are crap like gold and platinum; these are way out of my cost range! I tried this with aluminum foil (it’s cheap and easy to find) and it just deteriorates after a half-hour. The aluminum doesn’t just disappear though, it reacts to form other compounds. Instead of lye you’d get something like sodium aluminate or aluminum chloride or whatever. I don’t even know. But using aluminum means there is a contaminate in the water and that’s not going to be helpful.

The two electrodes also give off hydrogen and chlorine gas. Hydrogen is cool because it’s hydrogen. Rocket fuel. Flammable balloon gas ala Hindenburg. Etc. Chlorine gas is toxic, but in the small amounts I’m making it shouldn’t (???) be a problem.

And that’s why the room smells like chlorine.

(Fun fact #1: chlorine gas is the reason cleaning products instruct you to never ever mix them with anything else! Most of them will make chlorine which isn’t good to breathe in. Go give it a shot if you’re curious. Mix some bleach with ammonia/glass cleaner/toilet bowl cleaner and take a teeny tiny smell of it. It’ll choke you, it’ll burn your nose, and it’ll make make you feel like you’re having an asthma attack. I recommend you do this outside unless you want to piss your family/roommates off.)

(On second thought, do not do this. I’m not taking the blame for your stupidity.)

If you have the two electrodes in the same glass, the chlorine and hydroxide react to form sodium hypochlorite — bleach — simple household bleach. Fun huh? If you need bleach try making some yourself. I might try to conjure some up just to try it, but bleach isn’t important enough to worry about when soap is the goal.

Here’s my setup. Two glasses of salt water. There’s a paper towel between them acting as a bullshit cheap “ion channel” so the current can flow between the glasses. For electrodes I bought some carbon ones off Amazon. Carbon, yes. It’s basically really fancy and thick charcoal. (Fun fact #2: before I ordered those I tried a few bits of charcoal from our bonfire pit. It sort of worked but the charcoal fell apart at the slightest disturbance.) The positive electrode makes chlorine gas while the negative makes hydrogen. (Another fun fact #3: if you bottle up the H and the Cl and burn them together you get hydrogen chloride gas, a toxic and acidic gas! If you bubble this through water you get hydrochloric acid! Capturing gasses is difficult though, so I’m not worrying about it.) 

How does it work? The ions in the water, the sodium and the chloride, wander near to the opposing electrode. The chlorine goes bye-bye (it’s a gas) and the sodium can’t evaporate so a hydrogen from the water goes bye-bye. This leave a lonely OH- that used to be water hanging around. The negative electrode ends up with a bunch of these hydroxide ions (OH-) hanging out around it, a sodium strolls on over, buddies up with it, and makes sodium hydroxide.

I guess the big question is “Well, does it work?” Maybe. It sure makes a ton of hydrogen and stinky, yellow-green, pungent chlorine so it’s doing something. I also bought some pH papers to measure the acidity/alkalinity of the water, and the positive one is sitting at 3 (a mild acid) while the negative glass is somewhere between 12 and 14 (a strong base). So once again something is there, but I have no clue how to get the lye out of the water or anything.

Don’t do this (obviously) but I tasted the lye-water and it doesn’t burn or anything. The pH papers say it’s basic as hell, but it does nothing to my tongue.

After letting it run on my solar power for about four days there is some cloudy white stuff at the bottom, about a half-teaspoons worth. Maybe it made so much lye it’s starting to precipitate out of the water? I think that’s what’s happening. Drain the water off and boil the solid dry I guess. Maybe find a solvent that dissolves either salt or NaOH but not the other? But is that all I have to show for the past four days? Apparently so. I put maybe a tablespoon of salt in each glass so the amount of lye created should be somewhat similar; I won’t end up with ten pounds of the stuff using a tablespoon of salt.

I’m going to replenish the water and salt and keep it running until I get a sizeable amount of lye. Is it worth it? Hell no, and I don’t know what I was hoping to accomplish. Maybe if I ever sold my soap I could slap the “totally homemade at home using solar power and range-free lye!” label on it. Someone would love to buy something as green as my soap. But I probably just wanted to try it to see if it’d work. Make some homemade soap from some homemade lye (and maybe homemade oil…); it’s about as homemade as you can get. No lye from drain cleaner and big industrial factories. Sadly that lye is a whole lot easier to acquire and a hell of a lot cheaper.

Closing Note: I moved my ‘production apparatus’ outside to our driveway. This way I don’t have to worry about filling the house of with fucking chlorine gas and having DCFS called on me.

Check out my YouTube channel about off-grid green energy setups!

Or my Instagram where I post pointless artistic pics and shitty poems every whenever I get around to it.

Or my other blog where I sometimes post stories.

Winter Solar Power Sucks

I’ve been charging my vape, my phone, and my computer using solar power for nearly a half year. It’s pointless for saving money because running these things only costs a few dollars, if that, over the year, but it’s fun to know that your phone, the thing that you carry around with you at all time, the little mini-computer in your pocket that can do anything, the games you play, and all the fancy stock-trading, money-making, email-checking, and social-media-browsing modern Swiss Army Knife of everything is being powered by the sun. Not powered by the sun in an abstract manner either (plants photosynthesizing millions of years ago, decomposing, turning to coal, being mined and burned, the heat flashing water into steam to turn a turbine to move electrons into your home via wires and transformers, to rearrange some chemicals in a lithium-ion battery) but directly. I’ve always wondered how people can be against solar power for this reason alone: it’s so damn simple and beautiful. The sun shines and makes electricity. Why complicate it?

Everyone not on the equator is well aware that the days are shorter in the winter due to the Earth’s axial tilt of roughly 23 degrees. In the summer the Earth is tilted towards the sun, and as you rotate around on a higher latitude, you get more sunlight. The opposite is true in the winter. Here in Northern Illinois (and for everyone around 45 degrees latitude; I also feel sorry for Europeans and Canadians being even higher up) we get about eight hours of good sunlight in the winter. Compare this to our summer daylight length of 15 hours; there’s twice the amount of daytime in the summer compared to the winter!

A nice graphical depiction of these Dark Days. The discontinuities in March and November are daylight savings time. Go check out your own day/night/twilight length!

This sounds stupid, but I didn’t think winter would cause my two solar panels much difficulty. Since we’re not using the lawnmower anymore (you don’t need to mow the snow) I took the battery and hooked it up to the solar panels. I currently have five batteries storing the solar power and that should be plenty right? Six hours of direct sunlight can charge those bad boys up and I can charge my toys off that the rest of the day.

Two of the five batteries…

It doesn’t work that way when it’s cloudy for two weeks straight. I’ve never paid attention to how cloudy it usually is in the winter, especially when those clear and cold winter days are so vivid in my mind, but apparently it’s cloudy a lot. And when you get only a few hours to make power, the clouds really do fuck you over in a way that they don’t in the summer. The summer months always have dramatic and quickly changing weather, sun for half the day, hellish storms in the evening, and then a bit more sun right before sunset. Now, in January? Clouds all day, every day. Boring grey clouds that hang overhead like a depressing blanket and refuse to leave for literal weeks.

The sun was out a few days ago, but that was only enough to kick the batteries up from 11.8 Volts to 12.1. As soon as I’d plug my phone in the voltage would drop to 11.5 and not wanting to damage the batteries had no choice but to charge my phone via natural gas/nuclear electricity from the boring wall outlet. The streak was broken, and my phone, computer, and vape are now methane/uranium powered like everything else around here.

The clouds aren’t the only issue. It sometimes snows in winter (big surprise there huh?) and snow does a great job blocking the sun. While the clouds are an ever present and annoying problem there isn’t much I can do about them except wait. Snow is a problem I have to actually deal with. Weeks ago we had some shitty ice/snow storm and the next day I found my panels iced and snowed over. Using my Amazon Prime credit card (which is made out of metal, 5% cash back at Amazon by the way!) I scrapped the snow off so they could make power when the sun eventually came out. The sun never came out and it snowed two days later. I walked out, brushed them off, and waited for the sun which never came. And then it snowed about a week after that. I walked out, brushed them off, and waited for the sun. It snowed yesterday and I haven’t even went out to brush them off because the sun isn’t going to come out ever again.

I guess the snow melted…

Remember how I said that I don’t understand why people don’t like renewable energy because it’s so damn beautiful and simple? It’s not. Solar is fucking great and I love it, but during these shitty dark, cloudy, and snowy winter months it’s not ideal. Solar always relies on good energy storage and apparently five fucking massive lead-acid batteries can’t store enough power to survive the winter. I could always add more batteries, but at $50-100 per battery do I really want to spend the money to charge my phone? Naw. I’ll just wait I guess. The sun can’t stay hidden forever.

Check out my Instagram where I post pointless artistic pics and shitty poems every whenever I get around to it.

Or my other blog where I sometimes post stories.

Or Wattpad where I have a Morrowind fanfic ongoing also sometimes post stories.

Living in the Woods Sucks (Part Two of One)

Yes, I’m well aware that there wasn’t a part one yet, but I’m getting around to it. Or probably not.

I’m in the woods right now. Yes. In the fucking woods. A park to be exact, a park about three miles away from my home. Or used to be home. I don’t really know what’s going on. But it’s 11:18 p.m. and I have my laptop tethering off my phone’s data via a USB cable; thanks to Corona, Verizon is giving everyone free mobile hotspots and tethering meaning I can live in the woods like a homeless man and still have the internet, blogs, YouTube and whatever else I want in the comfort of my candle-lit tent. Hell, I could even play Flight Simulator if I wanted to right now. Or Kerbal Space Program. I might be able to get a small TV and my PlayStation 4 and play Dark Souls, not that I’ll go that far. It really helps the strangeness of being in the woods having these comforts I’m used to. And boy do I need comfort right now.

All of this trash is powered by my solar panel, battery, and inverter setup. I’m really proud of myself that I was able to pull this off as successfully as I did. Tonight is only the second night and the battery is still holding strong at 12.3 Volts. It was also cloudy today so despite that it seems to be doing fine.

Home for now…

As for why I’m in the woods, well, it’s going to get bleak here very quickly. I was drunk yesterday and decided to tell my wife that I had feelings for another female. Yeah. Stupid. Pointless. Reckless. It’s something that’s been fermenting in my head for a few months, and I can say it does feel good to get it off my chest and be totally honest with your partner, but besides that, it’s terrible. I just nuked my marriage, my wife isn’t even talking to me or texting me back, and I hope we can work through it. It sounds cliche to even mention, but yes, you don’t realize what you have and appreciate it until it’s gone. And I’m hurting and appreciating all of it so much that my heart is breaking. It’s only been 24-hours since I saw our two kids, a four- and five-year-old, and all I want to do is hug them and give them a kiss. I miss them so much already and who knows how long I’ll be in the woods.

I asked if she wanted me to move out or stay and she said it was up to me. I ran away like a coward, maybe making the wrong choice again, but I didn’t want to be a scummy reminder of how shitty I was by lurking around the house. No, it’s better if I just remove myself from everyone’s lives and do them all a favor. I grabbed the tent, sleeping bag, my backpack, a solar panel, a battery, the inverter, and my laptop and set out around midnight. And…and I don’t remember much else. Birds chirping in the morning — my new neighbors — and the wind, and the light rain, and the crickets, and the slight chill in the air. It’s actually peaceful if I didn’t have this terrible dread over me and it’s a feeling I just can’t seem to shake.

So this is night two. I’m feeling slightly better from earlier today. I’m having a beer and taking it easy. Writing. Trying to reflect and make sense of this mess called life. Wondering how I can get my wife back, if I can get her back: maybe I’ve wasted all the trust she had left. To be clear I didn’t cheat, and I don’t intend to, not that this makes the situation much better. I’m a douche, just not that big of a douche.

That’s it. All of the vague threads I’ve been hinting at and dealing with the past few months all kinda lead here. The big realization. The main problem I need to confront and deal with. The pinnacle of all my deep personal flaws that have been around since childhood. The seeking approval and love from others, probably because my mom was so absent emotionally. Not that I put blame on her, just trying to understand why I am the way I am. And I search for it still. And when I find a certain type of person, I get attached. It’s not love, not real love; it’s a parasitic attachment and some twisted leftover of childhood that I want to kill. I want to make peace with my problems and move forwards. If you guys like raw and honest blog posts, good. This place is about to get a lot darker and more depressing than it has ever been.

Check out my Instagram where I post pointless artistic pics every whenever I get around to it.

Or my other blog where I sometimes post stories.

Or Wattpad where I have a Morrowind fanfic ongoing.

Or my Facebook page where I don’t do much of anything at all which I deactivated and the link doesn’t go anywhere now. Check back later though!