A real handy man

A real handy man

By Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl, President and Vice President Illinois Renewable Energy Association

“He’s always been a gidget-gadget kind of guy,” says Richard Akers, referring to his dad, Bob. “Why, back in the early ‘80s, he had an electric car that he made!”

Today, Bob’s gadgets include a solar electric installation, a wind system, and a corn stove—again, more things he made.

Bob Akers recently installed two 120-watt Kyocera pv panels in the yard of his rural Mt. Morris home. Power from the panels is stored in four 6-volt Trojan deep cycle batteries. The batteries send electricity along a buried wire (also installed by Akers) to a single outlet in the house.

A few years earlier, Akers set a small 450-watt wind machine on an old windmill tower. He moved it to a 10-foot-high pole for easy access as it is being repaired. The wind machine also feeds the batteries. A modified sine wave inverter completes the small hybrid system, which is not grid connected.

A short distance away, a set of solar collectors, placed on the roof of a shed, provide warm water for the 50 foot by 20 foot swimming pool. Additional heat from a propane fueled gas furnace is only used when swimmers arrive early in the spring.

The centerpiece of the family’s renewable energy system is a corn furnace standing in their living room. “I wasn’t real keen on it at first, but it’s pretty amazing,” said Akers’ wife, Sue. While the furnace’s storage bin has capacity for three 5-gallon buckets of corn, the Akerses use one bucket during the day and two at night. Corn is poured into a storage bin in the top of the furnace. From there, an auger moves it to the fire box. A switch on the outside of the furnace controls the speed of corn flow and heat produced.

The small furnace, which looks like a high-tech wood stove, heats the entire first floor of the generously sized home. Two window fans blow warm air to the back of the downstairs when needed.

Managing the furnace is fairly simple, the Akerses explained. After a few wood pellets start to burn, corn flows automatically. Once a week, the furnace is cleaned with a shop vacuum. The few ashes which collect are used in the garden.

Set on a shelf near the furnace is another fire box, only 4 inches by 7 inches by 3 1/2 inches deep. Akers made that, too. It will be the heart of the new corn furnace he’s building. “We want to put another in the family room,” explained Sue. “Just for the looks—it looks warm, like a fireplace.” Actually, she continued, the current furnace heats the house adequately; they don’t really need another.

The home’s original gas furnace with baseboard hot water is still functional, but is used only when visitors stay upstairs during the winter.

What’s next after the second wood furnace? Says Bob: “I don’t know yet. I’ll just sit back and see how it all works out.”

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