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CO2 for ‘Free’
We have all heard that there is no such thing as a ‘free lunch’; The process described in this article may be as close as you can get. Most of us already know the benefits of CO2 enrichment for photosynthesis. To maximize indoor growth and greenhouse potential, supplemented to maintain an approximate level of CO2 of 1500 ppm, this may require frequent trips to an industrial gas supplier and/or the use of large amounts of propane or natural gas and associated costs. It is ironic that many home growers are releasing CO2 outdoors from indoor heaters and hot water heaters while simultaneously releasing or generating CO2 for indoor grow rooms or greenhouses.
Propane and natural gas burn so cleanly that small non-vented gas appliances are approved for indoor use. These gas burning devices use oxygen (in air) to burn gas, resulting in the by-products of CO2, H20 (moisture) and heat (Reusch). Exhaust from gas appliances can provide 3 essential conditions for maximum growth: humidity, temperature and CO2 levels. Most of the heat from the exhaust is removed through the heat exchanger of the furnace or water heater; resulting in a mildly warm exhaust. In a CO2-rich environment, photosynthesis for many plants, including cannabis, takes place around 85 degrees F.
If the exhaust of a large gas heater is diverted into the growth area, there is a high potential for all oxygen to be burned or displaced as well as CO (carbon monoxide build-up), resulting in toxic air conditions. With the right equipment, CO2 from your gas furnace and/or water heater exhaust can be safely used to supplement the CO2 used in your grow room. This will save time and money, grow plants better, reduce fuel consumption and dramatically reduce the amount of ‘greenhouse’ gases released into the atmosphere. By using this technique, you will help prevent global warming while optimizing growing conditions. The key to doing this safely and effectively is to divert enough exhaust from your gas appliance into your grow area to maintain a CO2 level of 1500 ppm and direct the excess exhaust outside.
“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) have set workplace safety standards of 5,000 ppm” and very high CO2 levels can cause asphyxiation when O2 in the blood is replaced by CO2. Minnesota Department of Health). Place a CO (Carbon Monoxide) detector in the grow room for safety in case of equipment failure! Do not attempt this project if you use oil or kerosene heat, which do not burn cleanly!
Power dampers are a trick to tap into a source of unused CO2 from gas furnaces and water heaters. A power damper is a duct section with a flap that opens and closes the flow through the duct and is powered by electricity. Some dampers close when current is applied and others are designed to open. Most dampers are low voltage so an appropriately sized transformer should be wired inline to the damper; Some are 110 volt dampers. Quality dampers will seal much better than cheap dampers. This simple addition to a CO2 conservation system (especially with today’s fuel prices) will pay for itself many times over and reduce a home or business’ emissions into the environment, making your project ‘greener’. A CO2 level monitor must be connected to a controller (sequencer) to tell the dampers (power on) when CO2 is needed and when the threshold has been reached. You can still use your controller to operate your CO2 generator and or regulator.
Locate the exhaust pipe of your gas furnace or hot water heater. These devices should be properly evacuated beforehand. Switch off your gas appliance while doing this. Disconnect (or open) a portion of the duct where it is closest, with the least amount of friction, to the tap and move to the area where the new duct is extended. Some of the items needed can be found at most heating supply stores. If you cannot find matching dampers for the size and type of duct you have, you may need to convert the duct to a size or type for which you can find dampers. Hook up inline with the duct running outside, using a “Y” connector and a power damper that closes when power is applied. For smooth flow, install the “Y” so that the exhaust “Y” comes to the ‘bottom’ of the duct section. Now take the damper that opens when power is applied, connect it to the other “Y” opening. Run a duct through this ‘power open’ damper to the top growth area of the trees, as CO2 is heavier than air; But you probably already know that. Now all you have to do is either assemble the dampers or use a multi-outlet adapter and plug into your CO2 sequencer with your CO2 generator or CO2 tank regulator using the 3 outlet adapter.
Inline duct booster fans can be installed if the pipes extend from the exterior wall or ceiling. If the growroom does not receive flow from the new duct, an inline duct booster fan may be needed, especially if one was used on the original duct that exits outside the new “Y” section of the equipment. If you add a duct booster fan, wire it or connect it with dampers, they will then turn on and off together. Most furnaces have a sufficient exhaust blower so an additional duct booster fan will not be needed. Keep an eye on any booster fans at the “Y” junction and the outside original duct (if present), they are likely to overheat if running with the outside damper closed.
Once this is setup, when your CO2 sequencer decides it’s time to add CO2 to the room and turns on the power, the outside exhaust damper will close and the damper in the grow room will open; As a result, the exhaust from the furnace or hot water heater is diverted into the grow room. A CO2 generator or release regulator will also be in operation, thus guaranteeing the correct amount of CO2 in the room at all times, even if the furnace or water heater is not currently in use. When the correct level is reached and the sequencer closes, the damper to the growroom will close and the damper to the outside duct will reopen. At this point all the exhaust will escape until the room needs more CO2.
For safety, make sure all circuits and/or outlets supply no more than 80% of their rated load in watts and are properly wired. Also, make sure the duct is well secured. Duct tape rated to 200°F holds up better than regular (for joining duct sections).
If you’re diverting hot water heater exhaust for this CO2 conservation supplement, you can take advantage of this setup by timing showers, dishes, and laundry as the lights turn on (conservation equipment runs the most) and during light cycles generally.
Using this system, growers will find that they are making fewer trips to fill propane or CO2 tanks and spending less money, while grow room levels remain the same.
This addition of conservation systems will also reduce the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere from a home or business. The CO2 diverted to the room is used by plants during photosynthesis, further reducing the CO2 emissions of the gas equipment to the atmosphere. Using this system, the room will reach the desired CO2 level faster, and fluctuate less, increasing growth.
List of Works Cited:
Minnesota Department of Health
This page, on the Minnesota Department of Health website, is a good resource for showing the adverse health effects of high levels of C02. As far as I can tell, this site is run by the state government. The information on this page is consistent with other sources and describes the harmful health effects of excessive levels of CO2 in the air. This page, while short, clearly presents the statistics and risks agreed by government scientists associated with high CO2 levels. The statement, “At very high levels, 30,000 ppm and above, CO2 can cause shortness of breath because it replaces the oxygen in our blood.” It clearly shows the potentially dangerous conditions that can result from elevated CO2 levels.
“Carbon Dioxide (CO2)” Minnesota Department of Health. March 2004.
27 June 2005 http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/indoorair/co2/>
Reusch, William. “Reactions of Alkenes” Michigan State University
This page clearly describes the physical process of propane combustion. After reviewing dozens of sources on propane and natural gas combustion, I found this page to be the most accurate, thorough yet understandable description of possible propane combustion reactions. Although no references are provided for the information in the article, the information is consistent with Common Sense and other reference materials and on the Michigan State University Department of Chemistry web site. This resource will allow the reader of my essay to understand what products can be produced by propane combustion by showing the structural formulas for the reactions mentioned and showing clear reasoning why the reactions may be different. This article shows how CO2 and H2O are direct products of propane combustion when sufficient O2 is present.
Reusch, William. “Reactions of Alkenes” Michigan State Univ
Department of Chemistry 1999. rev. 2004. 28 June 2005
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