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CO2 for ‘Free’
We’ve all heard that there is no such thing as a ‘free lunch’; well, the procedure described in this article may be the closest you can get to one. Most of us already know the benefits of CO2 enrichment for photosynthesis. To maximize the potential of indoor and greenhouse growing, CO2 is supplemented to maintain an approximate level of 1500 ppm, which may require frequent trips to the industrial gas supplier and/or extensive use of propane or natural gas and associated costs. Ironically, many indoor agricultural producers vent CO2 out from home heaters and hot water heaters, while simultaneously venting or generating CO2 for an indoor grow room or greenhouse.
Propane and natural gas burn clean enough that small ventless gas appliances are approved for indoor use. All of these gas burning devices use oxygen (in the air) to burn the gas, resulting in the byproducts of CO2, H20 (moisture) and heat (Reusch). Exhaust gases from gas appliances can provide 3 essential conditions for maximum growth: humidity, temperature and CO2 level. Most of the heat from the exhaust gases is removed by the heat exchanger of the furnace or water heater; resulting in a slightly warm exhaust. Photosynthesis for many plants, including marijuana, in a CO2-enriched environment is most efficient around 85 degrees F.
If the exhaust gas from a large gas heater is diverted into the growing area, there is a strong possibility that all the oxygen will be burned or displaced, as well as CO (carbon monoxide build-up), resulting in toxic air conditions. With the right equipment, CO2 from a gas furnace and/or water heater exhaust can safely be used to supplement the CO2 used in your grow room. This will save time and money, make plants grow well, reduce fuel consumption and dramatically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the environment. 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 the grow area to maintain a CO2 level of 1500 ppm, with the extra exhaust directed 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 levels of CO2 can cause asphyxiation that is undetectable when blood O2 replace CO2 (Minnesota Department of Health). Keep a CO (carbon monoxide) detector in the grow room for safety in case of equipment failure! Do not attempt this project if you are using heat from oil or kerosene, which do not burn cleanly!
The trick to harnessing this source of unused CO2 from gas furnaces and water heaters is power dampers. The energy damper is a part of the channel with a flap that opens and closes the flow through the channel, and is powered by electricity. Some chokes close with current applied and others are designed to open. Most attenuators are low voltage so a properly sized transformer must be connected to the attenuator; it has a 110 volt damper. Quality flaps will seal much better than cheap flaps. This simple addition to a CO2 enrichment system will pay for itself many times over (especially with today’s fuel prices) and reduce home or business emissions into the environment, making your project “greener”. It is necessary to have a CO2 level monitor connected to the controller (sequencer) to tell the dampers (by applying power) when CO2 is needed and when the threshold is reached. You can still use your controller to run your CO2 generator and/or regulator.
Locate the exhaust pipe of your gas furnace or hot water heater. These devices should already be properly vented. Turn off your gas appliance while you work on this. Cut off (or open) a section of duct where it will be closest, with the fewest bends, to plug in and route the new duct into the growing area. A few of the items needed can be found at most heating supply stores. If you can’t find the proper dampers for the size and type of duct you have, you may need to convert the duct to a size or type that you can find dampers for. Using a “Y” connector and a power choke that closes when current is applied, connect in line with the duct going out. For smooth flow, install the “Y” so that the exhaust gas comes to the ‘bottom’ of the “Y” section of the duct. Now take the damper that opens when power is applied, attach it to the other “Y” opening. Run a duct from this ‘power open’ choke into the growth area above the plants, since CO2 is heavier than air; but you probably already know this. Now all you have to do is either connect the chokes together or use a multi-socket adapter and plug them into your CO2 sequencer along with your CO2 generator or CO2 tank regulator using the 3-outlet adapter.
If the ducts are far from the exterior wall or roof, there may be built-in duct supplemental fans. If the grow room does not have flow through the new duct, an additional fan in the duct line may be required, especially if one is used on the original duct that blows outward past the new “Y” section from the unit. If you add a ducted auxiliary fan, wire it or turn it on together with the dampers, they will then turn on and off together. Many furnaces will have a proper exhaust fan so an additional ducted fan will not be necessary. Watch out for the auxiliary fans (if any) on the source duct between the “Y” joint and the outside, there is a possibility that they could overheat if they run with the flap to the outside closed.
Once this is set, when your CO2 sequencer determines it is time to add CO2 to the room and turns on the power, the exhaust damper to the outside will close and the grow room damper will open; resulting in the diversion of exhaust gases from the furnace or hot water heater into the grow room. A CO2 generator or exhaust regulator will also work, this way it is guaranteed that the room always has the right amount of CO2 even if the stove or boiler is not currently in use. When the appropriate level is reached and the sequencer is turned off, the damper leading into the grow room will close and the damper in the duct leading out will reopen. All exhaust gases at this point will go outside until the room needs more CO2.
To be safe, ensure that all circuits and/or outlets are rated at no more than 80% of their rated wattage and are properly wired. Also, secure the channel well. Adhesive tape marked 200°F sticks better than regular tape (for connecting duct sections).
If you’re diverting hot water heater exhaust for this CO2 enrichment add-on, you can take extra advantage of this setup by adjusting the times for showering, dishwashing, and laundry, while the lights are on (the times when the enrichment equipment works the most), and during the light cycle in general.
Using this system, growers will find that they make fewer trips to fill up their propane or CO2 tanks and spend less money while keeping grow room levels the same.
This addition to the enrichment system will also reduce the amount of CO2 released into the environment from the home or business premises. The CO2 diverted into the room is used by plants during photosynthesis, which further reduces the CO2 gas device’s release into the environment. Using this system, the room will reach the desired CO2 level faster and will fluctuate less, further promoting growth.
List of cited works:
Minnesota Department of Health
This page, located on the Minnesota Department of Health website, is a good resource for showing the adverse health effects that high levels of C02 will cause. As far as I can tell, this place is run by the state government. The information on this page is consistent with other sources that also describe the adverse health effects of too much CO2 in the air. This page, although short, clearly presents the numbers and dangers, agreed upon by government scientists, associated with high CO2 levels. Statement: “At very high levels, 30,000 ppm and above, CO2 can cause suffocation because it replaces the oxygen in our blood.” clearly shows the potentially fatal condition that elevated CO2 levels can cause.
“Carbon Dioxide (CO2)” Minnesota Department of Health. March 2004
June 27, 2005. http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/indoorair/co2/>
Reusch, William. “Reaction of Alkanes” Michigan State University
This page clearly describes the physical process of burning propane. After reviewing a dozen propane and natural gas combustion sources, I found this site to have the most accurate, in-depth, yet understandable descriptions of possible propane combustion reactions. Although the article does not cite references for the information it contains, the information is consistent with the Common Knowledge and other reference materials and is found on the Michigan State University Department of Chemistry website. By presenting the structural formulas for the reactions mentioned along with a clear rationale showing why the reactions may differ, this resource will allow the reader of my essay to understand what products can be formed from the combustion of propane. This article shows how CO2 and H2O are direct products of propane combustion when sufficient O2 is present.
Reusch, William. “Reactions of Alkanes” Michigan State University
Department of Chemistry 1999 rev. 2004 June 28, 2005
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