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Monday, 17 February 2020 12:00

Generators: How do you make electricity without batteries?


English inventor, Michael Faraday was interested in magnets. In 1822, he invented a simple motor experimentally. His simple device made a coil of wire revolve around a permanent bar magnet when the wire was connected to a battery. The coil always moved to align itself with the poles of the magnet. In essence, the coil became a magnet itself.

 Related Blog: Frequently Asked Questions About Generators

Michael Faraday's Generator

The first electrical devices relied on batteries. Nine years after Faraday demonstrated the motor he discovered the principle of electromagnetic induction. He used his simple motor apparatus to generate an electric current which could register on a galvanometer. When he moved the permanent bar magnet back and forth inside a coil of wire, he generated electricity. Instead of the stationary magnet forcing the movement of the coil when electricity was passed through the coil, moving the magnet through the stationary coil generated electricity in the coil. The relationship between electricity and magnetism is very intimate.

The magnetism pulls electrons in the wire to move to create an electric current (a current of moving electrons). Moving a magnet through a coil generates electricity in the coil. It doesn't matter how the motion is created. It could be through water power, steam power, gasoline power, coal power, nuclear power, energy sources of any kind that force motion can make magnets move through coils. Electricity is a kind of least common denominator of all the energy sources on the planet. Mechanically, motors and generators became more and more sophisticated, more efficient, and larger, heavier and more powerful since 1831, but the principle hasn't changed.


Kinds of Modern Generators

The kinds of self-contained generators on the market are largely differentiated on the kind of fuel they use to move that coil through that magnet through that coil.

  • The most common generators use gasoline powered motors. Under normal circumstances, gasoline is readily available and comparatively inexpensive. Gasoline generators can be small and ideal for home use. The problem with using gasoline as a fuel is that it has to be stored for use in emergencies. Gasoline does not store well. It lasts less than a year in storage. Gasoline generators are often hard to start in cold weather as well. Gasoline is often not available during power outages because it is pumped out of tanks by electric pumps. Gasoline generators exhaust dangerous emissions. The fuel is very flammable.
  • Diesel fuel generators are also common. They are a little more expensive than gasoline generators. The engines last longer than gasoline engines if they are properly maintained. Diesel is the least flammable of carbon-based fuels. Diesel fuel stores better than gasoline, lasting twice as long in storage. The diesel motors tend to start better in cold weather. But diesel also becomes difficult to obtain in power outages. Emissions are very toxic and municipalities may limit the number of hours the engine may be operated.
  • Biodiesel and emulsified diesel are compromises, adding vegetable oils or water to reduce the harmful emissions.
  • Propane (a derivative of natural gas) stored in liquid form or gaseous form in pressurized tanks. This is a fuel which bypasses many of the problems of liquid fuels like gasoline and diesel. However, it is highly flammable or even explosive if the tanks leak. Engines must be modified by specialists to use this gaseous fuel.
  • Natural gas is used to fuel some generators. These generators have to be connected to urban gas lines and are therefore not portable. Installation costs are high, but the fuel never runs out.
  • Hydrogen powered generators are portable and run essentially without dangerous emissions. Typically the generator is connected to a hydrogen trailer which supplies the fuel. Hydrogen is a plentiful advanced fuel. Hydrogen powered engines are efficient and emit only water vapor when oxidized in operation.

Mader Electric staff are experts at industrial generators, installing generator systems, installing custom control panels, updating existing controls, programming advanced controls.

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