Monday, November 1, 2010

Biogas: From Insinkerator to Refrigerator (1 of 3)

When I think of the book and movie "Mosquito Coast" by Paul Theroux, and everything the protagonist went through to make ice in the jungle, I now think "what was Theroux thinking? It is easy and safe to make ice in the tropics -- from biogas made from wastes...
Yesterday at 12:27am via YouTube · ·
  • Ahmed Khalifa likes this.
    • Marcel Lenormand
      Nothing against Insinkerator - what you've demonstrated here is very effective — I'm just wondering about cost, especially in the developing world. You had experimented with a food blender - I'm wondering if a blender can be modified to do... the job more effectively than just one jug at a time?

      A propos, we just recently saw the "Mosquito Coast" movie — it was very exciting at first but got more and more sobering as the story progressed. Went to bed quite provoked.
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      14 minutes ago ·
    • Thomas Henry Culhane
      I remember feeling quite upset and down after that movie thinking that development and the great discoveries of physics and chemistry would forever be at odds with the eutopian Rousseauian existence. His quest to bring ice to the people of... the humid tropics with this massive apparatus now seems to me to be not just naive but irresponsible story telling mired in an era when engineering was presented to us as something that had to be BIG (even though by the time the ice got to the people it was tiny). Perhaps I need to revisit the film/book, because maybe Thoreaux's point was just that, but it didn't come across. Instead it made me believe that trying to bring cold to the hot was a foolish venture and that we should just keep the people who live in "nature" deprived of the applications that their native genius could develop if they were given proper infrastructual support. Now I think I know better -- Schumacher's "Small is Beautiful" taught me to think local, as you know. No giant machinery needed. And ammonia, in manageable quantities, is one of the safest and least toxic chemicals (it is produced every time protien decays after all). So I have a beef with that movie.See More
      3 minutes ago
    • Thomas Henry Culhane
      As for Insinkerators -- the unit cost is of course an equation involving volume sales and markups and purchasing power. It is basically just a rotor with a cheese grater on it. We think nothing of putting these ubiquitous rotor motors int...o everything else for developing countries (water pumps, found everywhere, and hey, even blenders themselves!). The blender is only cheaper, really, because it is so widely mass produced. What is wrong with the blender for this application is the use of blades rather a sheer ring (the cheese grater part). Otherwise both use a motor to spin a cutting surface. So modifying a blender to do the job most effectively would mean essentially inventing an insinkerator! See my point?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Insinkerators can work with Solar Power 1

Our Basetech watt meter has been sitting on the Insinkerator Evolution 200 since October 16th. After daily usage our total electricity consumption is a mere .028 kWH (i.e. a mere 28 Watts) with a max draw of 352 Watts. That means we probably wouldn't ever use more than 60 watts in a month, which is about a single incandescent light bulb running for one hour, costing about 1 cent. Next stop the Okavanga Delta in Botswana where we will show that Insinkerators can easily be run on Photovoltaic Solar Power!

Third trial of Dometic Refrigerator on Biogas

After 6 hours of biogas operation (this time in our apartment at a balmy 18 C ambient temp) we are down to -20 C in the freezer and -1.1 in the main fridge, sipping only 230 or so liters of biogas. This time Ahmed Khalifa and I have put Ahmed's data logger inside so we will publish graphs... soon. We also will explore how quickly the fridge loses heat when the gas is off,with and without extra insulation. The great thing is that we are almost 40 C below ambient, which bodes well for African applications. In the end we got 6 hours and 45 minutes from less than 300 liters.  Last time we ran for 7 hours (and got down to -26.2 C in freezer and -4 C in refrigerator).

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Biogas Program for the Animal Husbandry Sector in Vietnam and factories in China

A great website with instructional material and videos for constructing one's own fixed dome digestors. The Vietnam experience, like that in China, includes all human wastes in the digestor. The Netherlands gave a 2.5 Million Euro grant to cover 12 provinces. Why this isn't being done in Haiti or Nigeria with the current Cholera outbreaks, is a mystery to me.
Project “Biogas Program for the Animal Husbandry Sector in Vietnam” is implemented by Livestock Production Department (under MARD) in cooperation with Netherlands Development Organisation – SNV. Overall objectives of project are (i) exploiting effectively biogas technology and developing a commercial product.

A million kilowatt hours of electricity a year and all the cooking fuel for the factory -- this rice wine factory in China is proving the industrial ecology model and creating a beautiful aesthetic too.

Chinas frantic development depends on escalating electricity generation - at great cost to the environment. But in the remote south-western province of Guangxi the application of simple technology allows millions of poor families to cook and keep warm with biogas made from human and animal waste.

Take care of your own Sh%t!

Got first flammable methane from diaper-waste fed bathroom biodigestor after a month hydraulic retention time at an average temp of 20 C. Now confident we should bring the macerating toilet pump to Botswana to include in our project there.

 Indelicately put, our campaign is called "Take care of your own sh%t!".  If we had a code of ethics that said "every family is legally and morally responsible not only for what goes into their house but what comes out", and you had to prove your wastes could cause no harm to others before discharge to our environment, there would be no cholera or other waste and water-borne diseases killing children right now.

Thomas Henry Culhane We won't add kitchen waste to this until we understand how much loading it can take with fecal material on a weekly basis, and examine the effluent after processing in a second tank to see what the reduction in E coli is, if any.




Thomas Henry Culhane This series from Vietnam is one of the best for understanding exactly how to build a fixed dome underground biodigestor from brick and mortar.

Translation was completed on 27/08/2010 These models called "KT1, KT2" are being applied in the Biogas Support Program in Vietnam. ( So far, there are about 250,000 biogas plants constructed in Vietnam. In which, the fixed dome model accounts for about 60%, VACVINA model accounts

Build biogas plant P2-English-subtitle

This series from Vietnam is one of the best for understanding exactly how to build a fixed dome underground biodigestor from brick and mortar.

Humanure based biogas

Now home-commissioning the experimental system for humanure-based biogas we promised to study and, if successful, bring as a solution back to Nigeria, where Charisma Acey reports a major Cholera outbreak has just this week afflicted 10,000 people and claimed 900 lives. Fecal contamination is responsible for these diseases and we figure we can stop this at the home-scale, without waiting for major infrastructure. We'll let you know the results if you are interested...

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September 19 at 12:17am · · · Share
  • Lara Morrison likes this.
    • Thomas Henry Culhane
      Don't let the small size fool you -- this is just the front end of a 110 liter test system, conveniently located by the bathroom radiator to keep it warm. The outflow pipe will need to be ported to another tank for further aerobic breakdown... with carbonaceous material (scented geraniums?) and we need to see how much input it can handle on a daily level. There is a lot to work out. But one has to start somewhere, and when the message came in that our beloved beleaguered Nigeria is suffering yet another horrible loss of life and capacity from something completely preventable, the only way to throw off the feeling of powerlessness is to jump in and do something locally that might later have global application.See More
      September 19 at 12:21am ·
    • Thomas Henry Culhane We hope others will try to replicate and improve what we are doing until we can insure that nobody dies from the insane practice of putting feces into our fresh water supply. As a father of an infant I particularly ache for those who are losing children in this horrible epidemic; children are the most at risk from cholera.
      September 19 at 12:23am ·
    • Rafael O. Quezada Interested
      September 19 at 12:35am ·
    • Thomas Henry Culhane
      Thanks Rafael. What I'm hoping for is for interested parties to start experimenting with ways of dealing with toilet wastes that don't require a huge cooperative infrastructure. At the L.A. Eco-Village my colleagues @Alvaro Silva and Raymo...nd built a waterless composting toilet out of a 5 gallon bucket and some wood and a toilet seat that I used in the apartment for 3 years. Where the flush tank was we put a bin for grass clippings and flowers and leaves (the cover material), following Jenkin's ideas in "The Humanure Handbook". Then I built a system to compost it in a 55 gallon wheeled garbage can that had aquarium air pumps running through aeration tubes in it, powered by a 10 Watt Solar Panel and venting through a mulch bucket. I kept all toilet and kitchen wastes in that system in the closet for a year at a time during those three years, then took it out to be spread as rich fertilizer on trees and shrubs. I was trying to solve the problem of how to live in an apartment in L.A. after another earthquake as part of my disaster preparedness planning (the 1994 earthquake left us without toilet service for quite some days).
      So now I know through lived experience that composting toilets work, even when home built (I used the simple two bucket system in both Guatemala and Ecuador when I was there when the power was out and no toilets worked because water pumps were dead).
      But now I want to experiment with anaerobic processes, reasoning that a septic tank is really just a very poorly designed and far too cold biogas digestor. I'm guessing that septic systems can be retrofit so they win value out of the waste and at the same time can be improved so that they don't contaminate ground water supplies. Much will have to do with the ecology of the organisms doing the digesting and how we can make them happy so they do a complete job in as small a space as possible and as rapidly as possible.
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      September 19 at 12:54am ·
    • Bradshaw Lotspeich is also interested, for his project in Peru ...
      September 19 at 9:42am ·
    • Charisma Acey Thanks for sharing this, TH...I just video'd one of the cholera warning commercials on TV with my camera; the epidemic hasn't hit Lagos yet, but of course the fear is there because it's a major population center. Yes, the babies (all children) are most at risk and it doesn't have to be this way... Are the plans for building/experimenting with this kind of system on
      September 19 at 10:39pm ·
    • Thomas Henry Culhane Loaded it today with one adult emission and one diaper contents from 2 year old. Previous experience in a 2.5 liter vessel was three weeks until first flammable CH4, but ratio of water to substrate much less. Will continue to add material daily until we leave for Switzerland on Thursday.
      September 19 at 10:40pm ·
    • Thomas Henry Culhane Plans and video not up yet; I want to test it first and that will take several months.
      September 20 at 12:25am ·