Some of you may know that I helped to build a wood chip gasifier last winter. Basically it is a contraption that takes a carbon source (we use chipped wood) and breaks it down into carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas through pyrolosis (fancy burning). That gas is then used to power an Internal Combustion Engine. Our system is sized to run a 30hp engine, and we are working on two systems geared more to heat capture to increase efficiency. 30hp equates to about a 15kw generator -or enough power for a small home. Plus it makes a stink load of heat so water/space heating are options too. It cost under $500 and can run full throttle for an hour on 10#’s of chips.
So we now have this virtually free source of heat and electricity. And I now have a diesel vehicle. Making Biodiesel takes 3 things (other than the processor): waste grease (I live in Wisconsin), electricity to run pumps, and heat to dry the grease and facilitate the reaction. The processor I am building can handle up to 12,000 gallons a year. I need about 600. That means I have built a machine that can create a significant surplus if I can find enough waste oil. Huh.
Waste Veggie Oil may not be around forever, and I like to grow things, so I also looked into growing oil seed crops. For simplicity sake, lets use an annual crop like canola rather than a permaculture perennial fuel crop system (you could use hickory and take the prunings to power the gasifier for starters and still have a complete understory to play with for other plants). If I can find a farmer to grow 80 acres of Canola I can press 12000 gallons of oil out of it. I also just happen to know of someone that bought a commercial cold press from Austria a few years ago. The thing about pressing oilseed is you are left with all this mash. That mash is still rich in starches/sugars plus protiens and fibers. Talking with my farmer mentor who is really into ethanol, it turns out that this mash would make quite a bit of ethanol too. Like another several thousand gallons. Huh.
But then we still have mash left after that. That mash is still full of cellulose and protein. It can either be fed into a animal digester (hogs, cows, chickens or tilapia come to mind) or a methane digester to further gain efficiencies. Now we are either making even more electricity or a lot more food. The gasifier would actually partner REALLY well with a greenhouse Tilapia operation solving most of the sustainability concerns, and using cattails as the water filter to grow even more ethanol feedstock. Huh.
All of this permaculture energy and food growing could be bundled up into a Community Supported Energy (CSE) organization. Community members would buy “shares” of energy (ethanol or biodiesel) which would be delivered monthly/weekly/as needed -the literally tons of tilapia would be a bonus! The subscribers get the energy they want, the budding energy technician can produce clean renewable fuels for a living wage. If it sounds like a CSA that is the point.
We haven’t even begun to think this through yet (like canola is a low grade fuel crop planted in a monoculture), but there are ALOT of people who have -David Blume of Alcohol Can Be a Gas fame is one. As resources decline, people will need local energy as much as they need local food, probably more as making energy is much more specialized than growing food. Plus its really damn interesting.
I got one…and its a Doozy.
Anyone good at writing grants?
Be the Change