Community Supported Energy


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.
Winter Projects?  
I got one…and its a Doozy.
Anyone good at writing grants?
Be the Change



11 Responses

  1. Dear god(s).

    a) I want you for a neighbor.
    b) I want in on this plan.
    c) I have about $300,000 in successful grant writing experience.

    I think we need to talk!

  2. Hi, Rob, what you’re doing sounds great and we’d love to hear more details at , the website that is joined together by Dave Blume’s book. We are all trying to learn- I would like to start an ethanol fuel station in Brooklyn for members- and your experience shared would be valuable. As Dave points out, you need to find a way to finagle it so you can benefit from the tax credits out there for this kind of thing.

    Thanks very much.


  3. Rob:
    I love your idea, it sound both efficient and practical. The one phrase that has stuck in my craw is “get a grant”. This should be a profitable enterprise!

    If your project is going to be a model of fuel production for the future, it needs to be able to yield a profit. Or it needs to demonstrate that it would be profitable in a different economic environment- such as $10 per gallon gasoline.

    In an era of cheap energy, wastefulness is profitable. That era is ending; efficiency pays.

  4. Thanks Matt. We are having the first round of “planning meetings” this weekend, but this is not intended to be a 501C3. It may start under the auspices of our 501C3 Sustain Jefferson, but my vision has it growing into a “Social Business” whose goals are to create a surplus that is turned back into the community/environment/etc in addition to its investors.

    While most Grants are to the non-profit world, there is ALOT of money out there from foundations and state/federal governments that is attempting to steer innovation into Eco-Energy – and typically only 4prof’s have the capital to embark on things like biofuel or wind projects. Google Energy Grants is a good example and the State of Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy also has matching grants and/or low interest loans set up as well.

    Goal is to get a working prototype going linking 2-4 energy systems (Bio-D, Ethanol, and Gasification + methane maybe) feeding into each other while producing some sort of food crop and then doing it all on local “waste” products, and then pitch that to Get Real. Grants would cover start-up costs for years 2-3. I expect we will be mostly on our own year 1.


  5. […] afternoon I have called a meeting to discuss my CSE proposal for our community.  I need to learn more about what zoning, permits, etc will be needed, as well […]

  6. […] Math Fun Posted on December 7, 2008 by onestraw We are actively looking in to designing a Community Supported Energy system here in JEfferson County Wisconsin based on a wood chip gasifier powering a small co-gen […]

  7. Great ideas, I’m hoping to get a C.S.E. started in my little community. It’s inspiring to hear your story. I’m manufacturing pellets on a small scale and selling pellet stoves. How is the work going?

  8. […] we can build the foundation and funding to finally move forward in 2011 with the energy side of the SAFE (Sustainable Agriculture Food and Energy) Centers since we did not get Stimulus funding in 2009.   […]

  9. […] have talked through my version of positive feedback loops starting with a biomass gasifier providing the heat and power for […]

  10. […] the renewable energy side my CSE partners have finished a distillation tower for a Charles 803 Ethanol Still and have sourced a massive […]

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