Inspiration-CSE taking shape

This Saturday past our Community Supported Energy (CSE) club/group hosted a tour of Growing Power in Milwaukee, Wi. This was my second trip and it was just as inspirational as the first time.  This time we had almost 20 people in tow -many of them new to our group and had never come to a meeting.  When I decided not to have a meeting of the CSE group in Decemeber, I was hoping to use the Growing Power tour as a way to maintian, and even improve, momentum in the project.  And I think its worked.  

The biggest obstacle (other than funding!) that the group is experiencing right now is lack of direction.  This is not surprising given my penchant to flit from project to project, but the CSE has so many potential variations, we are really struggling with where to begin.  In our last meeting we did spent sometime on this very issue, and narrowed it down to 2 essential “core” elements.  The first is our Wood Chip Gasifier.   The ability to turn locally produced biomass into heat and electricity in a small scale co-gen unit is absolutely crucial and the  heart of our CSE.  The second element we agreed on was an Aquaponics Greenhouse.  This may seem odd for a CSE, but we’re permaculturists and function stacking the gasifier with Tilapia production as a use for the waste heat seems fantastic.  Next up will be ethanol production with the fishes getting fed on the left over mash.  

The beauty of that system is that the elctricity from the gasifier is not produced at a marketable rate, nor is the ethanol from a small still.  But by tagging them onto a Tilapia Aquaponic facility both electricity and ethanol can be considered waste products of the fish operation.  Nice.  This is why permaculture is so exciting, the possiblities are endless and when system design becomes elegant, your “wastes” turn into things like grid electricity and liquid bio-fuels!

One of the tour attendees was the farmer that allows me to use .5 acres of his property for my market garden.  This was his second tour as well, so we both spent most of the time sticking our heads into the nuts and bolts of the operation while the rest of the group was getting the scripted tour.  At almost every turn one of us would say to the other “we HAVE to do this”.    

One of the most inspiring aspects of Growing Power is how accesible they make their processes.  They are growing 10,000#’s of Tilapia annually in a plastic Hoop House that they built for $700.  They also found that by heating the greenhouse with the Tilapia water it is more efficient than heating the air so they can grow veggies year round.  We want to add a gasifier as the primary heat source rather than their NG pool heater.  Our current thinking is that we make a dedicated, more permanent greenhouse with a cob/strawbale foundation with a strawbale/cob north wall heat sink onto which we will house the gasifier operation.  Onto this we would look to add ethanol production, pellet mills, and perhaps a methane digester and biodiesel operation as time and money permit.    

We are planning to crunch numbers this month, but are fairly certain we can build the greenhouse, complete with in ground Tilapia pool and heater (NG for starters) for $5-10k in materials.  We would then hope to use 2009 to install a gasifier (version 2.01 and another $1-2k) and use the NG unit as a backup.  This size facility could be housed on as little as .25 acres, though biomass would have to be sourced.  Luckily one of the attendees of the tour happens to own 30 acres of woodland in the county and is looking for a solution to his Box Elder “weed tree” problem.  Enter the pellet mill ($6k)!

With are energies rekindled after seeing aquaponics in action, and an achievable project size in mind I am even more excited than before to see this local food/energy project get off the ground.  With funding in the sub $20k range (with pellet mills) a small business loan is possible or we can pull in money as a coop to cover it.  Prolly some of both.  We will do this.

Be the Change.


3 Responses

  1. Rock on Rob, rock on CSE.

    I think that it is important at the outset to decide how the equipment will be owned, how the decisions will be made, and how the profits will be divided.

    I’ve seen a rock and mineral club meeting descend into a brawl with assault arrests, so my faith in people’s abilities to communicate and share is limited. I would suggest some kind of corporation- maybe non- profit.

    Beyond that, it would be good to reach out to the local government and business community. these connections could be especially helpful in getting the permits to make ethanol in the future.

  2. *does a jig*
    Woohoo! Bring it! And when you’ve got version 1.5 working, send us the plans and we’ll get one going here!

  3. Matt,

    Good thoughts. Stage 1 will either be under the auspices of the 501C3 I am a “fire-soul” member of and the farmer is currently president of, or if I am to front most of the money, under my LLC. If it is stand alone we will likely have the Economic Development Coordinator for the county as a contributor to our Business Plan, and 2 County Supervisors were on the tour this Saturday. My network on this is syck -all I want to add is some University types for research -and we have early interest from some at the UW Stevens Point..

    Emily – the plans are on the gasifier page, but we hope to have a more user friendly version, complete with co-gen up within a year. The mini- CSE / A will likely be #4 that we have made. Given the revolutionary changes between 1.01 and 2.01 I can’t wait to see what 2.03 will look like. My partner also wants to literally drive a gasified truck to MREA this year. Goddess help us!


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