Sunday, November 15, 2009

Alternative Fuel

I'm up with solar power. In fact, we're planning on getting a 60W solar DIY-installation kit to power some things, like the igniter for our waterheater. I mean, I'm a thrivalist and all (with credit going to Kate for coining the term ;), but there are some things I would just rather not do without. A hot shower is one.

But I still don't think that solar power is the best answer to our energy issues.

First, it's not accessible to everyone. It's still pretty expensive (the cheapest small battery for charging something like a cellphone is more than $40, and for some people, that's just not affordable).

Second, it's not sustainable. Making the solar panels is pretty energy intensive and requires materials that aren't cheap or readily available. In a lower energy future, the cheap energy needed to manufacture our high-tech solutions just won't be there.

I've talked before about methane digesters, and in my opinion, it's the best solution to our energy woes. Biogas can produced using just about any kind of organic waste, from kitchen scraps to ... well, crap. Talk about recycling, eh?

The best part about methane digesters, though, is that they are accessible to everyone, and I've found half a dozen videos on YouTube where people have built them out of something as simple as a couple of those five gallon water bottles (you know, the ones that go into the water coolers).

The process of creating methane isn't much different than the process of making sauerkraut ... or beer. It's all based on fermentation.

There are a few companies right now, most of which are located in places like India, that are manufacturing methane digesters for home use. They usually run off of kitchen scraps (which was a serious health issue in some more urban areas in India), but they can be made to run off other stuff, and they can be big enough to power whole cities, like this one in the Netherlands.

Biogas has a lot of applications from heating to cooking. In fact, the methane could be used to produce electricity. Methane can be used anywhere natural gas is currently used.

I've been looking into methane digesters for a while, and I'm (still) pretty convinced that Deus Ex Machina and I could develop a methane digester that would operate off of our ... er..., septic tank deposits. The biogas we produced could be used for powering a tankless, natural-gas hot waterheater and for cooking.

Those really cool grills I was at looking yesterday can be fueled with either liquid propane or natural gas.

And, suddenly, that fancy suburbanite accessory doesn't seem so frivolous.


  1. gives a whole new meaning to natural gas...

  2. most activated sludge sewage treatment plants use methane to power their plant. it is much more suited to warmer climates. the sludge must be kept warm to keep methane production up and hydrogen sulfide production down. 98.6° is just perfect;) i have been doing lots of studying on this for several years. it is more practical if you keep a few of pigs in addition to your household waste. it is a volume thing. as i mentioned several months ago, that is the direction that i will attempt in the event of collapse. i'm in the middle of waste treatment operator certification classes. my DNR certification test is at the end of the month.

  3. Yeeeaaars ago, I saw a tv spot about methane digesters being used in rural India to produce cooking gas. Those weren't that different from a septic tank. All the human and bovine wastes went in and methane was piped out the the community.

    I don't know how many of ya'll ever get a good view of your landfills. (Is 'good view of your landfills' an oxymoron? anyhooo..) Here in Fort Worth I can find two that are visible from the highway. One is now closed. The open one still has a flare pipe on it to burn off the biogases. I just want to scream when I think about that gas going to waste like that. They could have put a power plant on that. Or bottled it or something.

    The defunct landfill is even worse. They just drove pipes down into the pile to vent the gas right into the air...ARRRR.