Solar Power isn't Feasible!

Solar Power isn't Feasible!
This cartoon was on the cover of the book "SolarGas" by David Hoye. It echoes the Sharp Solar slogan "Last time I checked nobody owned the sun!"

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Generating electricity from biogas made from household kitchen garbage turns out to be "child's play"


On September 7 2009 we made family history by running a 650 Watt 2 stroke electric generator on kitchen-garbage-produced-methane on our porch in Germany. The procedure turned out to be pathetically simple, calling into question why many members of our species think we have to fight wars for foreign oil, and why we risk our children's futures with climate change and nuclear proliferation and the poisoning of our air, land and water when we can turn our "garbage" into clean burning fuel.

The engine was converted using a $189 type A carburetor kit from
in a couple of hours on a Saturday.

Converting an engine to run on biogas is child's play...

O.K., it isn't something a baby can do, but it certainly doesn't take any special training! We are not mechanics or engineers yet we found it extremely easy. The work consisted of removing the bowl float from the carburetor and then drilling out the carburetor with a hand drill. We then inserted a simple pipe connected to a gas fitting and stopped up all vents and holes (including the gasoline inlet) with black silicone. It was amazing that all the delicate engineering that goes into a carburetor for getting the right fuel-air ratios and getting the gasoline to vaporize correctly become superfluous. We found that converting a carburetor to allow an engine to run on biogas (or any source of methane) is actually a process of radically simplifying the carburetor.

The only unresolved issues are how to lubricate this two-stroke engine (our 4 stroke kit won't 't have those problems) and the best way to increase the pressure of the biogas. All are fairly trivial problems. The point is you CAN generate home power using your kitchen garbage and eliminate waste and filth and pollution and greenhouse gases.


The natural gas kit conversion for small engines is rather easy to apply. The kit cost $189, the engine/generator cost $110.

I used a two-stroke engine because it was cheaper, but we may run into problems with lubrication.

When we get to Cairo in October I will convert a larger 4-stroke engine. I bought another conversion kit for the same price for the 4-stroke engine/generator that will have no lubrication problems (and it allows hybrid tri-fuel use -- gasoline, propane and methane (biogas) can all be used, so when one is unavailable you simply switch to the other fuel).

I'm NOT a mechanic.

I'm NOT an engineer.

Far, far from it.

I was a musician, a writer, an actor and a high school teacher who later studied Urban Planning and Public Policy.

If I have any skillset is simply that I know how to read and I'm not afraid of manuals; this was my first attempt to do anything like this. A qualified week-end mechanic could use the same principles to convert their car to run on biogas.

Producing the biogas took 24 hours but the bacteria did all the work for us
-- from Saturday's kitchen garbage (food waste) we got Sunday's clean generator fuel (and fertilizerfor our rooftop garden).

Biogas is climate neutral and releases no toxic byproducts when burned.

Producing electricity from biogas using off-the shelf items is so pathetically easy
it is almost scary. It makes me wonder why people think we have to go to war for foreign oil, poison and pollute our land, air, fresh-water and oceans with oil spills, endure climate change, risk our children's lives with potential nuclear meltdowns, radiation and threats of terrorists
acquiring "dirty bombs" etc.

We know now that we can produce our own clean electricity using our own kitchen garbage, solving our energy and waste problems at the same time. Yes, quantity is an issue and it is doubtful that a family of four could produce enough waste to generate all their electricity (even saying "super size me!" all the time!) but the principle can be applied to community energy management; if all the wastes from kitchens, cafeterias and restaurants were used it would scale up nicely.

Improvements and scale-ups will come in time.

Help and suggestions are welcome.

We will continue this work in Egypt in October using a 4 stroke engine so we won't have to worry about oiling. When we get back to Germany we will purchase a 6.5 HP Hercules 4 stroke 2000 Watt generator and do the tri-fuel conversion on that.

But two-stroke engines are less expensive and more durable, and more common in developing countries

So, on behalf of the world's poor, we want to figure out how to use them.

What energy crisis?

Let's get out of this mess, shall we?


Marcel said...

Brilliant guys! Well done!

Does 'bricking' the digester's floating dome produce insufficient pressure to feed the engine?


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Jono said...

Could you stack truck tyres on top of eachother, link them together and weight them down to create pressure?

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