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!"

Saturday, June 12, 2010

T.H. Culhane's presentation at 2010 Emerging Explorer's Conference

Slide 1:(33 seconds)

Hi, I'm T.H. Culhane. I'd like to thank National Geographic, Cheryl Zook, Pat Black, John Richardson and the Blackstone Ranch Foundation for the opportunity to be here in person and for supporting our work. I'll let National Geographic School Publishing start us out with their great introduction on what we do:

Slide 2: (30 seconds)

Those technologies mentioned in the video clip are “home scale” energy solutions made by local people from local materials. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel or try to create something new out of whole cloth. Like Aydogan Ozcan’s use of cell phones as microscopes and Ken Banks use of existing cell phone networks for vital SMS empowerment we also try to repurpose local, “found” materials, and off the shelf, ubiquitous technologies, both real and virtual, analog and digital, to solve the problems of sustainable development and education. We know we can solve many our energy, waste, water and food problems using simple solar and biofuel technologies. In this slide we see technologies we developed in Egypt that use recycled materials we knew would be available in Alaska.


Slide 3: (30 seconds)

To bring this to scale we need to use our new media technologies and social networking tools, things like google earth and google sketchup, open source 3d animation and multimedia production software to make learning the energy systems easy for people. We use the ipod touch with a handheld projector to erase literacy and language barriers, projecting the animations on walls and rooftop satellite dishes as screens. And we compose songs to spread the message which we take around the world with solar powered music groups to environmental festivals like this one in India.


Slide 4: (13 seconds)

And the thing is, we can’t just use all this great multimedia technology and educational materials to talk about environmental issues if we aren’t teaching people how to actually solve the problems themselves. This is why we have this two pronged approach -- work collectively to develop safe energy technologies and then use social media to broadcast the solutions.


Slide 5: (50 seconds)

So in this presentation I’m going to weave together two threads - one is the very simple low cost technologies we are developing and implementing to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and forest resources,

The other is how we go about spreading the message the these technologies are in fact so simple that you CAN try them at home.

This year I have been blessed to receive, with fellow Emerging Explorer Dr. Katey Walter, the first National Geographic Blackstone Ranch Innovation Challenge Grant for combining our different projects into an application to help the world. Katey is an arctic biologist working on newly discovered microbes that are producing greenhouse gases at freezing temperatures and I’ve been using microbes to clean water and produce biogas for cooking and electricity, heat and fertilizer. We decided to team up, kind of like Wonder Woman and, I dunno, Captain America? ... to see if we can harness these microbes to make garbage to biogas systems more efficient and then use social networking and media technologies as well as airplanes, to take the results from household to household and community to community, around the globe.

Slide 6: (15 seconds)

This is because when we met last year here we figured that if technology and globalization gave individuals disproportionate power to do bad things and form terrorist networks than by the same logic it could amplify our power to do great things for the world, if we found a way to pool our different talents.


Slide 7:(13 seconds)

The Blackstone Ranch Foundation Innovation Challenge has given us a way to formally create those synergies. Certainly this motley crew of cartoon action figures makes a formidable league of superheroes. The question is how to bring us all together. What would the first unifying project be for what we call "the Nat Geo E-Team"?


Slide 8:(40 seconds)

At Solar CITIES the word “CITIES” with a C cubed stands for Connecting Community Catalysts Integrating Technologies for Industrial Ecology Solutions, and we operate with a belief in Collective Intelligence, Crowd Sourcing, Cloud Computing and Citizen Science. We believe the intelligence is in the network and once we pick a project that has rhizomal links to issues we all face in common, our special abilities will start to complement each other. We picked household waste to biogas solutions for our Blackstone project because it provides a possible solution to the challenges of clean renewable energy, public health, waste management, fertilizer and food production, water conservation, wildlife conservation, poverty alleviation and climate change. Not bad for a single simple technology. But how to spread the message so everybody could pitch in with their piece of the puzzle?

(224 seconds)(4 minutes)

Slide 9:(20 seconds)

In 1966 at the age of 4 I read my first Dr. Seuss Beginners Books, “Come over to My House” and learned about the power of social networking to bring peace and understanding between different cultures. The message was clear -- make friends from around the world, from different walks of life and then invite each other to live at each other’s homes for a time and share ideas and perspectives. This way you get to know firsthand the problems and solutions sets available in each environment. As the Irish say “If you want to know me, come and live with me”.


Slide 10: (5 seconds)

So we decided to go and live in homes in rural villages and urban slums and work together on collective problem solving.

Slide 11: (15 seconds+ 30 seconds video)

My wife and I moved into the slums of Cairo and built a solar hot water system with our garbage recycler friends but later went back to Europe when our baby was born. But we were able to continue improving the system remotely by making simple animations and sharing them on facebook and youtube with our friends in Cairo


Slide 12: (3 seconds + 30 seconds video)
We were able to do the same thing with the Biogas systems...

(282 + 30 = 312) 5.2 minutes

Slide 13:(13 seconds + 1 minute video)
We also used game engines to create virtual eco-tours of the slums of Cairo where we were living and were able not only to show the community what the energy systems might look like on their roofs, but create a “slumdog ecotour” livelihood for a couple of our colleagues

(325 + 60 = 385 = 6.4 minutes)

Slide 14:(15 seconds)

One of the people who responded to our eco-tour after discovering it on facebook was the brother of Nathan Wolfe’s UCLA colleague Dr. Anne Rimoin. Mike Rimoin, who is a specialist in vegetable oil truck conversions, came to Cairo and ended up figuring out with us how to convert Hanna’s electric generator to run on biogas, something he wants to apply to his sister's work in the Congo.


Slide 15:(18 seconds)

But while everybody who visited us who got to know the potential of Biogas saw its application in tropical climates, we were all stuck when trying to figure out how to apply it on a household or community scale in the winter, in northern latitudes and in high altitudes, such as the mountainous areas of Africa where the chimpanzees and gorillas are going extinct because of deforestation, primarily for creating charcoal used for cooking and water heating.


Slide 16: (4 seconds)

So this is where Dr. Katey Walter’s piece of the collective puzzle fits in.


Slide 17:(4 seconds)

Katey has shown that the bacteria in her neck of the woods are active when all other bacteria are hibernating.


Slide 18: (10 seconds)

Retrofitting an abandoned container as a laboratory, Katey and I and her team spent January working with Alaskan science teacher Adam Low and his high school kids to create a biogas microbial laboratory where Katey is doing rigorous scientific research on how to make a better bacterial brew.


Slide 19: (9 seconds)

Rather than simply publish our results in obscure academic journals, however, we are communicating the results and plans for construction to other students, scientists and activists using multimedia and 3d digital modeling.


Slide 20:(15 seconds)

When local pizza restaurant owner Brian Wildrick and his team Todd Blaisdale and Stan, learned from us and the high school students about the technology for turning their kitchen garbage into fertilizer for their fresh tomatoes and fuel to heat the tomato sauce, we and the students built a system with them at Harborside Pizza, creating the first commercial application of the technology which they talk about on their facebook page.


Slide 21:(17 seconds)

But simply spreading the technology from an Alaskan High School to a pizza restaurant is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Katey and I decided that the real power of the Blackstone Ranch grant lay in using the social network of National Geographic Explorers as the community of catalysts whose homes and work sites could become the growth poles for this initiative. And through the digital Global Action Atlas the world community could observe and participate.


Slide 22: (6 seconds)

We used the Blackstone Grant to bring our Egyptian Solar CITIES colleague Hanna Fathy from the slums of Cairo to other African slums to share how he turns garbage into fuel...

Slide 25:(5 seconds)

and discussed with the local people how we might replace the charcoal that is destroying the forest with fuels derived from waste.


Slide 26:(7 seconds)

Then we began working with Beverly and Dereck Joubert who invited us to their home away from home in Kenya’s Great Plains conservation area


Slide 27: (7 seconds)

At Olo Dunyo Waas we worked together with the Masai to improve and build seven different kinds of biogas digestor, appropriate to the local conditions.


Slide 28: (2 seconds)

Some underground

Slide 29:(2 seconds)

Some out of shipping containers

Slide 30: (2 seconds)

Some out of brick

Slide 31:(2 seconds)

Some out of old oil drums.

Slide 32:(2 seconds)
Letting everybody try out their own pet idea or theory without being afraid to fail.


Slide 33:(12 seconds)
We were able to involve both local children and ecotourist children who might take the idea home to their country. In true crowd sourcing fashion it was the kids who helped us come up with the innovative idea of using plastic pipes as bacterial fuel rods


Slide 34:(4 seconds)

Which prepares a home to both cold loving and warm loving bacteria.


Slide 35:(10 seconds)

Working with kids brought out the circus clown and entertainer in me. For example, to show the men there is no shame in handling animal wastes (which is traditionally a woman’s job) we juggle cow dung before putting it in the digestor…
Then everybody was willing to get their hands dirty and pitch in.

(538) = 8.9 minutes

Slide 36:(9 seconds)

In Tanzania we went over to Grace Gobbo’s house and worked with her and the Jane Goodall Institute to build digestors in the villages around Gombe to help protect the chimpanzees.


Slide 37:(5 seconds (+ 2 minutes video)
Grace and the Children came up with this song, which they used to spread the news of the technology from village to village.


Slide 38:(12 seconds)

And then we took the show on the road sharing biogas videos and songs all over Burundi and Rwanda as we traveled through the countryside by bus, foot, boat and motorcycle to spread the good news that could help preserve the mountain gorillas and alleviate poverty and health risks.


Slide 39:(10 seconds + 1 minute video)

Again the children, ever curious and experimental, helped us: We found out from children in one village that there is tremendous heat in a compost pile that can be used to keep the biogas bacteria at a more productive temperature overnight, on cloudy days and even in the winter.


Slide 40:(7 seconds)

A few weeks ago we took the show on the road to Israel and Palestine to work with Beverly Goodman, who is planning to turn her new home into an eco-demonstration home.


Slide 41:(23 seconds)

On this trip we got a chance to go with the U.S. State Department and US Embassy into the West Bank and Ramallah to conduct environmental technology workshops and build a biodigestor with Engineers without Borders near Bethlehem at the Palestinian Wildlife Society. There they told us they would like to help solve the political crisis in Gaza by teaching fellow Palestinians to create a strong and peaceful green recycling economy independent of foreign aid. The day ended with an delightfully ironic stone throwing ceremony - throwing stones into the digestor to create safe homelands for the bacteria…


Slide 42:(5 seconds)

And an impromptu solar powered musical concert that ended with us donating the foldable solar panel to their eco-demonstration home.


Slide 43:(8 seconds)

Finally, we are now planning with Nathan Wolfe to bring biogas to the Congo to help in the work he does with UCLA's Dr. Anne Rimoin. Dr. Rimoin is conducting research into understanding and fighting dangerous diseases like AIDS and Ebola and this research requires refrigeration of vaccines, blood and medical samples in remote areas that have no electricity.


Slide 44:(10 seconds)

There we will adapt a technology Katey Walter showed us in Alaska for converting geothermal waste heat into refrigeration so that we can run medical sample and vaccine freezers in the Congo off of garbage fueled biogas. ( Katey Walter introduced us to the adsorption chiller technology developed by Bernie Carl at Chena Hot Springs in Alaska, and by modifying the concept at the Joubert's site in Kenya we are confident we can run medical refrigerators off of biogas -- what Nathan calls "waste to cold technology".)


Slide 45: 6 seconds + 2 minutes video)

And we will continue to share the results of all this work through song and multimedia that everyone can watch on youtube…

(633) + 120 = 753

13 minutes and 30 seconds

(You can see the full version of our melodic-mnemonic biogas song (6 minutes) here:)

(Photo: Presenters at the National Geographic 2009 Emerging Explorers Symposium)


Marcel said...


Great to see more of the story as it unfolds. Well done.


Unknown said...

Good work! Seems like you have been working around the world for some time now, keep it up.