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Food, Waste, and Fuel

A project log for The Village

Long term project to build an entire village using sustainable technology and traditional methods.

DustinDustin 01/01/2022 at 02:050 Comments

A Quick Word About This Log

With my new job comes tons of extra time to work on projects and the documentation of projects. One of the biggest ones on my list is a YouTube channel I'm working on, where these projects will be documented. It's quite barren now, but will start to fill up shortly. I'm making this channel to explore my deep passion for film making and silliness. It can be found Here. Opens in a new tab. The main reason I mention this is because I plan to use my logs here as base scripts for future videos, so they will be written with video production in mind from this point forward. I'll keep them free from production notes on here, but I want an easy way to get information for upcoming scripts. I'm still short on some basic equipment and workable scripts, but it's slowly coming along. This log is the very first video production minded log I'm writing as I just had the idea today. I'm hoping that doing this will force me to keep things more interesting and fun as I work on projects. I know many of my logs are very info dense, which makes for long reads, but great videos for the kinds of people I relate best to, which is my target audience. My main inspiration for doing this, and the voice in my head these days, is Robert Dunn over on Aging Wheels and Under Dunn, which are car and woodworking channels, respectively. Much thanks to him for sharing my own sense of humor, work ethic, and love of the ridiculous. I've been rather depressed up until recently when I decided to just start taking myself, my projects, and my video production seriously. That's the big change here, and for all future projects, and I hope you find them more enjoyable. I'm also trying to be less lazy and format these logs in a more useable and enjoyable manner. 

And Onto The Actual Log

If I could only study a single thing for the rest of my life, I think it would have to be energy. I could cheat and say "science", but that's not as fun or easy to talk about. With the end goal of a fully self sustaining village in mind, energy production and storage is vital. It is possible to live with very little modern systems, much like the Amish do around here, but I want to enjoy what I've built as fast and long as possible. This means modern tools, methods, and energy. There are many different options for both energy generation and storage, but not all will be viable. I've been exploring various options and have decided on a system that will produce energy, recycle organic waste, and create chemical energy in the way of food production for the various people and creatures. 

The heart of this system is the simple biodigestor. It takes water and organic matter, breaks it down into a few useful things which can be made into various fuel sources. It can produce methane gas for burning, a disposal option for sewage and waste, very high quality liquid fertilizer, and money. The last one comes from burning methane to power a printing press that would print the money. Not really on the last one. That's just a lazy joke I threw in. The fertilizer can be sold for a profit, assuming it isn't needed to make food for the village. The food could also be sold. Heck, the methane could be sold if needed as well. I could even just sell the whole system and have all the money. Then I'd freeze and starve to death, so I might not go that route. Maybe I could sell extra systems and help other people not die when the power grid and such goes down for whatever reason. Many possibilities. 

How It Works

The biodigestor works by using bacteria, underwater, to eat up and fart out food and poop waste. Their farts can be burned right away to do stuff like heat your coffee or heat the water to scrub butts. It can also be compressed into standard propane tanks and you can take the concentrated farts with you as needed. When the waste breaks down under water, it does so in an anaerobic environment, meaning there is no oxygen. This is what causes methane to be produced, instead of other gasses. The bacteria need to be introduced from an initial source such as cow manure or even rabbit manure. Human waste does not seem to contain much, if any of the proper bacteria. It can be broken down after the system is established, which is important for this project. 

once the system is established, organic waste goes in, useful methane gas bubbles out of the top, liquid fertilizer is displaced, and the cycle repeats as long as proper conditions are met. The mixture needs to be kept fairly warm at over 80 degrees Fahrenheit or so, which will consume energy outside of the warmer months. Outside of these ideals warm days, and once established, gas could be diverted to heat the tank directly, creating a self sustaining system. Poop goes in, compressible gas comes out for burning, liquid fertilizer comes out for growing crops or selling. It's quite an elegant system for something so crude in nature.

Uses for Gas


Heating

In The Village, gas will be used for many different things. Mostly heat and light. I intend to construct buildings that don't require much, if any active heating in cooler months, but that may only keep the living spaces livable, not comfortable. On top of direct solar and wood, methane will be used as an extra heat source if enough is generated. The distribution system for the compressed gas is still being researched, but I do plan to implement one. For heat, either modern furnaces will be converted and used, or something custom made up. One option I've been considering is to heat large quantities of water and do in floor heating per building. The thermal mass of the water will help buffer against temperature changes, and the distribution of hot water will make for a practical and comfortable living space. I don't have too much else to say on this matter at the moment, as it's a rather simple idea: burn the gas for heat, be less cold. 

Lighting

In regards to lighting, I'm very interested in gas lighting in all buildings and even outside in common areas such as roads and the town square. Gas lighting isn't as bright, consistent, or efficient as electric lighting, but it is magical. With the scale of system I'm considering, I may end up with an excess of gas that would need to be burned off safely. Lighting the streets would be a good way to do this. A wireless mesh of smart devices, such as those using Z Wave could be used to control each lantern as well, eliminating the need for someone to walk around and light or extinguish the lanterns. Gas lamps indoors may also be possible, but research is needed to comfort it will not create possible health risks. Having a gas lighting system would excellent if the power goes out as well.

Mechanical Energy Storage

Mechanical energy storage can take many forms. The one I'm most interested in lately is that of compressed air. I've been fascinated with it for a very long time and want to thoroughly explore the possibilities in the near future. 
Compressors will be a vital part of the energy system as they can be run from multiple sources, reducing the load on the electrical system. I've seen Amish workshops that run entirely off of compressed air, which is generated by wind turbines. I plan on installing compressed air in every structure that could use it, and providing a good wind driven compressor for each structure. This has nothing to do with the biogas system, but I'll get to that in a minute. Devices like large tools, electrical generators, ceiling fans, and various hand tools can be run with no energy required from other storage systems. Air power is simple, cheap, and effective. Another good use for it is feeding a forge blower, which I plan to do at some point as I love forging iron. Water pumps could be run from compressed air as well. Nearly anything could be done with compressed air if needed. This is what makes compressors so important. They afford cheap, reliable energy storage that can be converted into nearly any other energy form needed, including gravity storage in the form of pumped hydro storage. There will be many compressors required, likely scattered about the property. Normally they run on electricity. This is fine, but storing electricity can get expensive quite quickly, which would slow down the building of The Village by consuming resources very quickly. There is an easy way to use biogas to run air compressors though, and one I've seen done already: internal combustion engines. Specifically those powered by gasoline. A normal gasoline engine can be run on compressed biogas. I'm not sure for how long, or how efficiently, but I know it can be done. Now I could just use a small gas engine to turn a belt connected to an air compressor, but that's boring. Another method that I really enjoy is to take a standard engine, say a V8, and turn half the cylinders into air compressors. This works by taking away fuel and spark from those cylinders, and messing with the valves a bit to get it to pump out compressed air. I've not done proper research, but I have seen this in action personally many years ago. A few seconds of thinking has led me to a theory as to how I could do this. In a pinch, I'd take out the camshaft and grind off the lobes for the intake and exhaust valves for the cylinders I want to compress air, so they no longer open. Then I'd remove the spark plug and thread in something that could be converted to standard air fittings. I'd put a tee fitting on the end, with one way check valves on each end. They'd be opposite each other. When the piston would go down, it would suck air in from through the spark plug hole through the check valve that allows air to go in. When the piston goes up, it would close this intake check valve, forcing the air out of the other check valve and into an air tank. Once the piston went back down, it would close the output valve and start the cycle again. I could just use the intake valve in the cylinder head as an intake valve, but that would allow the air and fuel mixture to be sucked in and compressed. Having a flammable gas mixture sent out to a tool that grinds metal could be very bad. It would also make maintenance on the air valves difficult as they're inside the cylinder head and require shutting down the entire system for upgrades, modifications, and maintenance. This will also allow me to feed whatever I'd like into the intake, whether it be air, or even biogas. Feeding biogas into each of the cylinders would let me compress it into storage tanks. The end result would be an old engine that both runs off biogas and compresses it at the same time. Using an engine as a compressor offers some theoretical advantages over using standard air compressors. While compressors are designed to compress air, they do so on a smaller scale, and are often less robust than an engine. An engine is essentially an air pump that's meant to run very hard, hot, and for sustained periods of time. They're also designed to be fully rebuilt as needed. I could go to any decent auto parts store and get parts for a Chevy 350 V8 as needed and fully rebuild a compressor unit. Finding parts for various air compressors might not be as easy. The significant cooling system on an engine will also help the compressor live a longer service life and enable nearly infinite run time. Compressors get incredibly hot, which can reduce life through extra wear on mechanical components. Having something that's designed to dissipate massive quantities of heat, in a closed system, is an added bonus. The radiators for the compressor engines could be located wherever they're needed. This would allow them to heat, or not heat, whatever space they're in. If I have a dedicated compressor building that doesn't need heated, the hot engine coolant could be pumped elsewhere to large radiators in areas that need heat, such as living spaces. The waste heat could also be used to heat water or thermal mass of various types. With this in mind, placing the compressor building either near, or attached to the pool house would enable the waste heat to heat a swimming pool, hot tub, saunas, and steam rooms. Areas that require significant amounts of energy to heat, right next to equipment that generates significant amounts of waste heat. The compressed air from the pumps could also be used to run ventilation fans and electrical generators for the bath house as well. With that thought, I suspect I've covered compressors quite thoroughly, though they will play a part in other systems to be mentioned shortly.

Food Production

So far we've covered how it works, using biogas for heating, and biogas for mechanical energy storage in the form of compressed air, and compressed biogas. The next use for the biodigestor is the concentrated liquid fertilizer that results from the break down of organic matter. Technically, this is energy stored in the form of chemical energy. The energy stored in the liquid will be used to grow plants, which will store energy within their structures and edible parts. Us living creatures will consume the energy in the edible parts of these plants, which we will use to not die, and to do useful work, like hitting unsuspecting people with Dad jokes or building liveable structures. The plants will be grown until they are no longer useful, then put back into the biodigestor, turned to compost, or fed to animals. They will not be wasted. The plan is to use the liquid fertilizer as the base for a hydroponic system, eliminating the need for most traditional gardening headaches, such as pulling weeds and unintentionally inhaling various flying insects. There are many ways to build a hydroponic system, but I think I'll start with large containers of still liquid, and oxygenate it using compressed air. Any guesses where the compressed air might come from? Most likely from the large compressors in the pump house, as the essential structures will likely be constructed around the biodigestor. Otherwise, small electric pumps could be used, or a wind turbine could also be used. Either way, the liquid will need to be agitated constantly, so a reliable energy source will be needed. Aside from the liquid and compressed air, not much else is needed for the plants. A comfortable temperature will need to be maintained, but this should be fairly straight forward using a proper greenhouse, waste heat from the pump house, biogas heaters, and geothermal. All can be combined to ensure a comfortable living space for the main food crops. This system will need to be scaled up over time, so proper planning must be done to ensure the biodigestor and greenhouses can grow as the population grows. I'm not planning to build a massive village, but producing a large excess of resources, assuming it isn't detrimental to the environment, is very beneficial. I'll cover income generation in more detail at some later point. Being able to sell fertilizer, crops, fuel, and even rent out spaces powered by the system, will only help The Village grow over time and make good use of excess resources. 

Transportation

All of the uses for biodigestor byproducts have either been stationary, or made portable but to power stationary equipment. I've already established that internal combustion engines can run on biogas, but haven't mentioned to what end yet. The end goal is actually to produce my own fuel for vehicles and do useful work with them. A carbureted engine can be run on compressed biogas with little modification, in theory. I've not personally tested it, but am working on plans to do so. Those plans consist of getting an old engine rebuilt and running on a stationary stand and doing thorough testing. After that, large tanks will be fitted to a truck and used for transportation and work around the property. The forklift I use at work runs on compressed natural gas, which is similar to compressed biogas. The poor thing has over 110,000 hours on it or so, which tells me the system can be reliable. Being able to produce one's own fuel for transportation is not very common as far as I can tell, but would eliminate dependence on fuel sources that will be getting more expensive and scarce as time goes on. Electric vehicles are excellent these days, but they're often incredibly expensive, heavy, and require very large and expensive electrical systems to charge at a reasonable rate. Having driven a Tesla for a year or so, I've got a good understanding of what it entails to run one. Biogas has the potential to make a decent fuel source for older vehicles, which are also very robust and easy to maintain. They may not be very modern, safe, or efficient, but they can be updated and made safer. My truck restoration is going to be a test for the viability of biogas as a fuel source for a full sized vehicle. If this proves successful, biogas may end up being a very viable and sustainable fuel source for the foreseeable future. Outside of a fart powered grocery getter, biogas could be used to fuel things such as small off road vehicles, small tractors, motorcycles, and all manner of horseless carriages. Much research and testing is needed in this area, and the laws may prevent the vehicles from ever hitting the roads, but a homemade fuel source for various vehicles could go a long way in building a self sustaining lifestyle where things actually get done. 

Feeding The System

In a system fueled by poop and food scraps, it shouldn't be too difficult to find things to shovel into it. Starting off with just myself might be a problem if I don't manage my energy consumption carefully. Without proper planning and management, the system might not even generate enough gas to heat it's own tank, allowing the system to stop working. To combat this, I plan to get a few animals fairly early on to help me fuel the system and get other things done. I might start with rabbits as they produce good manure for starting a biodigestor, are good at recycling plant and food scraps, can be sold, and can be used for meat and fur. They're also adorable. I'm not big into harvesting animals for food as it makes me very sad, but I will have to at some point. I've made rabbit jerky and stew before and it was excellent. Having them supply the bacteria needed to start the process is an added bonus. As things scale up, larger animals such as goats, pigs, and sheep will be brought in. They all produce meat for food, fat for soap, and the goats can produce milk. Sheep produce excellent wool as well. They all produce waste that will be used to generate fuel. I'll be turning animals into fuel, essentially. As more people join The Village, I'll need to start collecting human waste for the system, if possible. This is a tricky system as human waste can cause serious health problems if not dealt with properly. I'll likely start with temporary composting toilets until testing is complete with human waste in the biodigestor. Between food scraps, plant waste, and human and animal waste, the biodigestor should be kept running indefinitely, producing various fuel sources to help sustain the entire Village indefinitely. Having decided the main fuel source for The Village, planning can move forward on areas such as the overall layout of all the buildings, infrastructure design, and various energy systems. It's a very large and complex system, but one I feel worth working on until it's complete. The end goal is too wonderful not to strive for. Especially when I could tell people I own fart powered village. 

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