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holy shit!
August 16, 2010 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Energy shortages and poor sanitation are two of the most serious problems in refugee camps. Now engineers say they can solve both problems by harvesting energy from human excrement.

Refugee camps to use gas from human waste.
posted by Lutoslawski (35 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Have I mentioned recently how amazing the future is?
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:28 AM on August 16, 2010


We need to start building new homes with energy-harvesting toilets and solar panels as mandatory parts.

(Also: Enivronmental engineer Eckhard Kraft run Bartertown.)
posted by griphus at 11:32 AM on August 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this just a pig-free version of the plot to Beyond Thunderdome?
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:33 AM on August 16, 2010


There've been a few articles on biogas on the afrigadget blog lately, too, though the main fuel has been dung from livestock.
posted by jquinby at 11:33 AM on August 16, 2010


Have I mentioned recently how amazing the future is?

Yes, amazing.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:35 AM on August 16, 2010


Ay, more articles come from this search instead.
posted by jquinby at 11:38 AM on August 16, 2010


The future's pretty cool! Boom de yada, boom de yada, boom de yada, boom de yada.
posted by Gator at 11:39 AM on August 16, 2010


Does that mean that if a person increases their output of waste that they'll get more energy? If so, I see a whole new economy taking shape.
posted by nomadicink at 11:44 AM on August 16, 2010


We need to start building new homes with energy-harvesting toilets and solar panels as mandatory parts.

We could do a lot more than this, and do it a lot more cheaply, and could have done it long ago. Just putting south-facing windows in in colder climates and omitting them in warmer climates (in the northern hemisphere) for instance. Trombe walls. Very low-tech, ancient technologies that we not only seem to have forgotten but, judging from building codes, actively hate.
posted by DU at 11:45 AM on August 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Have I mentioned recently how amazing the future is?

I'm saving my gee-whizzery for the future that doesn't include refugee camps.
posted by rusty at 11:46 AM on August 16, 2010 [15 favorites]


We used to help families install these in the rural development programme I worked in. Bit high altitude where we were so low temperatures meant it wasn't as efficient as it could be but it's such a miraculous process - not just the fuel, the digested shite becomes great fertiliser that's safe, unlike the use of nightsoil where parasites etc. can be transmitted.
posted by Abiezer at 11:49 AM on August 16, 2010


i remember back during the CARTER ADMINISTRATION that there were quite a number of projects like this happening in engineering colleges all across the US. my BFFs dad was a professor at UPR-MAYAGUEZ, Puerto Rico's engineering school, and he would talk about the projects and even show us some of the blueprints of the work they were doing on campus.

and then RONALD REGAN happened.

the US would have been miles and miles ahead of the energy game had the republicans and their Saudi lined pockets hadn't destroyed funding for these sorts of projects across the US academic landscape.

Puerto Rico was supposed to create one of these plants and the minute the republicans took office the funding completely disappeared. and this was 30+ years ago!
posted by liza at 11:51 AM on August 16, 2010 [8 favorites]


This is pretty awesome, imo. It potentially solves a couple of very serious problems.

You kinda had to figure this would happen at some point, like the whole "eating insects for protein" thing. You just know we're gonna get there eventually ...
posted by mrgrimm at 11:55 AM on August 16, 2010


engineers say they can solve both problems by harvesting energy from human excrement.

And I'm still trying to make this silk purse from a sow's ear.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:59 AM on August 16, 2010


harvesting energy from human excrement

Hopefully they'll then compost the remaining waste and use it to teach the refugees to grow food.
posted by symbollocks at 12:10 PM on August 16, 2010


Hopefully they'll then compost the remaining waste and use it to teach the refugees to grow food.

Yes, I'm sure the problem is that the refugees don't know how to grow food.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:12 PM on August 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Corpses also generate a lot of gas.
posted by pracowity at 12:31 PM on August 16, 2010


That's why we need corporate leaders with revolutionary ideas like Vivoleum.
posted by benzenedream at 1:00 PM on August 16, 2010


Shit.

Golly!
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:01 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


it, uh, doesn't say how the conversion from poo to usable gas happens. is that some complex thing that will require a raft of engineers onsite, or is it possible to build the portable units, dispatch them, and let them be somewhat self-sustaining? (and if there was some time frame in there for when they expected this to materialize, i missed it.)
posted by msconduct at 1:15 PM on August 16, 2010


I'm saving my gee-whizzery for the future that doesn't include refugee camps.

That's okay, I save mine for plausible things.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:15 PM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


it, uh, doesn't say how the conversion from poo to usable gas happens.
This link has a diagram of a digester similar to the ones we used to install, which would be a lined pit, but I have seen versions made of moulded fibreglass (iirc) which could probably be rapidly deployed in a relief situation, quite apart from some more robust model specially designed for that.
posted by Abiezer at 1:44 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's actually pretty simple, msconduct. Essentially the machine is harvesting the fruits of a natural resource: the billions of tiny bacteria that exist all around us. The digester doesn't need moving parts or electricity in its simplest form, you just set it up, feed in the waste and water and let it go. The tricky part is probably making sure that everything stays sealed and there are no blockages or buildups in the wrong places, just like a human digestive system.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:56 PM on August 16, 2010


In other news, McDonald's today announced it's entrance into the distributed power generation market...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:14 PM on August 16, 2010


posted by ZenMasterThis In other news, McDonald's today announced it's entrance into the distributed power generation market.

In a related story, Southwestern Natural Gas has announced its new partnership with Taco Bell.
posted by mattdidthat at 3:19 PM on August 16, 2010


Ah, the Germans! "How lucky you English are to find the toilet so amusing. For us, it is a mundane and functional item. For you it is the basis of an entire culture."
posted by IndigoJones at 4:24 PM on August 16, 2010


This article had me thrilled until I read things more closely. These quotes jumped out at me:

"But so far, it has been difficult to raise the necessary funds to continue research and begin producing the units."

"In Kenya, engineers have started testing units at health clinics."

"Eckhard Kraft believes it is possible to make his methane extraction units safe. "

So they need to raise money to continue research on something that some engineers have started testing because another guy believes it will one day work. For some reason, I'm now a little skeptical of their tech. Here's hoping they figure it out, but I won't hold my breath.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 5:52 PM on August 16, 2010


and then RONALD REGAN happened

Ronald Reagan didn't just happen. He was elected by US voters who don't want to be told that an infinite expansion of consumption is impossible.
posted by pompomtom at 5:59 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


previous post about biogas
posted by various at 6:33 PM on August 16, 2010


You know that methane can be made with a simple (poo) digester using locally available materials, and this has been done in China and other places since at least the Sixties, right?
posted by sneebler at 6:53 PM on August 16, 2010


Poop. How does it work?
posted by Splunge at 7:27 PM on August 16, 2010


sneebler: "You know that methane can be made with a simple (poo) digester using locally available materials, and this has been done in China and other places since at least the Sixties, right?"

I've no idea to whom this question was directed, but, in case it was me, I wasn't questioning that methane could be produced from poop. My comments were regarding the fact that the issues of exactly how to accomplish that production in easily transportable, (relatively) self-contained units that are both safe to use and cost effective to manufacture remain, apparently, unresolved. The headline gives the impression that these issues have been conquered. The article says otherwise. Also, it appears that the Norwegians know a few things about this as well.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 7:41 PM on August 16, 2010


If this is such a great idea, how come the technology is only being used on refugees? Makes me think of the scene in the 'Yes Men' film, where they pretend McDonalds is going to recycle human waste and sell it as food to the third world to solve the problems of starvation.
posted by BobsterLobster at 11:21 PM on August 16, 2010


engineers say they can solve both problems by harvesting energy from human excrement

Actually, they can solve three problems at once. By installing Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh on site they can create a virtually limitless supply of energy, second only to the sun itself, and spare the rest of us from having to hear about them.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:34 AM on August 17, 2010


For some reason, I'm now a little skeptical of their tech. Here's hoping they figure it out, but I won't hold my breath.

It's pretty common (and old) tech that certainly works (many wastewater treatment plants have generation facilities), the question would be whether it's economical to build/install the generating infrastructure rather than bringing in some other fuel source.
posted by electroboy at 7:43 AM on August 17, 2010


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