Home Biogas system – a BIG step forward (part one)

We have been trying very hard to move away from using gas to sustain our daily life. We have historically used gas for running the fridge and for cooking and heating water on the gas stove. Recently we have upgraded our gas fridge to an electric fridge (solar powered) and now we are adding a biogas unit to the mix. This means that we will no longer have to buy gas bottles (yay!!), this is the final step away from using bottled gas.

Bottled gas or LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) is produced during oil refining and given the temporary nature of our supply of oil on this planet, we need to be looking at ways to move away from our reliance on it (not to mention the huge environmental cost of using it). LPG contains propane in Australia, in other countries LPG can be a mix of propane and butane.

Biogas captures methane and carbon dioxide (methane mostly) as a result of decomposition of organic matter. That is why the discovery of methane on Mars was such an exciting thing; where there are dead things there were once live things (usually, although not always and probably not in this case). I became interested in biogas many years ago (after watching an episode of The Good Life) and decided to work towards setting it up in our humpy. The idea that we could use our waste (of all descriptions) to generate some of our energy needs was very exciting.

The idea has been sitting on a dusty shelf at the back of my mind for years. Other, more attainable, goals have been on the work table of my mind. Six months ago (approximately) I stumbled upon a post advertising a biogas system designed for home use and the idea suddenly moved to the front of my mind again.

We eventually decided to go with a Home Biogas unit from Quality Solar and Plumbing

They are the only company selling these units in Australia and they are relatively close to us (only about three hours drive way). We saved up (in tiny increments) and finally, with a windfall of back pay, we ordered the unit. We also managed to add a toilet unit to the order. As soon as this unit is set up we can start to generate our own cooking gas (although the Year three student who lives in my head can’t help making jokes about cooking with farts).

As soon as the order was placed we realised we needed a site for the future toilet/gas generation unit. Then we need a shed or some kind of building to house the toilet and a pad for the gas unit to sit on.

A gratuitous ocean shot from our long journey to Mullumbimby to pick up our biogas system.

The first part of our biogas adventure was picking it up and touring a working unit while we were there. The very helpful Brian at Quality Solar and Plumbing gave us a tour of the biogas unit he has set up at his house.

This is the working unit. It was really exciting to see one working.
You put the food scraps or animal manure into the black pipe at this end…
and gas and fertiliser come out this end. How amazing is that?
This is the stove unit that comes with the kit. There is no smell at all to the gas and this burner obviously gets a lot of use.

We have our unit home. It is sitting in it’s two little boxes, waiting for us to make it a home and set up the toilet. I can’t wait to get it going.

The two boxes in the car constitute the entire kit. I was amazed at the small size of the whole thing and how light it was to haul around. It will be much heavier once the bottom of the digester is full of water.

The kit is supposed to include everything we need to put it all together. We will see…

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What we do to reduce our carbon footprint

We all want to reduce our carbon footprint…right?
Well when you live like we do here in our little humpy, the usual advice doesn’t always apply.
There are thousands of ‘Reduce your carbon footprint’ sites on the internet, mostly giving the same advice. Have a look at just a few;
Australian Museum
COTAP
Green Wiki
Mashable

In general the advice seems to be;
Reuse and Recycle what you can (already doing that)
Eat less red meat (I think once a week qualifies as less)
Drink tap water rather than bottled water (check)
Buy less and buy to last (That’s us all over)
Use less heating and cooling (no air conditioners here)
Use less electricity (ours is solar so it doesn’t apply)
Wash in cold water (There’s a hot water option?)
Don’t fly as much (We can’t reduce this; we don’t fly)
Don’t drive as much and use public transport (I don’t drive and go everywhere on the school bus)
Shop locally, especially fresh foods (Yep)
Grow some vegetables at home (Yep)

What do we do to reduce our carbon footprint?

We use solar power only, no grid electricity. We do use a generator once a week though.

We collect all our own water via a roof and tank system, we use very little fuel to pump the water up to a header tank to supply the house via gravity feed.

We don’t buy anything we don’t need and all our groceries come from the local Co- Op.

We have a vegetable garden, which could be better but I’m working on it.

I don’t drive, I go everywhere on the local school buses or car pool. My partner does have a car for work though.

We sort our rubbish carefully and reuse everything we can and recycle everything we can. Making eco bricks with soft drink bottles and plastic rubbish has been a big step forward in this area. So has our use of old tyres for construction materials.

Of this list there are one or two things we could do better;

My partner has a four wheel drive for work, it uses a LOT of fuel in the course of his working week; we do need to invest in a more fuel efficient vehicle so he can go about the countryside saving carbon (he installs solar electricity systems) AND producing less carbon. I wish there was a work horse type vehicle available in an electric option with a range greater than 200 km.

At the moment we use gas for refrigeration, I would like to change this to an electric fridge (and I dream of a freezer) but that will require double the solar panels we have now, a new set of batteries and maybe a new inverter (the thing that changes 12 Volt power to 240 Volt power).

We run our generator on petrol; it is used once a week for four hours to charge the batteries (just an extra boost) while I do the washing as the washing machine uses too much power to run on solar (although a bigger inverter would fix that problem). To get away from this fuel use we would need to either upgrade our inverter or build/buy a hand operated washing machine. I am swayed towards building a hand operated machine myself, but like all hand operated things it needs more time to do things that way. Maybe when I am finished studying….

What do you do to reduce your carbon footprint?
What else can we do to reduce ours? Ideas welcome.

Eco bricks; Making use of rubbish

Lately I have been thinking about rubbish; specifically the plastic and foil bits that seem to be wrapped around everything these days. We have no rubbish pick up here. No magic bin that mysteriously empties itself if I leave it by the road on a Tuesday night. We take our rubbish to the dump in the trailer and pay for the privilege of leaving it there (we also pay $150 a year to maintain the local dump on our rates). So I have started to think about ways to reduce our rubbish production.

We buy in bulk where we can and I send refillable containers to the local co-operative to be filled up with washing powder and detergent. Glass, recyclable plastic containers, aluminium and tin cans are taken to a recycling centre periodically. Food scraps, paper and cardboard are used in the chook pen for composting. That only leaves that annoying plastic; plastic wrap, Styrofoam trays, chip packets, chocolate wrappers and plastic bags. We commonly fill about one grain bag (20 litre size)  per week of non-recyclable plastic.

 I think I have found a solution at last;

Eco bricks. They have been used to build schools and houses in third world countries for a few years now and provide a handy way of getting rid of rubbish that would otherwise go into landfill.

Basically they involve stuffing clean plastic rubbish really tightly into PET bottles until they are full and hard, then put the cap back on. I have been making them for about two months now and have managed to produce about two a week. I never thought I would be thankful for my partner’s coca cola habit, but he manages to provide just enough bottles to keep up with the plastic we produce.

Step one; collect all the clean plastic rubbish you can (wash it if you have to)
Step two; using a stick or an old knitting needle, shove the plastic rubbish down into the bottle.

 Pack it down tight.

Keep filling until you can’t jam any more in, then put the cap back on.

Stock pile them somewhere and use them to build.

Beautiful buildings like this.

Maybe I will collect enough to build the toilet out of them…….

Is this idea too crazy?? Can I get the local council to approve? What do you think?