Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mercy College Environmental Psychology Lecture 4: DIY Sustainability Technologies

 Here is our video lecture for week 4:

 Here is the text:

 Video Transcript:

Greetings! Those of you who are watching this from New York have just been through a terrible environmental crisis – the disastrous impact of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast of the United States – and many of you are still living through the difficulties of its aftermath.

When a disaster like this hits, even those who are lucky enough to be spared immediate damage are often impacted by the damage done to your local infrastructure. The chief problems are usually connected with a sudden loss of electric power. Since so many of the technologies we depend on themselves depend on electricity, losing power can affect everything from refrigeration to space heating, hot water, cooking, pumping gas and even flushing the toilet. Most of us are dependent on electricity from 'the grid', supplied by the municipality, and this dependence can put us in a bad situation when a disaster makes it difficult for centralized power companies to bring all of their customers back on line.

Disasters can also knock out gas lines and break water pipes, stop delivery of food and other much needed materials and cause break downs in waste removal services so that sewage and garbage start creating nuisances and even the threat of serious diseases.

Fortunately there are solutions to all these problems that almost anybody can implement. Alternatives to electric appliances abound, and for devices that do need electricity there turn out to be an enormous range of technologies available for producing your own electricity.

The real problem associated with long-term coping with the effects of disasters is that we are almost all connected to what we call de-centralized forms of energy, water and waste disposal services. We rely on just a few large power plants, a few main water reservoirs and purification plants, just a few gas suppliers and a handful of water treatment plants, landfills and garbage trucking services. When there is a breakdown in services in just a few areas millions of customers are affected. After a disaster like Hurricane Sandy our electric cables and water and sewer pipes and our roads and highways all become what I call "bridges to nowhere".

But what if we could decentralize all this? What if we could provide every home and community with just enough sustainable energy, water, food and waste disposal services that nobody whose property wasn't directly destroyed by the disaster would be in the dark and nobody would be without heat, water, food and the ability to dispose of dangerous wastes?

Does this sound like a fantasy? Actually it is a fairly easy to implement reality and one known by communities all over the world. In fact it is so easy to create such a system that if you were one of the people whose home or business was spared the destruction of the hurricane but whose life was still affected because of the blackouts and shortages and service disruptions, you should get mad. Very mad. Because all of that suffering was completely un-necessary.

In this week's lecture for our Mercy College Environmental Psychology class I would like to explore what my experiences over the past few decades in sustainable development has taught me about existing technologies that can help us cope with the aftermath of environmental and economic crises and maintain a dignified quality of life while the larger system is being repaired. I've listed technology elements in what my experience has suggested is the best order of priority based on ease of set up and use.

So here they are --  the top environmental technologies that anybody can create and install in your own home and community.

'''A. Water Purification'''

Rationale: A human being can only survive a few days without clean fresh water so in any program aimed at sharing ideas for a better life dealing with water should probably come first. In arid countries or during droughts, on the one hand, and in the aftermath of water contaminating hurricanes or floods on the other, clean potable water has particular value and simple technologies to purify it are paramount.

'''DIY Technologies: The Schmutzdecke Slow Sand Filter'''

There are some simple but effective technologies for cleaning dirty fresh water; in Egypt my mentor Professor Salah Arafa proved that in emergency situations exposure to strong sunlight in a plastic water bottle for 5 hours could kill most if not all pathogens in a water supply.

Additionally, relief workers in Afghanistan have shown the effectiveness of low cost 'Schmutzdecke Slow Sand Filters'. The name comes from the German word for "dirt-layer" and the technology, which we can build and demonstrate anywhere, calls for a barrel with at least 70 cm of fine sand and a standing layer of water 20 cm above it that gets inoculated with local bacteria, protozoans, algae and other micro-life forms which, over a three week period, set up a microcosmic ecosystem. This “schmutzdecke' predates on any pathogenic organisms in dirty water that is slowly trickled into the vessel, and the subsequent passage of that water through the ionic surfaces of the sand in the filter captures any residual bacteria that might be present. What results is a fairly clean and usable water source.

A recent study of the effectiveness of Biological Slow Sand Filters in Haiti had this to say in its conclusion:

"The Biosand Filters effectiveness in removing microbial pathogens from the water was based on the E. coli colony counts from the effluent. Eighty percent of the water out of the BSF had zero colonies in the sample, 17% tested between 1 and 10 colonies, while 3% were over 10 (cfu/100mL). Bacterial removal in the filter averaged 98.5% overall (n=92)."


We could prepare several schmutzdecke filters in our workshop for less than $200 (including water pump) and demonstrate their construction and benefits; because it takes three weeks for the microbiome to be established, production of high quality water could not be demonstrated while I was there, but in follow up discussions over the ensuing months we could monitor the progress.

'''Professional Technologies: The Life Saver Water Bottle and Jerry Can'''

"Life Saver Water Technology" is a new nanotechnology based filtration system that requires on ly hand pumping to produce pure water from any contaminated source. It is being used in Haiti as the principle way of saving lives in clean water scarce regions. Rather than shipping in expensive bottled water, relief organization simply ship in the bottles which can purify up to 6000 liters each before a cartridge must be replaced. The marginal cost per liter of purified water drops to .03 Cents.

You can see a demonstration of it by the inventor at a TED talk here:

One LIFESAVER® Jerrycan can provide enough safe drinking water for a family of 4 for up to 5 years.

'''1, Life Saver Water Bottle'''

1. Life Saver Water Bottle

Technical specs:

Cost: $249

I suggest we get at least two for demonstration and demonstrate it as in the TED talk referenced above.

'''2. Life Saver Jerry Can'''

The Jerry Can version takes about 20 liters of contaminated water and can be used up to 10,000 liters before the cartridge must be replaced. This is a great technology for areas where wells have become contaminated. When I was a child my father, as a journalist traveling to the north of Iraq through a parched region, was so thirsty that he didn't heed the advice of his Iraqi companions and ingested water from a dirty well. He contracted Giardia amoebic dysentary that took a long time to treat. With the Life Saver Jerry Can that well could now be used as a safe source of drinking water.

I would bring in at least two of these as well for demonstration.

Cost: $549.00

'''3. Treadle Pump: An effective human powered water pump'''

Often potable or useful water exists (sometimes in underground wells or aquifers, sometimes in rivers, lakes or storage tanks) but cannot be accessed because there is no power. Paul Polack, author of "Out of Poverty" and his group at IDE ( designed what is known as the "Treadle Pump", a simple device that is like a stair master that one treads on using the leg muscles to pump water considerable distances. They are used all over Africa and there are several local manufacturers. We built one for training in Nigeria using PVC pipe and wood and they can be locally made for less than $200.

Here is a music video I made to teach how to build them in Nigeria

We built them from these plans:

'''B. LED lighting'''

When I worked for the Roseville Electric Company in California with DiMassa Utility Consulting, producing public service announcements about energy conservation and renewables, we broadcast the saying, “You can't change people. But you ''can ''change their light bulbs."

This slogan was combined with the phrases, "Incandescent bulbs are heaters that give off light, while compact fluorescent and LED bulbs are lights that give off little heat."

Our job was to inform the public that it would be difficult to rely on renewable energy so long as we were using grossly inefficient and outdated technologies like incandescent , halogen, and even sodium and mercury vapor pressure lamps. The new energy efficient bulbs used between 70% and 90% less energy. Once a customer had switched to new lighting it was easy to supply enough electricity to the home or business without any loss of utility or comfort.

For this reason the first thing we did to protect consumers from power shortages and outages was to encourage them to replace all of their light bulbs. One could easily satisfy an entire household's lighting needs with a 200 Watt solar panel once they were using CFL's and if they switched to LEDs a mere 100 Watt panel would suffice. The energy savings were tremendous. On the other hand, customers who stayed with incandescent lighting were often discouraged by the cost of solar electricity because they needed as much as 5 to 7 times the number of panels just to satisfy their lighting needs.

Now that both CFLs and LEDs are available in warm glow color temperatures (3200 K as opposed to 5700 K for example) and in all sizes and for all fixtures, there is no reason to waste energy just to provide light and no reason for anybody to be ever plunged into darkness when municipal power goes out. Even a battery backup charged by the grid (a UPS or Universal Power Supply) can continue to keep a house lit for a day or two when the grid goes down.

We would demonstrate the latest lighting technologies in our Sustainable Systems Kit and explain their pros and cons and use, and demonstrate how to keep the lights on at all times though their use with a battery backup.

Cost: $13 per bulb, demonstrating of 6 different bulbs = $78, plus fixtures and plugs = $30, plus UPS battery backup $100.

'''C. Tri-Fuel Generator'''

Rationale: We must be sensitive to the experience and concerns of people in disaster situations who have been dealing with power outages . As Dhia Baiee at the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology, whom I will be conducting a workshop with this spring says, "With 200 to 300 USD Iraqi people would prefer buying small Chinese generator which generate electrical power for different purposes instead off building a 200 watt solar panel even though it is noisy, pollutant, and has a very short live and needs maintenance more frequently. This is how most Iraqis think nowadays."

Indeed this is how most people around the world think. We experienced this in Nigeria and Kenya as well. To tackle this in a sustainable way we can take our cue from our colleagues in Kenya who run their generators off of three different fuels – biogas which they produce themselves from kitchen scraps and human and animal manures, propane or methane from bottles that they purchase at a very low price (the same bottles as used for cooking and water heating) and, as a last resort, gasoline.

Converting any 4 stroke engine to run on biogas or natural gas or propane is a simple matter that takes as little as 20 minutes and can be demonstrated in our workshop. It doesn't alter the engine – it involves a simple bolt on Tri-fuel adaptor kit that then makes the generator into a hybrid that can use gaseous fuels as well as petrol with the simple flick of a valve. I've made several of these "conversions" and they are very reliable. We can convert a small (6.5 hp) engine and a larger genset (11 HP) showing that this is a preferred option for all users of generators giving complete flexibility of fuel choice when there are shortages of any single fuel. The generators themselves can come from the local market; eventually the adapters could be manufactured by local communities themselves as they are quite simple.

Materials needed:

Standard 4 stroke gen-set, between 2 and 5 KW (household sizes 6.5 HP and 11 HP).

Generator costs: Dependent on market but roughly $200 for the smaller and $300 for the larger 

Tri-fuel adaptor kit.

Generator Cost: See local market prices but somewhere around $300

Kit cost: $200 (I recommend two kits, one for each sized generator, to show the range of possibilities = $400).

'''D. Biogas systems: 'From effluents to affluence'.'''

The slogan "From Effluents to Affluents" comes from US Embassy official Frank Finver in Baghdad who has seen the effects of a similar program of "trainer of trainers" that we worked on together in Palestine and Israel. Biogas systems take waste materials – effluents from kitchens, cafeterias, animal stalls, toilets, slaughterhouses, food processing factories etc. - and turn them into value added products (combustible methane for transportation, nutrient rich soil amendments, heat and electricity). They are simple to construct and operate and require very little maintenance and far from creating any hazards or pollutants they solve many pollution and contamination problems.

We like to put Biogas Digesters at the center of our systems integration efforts because they provide the only truly inexhaustible source of solar energy for use 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, come rain or shine, light or dark, hot or cold. Their products are infinitely storable (CH4 and nutrient rich solutions) and have a useful lifetime that exceeds the time we humans have been on earth. It is the only technology available to all human communities everywhere without the need to import any extrinsic materials and the only technology that can be created in areas ranging from the most primitive to the most advanced since it simply relies on some kind of storage, ubiquitous waste materials that no living community can ever run out of and bacteria found in our own guts and those of any animal. Around a working biogas system providing base line energy and nutrients for food production one can then build up other systems – solar, wind, geothermal, fuel cell, tidal or wave power, mirohydro etc., but whenever any of those other systems experiences a shortage or problem, biogas will keep on producing.

We consider biogas systems the "low-hanging" fruit in any sustainability effort. They may not be the most well-known but they are certainly the simplest and most effective of all environmental improvement technologies. Biogas digestors provide the "biggest bang for the development buck" so to speak. They can be constructed out of local materials everywhere in the world and can be scaled down or up in size depending on the application. Effective and useful biodigestors can be built very inexpensively with low tech materials so they can be considered an 'appropriate technology'  appropriate for rural villages and urban high rises, appropriate for placement in basements, on porches and roofs, in backyards, in homes and gardens, in schools and institutions, appropriate for the poor and the rich and everyone in between. Following the lead of countries like Germany and Sweden they can also be built at a high technical level, as part of a distributed network of energy and fertilizer production and as part of regional CHP (Combined heat and power) programs and district heating and lighting.

Biodigestors produce methane gas that can be used locally, in homes and institutional kitchens for smoke-free cooking, to heat bathing water or for space heating, or to run gas refrigeration or lighting. It can also be used locally to generate electricity through simple conversions of existing gensets. Compressed, it can be used to run automobiles, buses and trucks.

Biogas from larger installations can be integrated into the existing natural gas grid infrastructure or, as in Germany, used to generate electricity and hot water that are fed into the national electric and hot water grids, all while producing a valuable and saleable fertilizer end product.

Biogas disgesters are basically just sealed tanks of water filled initially with animal manure. Once they start producing flammable methane they can be fed almost any organic material to continue producing useful gas and fertilizer indefinitely. Ground up food scraps from kitchen garbage turns out to be the simplest and most energy rich feedstock and use of cafeteria and kitchen waste not only solves energy problems reliably as the garbage is transformed into a non-polluting odor free gas, it also eliminates dangerous waste management, health and pollution problems.

There are many designs on the market today and once workshop participants understand the basic engineering and operation of a simple biogas system they can go on to create ever more sophisticated and powerful systems; biogas engineers in America, Europe and Africa, for example, have transformed waste water treatment plants into sources of municipal electricity and heat and suppliers of transportation fuel and they have transformed household septic tanks into biodigestors that turn not just kitchen wastes but toilet wastes as well into reliable sources of energy and soil amendment.

Our proposal for a hands on Mercy Sustainability Center is to start by demonstrating how easy it is to build two low cost systems made from local materials, and then provide instruction for how to use two professional systems that can be scaled up.

'''1. Hand-made  systems'''

'''a. ARTI India Floating Drum type made from local water tanks.'''

'''b. Solar CITIES sealed digestor from recycled IBC tank.'''

The ARTI India systems, invented by Anand Karve of the Appropriate Rural Technology Institute in Pune, make use of two fairly low cost Polypropylene water tanks – a 2000 liter tank with its top cut off for the base digestor and a 1800 liter tank with holes cut into its top and inverted into the 2000 liter tank acting as a floating drum gas collector. A feed pipe goes to the bottom of the base tank and a fertilizer oveflow pipe comes out the top rim of the base tank. A small valved pipe at the highest point of the gas collector tank carries gas to the kitchen stove or generator. Bricks or other weights can be placed on top of the gas collector to push the gas to distant locations if necessary.

We've built these systems and trained people in their construction in the slums of Cairo, and Nairobi, at universities and schools in Jerusalem and Palestine and in rural areas in the Middle East and Africa.

The cost depends entirely on the market prices of water tanks and plumbing supplies. In areas where these can be obtained cheaply, like Cairo, a simple 4 to 6 person family system producing approximately 2 hours of cooking gas every day from the previous days kitchen garbage can be built for as little as $200. In more remote areas the costs increase as tank prices and transport costs increase. We've never had to spend more than $750 on a system however.

To add to the reliability of the systems and make it possible to use them in cold climates or indoors, Solar CITIES has developed a version that uses the ubiquitous 1000 liter IBC Tote tanks that are shipped around the world on pallets. We buy these recycled for about $125 dollars in most places and have built them in the Middle East and Africa as well as the US, Alaska, Germany, Hungary and Slovakia – the materials are found everywhere in the world.

In many cases the materials to build both the ARTI and Solar CITIES IBC systems can be obtained free of charge. Since all the parts can be sourced locally this is the most effective of all technologies for solving energy, waste, water and fertilizer challenges.

We like to demonstrate how the Solar CITIES and ARTI systems function together, with the insulated IBC producing the bulk of the gas and the open air ARTI system both producing and storing the gas from both tanks for use. This way the system can work all year round.

Total cost: $200 to $750 dollars

'''2. Professional Market Ready Systems:'''

While India may be the leader in home scale biogas system (often called "Gobar Gas" , with many urban markets selling various designs and sizes in addition to a robust do-it-yourself household biogas market, and while Nepal can be credited as having one of the most robust government sponsored rural biogas programs (seconded perhaps by Rwanda), China, also a key player in the household scale biogas market, is without doubt the leader in market ready institutional sized biogas systems. When we were in the Philippines we introduced two of their products to the government and NGO world there and we would like to introduce these systems to Mercy College as well:

'''a. Puxin 2.5m3 fiberglass system for single family '''

'''b. Puxin 10m3 steel mold multi-family, community or institutional system for use with local cement'''

The single family fiberglass biogas system produces 3 to 4 hours of cooking gas a day from kitchen wastes like the do it yourself systems, but it comes prefabricated and can be set up in less than a half an hour. It resembles a typical septic tank but has been modified to accommodate daily feeding of any organic wastes and comes with a balance of system for capturing the gas (a large storage bag)

'''3. Food waste grinder as key technological component'''

Since a biogas digester is basically an artificial "sacred cow" producing the same methane and fertilizer that a cow does when it eats, the best way to maximize the efficiency of a biogas digester is through "biomimicry". What cows and other animals have that enables them to digest food and produce gases and fertilizer is jaws and teeth which break food down to a size where it can be rapidly decomposed, hydrolyzed and fermented by the bacteria in the stomach and intestines.

In countries like India and Kenya and Tanzania people often run biodigesters by breaking the food wastes down by hand (in India women will put food waste into a pail of water in the sun and let it soften and then crush it with their hands and then pour it into the digester; in Tanzania they will put the food waste in a large wooden mortar and pestle used to pound and grind cassava and will smash it with water and then pour it in the digestor).

We have found dramatic improvements in the rate and quantity of gas production using so-called "garbage disposals" or "food-waste grinders" such as the Insinkerator brand waste disposal machine. Retailing for between $90 and $500 depending on grind strength, these machines, now dubbed "feedstock preparation devices", can grind up literally all a household's organic waste, from corn cobs to fish bones and chicken bones and beef bones, and turn it into a slurry that then can turn into combustible biogas in as little as 24 hours. The food scrap grinders use very little electricity (300 Watts for about 5 or 10 minutes a day) and can be powered with a fraction of the energy the biogas they help produce creates (from a family of 4 to 6 people enough gas is produced from their garbage each day to run a generator for 45 minutes on average; we can sacrifice 5 to 10 minutes for powering the grinder and still have a substantial net energy gain.). The grinders also consume very little water and used dish washing water can be used so there is no net water loss. Since the slurry that comes out of the biodigester is a great liquid fertilizer, using dish washing water to run the insinkerator or other food grinder actually turns it into nutrients for irrigation of garden or farm, increasing the sustainability of homes in arid regions.

Cost of food grinder: We would use two for demonstration, a $200 model and a $400 model, to show the different feedstocks they can accommodate.

'''E. Solar Thermal Water Heating Technologies:'''

Solar hot water heaters are another one of the "low hanging fruit". In fact we started our work in the slums of Darb Al Ahmar, Cairo and the informal Zabaleen communities of Manshiyet Nasser, Cairo, inventing ways with the local community craftspeople to make our own low cost solar hot water heaters because it was so simple and effective. Once we had traveled to India and learned how to make biogas digesters we shifted our focus because the biogas systems were so much simpler and flexible, but we believe very much in solar hot water and in fact build solar hot water systems to complement our biogas systems. We use the free and reliable solar hot water to bath with and wash clothes and dishes and discharge the soapy hot water after home use into the biodigester to keep it warm and thus highly productive no matter what the weather conditions are, and to allow the soaps in the waste water to be transformed into biogas and nutrients for gardens and farms. In effect the solar hot water becomes the first stage of a grey water system that makes waste water a benefit rather than a liability.

Flate plate solar hot water heaters have been in use for more than a hundred years (since float glass was invented) and are robust and easy to construct. They generally heat water to temperatures of 50 C or more even when self built; a two panel system can easily heat 200 liters of water for bathing every day.

Our recommendation is to train our student trainers of trainers to build a simple single or double panel solar hot water system from easily found and recycled local materials so they can learn all the principles of water thermodynamics and passive thermosiphoning and heat transfer and storage. Then we propose showing them the new German-invented/Chinese manufactured vacuum tube systems and compare.

Vacuum tube solar hot water systems come in two varieties – the inexpensive open loop tubes (double walled glass tubes with an light absorbing pigment embedded in the glass) and "heat tube systems" that have a copper pipe with metal absorbed plates housed in double walled glass tubes. Both can achieve temperatures in excess of the boiling point (I've seen ours in Germany get up to 110 C) and therefore a small and inexpensive system can heat a large volume of water for bathing or can preheat it for cooking. In our applications we use the vacuum tube system to produce the hot water we put on the stove and then get it up to boiling with a fraction of the biogas we would otherwise use.

Producing the vacuum tubes requires a dedicated factory and is not easy for the do it yourselfer. It would not be hard for entrepreneurs in New York to start their own vacuum tube solar operation but it requires a capital investment. However once one has the tubes the assembly of the system (tank and plumbing) is trivial and can be done in less than an hour. We would show workshop participants the assembly of the two types of popular systems and review their advantages and disadvantages (open loop system cost half to one third as much as heat tube systems but if one pipe breaks the system cannot be used until it is replaced; heat pipe closed loop systems cost much more but the breakage of any of the pipes does not dramatically affect system performance.)

Workshop participants will be able to compare the temperatures achieved from flat plate and vacuum tube systems and a discussion of the use of vacuum tube systems for solar air conditioning systems will also be led (California's Audubon Center in Debs Park Los Angeles has a solar powered air conditioning system that we have visited. The inventor, Les Hamasaki, is a friend.)

One point about solar hot water from our experience in Cairo while flat panel collectors are easy to build and can be done locally, the mass manufacturing of vacuum tube systems has brought the price down so low, and the efficiency is so high, that we no longer recommend people purchase flat plate systems any more. It makes much more sense to do what we did in Egypt – train people on flat plate systems so they understand the principles behind solar thermal energy and can always build their own if they need to (I've built one out of an old radiator on my porch to complement the professional heat pipe system I have on my roof), but start a market for vacuum tube systems for all serious installations.

'''a. Hand-made flat-panel solar hot water collector'''


Copper Pipe, Wood or aluminum for panel box, plate glass, plumbing fittings, 200 liter plastic water barrels, polypropylene pipe, polypropylene heat welder.

Cost: Roughly $500 (for a two panel system) depending on local market prices.

'''b. Open tube vacuum tube solar hot water system, for demonstration of ease of set up and installation'''

Cost: $200 to $300

'''c. Heat-pipe vacuum tube solar hot water system, for demonstration of ease of set up and installation'''

Cost: $600 to $800

'''F. Solar Electric Technologies:'''

I've explained the rationale for this part of the training and traveling technology show in another document. Since photovoltaics plays and important role in the energy mix of all countries these days, students would benefit from a thorough understanding of how they are made and function in the systems integration portfolio.

Besides teaching our trainers the theory of the photoelectric effect (for which Einstein won his Nobel Prize) and how to assemble solar panels from silicon cells, we will focus on the "balance of system" how to build a charge controller and an inverter, and how to effectively use the batteries.

This "balance of system" training is applicable not just to solar energy, but to all forms of distributed energy and emergency energy management. Whether one is relying on solar electricity, wind electricity, hydroelectricity, biogas generated electricity, or backup generator electricity made from fossil fuels, the storage of that energy in batteries and its regulation and use is critical to success. We had an experience with a Guatemalan street vendor in a rainforest village who would haul her generator out to the side of the road every night and fire it up just to light a single incandescent light bulb so people could see what she was selling. The generator made so much noise she couldn't hear her clients and so much smoke it was hard to breathe; the smoke and noise discouraged people from enjoying her business. We suggested that instead she use the generator to charge a 30 or 40 amp hour battery and use it to run a CFL light silently for the 6 hours she was selling at night.

Since all rechargeable battery systems, especially those used for emergency power, require both a charge controller (to automatically charge the batteries and prevent damage from overcharging and discharging) and an inverter (to turn the DC power they put out into useful AC power for lights and appliances), teaching trainers of trainers how to build and use these parts of the system would have application to any form of stored electrical energy, including the generators that people currently use, to maximize their fuel efficiency and utility.

We propose teaching how to make a charge controller and an inverter from simple components as they do at Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajastan India. Bunker Roy, the founder of Barefoot College, teaches illiterate women between 35 and 55 years of age from villages around the world how to assemble these critical pieces of technology and told me when I visited him that we can best empower people when we give them an understanding of what's inside things so they can build and repair them themselves. His  program shows that everybody can learn this form of electronics assembly successfully, even if, or especially if, they haven't had formal education.

In addition to teaching the creation of balance of system for battery charging, storage and inversion, and the creation of solar panels, we would demonstrate the main forms of solar electric generation on the market today.

'''1. Hand-made PV panel and system from components'''.

'''2. Market ready solar solution: Polycrystalline'''

'''3. Market ready solar solution: Monocrystalline'''

'''4. Market ready solar solution: Thin film amorphous triple junction'''

'''5. Market ready solar solution: Foldable CIGS cell panel'''

'''G. Bicycle Generator Power'''

Bicycle Generators use the same principles as wind generators, hydroelectric generators and fossil fuel burning generators. In all cases a magnetic stator and rotor system is used, magnets are caused to spin around copper coils (or vice versa) and electricity results. How the rotor in spun is irrelevant, as long as it spins we generate electricity. A generator can be spun by a crankshaft pushed by pistons moved by the burning of gaseous or liquid fuels, it can be spun by the action of wind on blades and propellers, or by the action of water on a Pelton Wheel or Harris Turbine, by a hand crank or by the action of human legs on pedals using a bicycle.

A human being riding on a bicycle generator can generate 75 Watts of continuous energy with bursts up to 150 Watts. Most people can generate the 75 watts for an hour, storing it in a battery. This can complement all other energy generation systems and can get people through an emergency. An hour's pedaling can run an eleven watt light-bulb for 6 hours.

Once people are trained in the use of a bicycle generator they can apply this knowledge to all other forms of rotary electrical generation. My first exposure to this principle came from an acrobat in the Egyptian Circus in 1982 who took me to his home in Darb Al Ahmar, Old Cairo for dinner. When the electricity went out, as it frequently did, he generated power for our lights using a pedal powered sewing machine that he had modified to generate electricity and charge a car battery. Once the principle is known there are many ways to create the required electricity for a dignified life.

There are two kinds of bicycle generator that I use. One consists of a frame upon which a standard bicycle can be easily mounted. The user takes only a minute or two to afix the bicycle and then pedals to charge the batteries. They can then take the bicycle off the mount and use it normally for transportation. They can even bring the generator, which is about the size of a fist, with them and pedal to friends homes and then charge their friends batteries as a service in times of power outage.

The other system is a dedicated recumbent type that sits on the floor. I used to sit in front of my 13 inch television in an easy chair and pedal to power it.

Cost for Windstream Bike Power Generator: $595.00 (uses normal bicycle; can be hooked to the same battery systems we will be demonstrating for solar energy).

Cost for recumbent Bicycle generator "Human Power Generator" with optional Hand Cranks:

$550.00 + 35.00 = $585.00

Cost of Portable Power Pack (Black and Decker 12 V Electromate 400)Battery with built in charge controller and inverter and cables; can be used with other renewable energy systems too): $155.00

These type of portable power packs are most often used to jump cars or run small appliances like laptops, radios, lights or charge mobile phones etc.

The website says,

"If you are using the Human Power Generator, it is likely that you will be charging the battery at an average of 5 amperes. At this rate, it will take approximately 4 hours to fully charge the battery from flat. We recommend that the battery is not allowed to be completely drained and that the generator is used to keep the battery topped up instead.

If you are using the Bike Power Generator, it is likely that you will be charging at an average of 8-14 amperes.  It will take approximately 2 hours to fully charge the battery from flat. However, it is usually much easier to "top up" the battery in intervals rather than letting it discharge completely.

The power pack can also be plugged into the AC wall socket and left to trickle charge overnight when needed.  This is a good idea every couple of months and this will keep the battery in good health."

Many people use these systems as backups in emergencies; I keep them plugged in the wall using conventional power when it is available but able to be charged by bicycle, solar, wind or biogas generator when conventional power goes out.

Once student trainers see the simplicity of building a bicycle generator they will know how to make their own local variants. The module on making a DIY wind generator will apply to making a DIY bicycle generator – essentially the one we demonstrate for use with a normal bicycle will show that it is simply a DC brushless motor with a shaft mounted over the wheel of the bicycle. Quite simple to back engineer and replicate.

'''H. Wind power'''

Wind Power generators are almost identical to Bicycle generators in principle but require no effort from a human being after set-up. Brother's Engineering Group in Palestine (Beit Sahour) have created self-built wind generators using motors from washing machines and treadmills that were thrown away by the Israelis, and cut the blades from discarded plastic sewer pipes.

An idea of how that is done can be found here:

Making a windmill is not that difficult depending on where you want to start. Some people make their windmill generators from scratch, mounting neodymium magnets on a rotor and using self wound copper coils for the stator. Others, like Brothers Engineering,, use existing motors and rewind them. Some people use the same generators that are found on the bicycle generators but hook them to a windmill. The book "The Boy who Harnessed the Wind" talks about Malawian inventor William Kamkwamba who built a windmill charger from bicycle pats and materials collected in a local scrapyard.

In our workshop/demonstration facility we would show how to put a simple windmill together as a DIY project, then we would demonstrate the professional 200 Watt Chinook wind generator that I installed in Nepal last year.

'''1. 100 W Hand-made wind generator, using plans from Brother's Engineering in Palestine'''

Cost $300

2. Market Ready Solution: Chinook 200 W windstation

Cost: $695.

'''I: Micro-Hydro Electric Generator '''

A micro-hydro electric generator is conceptually similar to a bicycle generator or a wind generator. The only difference is that water pressure turns the rotor instead of pedals or wind blades.

Many do-it-yourselfers take old alternators from cars and rewind them for higher current production relative to turning speed and then use spoons or cups to catch flow from water jets to spin them. We will not be teaching how to do this at this point but will demonstrate the use of professional models.

There are two general types of micro-hydro generators on the market. The first is the Pelton Wheel which is basically an alternator with a turbine shape that catches water from nozzles to spin it. The most efficient kind is called a "Harris Turbine" and it works with heads as low as 25 feet giving between 25 and 230 watts given flow rates between 15 and 100 gallons per minute.

These can be placed in streams in mountainous areas like Dahok, a village north of Mosul that I visited with my grandfather as a child.

A Hi-Power, Low Voltage HydroElectric Generator 150 W (Harris Turbine) can be ordered from

Cost: $1,600

The other type of micro-hydro generator, often called a stream generator, is built like a boat propeller. Rather than pushing the water as it turns, the swiftly flowing water pushes the propeller and turns the dynamo. A 12 V 100 Watt Stream Generator water turbine can be purchased from

Cost: $1,400

Essentially, once we've created awareness of how rotary electric generation through dynamos can be achieved, student trainers of trainers will see the enormous opportunities for capturing energy from a plethora of sources all while using a plethora of materials. What is most important is demonstrating the feasibility of all these options and showing that any motor is a backwards generator and vice-versa, teaching the principles of conversion (rewinding standard motors and alternators so they can produce electricity at lower torques, and understanding the differences between AC and DC generators, and brushed and brush-less motors).

'''J: Composting Toilet'''

Due to cultural fecophobia in many countries, we often do not talk about composting toilets and the elegant solution they provide to avoiding a host of dangerous water-borne diseases (cholera, typhoid, dysentary) and creating fertile soil for desertified regions. China is one of the few areas where this topic is not met with any resistence; fortunately the US, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique and Brunei have begun implementing compost toilet systems in a huge number of public settings, particularly in national parks where contamination of water bodies by tourists could have devastating effects on the wildlife as well as in urban slums where diseases from inadequate water sanitation has claimed to many lives.

It is agreed that anaerobic biogas digestors are actually a superior way to deal with fecal material as they not only render it into harmless liquid fertilizer, but produce energy at the same time. For this reason many international agencies build public toilet biogas facilities like the one we visited in the Makuru slum in Nairobi which earns money both from patrons who pay to use the toilets and from the cooking gas they pipe in and sell to the adjacent restaurant. But aerobic composting of fecal material, such as is done at the Mukuru Art Center and school, is also a viable option. At the school they use sawdust or wood ash to add carbon to and cover the human waste and have used the resulting compost to create a lush garden of flowers and edible fruit trees for the students.

A fellow National Geographic Emerging Explorer, Feliciano dos Santos, trains people to build compost toilets all over his native Mozambique and sings songs about it in festivals. His observation, endorsed by health workers, is that the mere act of covering one's toilet waste with sawdust or ash forces people to want to wash their hands, while using a water toilet and toilet paper only gives the illusion that the hands are clean and often transmits diseases. Thus the use of compost toilets, besides conserving fresh water and preventing contamination of water supplies (because they use no water) radically lowers the incidence of hand to mouth and hand to food disease transmission. Furthermore, in water scarce areas it is considered now a crime to use expensive pure fresh drinking quality water merely to flush feces down a sewer pipe. Advanced wet toilets use recycled grey water for flushing, and even more advanced wet toilets port the effluent to biodigestors, but compost toilets eliminate the use of all water. At the Kibbutz Lotan eco-village in Israel we have observed a very clean and aesthetically attractive multiple stall compost toilet facility that is creating agricultural land out of desert.

Compost toilets can easily be built at a very low cost (I made my own for an apartment I lived in in Los Angeles for disaster preparedness and drought contingency that worked well for the three years I lived there); the 5 gallon bucket system has been made famous by Joseph Jenkins in his book "The Humanure Handbook" 
I used this to build them for an urban slum and rural village in Guatemala and when working with the Arco-Iris Eco-Caravana in Quitos Ecuador .

Professional models, like the Sun-Mar or Clivus Multrum, which are very effective, can be purchased at

'''Cost: $1,595.00'''

'''K. Fuel Cell Introduction'''

Fuel Cells are the technology of the future. Some, called unitary regenerative fuel cells, can on water by using renewable electricity sources to electrolyze the water into hydrogen and oxygen for storage and then recombining the H2 and 0 to create water again while liberating heat and electricity. In a sense these fuel cells, usually PEM or "Proton Exchange Membrane" cells, are "water batteries" that store intermittently produced electrical energy temporarily for later use. They run at normal temperatures and pressures.

Other kinds of fuel cells, such as the Solid Oxide Fuel Cells, run at high temperatures and can be used with fossil fuels or biogas (we've scene them in operation using natural gas bottles to power a refrigeration at a supermarket in San Diego), and at least one fuel cell type, a copper-cerium based fuel cell called the Franklin Fuel Cell, runs on diesel fuel and other hydrocarbons without reforming.

Fuel cells, which are used on the space station, have been around since the mid-1800s but have always been very expensive. Nonetheless their high efficiency relative to the low Carnot efficiencies obtained through combustion, makes them very attractive.

Our intent here would be to introduce the fuel cell concept to our trainers of trainers. In the early 2000s I took small 1 W fuel cells to Lebanon, Egypt and Syria to demonstrate. These were unitary regenerative types running on water that we lysed using either a small solar panel or a small hand generator. They either ran a small fan, a light, or a model car.

In addition to small kits that exhibit the principles, there is now a useful 30 Watt Fuel Cell Stack Kit that is on the market.

Our intent would be to use these to give students a headstart in the growing fuel cell innovation path and market.

We would also demonstrate the generation of hydrogen from waste aluminum foil or aluminum cans and wood ash based lye (KOH). Lye, a strong base, can be produced from used charcoal mixed with water, and given the abundance of charcoal that goes to waste every summer in barbecues, we can demonstrate how easy it would be for people to produce their own Potassium Hydroxide for free from this wasted resource while generating useful heat. Once we have KOH it will react with scrap aluminum from the garbage to produce temperatures as high as 70 C while evolving hydrogen gas which can be used ultimately with fuel cells or in combustion engines.

Fuel Cell Kit H30 30 Watt Fuel Cell Stack Cost: $857.00

Tutorial RFC (Regenerative Fuel Cell) Set; $319.61

Intelligent Fuel Cell Model Car Lab: $55.00

'''L: Aquaponics Introduction'''

Adequate protein is a grave concern all over the world and obtaining it in a crisis when food supply lines may be cut makes it acute. Aquaponics provides the simplest way to grow adequate protein for a family or community. When staying with former Nigerian President Oluwasegun Obasanjo in his home two years ago working on community biogas training, he took me to see his aquaponics projects. The growth of the African cichlid fish "Tilapia"  for market has been well established through aquaponic systems.

Aquaponic systems use artificial ponds or plastic tanks to grow edible fish which feed on algae that grow with sunlight. As the fish foul their water with their own feces a pump pumps the water to a raised bed of gravel which is planted with small pots containing vegetables. The vegetables roots consume the fish waste turning it into edible food and cleaning the water. The clean water flows back to the fish tank and the process starts again.

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture experimented positively with such a system on roofs we were working on in Old Cairo. High yields of both fish and vegetables can be obtained from a properly maintained system with no additional inputs other than sunlight, electric power for the pumps (provided by renewable energy) and additional water to compensate for evaporative losses.

DIY systems are not hard to construct.

Professional Systems like the "Fantastically Fun Fresh Food Factory"  from cost $3,320.00.


'''Total Material Cost without Full Shipping, Handling and Customs/VAT/Import Duties and local labor:'''


'''Materials/Equipment Budget Requested to cover everything: $60,000 (not including instructor salary, transportation and food and lodging).'''

There are many more systems out there that have been developed to help humanity cope in a sustainable fashion with the existential demands of guaranteeing fresh, clean water, food, energy and waste treatment for a growing population. New ones are being innovated and developed every day. The ones I've listed would, in my experience and opinion, be the best suite of sustainability options to introduce to Sustainability students, providing a fairly complete range of complementary technologies. It is believed that a permanent but mobile and ever evolving exhibit of these technologies, with the proper training workshops and follow up, equipped with the right manuals and educational materials, would jumpstart students into a high gear motion toward not just implementation but innovation and social entrepreneurship, not only safeguarding her precious people but creating new opportunities at home and abroad for leadership in creating a fertile and lasting civilization.

When I lived in Iraq in the late 1980s, my neighbor Ali Hazim, whose father ran an construction engineering company in Baghdad, astounded me by showing me computers he had built and programmed himself from available parts in what was then a very constrained market. He said, "you will see the genius of our people. War has hurt us, but we have always been clever and resourceful and we know how to put things together when things are scarce. We will not fall behind, we can leapfrog with technology once we have access to the right materials and designs. Ihna Shatreen!"

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. But we don't have to go through more disasters in New York to help our students develop their inventive capabilities. Buckminster Fuller said, "Everyone is born a genius, but the process of living de-geniuses them."  We can RE-genius students at Mercy College. It is my hope and belief that we can call on their American can do spirit to stimulate and liberate that native genius in the fields of science and technology that is the birthright of every citizen through a sustained commitment to this sustainable development center at Mercy College.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Environmental Psychology and the Quest for Eutopia Lecture 3 Part2/4; Toward a Mercy Sustainability Center

 Video of this part of the lecture found here:

Transcript below:

Part II: Sustainability Initiatives in Our Region

My proposal is that we create not just a Sustainability "Think Tank", but, as David Randle, who is on the adjunct faculty with the USF School of Global Sustainability, would call it,  a Sustainability "Do-Tank".

  Are there any institutions in the New York area that are doing anything similar? Besides the polytechnics (or even including the polytechnics) it is hard to find any colleges or higher education locations that are actively teaching non-specialized students how to understand the STEM topics involved in actually building things like back-up power systems, tri-fuel engine conversions, tri-fuel refrigeration systems, treadle pumps, solar hot water systems, biogas systems, photovoltaics, small wind generators, charge controllers and inverters and other electronic component based systems, walter filtration systems, open-source tools, environmental sensing robotics, micro-hydro generators, composting systems, aquaponics and hydroponic systems, healthy food production systems, modular low-cost housing systems, fuel-cell stack creation, etc.

It is hard to find any sustainability programs in the New York area that go beyond encouraging liberal arts students to become verbally and textually literate about sustainability; hard to find programs that actually train their students to get involved in hands-on solutions and innovations that can help create a sustainable or emergency management infrastructure. There are more and more eco-degrees appearing (see but there seem to be gaps between the more esoteric Environmental conservation degrees like those offered by Cornell University, the Environmental Engineering Degrees offered at colleges with strong math and science programs, and the “green collar job” training programs offered by two year colleges.

Besides doing my own research, I put out feelers to the 1000 + members of the social media groups I'm involved with dedicated to sustainable development technology. The most interesting response was from Warren Weisman, the owner of a company called Hestia Home Biogas in Eugene Oregon. Native to Alaska, and formerly in the military, he has been in the sustainability business for decades. He wrote,

Unfortunately, most “sustainability” programs at US schools are dedicated exclusively to “market-based solutions” such as solar panels, hybrid cars and LEED building which at best are energy saving technologies and at worst are pissing on a flat rock.”

The discomfort that Warren has with the type of training available in most schools is echoed by development workers overseas who are dismayed by the lack of practical applied scientific knowledge that most Americans who want to be involved in relief efforts seem to posses. It is also echoed in the record of winning science fair and engineering awards from around the world – according to the OECD the US ranks 25th in math and 17th in science among 31 countries surveyed.
According to

The competitive edge of the US economy has eroded sharply over the last decade, according to a new study by a non-partisan research group. The report found that the U.S. ranked sixth among 40 countries and regions, based on 16 indicators of innovation and competitiveness. They included venture capital investment, scientific research, spending on research, and educational achievement.7 The prestigious World Economic Forum ranks the U.S. as No. 48 in quality of math and science education.”

We know this is a crisis, but I believe that many schools have been going about addressing it in the wrong way, by assuming that the path to learning math and science is more math and science classes. It is my belief, having been a science educator for decades, that the best way forward is to focus on teaching problem solving in general and sustainability technology training in specific and use math and science as tools to create meaningful interventions for disaster prevention and relief.

As Warren pointed out, merely teaching students about “market-based solutions” does not strengthen the real scientific aptitude of our youth. At Mercy we can do much better by teaching students how to create new solutions and new markets. That would be a fairly unique approach for a non-University and non-technical college.

I attended meetings with the Santa Rosa Junior College in California when they were beginning their “Green Collar Job Training Programs” in 2009, called “Sustainable SRJC” thanks to the Stimulus and Recovery Act; I also visited technical and trade schools in Los Angeles that were moving in this direction, with programs like “Boots on the Roof: Training for the Renewable Energy Industry”, but they often leave out much of the theoretical and academic sides. Most programs, like the 6 day Solar Thermal Boot Camp are short programs with a practical outcome (install a domesstic hot water system) geared toward “contractors looking to add solar-thermal systems to their existing career offerings.”

Again, this is all focused on 'market-based' solutions, not on creating innovators.

The school with a program most like the kind of Sustainability Center that I envision for Mercy is MIT. I helped Amy Smith's famous “Engineering for Sustainability” students via a video-conference when they built their biodigestor in Nicaragua and co-presented with Jose Gomez-Marquez at Google this summer. They are training their students in exactly the approach I've outlined for Mercy. But of course they are an engineering school which has been teaching social entrepreneurship for more than a decade, with students taking away top prizes in areas like sustainable energy and medical robotics (see where students are reported to have developed ways to turn corn cobs into concentrated cooking fuel and created a simple turbine made of car parts and plumbing supplies).

Besides trade schools, do we know of any hands on environmental technology programs in a traditionally liberal arts school?

One of the big problems is that we have created a society of narrow specialists and lost much of the general practical knowledge for self-sufficiency. Most of it is common sense, but a veil of anxiety epitomized by the slogan “we are professionals, please do not try this at home” keeps many people from attempting to learn how to construct and implement even the simplest real-world applications of sustainable technology.

Our education in sustainability mostly relies on normative encouragement to “re-use and recycle”, to try and consume less, to buy from 'green' vendors etc. Sustainability education in much of America has become consumer oriented and passive rather than pro-sumer based and active. It is filled with discouraging admonitions aimed at getting students to engage in “avoidance behavior” and which often results in feelings of guilt and being trapped that can turn into hostility toward environmental movements as the 'doom and gloom' message either leads to paralysis or renewed patterns of wasteful consumption that feel inevitable. .

But while many programs in environmental science that talk about the dream of sustainability have over-stressed the negative aspects of human behavior, all over the world there are programs that act on sustainability through workshops and classes that teach people how to build and operate and install and maintain and invent or innovate solutions to our problems. These active, hands on programs have inevitably created tremendous feelings of optimism and engagement. The fact is, and I say this as a practitioner with several decades in the field, in slums and villages around the world, the answers are not only simple to understand, but are simple to implement, at least on home and community scales. As Buckminster Fuller famously said,

It is now physically and metaphysically demonstrable that the chemical elements resources of Earth already mined or in recirculation, plus the knowledge we now have, are adequate to the support of all humanity and can be feasibly redesign-employed [...] to support all humanity at a higher standard
of living than ever before enjoyed by any human...There is no energy crisis, food crisis or environmental crisis. There is only a crisis of ignorance.”.
The Mercy Sustainability Center can address that crisis of ignorance and, to paraphrase the old adage, not just give people a fish, but teach them how to fish (and this at a time when many schools are simply teaching people about fish in the abstract, without even showing them what a fish really looks, feels, smells and tastes like.)
With the current economic and environmental crises afflicting New York, the last thing we want to see is New Yorkers experience the same deprivations and losses that are so common in so-called “third world countries”. The irony is that many developing regions are already putting programs like the one we are describing here together to improve their lives in the face of these grave challenges. The hope is that we can learn from the resourcefulness and experiences of these areas, like Barefoot College, and bring this education to our own shores so we can continue our dream of liberty and justice for all.

Most importantly, taking our cue from India and Israel, creating and stocking and running such a center should not be very expensive.

It does not rely on sophisticated machinery or equipment. The entire point is for students to learn how to solve environmental problems using available low cost materials, many of them found as trash. Only in this way can students learn how to recover quickly in times of disaster or how to help people in impoverished regions.

Hi-tech, while exciting, doesn't have much of a place in such a center except in so far as the students would be trained to retrofit the existing buildings and operations on Mercy's campus with technologies that could lead not only to the greening of the campus but to significant financial savings that could be ploughed back into the center and the school at large. Examples are replacement of inefficient lighting and HVAC systems, insulation and windows, more efficient induction motors, and all the other components of an LEED certification retrofit. Students would learn this and not only help turn Mercy into a green campus, but prepare for jobs in the water and energy and waste management efficiency improvement industries.