Perspectives on Local Economic Power

Here’s something to think about regarding our recent refocus on locally produced fuel and steam engines at Factor e Farm.

Energy is slave labor without the slaves. At Factor e Farm, doomsday peak oil scenarios are not particularly threatening because we know that a high standard of living can be attained readily by using technology that is 100 years old and which can be grown locally. Here’s how.

Pyrolysis oil fuel can be produced locally from biomass, reportedly at yields of up to 75%. There are already personal pyrolysis oil fuel makers on the market. Couple that to a Babington burner, which can burn crude oils of any kind. Add a steam engine, and we have 100% locally grown power – with modern steam engine efficiencies comparable to gasoline engines but lower than diesel engines. Fab this steam engine with the open source lathe, hot off the press at Factor e Farm, and you have local economic power, in both senses of the phrase.

This is what we’re pursuing for MicroTrac – the small version of the open source tractor. We’ve got our friend O.R. working on a pyrolysis oil prototype, we have Nathan looking for experienced people to come for 1 week work visits to Factor e. Yellow Biodiesel offers turnkey Babington burners, Tinytech India offers steam engines, so we’re looking at purchasing these and putting them on MicroTrac. I just contacted VK at Tinytech India for a quote on the 10 hp engine. This package will be ridiculously expensive – about $5 k for the integrated power unit for 10 hp – and that’s why we are intent on opensourcing the power unit for a predicted cost of $1k for 20 hp units. It’s doable with a certain level of flex fab tooling – and if it can be a lifetime-service product – that is dirt cheap. This is a prime candidate for Community Supported Manufacturing.

Steam engines caused the industrial revolution. Now they can reinvent the local economy. We’re not talking of backwards civilization, but ecoindustrial and cultural progress.

Fact or fiction? Help us discover. We’re looking for bids from people who have built: pyrolysis oil experiments, Babington burners, flash steam generators, steam engines, lathes, induction circuitry, and metal melting furnaces. This is all related to the package above. Send us contacts, we’ll follow up with bid requests. We’re well aware that initial costs may be thousands for these components, and the best in the US is a 20 hp steam engine for $6500 from Mike Brown. That’s without a boiler or any balance of system. We are also aware that our cost predictions are ridiculously low as well, but if mass produced gas engines cost around ten times less, there is no a priori reason why the cost of much simpler steam engines cannot be low if someone gets serious about their production. I believe that’s the role we’ll take.

Critics will immediately point out the competion of fuel with food acres – but that is solved if we turn from global supply chains to the local. This all does assume that we throw out the entire petro and auto industries, but that’s already happening. Details, details.

Oh goodness, are we throwing out the baby with the bathwater? No, we just want something that can be sustained locally. Transition can be as fast as distributed Fab Labs can digitally produce related equipment. This can happen in a period of weeks if society puts its minds to it. Imagine the great transition – if it took only a few weeks to do it.

If local skill is intensified, there will be no need to use little boys and girls in Chinese factories to produce all our wares. We’re just talking about seizing the power of local production. To phrase this another way, we think that if we as civilization don’t go to steam engines or some other locally produced, crude-fuel engine – fired by local pyrolysis oil via crude fuel-burning Babington burners – then major landgrabs for centralized fuel production are forthcoming if present population trends continue. That’s why we propose local economies as a route to stabilization, but we’re getting into controversial waters here.


  1. Lost Chief

    Ok do you guys know that you can also turn used plastic or motor oil into clean DIESEL FUEL using a very similar process? I posted an article in my myspace glog some time ago about a machine made in europe that can do this with zero emmisions. They said the key was the low temps and sealed containers.

    Here is a short basic article on what im talkign about.

    The article i read was of a company who made a few of the small stations for a few millions dollars total in some city.

    Im just saying that there is so much waste plastic int his country above and below ground that if you build this into your pyro machine you will aven much greater access to input fuels..

  2. Marcin

    I have also seen a website with rubber being turned into fuel. Essentially, any hydrocarbon can be pyrolized back into smaller molecules, some of which are diesel and gasoline.

  3. Jeremy

    I think I heard of someone using some kind of microwave frequency to do the same thing, it would separate hydrocarbons into different parts.

  4. Ron Garrett

    Have you looked in to generating methane from human and other types of waste?
    This is done quite extensively in Nepal and China.

  5. woody

    I haven’t seen any mention of GEET on the blog. This would fit in well with OSE. GEET is a method of generating plasma from a variety of fuel sources. It is very simple, people have made it for their cars and kids are putting it on go-carts and lawnmowers. Using it with ICE’s reports of 100% increase in mileage are not uncommon, and it gets rid of over 90% of pollutants. You can mix 80% water in with the fuel (gasoline, used motor oil, crude oil, etc). Here’s an organization similar to FeF that is using it: I’m aware that the direction at FeF is away from ICE technology, but realistically it will be around for a long time, at least in the meantime we’ll be saving money and not polluting our planet. Considering it is so easy to implement it seems like a no-brainer. It can be controversial however, the inventor was put in jail to suppress the technology. It may be interesting to use a small ICE to generate plasma gas efficiently to fire a large steam boiler.

    1. Marcin

      Woody, can you put me in touch directly with somebody with experience on the topic so we can assess the performance claims of GEET on their technical merit, as related to the framework of the GVCS?

  6. woody

    i spoke with the inventor, paul pantone, who is now living in oklahoma. i told him you guys were interested in the technology, but he got a little skittish when i said the words “open source”. he has, however, released plans for small engines to the public so he is somewhat open about it. i told him that you guys were respectful of intellectual property and he seemed a bit relieved. you can reach paul at paul.pantone at yahoo dot com. reply or call off-list and i can give you his phone number. i also have the number of a dealer in kansas. i’m gonna put together a small proof-of-concept project too, when i get something to look at i’ll let you guys know. i’ll keep ya posted.

  7. ken morton

    Speaking of peak oil—I revisited some of the peak oil sites recently (Nov 2010) and discovered that peal oil is no longer an uncertain point in the future–it is in the rear view mirror! The highest production rate occurred a couple of years ago. It appears that we are now on a plateau with some minor ups and downs —but the real downturn is still ahead. The link below is just one of many you can find by googling for peak oil; it does an especially good job of showing the relationship between oil prices and economics–including the present global situation.
    Factor e farm provides some optimism to balance the doomsday scenarios . However,
    we should not loose sight of the fact that the oil crisis is of truly global proportions and a lot of people are ALREADY suffering the consequences with untold millions (or even billions) more ahead.

  8. Michael R. Himes

    I need to confer with Marcin about a Cavitation fusion steam engine. I am on linkedin and only a friend request is needed to start a dialog.