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.