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low tech hydroponics anyone?


 
Dear Arden Thomas,
 
Good to hear from you.  Ruthie Leeb sent me your post.  I am a Baha'i who has been living and working in development in the Easter Cape for the past 18 years working in AT and rural development, and more recently teaching anthropology at the Un of Fort Hare.  In fact I used to be a Quaker, went to George School in Pennsylvania, attended Antioch College in central Ohio (back in the mid 50's, I'm old), and naturally visited with friends at Earlham College several time.  I believe we have an active Baha'i 'cell' at Earlham or in the town.  What's the name of the community?  I've forgotten.
 
For orientational purposes, are you perhaps a Baha'i?  
 
By now you must have met up with the folks at Abelime Ikhaya (how ever it is spelled).  Have you met Rob Small?  If not, visit this project and talk to Rob Small.  He is an old friend.  Say hello to him if you guys meet up.
 
I am referring you to Peter Hundy who used to work with AT and Rural Development in the Eastern Cape but now lives in Clan William in the Cedarberg Mountains area of the Western Cape.  He is gathering information about low cost, sand media, shade covered hydroponic systems from around the world.  He claims that it looks like low tech hydroponics may have a future in township situations where there is so little space and theft is such a problem.  I will copy you a recent post I got from him and I suggest that you connect up with Peter.  I think that he is looking for people to work with.  Peter founded and ran a successful NGO in the western Transkei for 10 years.  He knows a lot about putting together projects and applications for funds.  Perhaps the two of you will find some common ground.
 
It occurs to me that a relatively closed system agri enterprise system such as the one Peter Hundy is developing on his farm in the Cedarbergs might work really well in the Cape Flats where the water will percolate
 
The one resource that comes to mind is a book, published by the Sierra Club about 20 years ago by Bill and Helga Olkowski - and Sim van der Rhyn - on the Integral Urban House in Berkeley.  The book shares all the technical and performance details of the recycling and natural energy technologies used by this group of wacko ATer to minimize the discharges from the Integral House and to maximize the capture of all resources such as rain fall, sunshine, wind, flies (chicken food), etc.  The book is probably out of print but it should be in the Library at Un of Capetown.  You can also look for the City People's Book for Raising Food by Bill and Helga Olkowski as well which must be a collectors item by now, also useful. 
 
I would suggest that you surf over to ATTRA - Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Advancement- which is an off shoot of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (which I happened to have been one of the founder members of way back in the mid 1970's).  Just put ATTRA into the search box and hit your mouse.  You may want to visit the NCAT website to see what links they have.  Lastly, you may want to visit the Center for Neighborhood Technology (in Chicago) to see what they have on low tech farming systems which might be transferrable to the Cape Flats.  
 
I have always felt that it would be interesting, challenging, to recreate the urban integral house in a dense township environment such as Khayalitsha. It would have to be a kind of John Todd live in bioshelter system made of recycled junk, a radically low cost ark for poor people.  Good luck with your adventures.
 
In search and service,
                                    Cecil Cook
                                    Back to Agriculture Development Institute (BADI)
                                    PO Box 778
                                    Stutterheim 4930
 
 
 
Here is something suspicious I got for Peter Hundy on biogas and bio everything:
 

TRANSCRIPT OF PATRICIA’S PEOPLE

Broadcast on SAfm:    12:30     28 October 1999

Producer/Presenter:  Patricia Glyn

Guest:  Brian Evans.

 

PATRICIA:

Thanks for joining me, and especially today, because I truly believe that the man sitting before me can solve virtually every single problem we have in South Africa.  What he does – and I’m being simplistic now – is to pick some grass – or leaves, or old mealie cobs or whatever plant matter you can think of – put it into a bio-reactor which he invented and designed and patented, and he produces out of this plant matter, gas – sufficient to run a village generator, water – sufficient to irrigate the village’s crops, oil – sufficient for the village to sell to industry for cash, and solid fuel briquettes – sufficient to power a motorcar, heat the house, and cook the family meals.  Move over David Copperfield; this is the kind of magic we really need in South Africa! 

I went to see Brian Evans’s prototypes yesterday and I know that my constant refrain was much what yours must be: where’s the catch, where’s the downside?  -  I’m being duped; I’m being na´ve.  -  Why aren’t these reactors in at least two hundred villages by now? - Why is the government not spending every dime they have on this?  It seems that the only person even vaguely connected to government who sees this as the answers to our prayers and our problems is Graca Machel, who has already ordered seven of these reactors for villages up in her native Mocambique.

Brian, you must be a very exasperated man!

BRIAN:

Hi, Patricia.  Yes, I think South Africa faces unique problems and so you need a unique solution to solve them.   And I believe this is the way to go but, being new technology, obviously people don’t understand it – and it’s that not understanding that we need to overcome.

PATRICIA:

Well, even I understood it by the time I’d spent an hour with you yesterday so, in half that time, now’s your chance to tell everybody else about this fantastic bio-reactor.  I gather that you were a rocket scientist, literally, in the old days, and this grew out of some rocket technology that you developed.

BRIAN:

Yes, those were exciting days and we built one of the biggest liquid fuel rocket engines to be fired on the continent of Africa and that provided some sort of background and platform for the development of the reactors because they also operate at high temperatures and they combust fuel, so it’s a similar technology.  And probably just as exciting. That was the conquest of space in those days; now it’s the conquest of poverty and unemployment in South Africa.

PATRICIA:

So you looked around you and thought, well, grass is everywhere, is a renewable resource - as are cuttings from forests or whatever – and we’re not talking about whole trees now, let us make that clear!  And you thought, How can we use this grass, did you?

BRIAN:

Yes, that’s correct.  Obviously, if you want to find a solution to a problem, I think, as in most advances in science, nature provides the key – like birds and flight and so on.   And here in South Africa we’re sitting on enormous amounts of bio-mass; a lot of it is burnt on an annual basis, causing enormous damage.  And so the logical question is to say, How can we utilise this to solve our problems?  And that was really the beginning of the whole thing.

PATRICIA:

I’m sure the process was long; it was painstaking and involved a lot of midnight oil and elbow grease – but explain to us now how the reactor works, because it doesn’t run off electricity, does it?

BRIAN:

No, it’s self-sustaining.   There’s a process called exothermic reaction and…

Simply put, it means it generates its own energy above a certain temperature and so, if you get it to that temperature, as long as you take care of the losses in the machine, it’ll run itself.  And that’s basically what it does.  Trillions of dollars have been spent on fusion technology and really what we’re doing is we have a fusion system here in the sun – now that’s providing the energy to the plants, and that energy is locked up, and all we’re doing is releasing the energy of the sun in the reactor.  And it’s a very efficient process: very cheap and one of the nice things about it is it’s environmentally free…

 

It’s fed in its natural form.  If you take grass, it’s fed in its natural form – but if you’re doing invader bushes, that goes through a chipper and it’s chipped into manageable sizes.  If it’s trees it’s usually the residue of the forest that would perhaps be a fire hazard.  We never cut down forests and trees to feed it.

PATRICIA:

That’s a very important part of it.  The material goes in, it starts building up its own heat, it starts breaking down…    And then, what comes out the other end?  It’s a number of different things?

BRIAN:

Yes, we’re doing in a matter of, say, two minutes what nature takes a million years to do.  We’re breaking down the material into three basic components: that’s the oil, the gas and the solid matter.   The solid matter’s a high density carbon which you can use as a smokeless fuel; the oil is a No. 6 fuel oil which you can break into chemicals and use it in that way; and the gas has to be used on site – but it’s enough to drive a 300 kilowatt generator which provides power to 200 homes.

PATRICIA:

Lighting power and heating power?  Would that be sufficient to run stoves and things?

BRIAN:

Yes, it’s sufficient to run stoves, and perhaps a small industry surrounding the reactor.  So in that respect it’s ideal to use the reactor as a platform in a community to first of all provide an income and secondly to provide improvement in living conditions like education and everything else that goes with it.

PATRICIA:

The spin-offs we’ll get to but I just want to go back to the solid fuel.  You showed me things that looked like rather large briquettes.

BRIAN:

Yes, that’s one format that it comes out in.  Each one of those little briquettes you saw will burn for three hours and that can cook a chicken, it can do a whole lot of things.  And a small quantity has got a good energy content.  And that makes it an ideal fuel for Africa.

PATRICIA:

And another by-product was oil: how good an oil?

BRIAN:

Well, you could run a furnace off it.  You wouldn’t put it in your car but you certainly could use it in a refinery to make chemicals and a whole range of materials out of that oil.

PATRICIA:

And that is what the people who are running the reactor could sell for cash?

BRIAN:

Yes, they can sell the oil.  We’ll give them the ruling Brent crude oil price for that and we’ll also buy the solid fuel off them.  Now, that comes out of the reactor as a powder and the market value of that at the moment is a thousand rands a ton.  And, typically, the reactor would produce 6 tons of that fuel in an 8-hour shift.  So the earning capacity for the village is in the order of six thousand rands a day. And obviously there’s running costs but the net income to a village could be in the order of a hundred and twenty thousand rands a month.  And that provides the necessary infrastructure to enable them to develop.

PATRICIA:

It’s Father Christmas come to town!  The one thing we haven’t talked about yet, which is another incredibly important by-product of this process, is water.

BRIAN:

Yes, we have a water problem in South Africa and a lot of that water is locked up in the cells of the plant and that’s released in the process as well – so you have clean water that comes out of the system which can be used for drinking or it can be used for irrigation.

PATRICIA:

And that could be pumped, obviously, away to fields and so on, by a generator?

BRIAN:

Yes, it could be pumped.  We have a special pump that runs off bio- mass.  Or it can be bottled and sold.  If there is a source of water near the community or the village, obviously that is a very valuable commodity because it’s distilled water and has a value.

PATRICIA:

There’s one other application that I think we should cover now, although it is still in the prototype phase, and that is the possibility of driving a motor engine off these briquettes.

BRIAN:

Yes, that’s a very important aspect of our research, is the downstream products that can be developed from this, both for export and for local use.  One of the problems that we're going to face – in fact we’re seeing it already – is the hike in the petrol price which is affecting everybody in South Africa.  By the year 2001 we’ll be dependent on OPEC to the tune of 38% and that was the same set of circumstances that we had in the 70s, that promoted the oil crisis then.  And this is likely to continue, which makes it very hard on the lower income groups in South Africa.  And if we can develop a series of vehicles that can run off this fuel, it’s readily available at the site: you don’t have to refine it, you don’t have to transport it.   And to do this we’ve developed a thing called a thermo-electric generator which directly converts the heat of the bio-mass into usable electrical energy.  And the vehicle under development at the moment is a 20-kilowatt commuter car and also a 20-kilowatt tractor that can be used as an agricultural vehicle.

PATRICIA:

They would be limited on speed, would they?

BRIAN:

Well, the car will do 120 kilometers an hour top speed: we could make it go faster, we could give it high acceleration because it’s got marvellous characteristics, but that’s going against the trend of an environmentally-friendly vehicle because then we’re going to burn more fuel.  So we’ve decided to go this route and hopefully a lot of people will come along with us.  You try to get to work in the morning: you can actually walk faster in some of our freeways when there’s traffic jams! 

PATRICIA:

So you’ve already solved the issue of how the people who are harvesting all this grass from around their village get it to the generator: you’ve actually developed the tractor as well.   The briquettes cost 20 cents.  How many of them would you need to drive a tractor for the whole day?

BRIAN:

Well, we’d use the powder to drive the tractors, just out of the hopper: you just fill that up with a high-density carbon and you can run your tractor.  You know, it's more economical to use oxen today than to use a tractor.  Maybe it’s gone through the full circle and we can now use the farming activities to drive a new range of vehicles, which would be very cost-effective to the users because they’re making it themselves on the property.

PATRICIA:

We’re talking to inventor, Brian Evans, today: he was a rocket scientist – he still is, as far as I’m concerned, but very much in the metaphorical sense – about some extraordinary new technology; extraordinary in the sense that it holds the key to the future of this country, in my opinion.  If you rocket scientists out there have seen a hole in this argument I’d like to hear from you on telephone number (011) 714-4628.  I’m going to give Brian Evans’s number, though, at the end of the programme because I really think this is where our future lies.

We’re going to talk a bit more now about the specifics of this application.  You’ve got a model village running at Tarlton.  Can you tell us how it’s been constructed to benefit from this bio-reactor?

BRIAN:

Tarlton is a traumatised community that was evicted from a farm in the area.   The government bought the land for the sum of 1.2 million rands and the community are living in very bad conditions.  Now, that particular community, we're putting in a reactor.   There’s 75 homes in that village and that one is going to be the prototype for the roll-out of all the other villages.  We want to put up 2000 of these villages and we have engaged a team of architects to design good houses, sewerage, running water, power, education facilities, tele-medicine facilities and we hope we will have that village completed early next year as one of the models that we’re going to use.

PATRICIA:

Is there anything special in the way it’s designed or constructed to link up to this reactor?

BRIAN:

The village itself is a normal village but the sewerage side of it is connected to the reactor because the solid waste in the sewerage can be used as a source of bio-mass so that is recycled back through the reactor.  One of the problems we have in these villages is that sewerage that’s just dispersed over the land has a lot of pathogens in it and those pathogens eventually wind their way into the food chain.  Now, with this system here we actually sterilise the sewerage and use it as part of the fuel for the reactor.   So it becomes part of this whole closed loop in this village and we’re creating an environment there which is probably better than you can get in the city.

PATRICIA:

Yes, absolutely.   There’s going to be, I would think, a huge migration back to the land if this takes off.

BRIAN:

Well, this is one of the most important aspects of the thing because what’s happening now is that we’ve got a migration into the cities in the belief that there is employment and this is one of the basic causes of crime.  You’ll find, in America today, there’s a drop in the crime levels – and that’s because the prosperity of America is going up.  We need to do that here and that is the solution to the crime that we’re experiencing, not a bigger police force and not a bigger army.

PATRICIA:

So we’ve got a village of say 200 homes: shall we call it 2000 people or what?

BRIAN:

Well, you have 200 families living in that village and the model that we’ve used is to have a Trust formed by that village and the Trust runs the village and receives all the monies from the proceeds of the reactor…

PATRICIA:

Which, let me remind everyone, is – what – a hundred and twenty thousand a month?

BRIAN:

A hundred and twenty thousand rands a month – that’s the starter because there are other downstream products that we’ll be bringing in at a later time that will increase that earning capacity.

PATRICIA:

So they’ve got disposable income but for what kind of labour input? – I mean, how many hours will everybody have to spend chopping grass etc?

BRIAN:

Well, this is the nice part about it because, in the village of 200 houses, only 20 people need be involved in a manual cutting scenario.  That would drop as that village mechanises the system and it does leave the rest of the village perhaps on a rotational basis, where you’d have guys cutting maybe once or twice a week and the rest of the time they can use for other activities, for increasing their learning, their education…

PATRICIA:

Which they’d get how?

BRIAN:

Well, that is done via the satellites.  We are busy now with a data transfer into the villages, both to run the reactor and also to provide entertainment and education and tele-medicine.   It’s essential that those are linked otherwise you cannot progress that village.  And there’s no reason why the children in that school can’t go from the lower grades right up to first-year university and possibly beyond.   And so, out of those villages, we would see a lot of engineers and doctors and accountants being educated.   In fact, it’s a very nice place to live. 

PATRICIA:

Well, anywhere that you only have to work three days a week, for my money,  is a great place to live!   Brian, I’m still looking for the rub, you know, the downside – and perhaps economic.  I know those reactors cost a million rands.

If somebody had a million rands spare cash and they wanted to invest in one of these reactors and put it into a village, what sort of a return on their investment would they get?

BRIAN:

The earning capacity of the reactor is a hundred and twenty thousand rands a month – that’s after deducting expenses – so you can see that, if you just looked at that, you can amortise that machine in just about a year.   We don’t sell the reactors, we only place them.  They always belong to us.  The reason for that is that we want to make sure that those communities always have a market and it does protect them in that sense.

PATRICIA:

How quickly could you produce them?

BRIAN:

We could produce, next year, 40 reactors a month.  And we need to ramp that up: our goal is to produce 2000 villages, in conjunction with Clive Norton from the CSIR, who’ve been involved in this for the last six years.

PATRICIA:

And have endorsed it, have they?

BRIAN:

And have endorsed it.  And the roll-out is 2000 villages which can employ a million people directly in those villages and 5 million people indirectly.  So, in that respect, it can solve a lot of problems in South Africa – and indeed in Africa because we have enquiries from Kenya, we are involved in Mocambique, and I think this is the way things… Africa has a unique chance to show the rest of the world because it’s a clean slate.  You couldn’t do this in Europe and you couldn’t do it in America because of the infrastructure.

PATRICIA:

And because there’s no grass or…

BRIAN:

Well, it’s very highly organised and you wouldn’t have this opportunity but in Africa, with these vast open spaces, you have this incredible opportunity of changing from a fossil fuel to a renewable fuel.

PATRICIA:

OK, so explain to me why no-one’s listening?   Grace Michel is the only one who is hearing the message.

BRIAN:

I think the biggest problem that we have, again, as you expressed right at the beginning, is Where’s the catch? -  This credibility gap: it can’t be true.  And so, to overcome that, I think we’re going to have to actually demonstrate it – and this is what we’re doing.  It’s a can do situation where we have to prove that we can do this.  People inherently are suspicious of something that gives them more than perhaps a back return on their…  You know, they can’t really believe that such a situation could be…PATRICIA:

When you’ve shown it, though, to specific communities like the one at Tarlton, what is the reaction?

BRIAN:

We’ve had a number of communities through our factories, through our research centre at Walkerville, and the penny drops immediately.  We have no credibility gap: they can see immediately what this thing can do.  And the morale in that village goes up by an order of magnitude. And it’s spreading, the word is spreading.

PATRICIA:

So you’re just going to sideline government? – I mean, if they can’t see the assets of this then let’s go another route?

BRIAN:

I think government have got enough problems on their plate…

PATRICIA:

Yes, but this solves all their problems, damn it!

BRIAN:

Yes, it solves their problems.   Now, that’s the thing that they can’t understand.  We’ve addressed the government, we’ve spoken to the Legislative Assembly, and I guess, if you’re talking across the table to somebody and it’s something like, Gee, you guys are going to make energy out of grass?  Are you going to smoke it?  How are you going to do this?  (BOTH LAUGHING)  It’s in a way like the Apollo moon programme – what that did to America in the 60s is what this can do for South Africa to bring people together, to have a plan on the table, to say, OK, the crime’s not going to go on forever – there is a solution and we’re not going to have all these unemployed people wandering the streets looking for jobs.  And so that vision really needs to be put in place in the next five years.  And we’re not waiting for government; we’re carrying on and we’re doing it.  I think private enterprise, the ordinary guy in the street, can change this place in a very short period of time.

PATRICIA:

Are you looking for investors, though?   I understand that you’re not going to sell off these reactors but are you looking for investors?

BRIAN:

You know, I think people who want to help, yes, they can get hold of us and can make a difference.

PATRICIA:

By putting you in contact with the right people.   But you’ve got the money side of it tied up, is that what you’re saying?

BRIAN:

We’ve basically got the money side tied up, yes. 

PATRICIA:

Is there any chance of this resource running out, this plant material running out?

BRIAN:

No, we’ve put in a very sophisticated satellite system; we monitor the bio- mass and wherever we put a reactor it has to be engineered so that that bio-mass never runs out.  We take into account the historical rainfall in the area, the yield, and in most cases we could perhaps increase the yield of that bio-mass by 100% because we allow one harvesting: we can probably get two or three.

PATRICIA:

And dead grass surely is there for a reason?  It’s left on the land by nature for a reason, so is there a long-term effect on the soil by harvesting and processing all this material?

BRIAN:

No, there needs to be management, as any farming activity is managed, but a lot of it is burnt and that’s in fact needed, to burn the grass but, of the two methods, cutting and burning is better in that a lot of the materials left behind is a mulch, whereas in burning a lot of it is, just by the thermal currents that are generated, it gets blown into the atmosphere and exposes the ground to wind and erosion.   So this is a better way of doing it and it certainly can be managed so that it’s sustainable.  We’re not going to create a desert in South Africa!    In fact, I hope we can create a golf course from Cape Town to Johannesburg! 

PATRICIA:

Well, if people buy into your vision, I think anything’s possible, Brian.  I really think you’re the man to change the face of this country and I thank you so much for talking to us about your bio-reactor.  I would like you to come up with a magical name for it, though: it needs marketing under some super-duper name.

BRIAN:

Maybe you can have a competition.

PATRICIA:

We’ll have a competition, yes; phone me on 714-4628 with your name for the bio-reactor!  And again, I challenge you, if you see a hole in this argument, phone me.

Rocket scientist in every sense of the word, Brian Evans, was talking about his bio-reactor to transform our nation.  I believe him and if you do and you’d like to find out more, give him a call on Johannesburg 791-7184.   That’s (011) 791-7184.   And after all, if government ignores these possibilities, that doesn’t mean to say we have to, does it?!! 

 


>Hello fellow gardeners,
>
>Greetings from South Africa, where we are just now entering the the
>summer season and are happily watching the crops come up.  I am an
>American student (Earlham College/Indiana) who is spending this semester
>at the Quaker Peace Centre working with their Community Development
>programme.  They have three seperate community gardens in the "Cape
>Flats,"  a very sandy, poor area outside Cape Town.  Needless to say, it
>is amazing to go into these areas, where there is little vegetation and
>many people live in shacks, and see gardens full of green vegetables
>growing.  The sight gives me a lot of hope.
>
>I am interested in getting advice from people who have worked to
>establish community gardens in very poor communities.  It is budget time
>here at the Peace Centre, and so finances are taking center stage.
>Right now, the community gardens serve families with no breadwinner,
>many of whom live in informal housing.  The gardens are far from
>self-sustaining.  Up to know the aim of the program has been to
>alleviate poverty, it is beyond its scope to eliminate it.  Food from
>the community gardens feed their families, and the surplus can be sold
>for a profit, but not enough profit is earned to maintain the gardens.
>Consequently, the project is dependant on funds from QPC.  The program
>trains people so that they have the skills to grow their own food, but
>unless it continues to provide resources (land, water, manure and
>compost) people cannot continue to use and benefit from these skills.
>Compounding the problem, land is scarce (no backyards to garden in) and
>the sandy soil requires a lot of manure and compost.
>
>Any input would be greatly appreciated.  E-mail me at
>thomaar@earlham.edu
>
>Cheers,
>Arden Thomas
>>





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