TRANSCRIPT OF PATRICIA’S PEOPLE
Broadcast on SAfm: 12:30 28 October
Producer/Presenter: Patricia Glyn
Guest: Brian Evans.
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
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!
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.
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
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
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?
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.
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?
No, it’s self-sustaining. There’s a process called exothermic
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
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.
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?
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.
Lighting power and heating power? Would that be sufficient to run
stoves and things?
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.
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.
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.
And another by-product was oil: how good an oil?
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.
And that is what the people who are running the reactor could sell for
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.
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
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.
And that could be pumped, obviously, away to fields and so on, by a
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.
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.
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
They would be limited on speed, would they?
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!
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?
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.
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?
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.
Is there anything special in the way it’s designed or constructed to link up
to this reactor?
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.
Yes, absolutely. There’s going to be, I would think, a huge
migration back to the land if this takes off.
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.
So we’ve got a village of say 200 homes: shall we call it 2000 people or
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…
Which, let me remind everyone, is – what – a hundred and twenty thousand a
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.
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?
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…
Which they’d get how?
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.
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?
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.
How quickly could you produce them?
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.
And have endorsed it, have they?
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
And because there’s no grass or…
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.
OK, so explain to me why no-one’s listening? Grace Michel is the
only one who is hearing the message.
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
When you’ve shown it, though, to specific communities like the one at
Tarlton, what is the reaction?
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.
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?
I think government have got enough problems on their plate…
Yes, but this solves all their problems, damn it!
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.
Are you looking for investors, though? I understand that you’re
not going to sell off these reactors but are you looking for investors?
You know, I think people who want to help, yes, they can get hold of us and
can make a difference.
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?
We’ve basically got the money side tied up, yes.
Is there any chance of this resource running out, this plant material running
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
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?
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!
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.
Maybe you can have a competition.
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,