June 4, 2016: Stools to Fuels

I’ve heard it said that in ancient China, where most people lived and worked on their own subsistence farm, it was considered highly impolite if you went to visit a friend, ate a meal and left without make a solid ‘deposit’ in the composting toilet. I don’t know if this is true but it makes sense to me. In a truly self-sufficient (closed-loop) system all of the nutrients that are removed from the soil in the form of food must be returned to the soil in the form of fertiliser or, over time, the soil will become depleted of nutrients and less and less productive. In such a system, human waste would be highly valued for its nutritional content… but what about its potential energy?

Donate Your Solids to Science

The 'Donation Box' at the Walden Pavillion (Source: Gizmag)

The ‘Donation Box’ at the Walden Pavillion (Source: Gizmag)

This Gizmag article describes a project currently underway at a university in South Korea where members of the public can make a donation to the cause of science by using the toilet.

‘The UNIST toilet uses an anaerobic system, similar to the Loowatt. A grinder inside the toilet dehydrates and breaks the waste down into a dry, odorless powder, which is then transferred to a digestion tank that is home to thousands of different microbes. As they go to work, the compost biodegrades, generating carbon dioxide and methane, which the scientists harvest. The carbon dioxide is used to culture green algae, a common source of biofuel, while the methane can be stored for use as a heating fuel.’

The article is pretty funny. We’re all a bit uncomfortable talking about the subject but, in reality, human waste is serious matter and a highly valuable resource both for the nutrients it contains and for its potential as an energy source. If you’ve seen Matt Damon in ‘The Martian’ you will recall that he survived by using human waste to create soil to grow enough potatoes to get him through until rescue arrived. This was an extreme illustration of a ‘closed-loop’ system similar to the subsistence farms of ancient China. However I think it’s worth remembering that, ultimately, the Earth is also a closed-loop system and we must learn to appreciate our ‘waste’ products for the valuable resources they contain.

East Coast Low Brings Welcome Rain

Welcome rain fills our tank after months of dry weather.

Welcome rain fills our tank after months of dry weather.

There are few things that make me feel more grateful in life than being warm and dry inside our cosy little Greeny Flat when it’s wet and wild outside. It’s been many months since our rainwater tank was full or the creeks and dams around here had a good flush-out so this current East Coast Low system is bringing some wonderful rain. We’ve had over 80mm in the last twenty four hours which is very welcome. I just hope the wind and rain hasn’t caused any problems for any of you reading this.

The Connected Smart Grid of the Future

This article from the Sydney Morning Herald emphasises the point I was making in last week’s Newsletter about the future of energy being On-the-Grid not Off-the-Grid. Rather it will see us all, our homes, cars, businesses, appliances, solar systems and batteries, connected to a Smart Grid that allows us all to become energy traders. This will benefit us all in terms of cheaper, cleaner energy, fewer carbon emissions and more control over our energy imports and exports. It won’t be good for the fossil fuel industry but that’s a good thing too.

New EV (Eccentric Vehicle) from Morgan

The new EV3, three wheeled electric vehicle from Morgan (Source: wired.com)

The new EV3, three-wheeled electric vehicle from Morgan (Source: wired.com)

I’ve written quite a lot about Electric Vehicles but nothing quite like this one! See this article from wired.com for more about this head-turner.

Australian Homes Still the Largest In the World

No joke!

No kidding.

I’ve mentioned it many times but I still can’t get my head around WHY Australians need to be building the largest new homes in the world. As far as I’m concerned it’s a national disgrace. This article from ‘The Everyday Experts‘ (A.K.A. Australian Gas Networks) seems to consider it a badge of honour. No doubt, for those trying to flog fossil fuels for heating homes, an average new build size of 243 square meters is an encouraging statistic. As these ‘Experts’ put it…‘Bigger homes need bigger energy solutions’

I cringe in shame.

What was interesting to me about the article was the comparison with other countries and with Australia’s past. In 1984 in Australia the average new build was only 162 sqm. In Denmark they currently build the largest new homes in Europe at 137 sqm while in the UK the average is only 76 sqm…. 76 SQUARE METERS! That is less than a THIRD the size of Australia’s new homes and about half again as big as the Greeny Flat (which is only 57 sqm). With an extra 20 sqm we could easily fit a couple more bedrooms and another bathroom onto the Greeny flat and have plenty of space for a family of five.

Which all brings me back to the question… ‘Why do Australians think we need the biggest homes in the world?’ Any time anyone suggests to me that building an energy efficient home is too expensive I simply make the point that all we need to do is build smaller homes. Then we can easily afford to put a bit more into things like double-glazed windows, better insulation and air sealing, solar panels and water conservation measures.

The Simpler Way

My good friend Glenn Robinson sent me a link a few days ago to an excellent report entitled ‘The Simpler Way‘. You may need to subscribe to their website (simplerway.org) to download the pdf version but all of the information is freely available on the website. Here is a quote from the introduction to the report which serves as an encouraging counterpoint to the story above about Australia’s enormous homes.

‘… A free and meaningful life, it turns out, does not actually depend on having all the latest consumer products or having the nicest house on the street. On the contrary, working long hours just to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ leaves people with less time for the things that really matter in life, like friends, family, community, and engaging in peaceful, creative activity. This is the stuff that makes life worth living, and the interesting thing is we don’t need to be rich to enjoy it all. The best things in life really are free. Abundance is a state of mind.’ 

I haven’t read the whole report yet but I look forward to it based on that introduction. I know I’m going to enjoy it and I’ll probably be quoting more from it in coming Newsletters.

Greeny Flat in the Media

Yesterday saw the Greeny Flat get a write up in the ‘Home’ section of the Saturday Daily Telegraph. It’s a good article by Jennifer Veerhuis about how to keep a house warm in winter without using a heater. It’s mostly about Passive Solar Design which, as you know, is the key to keeping a building both warm in winter and cool in summer naturally.

Justin Huntsdale shooting our Kale Palms for ABC News24

Justin Huntsdale shooting our kale palms for ABC News24

We’ve had a few mentions on our local 2ST radio station lately and on Friday we had another visit from Justin Huntsdale from ABC Illawarra. Justin has done a couple of excellent radio pieces about the Greeny Flat over the last two years but this time he came to shoot a video interview which he expects will air on ABC News24 in the near future. I’ll keep you posted but don’t worry, if you miss it on ABC it will be available online and Justin will provide me with a link to the video.

Thanks again to Jennifer, Mitch and Graeme from 2ST and Justin for helping us spread the word about cost-effective, energy positive and sustainable homes. Our goal is to help transition the Australian building industry away from the huge, energy-sucking monsters we are currently producing and towards smaller, simpler, more practical, lower maintenance, water conserving and energy positive homes and commercial buildings. Any publicity we get helps to raise awareness and hasten the transition.

Thanks for your part too dear readers.

1 comment to June 4, 2016: Stools to Fuels

  • Gwenda Davies

    Hello I am very interested in your Greeny Flat concept for a home of my own. I have looked at options such as yurts and demountables.
    Do you have any plans available?
    I saw the ABC program and was so impressed !
    I am on a tight budget and need very little space to live with simple needs.
    Perhaps you could provide some assistance to help me consider whether this path is workable for me.
    Thank you,
    Gwenda Davies

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