The Village Hub

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Villager tapping a sugar palm.
We thought you might find this invention as interesting and inspiring as we did. The "Village Hub" is a mini factory that can completely change the well-being of local villages in Indonesia. It is all based on the sugar palm. First, villagers tap the juice from a living palm tree, just like getting maple syrup from a maple tree. So it doesn't kill the tree. The sugar palms are growing in a biodiverse forest rather than on a monoculture farm. The trees don't need any fertilizer.

The juice is brought to the Village Hub, which is a system of interconnected small facilities in one central location. The Village Hub turns the juice into two products: ethanol to use locally as fuel, and syrup to sell.

Many of these rural areas often experience fuel supply difficulties, so this ethanol production is important. They also use the ethanol for bright light (using a Coleman-lantern-like lamp) and for clean cooking fuel.

Fermentation of ethanol produces carbon dioxide, which is captured in the Village Hub and fed into an algae pond (when carbon dioxide is added to algae, it grows a lot faster). The algae is then harvested and used as a high-protein feed for cattle and goats.

The manure from the animals goes into a small biogas installation, which produces methane that they use as fuel to create heat for the ethanol distillation. The leftover from the biogas installation is used as fertilizer to grow crops.

The other product the Village Hub produces is palm syrup. The palm juice is heated to evaporate some of the water, and that steam is used to preheat the juice before it goes into the evaporator (making the process use less overall fuel) and the contact between the steam and the cool juice produces condensation, which is collected and made available as clean drinking water.

The whole Village Hub unit is compact and transportable, and could change the lives of millions of Indonesians. Everyone involved with the Village Hub earns more money, so they can afford to send their children to school.

If you'd like to see a Village Hub in action, watch this YouTube video: Village Hub.

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Don't Send America's Natural Gas to Ukraine

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given a boost to those calling for the United States to expedite natural gas exports to help allies overseas. In this thinking, American gas exports — in the form of liquefied natural gas, or LNG — are not only a boon to the domestic economy but also a potent geopolitical tool to be wielded against the Kremlin.

Never mind that the United States won’t have its first LNG export terminal in operation until late 2015 at the very earliest; that all of its approved gas exports are already committed to long-term contracts; and that Ukraine does not even have a single terminal for receiving LNG.

Even without the newly concocted geopolitical rationale for exports, though, Washington seems favorably disposed to permitting much of America’s surplus gas to migrate overseas. Since the beginning of the shale gas revolution, which kicked off in 2005, the U.S. Department of Energy has approved six LNG export terminals with a combined export capacity of 8.5 billion cubic feet a day, and more projects are in the works.

But before we put more of our gas in the service of our foreign policy, be it saving Europe from Russia’s claws or Asia from its toxic air, we should ask ourselves one question: Why aren’t we using more gas in our cars and trucks?

Read the rest on Politico by Gal Luft: Don't Send America's Natural Gas to Ukraine.

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The Chinese Want to Eat More Pork

Monday, February 24, 2014

Many criticize the ethanol industry in America. We shouldn't be turning corn into fuel, they say, because there are hungry people in the world. It is an admirable sentiment, but it doesn't take into account how the market works. When American farmers grow corn, they sell it to somebody. One of the markets they sell it to is growing: China.

As more people in China have more money to spend, one of the things they want to spend it on is pork. So the demand for pork is rising. And with it, the demand for feed is rising. Specifically, the demand for corn. I keep coming across news stories with titles like these:

China’s Corn Imports May Top 10 Million Tons
China’s Taste for Pork Continues to Grow
China’s Hunger for Pork to Boost Corn Demand

To quote from the third article: “Rather than becoming more dependent on imported meat, Mr. Urlich expects China will favour purchasing more feed grains. This should lead to a greater reliance on imported corn for the growing livestock and poultry sector.

“In fact, both the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and China’s state-affiliated agricultural in-formation service provider, estimate that corn imports will reach 5 million tons in 2011/2012 from 1.5 million tons in the previous year.”

Those who say we should not use “food” to make fuel may not mean to say it, but what they’re unwittingly proposing is something like this: “We should forget about energy independence, national security, and economic vitality so people in China can eat more pork.”

In other words, the “food versus fuel” argument means we should not use our land to grow feedstocks to make fuel, but instead we should use it to grow corn and export it to China because they really like pork.

I think if most Americans were given the choice, we would choose to give up our addiction to oil, and leave it to China to work out their pork addiction problem themselves.

I’d like to clarify that. We are not addicted to oil. We are the victims of an illegal transportation fuel monopoly. The moment we have access to a better fuel, we will drop oil like a hot rock. The oil companies want us to stick with oil, but American drivers would love to be free of oil’s fuel monopoly and the high prices, high pollution, and high level of terrorist threat it causes.

Given how small the yield is for corn, especially compared to using algae, the criticism about corn is now moot. But many people bring it up, and the facts about China's pork feed should be added to the discussion. Read more about algae's yields here: Ethanol For $1 a Gallon Using Unfarmable Land and Undrinkable Water.

- Excerpted from the book, Fill Your Tank With Freedom

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