Solutions for Self-Reliance

Tinkering our way into a Resilient Future


Are there new technologies that will zoom local production and improve our resilience?

Of course.

In fact, nearly all of the technologies we need, will be developed by people tinkering with solutions and sharing the results online.

Tinkering?  Yes.

Tinkerers working in networks invented airplanes, light bulbs, and personal computers.  These networks operate on the simple idea that:

  • Lots of people prototyping solutions to problems and
  • sharing their results with lots of other people
  • can quickly invent amazing solutions to difficult problems.

The Challenge

Here’s an example of a tinkerer that has a pretty slick solution to a difficult problem:  Is there a resilient way to generate energy from biomass?  Yes.  A couple.

One of the solutions we’ve begun to explore is the conversion of a septic tank into a biogas system (see the earlier letter, “Don’t throw away your Wealth” for more).

Another solution is to develop a furnace or stove that uses (technical language alert — beep, beep) gasification and pyrolytic processes that allow us to:

  • use nearly any type of biomass feedstock (wood, husks, etc.),
  • in a smokeless/clean way (nearly zero smoke/fumes),
  • and produces biochar (an extremely useful soil amendment produced by pyrolysis) as its primary waste product.

The closest I’ve seen to a simple technological implementation that would be appropriate for this is the Lucia Stove.  Here’s a diagram for how it operates:


All you need to do with this system is add some wood or biomass and ignite it.  It fires up quickly and burns cleanly after ignition (I suspect an electronic ignition source would speed this).   The wood/biomass doesn’t actually burn, the stove’s heat causes it to char and release gases that burn cleanly at the top of the stove, in a way that’s very similar to propane or natural gas (which suggests that this system could be dual use).  When depleted, the biomass ends up as biochar, an amazing soil additive for your garden.  In all, it’s an amazingly efficient technique that can use nearly any fuel to produce clean heat.

While there is a more elaborate injection molded version of the stove available, there’s also an the origami version for disaster relief and development that ships as four pre-cut slats of metal that can be easily cut and bent to build the stove (which means it is easy to purchase and test out as an alternative to a BBQ).   The team at the Haiti Clean Stove Project documented their construction of one here.


Could this stove’s design become the basis of a resilient furnace system?  Perhaps.

With some more work (primarily an automated method for feeding/cleaning it and fail safes to prevent problems), it could be a resilient furnace or stove that you and I would be happy to use.


Your guide to tinkering,


John Robb


PS:  If you have experience with the basic Lucia stove, let us know the results.  Also, if you have any other examples.  Please share them.

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