Living Sustainably

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Archive for April, 2011

Green Electricity, Heat, and Biochar

Want to produce your own electricity, heat, and have a biochar “waste” to improve your garden? Running afoul of the outdoor woodboiler restrictions? Then a gasifier can be the answer. A gasifier cooks the gases out of the wood, which can then be used for heating or running a engine / generator. You could even power a vehicle with this. The heat generated by the unit can heat domestic or space heating hydronic systems. The charcoal “waste” is an awesome soil amendment for your garden. There’s very little to no pollution, and no smoke or odors. Waste wood from sawmills or other wood process (including old pallets or construction debris) are sufficient, no new wood needs to be cut.

For more info, see


How to Turn a Pallet into a Garden

Learn from step by step instructions how to make a free vertical garden using a used throwaway pallet.

Materials needed:

1 pallet
2 large bags of potting soil,
seeds (author uses flowers, but many herbs and small veggies will work)
a small roll of landscape fabric
a staple gun
sand paper.


Monsanto Facing GMO Lawsuit

A class action suit has been filed by a group of plaintiffs connected with the organic/natural foods movement against the gene-splicing giant, Monsanto Corporation. The suit, filed March 29, 2011, in United States District Court, Southern District of New York, in Manhattan, seeks a declaratory judgment against Monsanto. If granted, the judgment will prohibit Monsanto from suing for patent infringement in the event that its patented genes, such as the glyphosate tolerance gene, should turn up in seeds or plants grown by organic or heirloom farmers.



DIY Algae Photo-Reactors

Why an algae reactor? Algae is a superfood, and is very nutritious. It feeds on CO2, and produces Oxygen as a waste product. Use it to clean up the air in your living area, provide nutrition, and add color and interest to your space.

Jared Bouck’s DIY Algae Reactors:

I have wanted to do this a project for a long time and with earth day this year it kinda just fit timing wise. Its really a simple and quick build, yet getting the level up in bio-friendly-geek makes this all the more fun. Now I admit that I might be a bit of a closet hippie. But I do believe in making changes so that the poor saps that come along after me might have the world a little less badly off for them. Let’s face it, we kind of effed up the whole earth thing… but watching the rhythmic bubbling in 12 clear pipes with green goo floating in them makes me forget it all.

Now just myself doing this project all alone will have a minuscule effect I realize. But they are cheap enough to build that some variant should be able to be installed in every house hold. The cumulative effect would be far greater obviously. But more over it would have a far greater effect on the environment than not doing it… (Until everyone starts dumping huge quantities of algae down there drains and into our local water drainage, lakes, rivers and oceans.)

This project is the second version of the basic photo bio reactor array that I started with. While it may look similar to the previous version is dramatically different overall. This design has many improvements that make it far more sustainable and practical for long-term use. I really focused on making it highly modular and insuring it was rugged for prolonged outdoor use that is easier to fill and harvest from. While the array is smaller for this project it can be scaled to any size or requirement.


Bio-Butanol – The practical replacement for gasoline

By Robert Warren

Butanol is another amazing alternative fuel, because it can be made from things like rice straw and old newspapers. It has as much energy as gasoline (BTU’S/gal), it burns with the same air/fuel ratio, and it will even mix with gasoline which means that you don’t have to drain your tank first in order to use it. You don’t even have to re-tune or adjust your engine. The best part is that it can even be made from lawn clippings and leaves.

Butanol is normally made by anaerobic bacteria feeding on cellulose, and it is damned smelly stuff, stinking beyond belief. It reminds me of toe-jam! But it is also a well-known chemical by-product, and is used for tons of things, especially the perfume industry, but usually in tiny quantities. It is related to Butyric acid, which is what synthetic orange and strawberry flavours are made of. It is hard to believe you make one out of the other, with such a God-awful smell, but then,chemistry is an amazing science.

While I have read various pieces of literature on the subject, I only have personal knowledge of two people who ever tried to make it. The first was Pete Charles, the same person who designed the Charles 803 alcohol still which I have written about extensively. (I have built this still over 130 times.) Pete tried to make it from lawn clippings (ordinary grass). It is a biological decomposition, via an anaerobic process (no oxygen), but the smell was so bad, and extremely difficult to get rid of the smell afterwards. In fact it was a serious nuisance! Several other by-products, including butyric acid, are produced (although in small amounts), but they are can be a serious danger to eyes, nose, and skin. The biological bacteria process is an organic process, but yet it has to be very closely controlled in a sealed environment, preferably sealed stainless steel or very heavy plastic fermentation tanks, with closed pumps circulation for mixing, and large sealed plastic settling tanks. I really don’t know enough about this process to help you make it. But that’s what the Net is for, right?

The other person I met during this period, about 20 years ago, was Dr. Sydney Levi, a former chemistry professor, chemistry textbook author, and holder of many patents involving plastics extrusion processes. He was going to build a huge $3 million dollar plant in Fresno, Calif. and convert rice straw to butanol. He said he had the funding in place and he was working on his proposal full time when I met him. He had made it in his laboratory many, many times. I spent over an hour with him, he showed me the plant diagrams and chemical processes for how the process would work. We discussed many different issues, as I was at that time writing freelance articles for a trade journal, Gasohol, USA. Somehow, the project died, and I moved to Oregon, and I never was able to follow up and find out what happened.

More recently, a US government group in Colorado, NREL Laboratories, has done some research on this subject and has some articles available on the net. I visited their facility 4 or 5 years ago and got a private tour, where they showed me the complex laboratory where they were researching acid hydrolysis in combination with biological decomposition of various lignums and cellulosic materials. They said it looked completely feasible in terms of economics. But doing something successfully in the lab and then making it work in the real world are two different things entirely. You need a lot of money and a lot of scientific knowledge.


Determining the Output of a Solar Panel

A photovoltaic solar electric panel generates DC power when it is exposed to sunlight. A natural question to ask is ‘How much power?’ Here we explain how to test a solar panel for output and how to determine the maximum power point.


Making your own fuel – resources

You can make your own fuel! The concept of making ethanol fuel is very similar to making beer and distilling it into spirits. The technology and the know how is common. Modifying your vehicle to run efficiently on this clean burning homegrown fuel is trickier, but doable for the backyard mechanic. There’s a number of good resources online for learning how to make your own ethanol fuel. Here are some of our favorites listed on our freebooks page:

Make your own fuel
Guidelines for converting gasoline engines
Making & Using Ethanol Fuel
Alcohol Stills
Biofuel Library
Mike Brown
Sawdust & Cellulose
Making it on the farm

These, and more free resources are available at

The difference between an emergency and an inconvenience is preparation. –


Article Contest – First Submission

Please read the first article submitted to our article contest.

Playing with Plastic – Building The Bubba/Beggars Greenhouse

Articles are to be self sufficiency, sustainability targeted, and the winner gets a free copy of the Backyard Food Production DVD.

Keep them coming, and good luck!

The difference between an emergency and an inconvenience is preparation. –


Submit Your Stories and Win

We are running a great contest. Submit your sustainability, offgrid, survival, or self sufficient story (gardening, rain water harvesting, off grid power, DIY projects, etc.). We will run a poll, and everyone will vote on the best, most interesting, whatever. The winner will get a free Backyard Food Production DVD! Plus you get your story published right here on Green-Trust! How cool is that?

Send your story (with pics) to Steve in Word, Open Office or PDF format.

Thank you to Back Yard Food Production for donating the DVD (a $30 value). The runner up will get our DIY Water systems ebook package.

The difference between an emergency and an inconvenience is preparation. –


Free Backyard Food Production Newsletter

For a valuable newsletter on producing your own food, visit

Steve Spence from Green-Trust.Org says:

“We get the newsletter (and have the DVD), and it’s one of our most treasured resources”.

Backyard Food Production says:

If you are interested in growing your own food in your backyard, or on a small farm, then welcome to our website. We offer a DVD tutorial that covers the basics of food production systems for a family or small group. Our emphasis is on sustainability, so our orientation is low-tech, with as little ‘store bought’ inputs as possible. We sometimes offer workshops that teach skills related to living sustainably. We are located in Central Texas – the climate and soils (er, lack of) make it very challenging to grow food here. Regardless of where you are, the principles are the same.

WATCH a 3 minute preview of the DVD!

The difference between an emergency and an inconvenience is preparation. –