Ralph's comments about methane and some of the other challenges he faced in his fix-it work at La Posada
I majored in history in college because I knew not what I wanted to do for a life’s work, if or when I ever actually did grow up. Graduation caved in on me, without me having any real idea what to do once I got thrust from that womb… I had little ambition, and hazy goals, sum of which amounted to: see the world, listen to the music, and operate my Ham Radio. In school I turned quite a few extra dollars (and generated local notoriety) by repairing busted and/or malfuncted mechanisms of various sorts.
Tony Campolo picked me up one day, hitchhiking. Rather than try to reform me, which he probably should have, he mentioned (just in passing) that someone like me could be useful in the Dominican Republic; lots of broke down mechanisms to fix... (nothing Tony Campolo ever "mentions," or writes, is ever "just in passing")… Flash! Perfect answer! Instant life plan: Hurry up, get myself married to poor unsuspecting Barbara, then decamp to a new country, do a little work, maybe even learn a new language, and serve Jesus, all at the same time!
When I think about it, that’s actually how it all worked out. The one thing that has always distinguished my lifelong extended-adolescence is a pathological fear of boredom. In the Dominican Republic I was never bored; there was always too much to do, and most every lick we hit was beneficial; sort of like being surrounded by fire… Whichever way you aim a hose, you make lots of steam at the very least.
In the Dominican Republic we had to do by hand many things that have been done by machines in the US and Canada for the past fifty or a hundred years. We saw strange juxtapositions of archaic methods with modern technology. The best example was our water system. We dug the well by rope-and-bucket method, then lined the shaft with rocks (like would have been done in New England 300 years ago) but then we ran wire and PVC pipe, and installed all electrical equipment to deliver the water all the places it had to go. We wound motors and transformers by hand; for example, my welder started out as a cast off pole-pig transformer that had been struck by lightning. We utilized Ham Radio phone patches to contact the US and Canada, especially during medical projects when we had large numbers of North American personnel.
So much of what we did always seemed to fall within the realm of invention. We were forevermore beset with problems we seldom ever see or deal with first hand anymore in North America. Our biggest challenges were lousy roads, poor communications, and worst of all, lack of steady, dependable electricity. Energy was never far from our minds, especially one possible solution to it, methane (biogas… from pig manure). Energy independence is a subject that has renewed interest and relevance to the time we now live in, at least in the U. S.
Along the way we had scads of fun, some little anguish and consternation, a few narrow escapes from the obituary page, multiple false starts (for me, most of all) at attaining mature-minded adulthood, as well as certain misadventures with some of our "inventions." Our Dominican interlude was truly a period of my life in which we got back an awful lot more than we ever gave!
Throughout the entire experience shone the beacons of my own daddy and my father-in-law (whom I addressed as "Professor"). Both were depression bred and both were WWII vets. Both were jacks of all trades, who had rather fix what they already had than buy something new. I gained my interest in radio from my Daddy, who was a gunner /radio operator on a B-24 (slapped Morse code on a "leg key"). I remember standing on tiptoe to watch over the table while he assembled early Heath Kits, and had my hands slapped when I reached for those colorful capacitors or resistors. The Professor, (my father-in-law), was an aerospace engineer at IBM, and went through Europe in Pattons army. Both had answers to the various situations we faced, as well as the rest of life’s challenges.
I communicated with my daddy by Ham Radio early mornings, Morse code, on the 40 meter ham band, and unfortunately, the only record of these communications are log book entries. I wrote to both often, partly to get answers (and partly to impress them with solutions, especially if I had thought of all by myself…) and here, (edited for redundancy) is a portion of that correspondence.
July 21, 1975
Dear Professor -
Could you give me the circuit again that you drew for running a 3 phase motor single phase with a capacitor? I have a 3 horse 3 phase refrigeration motor to hook up. I have no 3 phase to run it with, so it needs to be single phase.
Am having trouble with that motor I put back together - back firing something fierce. I think the vacuum advance is bad, but have no timing light or vacuum pump to prove it. I am, it seems, the only person who can drive it. I had to hone down the rings because they didn't bore it big enough! Or else they used an old bore. Soon as it has worn a bit I'm going to put new rings in.
Another problem here is insects - I had the carb and valve lifter assembly sitting out for 3 days, and in that time bees had built nests in all the orifices and the adjustment screws on the lifter assembly! Had to rebuild the carb again.
All in all, I will appreciate my new shop when I have it!
August 7, 1975
Dear Perfessor -
The Dominican government has clamped down on the electric company, insisting that they cut down on the use of petroleum. Well, during peak hours, we get power cut off. This is around 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM, and from about 6:00 PM to 11:00 PM. The needs of the city come above the hinterland, whose main draw is just light. So we use kerosene at night, and keep the sinks and spare-water cans full of water to wash with.
Well, I think we are getting a big 15 KVA generator in the next shipment. I don't know, but I hope so. I might just set it up to run the whole place. One of the benefits will be the exhaust - we will be able to heat water with it. I'll direct the exhaust through pipes in a few barrels welded end for end, and if that don't heat it, nothing will. We will also make use of the sun for hot water too.
We have all sorts of batteries laying around. Well, they could come in quite useful for lighting. 10 in series, at about 50 to 70 AMP hrs each makes over 2 KVA for about 4 hours, at night, and then charging, with a little use, during the day. A wind mill is what I have in mind to charge them with. Wind mills will also supply us with water later on when we gain the mastery of them.
I took the air conditioning out of the FURD ("Fix Ur Repair Daily"), am going to use it to make a compressor for the big new freezer - ought to be good enough. It will be powered by an old 2 horse pool motor.
That's the top of it more or less. Tell us what you think, and God be with you,
August 24, 1975 AD, from Ralph:
For my antenna system here I want to build a quad. I have the welder here now, and I think I will be able to build quite a decent tilt over tower. I still need a rotator, but that piece you gave me that one Easter before Barb and I were married will do nice when I can get it down here. The antenna then will be the highest part of the Posada, which is the highest area around. All the guy wires then will be lower band antennas, and various other wires for just receiving.
Now the problem of power comes up. During an apagon (power failure) I couldn't operate; however, with a twelve volt power supply, things could be very good. One thing I am thinking of doing is hooking an old Chrysler alternator up in one of two ways. The first, and handiest, is as a charging system for a bank of twelve volt batteries, which in turn would run a solid state power supply during a black out, and would keep the filaments lit twenty four hours a day. The alternator would be turned by a laundry motor of about ____ h.p. which would be quite abundant for anything I had in mind. The biggest problem out here is regulation. You can underline that if you want to. This Heath rig is designed for a 10% line voltage change, but you know that we far exceed that here. With a battery lighting the filaments, and an induction motor keeping the alternator at exactly 60 cycles a second, the motor will absorbe any line voltage change, without changing the alternator speed too much, and the voltage regulator on the alternator will maintain the twelve volts nicely. In a pinch the motor could provide as much as 400 watts of power, which is quite enough. We probably will be home for Christmas, and I intend to get the twelve volt power supply for the Heath rig.
Another possibility is to take the diodes out of two sides of the alternator, and put transformers there to make a power supply with. Being three phase, one could be kept for charging the battery, while another could be used for the B plus, and another for high voltage on the final. I have a twelve volt supply here for a little receiver, and a little transmitter. It right now could be hooked up for emergency use.
Thanks for the scott "T" circuit. I have two possible applications of it already. The first is the big farm water pump. It has been having its troubles. The Dominican government has ordered the electric company to cut down on its use of electricity. They are quite ingenious in any number of stupid ways. When they are exceeding their limit, then they cut whole circuits off, which is OK. Trouble is, it comes during peak hours when you could use the current, and that defeats the whole purpose of having it.
Those times of course are between 10 and 2 during the day, and 7 to 11 at night. Another of their tricks is on three phase circuits they turn off whole phases at a time on circuits that they don't think have too many three phase loads, since the country side's main draw is for lighting anyway, and for them that is quite an equitable way of doing, but for our line, which, admittedly only has two three phase loads on the whole 14 miles of it, one, our pump, and the other, an industry that works only during the day, it spells disaster for our poor pump. One possible solution to the question would be the application of your scott "T" circuit, and I am indeed grateful for it. It would take quite a heavy transformer for it, but, I think it could be worth it. When the current comes back on, they turn on one phase at a time, at ten second intervals. The problem with turning the current off is that of a huge initial surge when it comes back on. There is everything which has cooled down and waited to come back on, such as lights, refrigeration, other motors, and if they turned all the phases on at one time, it would stop the generator.
Many of their distribution transformers are dangerously overloaded, and the surge kills them outright. At this place I told you about where I got my iron, there are thousands of cans laying around to be turned back into transformers. I'll bet they burn out a hundred or more a night. This place works constantly to its capacity. I was talking with an old fellow who used to work installing generators for the company, and the waste of money, not to say down right corruption, is incredible. Politics permeates everything down here, and this man informed me that our problem out here was not just one of a technical nature, but of a political one, and we would have to go thru political channels to get it fixed up. The electric company consistantly contracts to sell more electricity than it can generate because of certain bonuses that it can get.
I guess you got the low down on it all now. Will be looking to hear from you all, and seeing you Christmas iff something like that turns out possible.
In Christ's love, Ral3p²h and Barb
October 4, 1975 (letter continued from book)
Dear Professor -
This friend of mine (that got the tree on his house) is an engineer in electronics, is about 65 years old, and used to be in charge of a telephone station in Miami. He speaks English, and had a hoard of old books on electronics and electricity, from all the way back to 1900, including the original Audel collection, and they got aweful wet during the storm, some destroyed, but I managed to dry the rest. He had had a home in the capital, but sold it, and moved out here for retirement. He used to be a teacher at the university here too. Now he does translating work, just to keep busy. He helps me out a lot of ways. He understands a lot of things better than me, and tells me what it is necessary to do. We got the pump fixed up real good, and it all seems to be fine. Being in communications, he can tell me about microwave like I never heard before. We are going to try to get him a ham license, and then he will be on the air with us.
One of his books explained power factor in mechanical terms, and now I think I finally understand it. You told me it was there, and what it was, and how to get rid of it, but I didn't understand it still. This book was published in 1914, when most of that stuff was new, so it was aweful elementary. Some kinds of motors had just been invented, and they were still using pencil oscillographs, and relays to change AC to DC, and 60 cycle was just coming into its own. From a historical point of view, it is gold. It tells how to wind, rewind, change a slot core from one phase to another, and all kinds of things.
I have the three phase motor here to rewind to single phase. I decided against using the scott T, because none of the literature I have on it tells how to chose values, anything like that. The stator has 24 slots. 8 for each phase. I'll take the wire off, put in new insulation, and put one of the old windings back. It was a 4 pole motor. I am going to wind it for 2, and put an auxiliary winding at right angles to it. It will be coupled by condenser to the main winding, and for starting, I am going to get an old relay off one of the walls upstairs and rewind it for current. It will switch in another capicitor for starting.
My transformer has all of La Posada on it now, and hasn't burned out yet. I had some trouble with it when one side burned out, that is, the lead came loose, set up an arc, and melted itself off. That meant that one side of the transformer was off, and the other side was carrying the load for the whole place. Even then, it only got hot to the touch. I opened it up, and put thicker leads on, and made lugs for them so they could not come off. Since then, it works fine. Only gets mildly warm. Famous last words. Hope Mr. Murphy aint looking over my shoulder.
Your esteemed daughter and I have finally gotten down to going to the capital every night and taking Spanish. Fine bisness. She and I are in the same class. I wanted to be with her, so I didn't try to get advancement. This class goes till December, and then we take Spanish II. It goes all the way up to level VI where we are getting literature and composition. Most people drop out at level IV because by then they can get along pretty well. Don't know how we will end up.
Me and Pa have been getting together on the radio for the past two weeks, steadily. At first contact was bad, because my antenna was below tree level, was full of salt in the center insulator, and was cut for the phone band. I added pig tails, and put it up on Posada roof, washed it out, and now for the frequency of 7125, which we use, the swr is 1.2 to 1. Near perfect. No complaint.
Me and John are building a bigger antenna, about 50 feet in the air, which will hold a monstrous 40 meter quad, two elements, in delta, with a three element 20 and 15 quad interlaced in between. It will all hang from a long 22 foot boom, and will be rotatable about 30 degrees (enough to get down on Chicago, Miami, Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Montraeol, Ontario, Quebec, and of course, old sunny Binghamton. The 40 meter one will have about 7 db gain, and the other two will have about 9 or 10. That's quite a big help. With all that, I'll have quite a trunk line set up. I am also going to put up a vertical for four bands to get me to Honduras and Liberia. Later on I am going to stretch an 80 meter rombic (can you imagine how big that dadburned thing is going to be?) when I get enough wire. It will give me about 8 db if I terminate it right. With 200 watts, it will provide a trunk line into the 10:00 nets at night most places, and to Florida at least on bad nights. I hear New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania most nights real good, but doubt if they could hear me off a normal dipole because their noise levels and interference are always higher than mine. Being out where I am, I have only atmospheric noise to bother about, almost no qrm, no manmade noise, neon lights, etc. I have the sea for a reflector, and a wonderful, salty, perfectly conducting ground. I also have our massive water system, more than seven miles of it stretched around like a net, the longest stretches of it being metal, some of it sunk 2 or 3 feet in the ground, to be a ground. This counts all of the water pipe that is on the big farm pump, and which we have found, has some stretches running all the way to the river Nigua, and to Boca de Nigua on the other. That's quite a ground.
I told you back a while that we had an embrionic civic organization here for use of that water pump. It seems to be working nice. The people have been paying for the most part, and we have been able to tabulate the extent of the pipes. Each person who has a faucet in his house, or on his property, pays one peso a month. The two industries that use water pay ten a month. Those who have irrigation on their farms pay five pesos a month. We have been able to find out from word of mouth pretty much who uses what. There are also several faucets distributed several places around the neighborhood, and hundreds of people draw water from them and carry it on their heads in cans. I was stretching it to say 7 thousand, but I would recon it to be somewhere near 2500 or so.
Women come down that mountain every day to get water in the morning. There is one girl with only one arm, I'd say about 15 or 16 years old, who we see every evening on our way to school, with a big five gallon can of water on her head. How she gets it up and down I have no idea, but it is incredible to see. We have a man employed now to turn the pump off and on, grease it, and carry word if something goes wrong. That way it works even if there is no clock there. With the electricity the way it is, no clock can keep up where it belongs. This man also makes the collections. Hope it lasts. It's time to eat. Wish all well, hope the building gets done before the cold sets in, and all internal improvements get finished in very short order.
Yours in Christ's love, Ral3p²h
January 1976, from Ralph to Dad:
The principle needs of the people out here are manifold, but what they use electric power the most for when they have it is light, water, and refrigeration. Being as it is an equian society still, there is a lot of manure around that could be pressed into service. We would make methane first. Then we would get two large, old automobile engines, also a differential from a car that still had the breaks on it. The auto engines would still have to have their transmissions on too. We would couple them to the wheel ends of the differential. The center pinion would then be coupled to a generator. I was thinking of grabbing an old 3 phase motor of about 30 or 40 horse and winding it to be a single phase generator. On to the same shaft I would try to put a D.C. exciter, and rectifiers, our CAT generator is set up that way -- the exciter and field spin on the same shaft, and there are no brushes -- only bearings. I know how to rewind a motor now -- the bigger, the easier. One car motor would run at a time. The other would be stopped, and that side of the differential held by its own brakes. One would run one day, the other the next. There would be provision to run on propane, if we got in trouble.
We would transmit electricity where ever we could find a source for manure. There's a lot of it around. I don't just know how it would work, but each family with animals would provide a certain amount, hopefully all they possibly could get together. Also human waste, inadequately disposed of to begin with, could be carted out our way. We could have a vehicle to go around to get it most likely. We would transmit the electricity thru underground coaxial cable. RG8/U will handle 4000 volts. I could put 3000 on it easy, and then we could wind transformers for 3000/220Z110 with iron from a place I know.
Now, we could refrigerate on the ammonia cycle. With that we could also use solar energy when its available. It would be a deep freeze arrangement -- a family raises a cow, well, they don't get the use of it -- they sell it, and then maybe have meat themselves once a week, at the inflated prices of the butcher. They have no provision for storing it. In this deep freeze we could store meat for several families, and they could come get it when they wanted it, or sell to their neighbors. It certainly would improve a lot of peoples diet.
Hope you ain't bored, or, if you are, that you read it before taking a nap. Thanks for all that you write to us.
February 14, 1976, from Dad to Ralph:
Glad to hear from you once in a while. Concerning your power problem, it seems to me that whatever else you may end up doing, you first have to reach some interim understanding with the power company. Question 1, how much do they want La Posada to pay for the power since you have been there? If there was an amount stated maybe it would be possible for groups in the States to foot the bill. Statement 2: the specific impulse or energy content of methane is about 1/3 that of gasoline. Engines wheeze and want to die. Special engines built to burn sewer gas (methane) run very slowly and have immense pistons (12 inches or so). They are used to pump sewage in some hilly places. Question 3, it still impresses me that the surf comes pouring through that hole in the sea pool wall at a fairly constant clip. I don't know how, but it seems there should be a way to convert all that energy.
Windmills should feather when there is a high wind. That could be a viable possibility there. As I recall there is usually some wind. Since all these are iffy -- it seems important to butter up the power company a little until such time as you can come up with an operating alternate. The methane method requires a large reservoir which will collect non bio-degradable solids like dirt. There must be an optimum PH and temperature also. I remember reading of a farmer who had a methane generator on his farm. You are dead in the water if power is shut off since you have no alternate fresh water supply like a bucket type well. The methane requires the water for chemical formation I would think. At any rate the bacteria need water.
These rambling thoughts won't do you any good I am sure, but at any rate you can see I appreciate your problem.
I guess you do feel the guardian angel was with you when the axle bearing gave out. I believe it. I think we are helped beyond our understanding every day of our lives. I can't explain some of the blows we get but believe they are intentional in a way also. Anyhow we are happy that things worked out all right.
Never heard of soap and sand in a radiator. Your enthusiasm for solving impossible problems is impressive. Just hope your friend there can still give you a hand once in a while on electrical power design problems. Much love, Dad, Perfessor, Pop, etc.
April 30, 1977, part of a letter Ralph wrote to Dad:
This is a time of more or less trouble for me, emotionally, so to help calm myselph I will sit down and write you a letter. Let me tell you what happened.
Saturday night, the night after you heard from us by phone patch, there was a great storm. A high tension wire in Nigua became dislodged from its insulator and draped itself across the wire of lower tension beneath it. The high tension wire was 69,000 volts. The low tension wire was 12,000. It burned everything that was on that particular phase. Fortunately nothing at La Posada suffered, because we had nothing connected to that phase, however, the farm pump all our neighbors use for water (and that I maintain) was burned to ashes. The inlet fuse box was a lump of melted porcelain and metal. (The fuses did not blow.) The relay was charred carbon. The motor winding was a glutinous mass of congealed copper. The 69,000 volts did not stop at the insulator, but arcked along the metal of the transformer, such that it was actually 69,000 volts at the motor, and was only there about 5 seconds. The wire at the top of the pole (the line) melted and broke.
So, the pump is burned out. The bearings are OK, but the starter is all arcked up. All the mechanical parts seem to be OK. It will be a lot of work to get it fixed. All the wiring went also. I will try to get them to rewind it in the capital. If they can't do it, I will rewind it myself for single phase, capacitor run.
I am tired of this electric company. Nothing of this type would happen in the States. And if it did, they certainly would pay for the damage they had done. Not so here. They take no responsibility for anything, and it is hard even to get them to fix what they, under normal circumstances, are responsible for. I am going to put wide gaped spark plugs across the lines. They will absorb the discharge next time. The pump will be turned off hence forth with a machete type switch, and not a contractor. Also, in place of the contractor I am going to put in thermal cutouts (that's kosher for single phase, isn't it?) In a situation like this, a contractor and fuse box ain't a good thing to have.
Now for lighter stuff. I have been transforming your little scope that you gave me into a D.C. -- 15 MHZ scope. You will remember that it had 2 12 AU7 tubes in the vertical amp. One function is as a cathode follower and voltage amplifier. The other as a phase inverter, which drove the plates directly. I am taking them out and putting in a pair of 6 EA8's. The pentode sections will be a push pull direct coupled amplifier, and the two cathode sections will function as a phase inverter, driven by a mosfet. The mosfet will draw its operating voltage off of the last resistor in the voltage divider circuit. The thing should be plenty sensitive that way. I have wound shunting and peaking coils too. I took the rectifier tubes out and put in solid state diodes, so she is brighter than before. I am going to put voltage regulators in the vacant sockets.
From Dad to Ralph:
I have been thinking about the high voltage line problem with the following recommendation - a Jacob's ladder. You probably already know all about it. Used by power companies on cross country lines to short out lightening bolts - self blowout. The arc establishes at the closest point which may be 1/2", then because of intense heat in the arc, is carried upward where the arc length may be 12" and the arc blows out. In the case of the high tension line, it would have tripped the circuit breakers at the source and might have saved all those refrigerators, etc.
September 1, 1977
Ordinarily I don't write letters any more, but I'll break the rule for once, just once. I generally let the secretary handle details like that, but she says I ought to write this one because she doesn't understand any of the subject matter.
In pshort, I got myselph an arc welder. Remember last winter that I told you I had wound a 15 KVA transformer for a welder? You told me I had to get some kind of constant current characteristic -- either an air gap, or some kind of movable core, or what not. That discouraged me, and I didn't do a thing more with it, set it out of the way, and left it.
I'm doing some heavy welding. I ran out of oxygen, so I figured I could at least use the big thing for cutting. Mind you, I hadn't even bothered to clamp the laminations together.
I found I could weld real nice! The fact of the matter is that when it wants to draw a lot of current the laminations start to spread themselves apart and buzz something awful! But it works! It seems to keep an even 80 or 90 amps. Open circuit it is 38 volts. Closed circuit (dead short) it is around 20. It is nice.
I need information on reactors and magnetic amplifiers. I want to make some magnetic amplifiers to control the field current on the big generator. It uses now a solid state package with an SCR and una-junction circuit, but I don't like it -- plus the SCR is burned out. I don't think that regulators like that are too awfully well adapted for this climate, so I wonder if you could help me. Basically I need data. I know how to hook up magnetic amplifier circuits, but I need winding data. I have iron.
The secretary says its bed time now, and that tomorrow is another day, so I will see you later. I hope it doesn't cause you any trouble finding info on those things -- if so I can experimentally wind several gate reactors and find out just what I need.
Thanks again for all your interest in us -- we hope that everything goes OK there, and that you didn't settle for too short a bath tub.
Closing comments by Ralph:
Over the years we'd spent at La Posada, we'd experienced various difficulties with power being shut off. Powerful surges when it came back on sometimes caused motors or solid state equipment to burn out. The power company's disinterest in any of these matters added to Ralph's aggravation. Ralph explained how this tied in to our hog population:
Generation of methane (biogas) by anaerobic fermentation, a process pioneered in places like India, South Africa, and the American South; had the potential to provide answers to a lot of energy problems. During the February 1975 medical project, a doctor gave us a book compiled by the Mother Earth News, consisting of articles on alternative sources of energy. After the first few pages I was hooked, and that doctor later sent me a subscription to the magazine.
One Hog Farmer in South Africa experienced manure disposal and fly problems and also was plagued with high energy costs. His solution, based on a certain amount of research he did on his own, was to build a digester, a sealed apparatus into which he put hog manure and other carbonaceous materials in the proper ratios, mixed with water to form a slurry. Over a 40-day cycle anaerobic bacteria would ferment the mixture, generating methane in the process. The methane was used to fuel a converted diesel generator, and the expended slurry, having been converted by the bacteria into high quality organic fertilizer, was used on the farm to raise other crops. People in India had similar success, and after reading up on it, John Shannon and I figured we could do the same. We worked at bits and pieces of it, never quite bringing the whole thing to fruition before other events brought that episode to a close.
We felt we could kill three birds with one stone: provide a cheaper source of protein to the neighbors by raising good quality hogs locally, revitalize some of the poor soil in the area with the resulting fertilizer (Dominicans burned their fields instead of plowing them under, or composting, so the soil was badly depleted), and provide ourselves with cheap energy in the form of methane.
First of all we had to have a source of manure, so we began a herd of hogs that eventually reached 75 or so head. Young Juan, who worked with our pigs, had known all his life that the main problem with owning pigs was the disposal of their droppings. For Juan to learn we purchased our pigs mostly because we wanted what they produced was a very disconcerting and confusing notion. Those Crazy Americans!
We made several attempts at creating a digester, eventually settling on an abandoned septic tank which we sealed up as best we could, building an air tight flush-type entry point for the fresh slurry, and an air tight departure point for the exhausted slurry. John Shannon and Bill Kent, between giggles, said La Posada would no longer be difficult to find, folks could just follow their noses.
Hogs, in order to generate large amounts of manure, must be fed large amounts of nice clean wholesome nutritious swill. Our hogs, even though we used scrub island stock, were given immunizations and parasite medicine, fed as much as they would eat, and were raised in uncrowded concrete pens which were cleaned daily. We fed them kitchen scraps, some grain, and vegetable matter left over from the harvested plantain bushes, all of it chopped up in a home built shredder, and boiled in a barrel into a soup seasoned with seawater. Feeding time sounded like a choir practice session, with each hog squealing to be fed first. Everyone knows a hog has an excellent voice but a poor ear, and it is next to useless to try and get them to harmonize.
We worked at this project over a period of three years, whenever we had time, resources, initiative, and new ideas to devote to it, and had certain misadventures along the way. Seed bacteria were needed to jump start the process, and a smaller digester was needed to culture these bacteria, which were in reality the ancestors of the bacteria that would generate the methane in the bigger apparatus.
To validate their fitness for this August and critical role, the bacteria had to be able to generate methane themselves. The smaller digester consisted of a 55 gallon barrel with a copper nipple soldered into the lid, and then the lid sealed with an old bicycle inner tube. A rubber hose ran from the nipple to a tube running through a cork into a glass jug filled with lime water and iron filings.
The biogas was supposed to bubble thru the lime water and iron which would absorb the annoying hydrogen sulfide gas -- the byproduct of anaerobic fermentation from which the distinctive odor comes. Having bubbled through the lime water, the gas exited the bottle through another tube and hose, and was allowed to escape. After about three weeks the slurry would be mid-cycle, with high quality biogas escaping through the free hose. You should then have lively bubbling in the barrel, as well as a vigorous flow of gas through the lime water, all of which happened according to plan.
We were instructed by the literature to make a nozzle out of a piece of glass tubing and put it in the free end of the hose from which the gas escaped. Then you could light the escaping gas with a match, and see a pale blue flame. This didn't work. Try as I might, I couldn't get the gas coming out that nozzle to burn, even though there was quite a good flow through the hose and the bottle.
Over a period of weeks I continued trying at least once a day to light that gas, but could never get that elusive blue flame! Finally in a moment of frenzied frustration I pulled the lid off that barrel to see what was going on inside, and there the slurry still was, bubbling away happily! I threw caution to the wind, lit a match and threw it into the barrel. PhaTHWUUFF!! The methane, for methane it really was, all ignited, burning off my eyebrows, curling the hair on front of my head, and splattering me with slurry.
Most of my utterances for the next few minutes would be unpublishable, and added mightily to the enjoyment of the Dominicans present, even though only a few of them knew what any of them meant. To add insult to indignity, I was not permitted in the house until I had been thoroughly hosed down.
The project was aborted with the arrival of an African swine flu virus, which the Dominican Government overreacted to, at the prompting of US AID, and began the slaughter of the entire hog population on the island. With the source of manure gone, there could be no methane.
|Wake Up Barbara!
And Help Me Find This Snake!