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Crestone Eagle, June 2008:
The giant of China
Energy & the development of biogas fuels
story & photos
by Nicholas Chambers
Napoleon Bonaparte said over two hundred years
ago: “Let China sleep, for when she wakes the world
will shake.” Now at the toe of the 21st century, she’s
well and awake and she’s hungry. She has a fifth of
the world’s population within her borders on the same
land area of America, while consuming a quarter of the world’s
steel and half of its concrete. Starting just a few years
ago she began importing food for her people, tipping the global
coffers for her sustenance. She is gargantuan in magnitude,
thriving in economy, and exploding with entrepreneurial zest
and technology. If China and India start consuming at the
level of America, we would need several more Earths to sustain
As China grapples with techniques to meet the needs of her
people, biogas digesters are still in the forefront of the
most basic of organic food/nutrient cycles. As part of a feasibility
study for small farm biogas digesters, I had the opportunity
to travel to Southern China to learn about a new hydraulic-pressure,
domestic-scale biogas plant and the people that gave rise
Shenzhen: The New China
Shenzhen was merely a fishing village of seven hundred thousand
in the year 1976, the year Mao Zedong died and the Cultural
Revolution officially came to an end. Shortly thereafter,
the de-facto Prime Minister Deng Xiaoping toured the newly
created Special Economic Zones (SEZs) of Shenzhen and Zhuhai
and left a lasting legacy. He wanted to make Shenzhen the
model of the new China. “To get rich is glorious,”
he said. Chinese people needed to go into business “even
more boldly” and “more quickly” to create
a socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics, he
said. The result has been an economic growth unparalleled
in human history and the rise of Shenzhen to now possessing
a population of 12 million.If it were a country on its own
it would have the world’s 11th largest trading economy.
If it says “Made in China,” there’s a good
chance it came from Shenzhen.
“Five thousand new cars on the road every week,”
says my contact Dr. Jianan Wang of Puxin Science and Technology
as we navigate unbridled traffic among endless shipping containers
and belching sulphur diesels. Hearing this reminds me of the
astounding fact that China is also bringing a new coal-fired
power plant on line every week. The resulting smog was inconceivable,
yet right in front of my face across the entire horizon. There
was no sun, only a dim orangeish glow across the sky until
it sets as an ominous orb below the skyline of the cityscape.
I did not see any blue in the skies of Shenzhen.
Bike power was still in heavy use, even along the busiest
of streets, and they would load the three-wheeled rickshaws
totally full so that the cyclist almost looked like a turtle
with a huge load on his back. Every morning they would be
loading up with trash, recycling, food scraps, and used cooking
oils. The food scraps and oils went to feeding pigs as part
of the ubiquitous food propagation efforts that seemed to
be crammed in any arable space on the sides of roads and highways.
The food, to say the least, was spectacular. Every meal was
accompanied with copious amounts of green tea, before, during,
and after the meal. Some men even used it like mouthwash.
There was always a pickled something on the table and at the
nice restaurants an entire bulb of garlic was the first thing
that hit the table for everyone to have a raw clove. These
seemed to be the secrets of their good digestion, fit bodies,
and overall immaculate health, despite 130 days per year of
classified hazardous air quality.
Dr. Wang was out in the field during the Cultural Revolution
installing the traditional Chinese fixed-dome biogas digesters.
He noted their inherent drawbacks, such as needing an expensive
and skilled mason, the difficulty of detecting and fixing
leaks, and their difficulty in removing solid fermentation
material like straw. After earning his physics degree in Canada,
he came back to China to launch Puxin Science and Technology,
Ltd. of Shenzhen (Puxin means “spread of new technology”
in Chinese). His goal was to develop a new hydraulic pressure,
domestic scale biogas plant that could be easily built, the
components mass produced, and be easily replicated around
the world in both developed and developing nations. His result,
which is still being improved upon and expanded, has won several
awards for renewable energy sustainability and he has filed
several patents in numerous countries.
The key aspects: the digesters are cast with concrete using
steel molds; they are built within only a few days, and can
be in a range of sizes of 3, 6, 8, and 10 cubic meters; for
larger installations, the 10 cubic meter can be put in series
or parallel and the water coming out of the final digester
is pumped through a sand filter and can be used to flush toilets
and/or used for irrigation. He is currently working on a 100
cubic meter mold set for even larger applications.
The other salient features of the Puxin digester include
the range of feedstocks that can be used, from kitchen scraps,
to manure, to straw, and its long life of thirty years. The
fixed fiberglass gasholder is an amalgamation of the Indian
floating drum-style digester and the Chinese fixed dome. As
gas is generated it displaces water on top of the gasholder
and thus provides just the right amount of pressure for delivering
the gas up to 2 kilometers to the point of use.
Lastly, there are no moving parts or pumps and there is no
steel to corrode. There is no rocket science, imported ingredient,
or huge capitol outlay, just plain one-hundred-percent sustainable
microhusbandry. Quite simply, the Puxin biogas digesters are
standing on the shoulders of thousands of years of human harnessed
biogas generation. Some Indian folks who were visiting Puxin
to take back a mold set further confirmed this. Being no stranger
to the problematic digesters of their own country, they hailed
the Puxin system as the solution.
China is under a tremendous amount of global scrutiny right
now: lead-based paints in toys, suppression in Tibet, and
hosting the Olympics for the first time.There is even a sort
of blame about producing so much poor quality merchandise
or contributing to so much environmental strain. Even a brief
encounter with this vastly rich and ancient culture lends
this perspective to these notions: American companies manufacture
American-bound goods in China. If there are quality/toxicity
issues, it more than likely is due to the penny pinching and
decision-making company than the people just trying to do
their job. The Chinese are not without skill.
Secondly, conquest and imperialism is practiced by governments
and not necessarily the people, and is a disease for which
America has shown little immunity. Lastly, hosting the Olympics
for the first time seemed profoundly significant for every
sector of Chinese society. It is their opportunity to have
the world on their turf while displaying the sacrifice, skill,
and extreme dedication of their nation’s athletes. Plus,
being under the global eye is a catalyst to clean up Beijing
and continue addressing their environmental problems in earnest.
They are well aware of them. Perhaps their predicament is
what happens when a four thousand year old human civilization
chooses contemporary economic development over continuing
to live in their past? What human culture has chosen otherwise?
This most recent economic development is also matched with
the development of a “green culture.” Hi-tech,
green industrial parks (similar to our SEED Park initiative)
are gaining tremendous interest and they even already had
one in Beijing. They have tremendous capacity for engineering
and manufacturing. While I was there several solar technology
providers producing solar refrigeration units contacted me.
They want to do business with the United States to get their
technology out there, because they know we will pay for it
and have numerous government subsidizing programs.
I had a chance to go to a green building (not straw bale
and adobe, but efficient skyscrapers) workshop conducted by
an architect and developer from Portland, OR. After espousing
the excellent work they have done, and their continuing goals
of making their buildings treat more waste than they produce,
and create more power than they use, a Chinese gentleman asked,
“This is all great which you have said, but America
still is five percent of the world’s population, yet
consumes twenty five percent of the world’s resources.
Buildings are not the real solution by themselves. When will
the mindsets of your people change to accept less?”
To this the presenters applauded the insight and question,
but didn’t have much of a response. Indeed, it is a
deeply involved question. Unbridled expansion and consumerism
are practically the cornerstones of the infantile 232 year-old
America. Perhaps change will come with adolescence.
If you are interested in participating in a pilot biogas
digester installation, contact nick@joinLAS.com.
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