Infrastructure for 2009

I will explain our planned infrastructure in response to questions raised two posts ago. We should start by saying that we eat our own dog food with respect to the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS)- and as we bootstrap one technology upon another – the infrastructure is built piece by piece. GVCS is like a RepRap for a new civilization.

You then look at Factor e Farm, and it is currently something like the 4th world under construction. Stateless and radical. I love every piece of it. Yet outsiders are all in for a surprise on just about everything we do here. Pioneers would do well here, but we’re not your average Joe. Where to start?

Here is the status of important issues.

Space Heating

The most important issue to the well-being of poeple at Factor e Farm is central heating – if we want to do the space heating part of a community right. Unless we do the Babington burner and/or gasifier stove, conneted to a central hydronic system – we’ll be burning I don’t know how many individual stoves, and wasting a lot of wood like we did this year. The only advantage is that you get a lot of ash fertilizer.

Best solution for heating is the effective use of solar design and effective biomass combustion. With The Liberator 2, we plan on building solar-design CEB structures – connected, solar cluster design – earth bermed, with a living roof. We intend to heat these with a central stove – either gasifier or Babington burner-fired.

This plays into a greater Combined Heat and Power ecology. The gasifier is also relevant to cooking gas applications, and the Babington is a great choice for firing both stoves and flash steam generators for power generation. Thus, we want to run a steam engine generation off our stoves in winter, and use a similar steam system for steam powered – hydrauilic hybrid tractors (like LifeTrac) and for cars.

The Babington relies on waste oil sources (cooking, crankcase, and others) or virgin oils – both of which are not highly sustainable. Thus, we’re working on the pyrolysis oil generator– to produce about 200 gallons, sustainably and organically harvested, per acre from grass fuel crop, and more than double that once we get our soil fertility up. This is likely to work well, as pyrolysis oil is a proven technology, and there are 1 ton per day units available on the market.

The central stove should have a heat exchanger and water pump – for pumping water to any number of rooms. Hydronic radiators would release the heat.

Water Supply and Water Heating

We have rooftop catchment, where we collect 400 gallons of water per inch of rainfall, and a well. You can read about last year’s adventures with well-drilling. We need to develop an open source well rig that can go below bedrock. A LifeTrac-powered, heavy duty rig will do the job. To be developed.

We are just finishing an insulated steam shower to replace the last one. We have a 4×4 framed cubicle, using the electric heater element, and insulated walls – so that a misting head will produce a steam shower. This will use ridiculously low amount of water while providing a full, heated shower experienc of whatever length, as one is not concerned about water use. We are eager to test this in the next day or two.

We still have the hot water tank in the back of our masonry stove – but we never did finish the Babington burner properly, nor ever run the stove to heat the tank. Just didn’t get around to it in our ample spare time. We considered purchasing a turnkey Babington burner, with auto ignition and flame sensor, but we were not as excited about it after finding out its $1500 price. Back to opensourcing the thing, but if anyone wants to donate one of these to us – we would have a heated water tank under pressure now.

The Babington is a modular, portable technology that can be run on-demand – so it could be used for hot water, space heating, electric generation, and powering vehicles. That’s why it’s part of the GVCS. Very robust, and fuel is localizable. The next best bet is a gasifier, but that is much more cumbersome because of fuel handling. For the Babington, you process the biomass to liquid form first, so you’re good to go with an easily-transportable, high-density, liquid fuel.

Erosion and Water Runoff

The first thing to say here is that we are on a sloped land parcel that used to be a soybean field. It was abused and eroded, such that the front of our place has a couple acres of area with about 8 feet of soil washed off the top of the hill. There are erosion problems, and former industrial farmers installed no erosion-control swales or berms of any kind.

Bulldozer work for the proper swales and water catchment would be approximately $10-20k and require at least 3 weeks of full-time work for doing it properly. Given that we’re short of that sum, our present strategy is to build an open source bulldozer at $5k in materials.

In the interim, we’ll unroll several large round haybales in critical erosion channels, and we are doing microberms around individual trees to hold in additional water. Plus, we can dig a few trenches with LifeTrac to divert some of the major runoff.

This discussion is not as bad as it sounds, as the mud and water happens for only several weeks in spring and fall. The rest of the year, you may get 3-5 days with enough rain were water actually runs close to the living areas. Typically, it’s quite dry here, with a total of about 35 inches of precipitation per year.

Composting Toilets

Flush perfect fertilizer into drinking water to pollute rivers downstream? You must be nuts. Factor e Farm policy is to recycle your gold.

Let me tell you a story. I was once afraid of composting toilets. The immediate, exotic answer that popped up is Living Machines. They are still one of the headings on our wiki. They are not a priority for this year because they are a high-infrastructure, inegrated project that you don’t step into lightly. I think Living Machines are appropriate for the 10 and up home scale, and we will probably end up making a system. In the meantime, we’ll poo in buckets. I think it’s hands-down the simplest, most effective way to go. In the orient, farmers even put up outhouses on roadsides to capture more of this gold.

Some like the idea of electrically-heated toilets like the Biolet. Sounds nice, but electric poo fryers are not our idea of ecological nightsoil handling.

Hear ye, hear ye, let’s put this crap to rest… in a bucket. Yes, number one and number two separation is a good idea. We also recommend the anathema of the bodet to all, unless you favor walking around with a dirty ass.


On a serious side – what do we do on all of this? The solution set is:

  1. Humanure Handbook
  2. Steam shower
  3. Hydronic central heating
  4. Rapid house-building with a 3000-brick per day CEB machine
  5. Proper kitchen and bathroom facilities to be built as part of the new Solar Village cluster

What will we end up doing this year?

  1. 3000-brick per day CEB machine for sure and Solar Village prototype
  2. Next would be the Babington and gasifier , plus flash water heater coil (same as flash steam generator), plus stove for central heating and hot water
  3. Follow with an open source bulldozer to kill off the erosion issues, and second prototype of LifeTrac in the process.

If we get skilled people here, we will also: (1), knock off haying/silage equipment for collecting biomass and spreading on our land, (2), do the steam engine, (3) do the pyrolysis oil, (4) do more open source fab lab equipment.

I can’t plan beyond the 2 months necessary for the CEB Prototype 2 and 3. Help us if you have skill and can propose concrete, place-based solutions to any of the above – beyond concepts and on to technical implementation.


  1. Richard

    shouldnt first aid be up on that list?

  2. Lucas
  3. Lost Chief

    Oh lord.. There are still people on earth that trust VACCINES? Sad..

    I would ask anyone whos thinking about Vaccines to do some research on them.

  4. Lucas

    Not vaccines in general. Tetanus. Not an expert, mind you.

  5. Kiashu

    A while ago a friend told me a story of a lecture he saw. The lecturer presented them with a big jar, and a pile of stones – a few big stones, and lots of small ones. He showed that if you put all the small stones in first, you can only fit in one or two big stones and must leave the rest out, leaving lots of unused space in the jar. If you put the big stones in first, then the little stones will fall into place all around them and fill up the jar.

    Likewise, in our lives and projects, if we deal with all the little things first, we find that we can only deal with one or two big things, and lots of big things get left out. If instead we deal with the big things first, then all the little things will fall into place around them.

    In your own life and projects you have to decide what are the big stones and what the small ones; what’s most important.

    I think you’re a bit stuck on your small stones. I think you’ve also missed a big stone: sanitation. This ties in with another big stone you’ve mentioned, water supply. It’s pointless to collect water only to pollute it, and making people ill from bad water or infection leads to the growth of a new stone you could otherwise do without: medicine.

  6. Lost Chief

    Sorry if i came off kinda stail i was trying to be part funny and reading it now i can see how if you dont know me it may sound rude.

    Sorry about that.

    Natural cures for everything is the key.

    Let thy food be thy medicine.. :+)

  7. Lucas

    Big 🙂 here too!

    There are technologies and there are technologies. I think what Marcin & Co have done regarding requirements and frameworks are part of what make this very important, cos now there’s a framework to integrate many things and to evaluate each piece that enters the mix.

    In the field of vaccines, the requirements are it needs to provide protection without doing harm (safety). As I said, not an expert, but I’ve heard the tetanus one is really really safe, but don’t take my word for it. Vaccines, just like any other technology, should be considered one by one. AND, of course, compared to other options for protection, etc.

    Not an expert, don’t want to sidetrack the dialogue, will say no more, and I share the big :-)!

  8. Marcin

    To Kiashu and those of similar opinion: You’re calling ‘reinventing civilization’ a small stone. From my humble perspective, that’s silly.

    I think your stone metaphor is indeed appropriate. I find yours and others’ critiques slightly out of place – you are forgetting that we are doing quite well here. We’ve tackled the humongous stones – of reinventing civilization. The little stones will fit in at the end.

    I need to clarify about sanitation. There is no sickness or problems here like others imply. The problems mentioned are simply the limited perspectives of the critics. We’re healthy. Personally, I haven’t been sick for many years. The issue comes up when others come in, with different expectations, unsound health, or lacking skills to keep their environment clean under rough conditions.

    We are aware of the problems more than any outside critics, and we’re working on solving them. Maybe not in the way that you would do it. I find the critiques based largely on perceptions of people – telling us how to run our show – when they are not intimately familiar with our strategy, day-to-day life, constant readjustments of strategy and action, or long-term goals. We are open to critique, but you have to be open to our plan and approach. We’ll listen to anything that helps build the world’s first replicable model community – under the constraints and conditions of our present state.

    So let me clarify that the conditions perfectly fine for the existing population of 2 – and as more people come, we will address the issues. What we did learn, however, is that there are very few people who can thrive under the existing conditions – so of course the infrastructure will improve over time.

    To me, this whole dialogue is futile – it simply is a distraction from the real work of Factor e. I don’t want to be bickering about the population of microbes in our environment. I want to continue developing the CEB, so that you and the whole world can have access to breakthrough ecologcial technologies – so that you can live the way you want and without compromises of global geopolitics.

    So drop it, or come here and help us build the environment that you think is lacking.

    I’ve been through this type of discussion already a number of times with many critics of the work, main one being Brittany. Don’t criticize – create. Subscribe to the 1000 True Fans. Do some significant research that can move the project forward. There’s a 1000 ways to mess up a project or criticize it. There’s only a handful of ways to do it right. Help us with the latter, or shut up.

    It’s my duty as project leader to not get distracted by the criticism – as we’re talking about something much greater than ANY of us can even imagine.

  9. ruth steck

    Geez. Telling your questioners to shut up seems a tad counter-productive. Why, exactly, are you so angry? It’s all well and good to (and necessary) to keep your eye on the big goal, but I would think part of the model you propose must include learning how to build consensus, and lead with grace and good humor. You’ve taken on a big job, in public view. I’m not referring to saving the world. I mean dealing with your shit, metaphorically speaking. You must grow in order for this project to grow. You may have thought it was just about building the new global village; it’s also about you, and who and how you will become.
    Still with you,

  10. Jeremy

    We are healthy and safe here, but we’ll make some infrastructure improvements anyway for future guests, public image, privacy, and a slight increase in comfort in line with the end goal of the ‘solar village.’ Tomorrow I’ll talk with Marcin and we’ll reanalyze the priorities.

  11. Kiashu

    Marcin writes, “You’re calling ‘reinventing civilization’ a small stone. From my humble perspective, that’s silly.”

    And you’re misrepresenting what was said, both by you and me.

    I never said “reinventing civilisation” is a small stone. I said that in the general jar of reinventing civilisation, there are some small stones (say, making 3,000 bricks a day rather than 1,000), and there are some big ones (having decent sanitation vs having none at all).

    Marcin continues, “There is no sickness or problems here like others imply.”

    And since I don’t have lung cancer yet, smoking must be good for me. Since I never crashed, drunk driving must be harmless. Since I never cut off my hand, the power saw doesn’t need a guard.

    Just because you don’t have a problem yet doesn’t mean there’ll never be one in future.

    And as I said earlier, whether there’s an actual illness problem, people will believe there’s one – and for a project which you want to be open source, people’s perceptions are very important. If people think you’re living in shit, they won’t help you – period.

    “To me, this whole dialogue is futile”

    If you want to do anything open source, you’re going to get that. People will want to focus on things you’re not interested in. If you don’t like that, don’t make things open source.

    “I’ve been through this type of discussion already a number of times with many critics of the work”

    If something keeps coming up, it might be that it’s because everyone else is stupid or crazy, or it might be because it actually is important.

    Jeremy writes,

    “We are healthy and safe here, but we’ll make some infrastructure improvements anyway for future guests, public image, privacy, and a slight increase in comfort in line with the end goal of the ’solar village.’”

    I think this is the right approach, both for the place itself, and for an open source project.

  12. Jeff

    you should buy a first aid kit.

  13. Marcin

    We have one, and it appears Jeremy will organize a better one as well.

    Ruth and Kiashu, I apologize on the ‘shut up’ – all I meant was the figurative meaning, not a direct statement.

  14. Bill

    Wow. It looks like you’ve got a lot going on there. Maybe a bit too much all at once? I don’t mean to be negative; just hoping that you don’t get up to your eyeballs in a hundred things and once and get swamped. It appears as though you’re sort of doing everything at once, which results in everything being somewhat rudimentary all at the same time, instead of concentrating on one thing at a time until it’s finished enough to stand alone. I know how that goes, because I’m bad about doing that too. I get a dozen projects going at once and then spend more time “thrashing” (a computer term which means the CPU is spending more time swapping programs back and forth from RAM to hard drive than running any of them) from one project to another than I do working on any one of them, and it can be maddening. I came here mostly to look at the Open Source tractor; it’s pretty impressive, I must say. Since I live just down the road a few miles from the Surplus Center, it was nice to see you’re getting a lot of your supplies from them, too. I’m trying to get a sort of permaculture/sustainable/green/other buzzword thing going on our three acres here. Since we got sucked into the “three mile limit” around Lincoln, we have to jump through a lot of hoops in terms of building permits, etc., which I hate, but I still manage to sneak a project in “under the radar” here and there. ;-/ Right now, I’m in the midst of building Rodale’s solar greenhouse behind our house, so we can try growing some veggies (or at least salad greens) over the winter, as well as maybe protecting the summer crop from the hoards of grasshoppers bent on their destruction. Anyway, I wish you the best of luck with your daunting project. I do a little aluminum casting, and we have a large CNC milling machine and a smaller CNC lathe we’ve converted to PC control using EMC software (which my housemate is heavily involved with writing and supporting). If you need a part made and can supply CAD files, we might be able to help you out, as a donation. Just drop me a line. Take care!