Animal Waste as Renewable Fuel

It’s time to get back to writing!

I spent part of this summer studying abroad in the lush, verdant country of Costa Rica.  And it was there, at a women’s cooperative in a little village called Hone Creek, that I discovered that pigs can power a kitchen.

a Senora sweeping the pig waste into the capture area


Happy Pigs

…Or at least their manure can fuel a gas stove.  How did I not know about this before?

Oh sure, sure, I know about cow patties standing in as fire wood, a practice that goes way way way back.  But animal biomass being converted into biofuel (or, more specifically, biogas) was a new one on me.

My friend Johanna and I took the weekend off from studying español to visit the women’s co-op, called El Yue, (pronounced “el jway”) which is located on the Caribbean coast, about an hour northwest of Puerto Viejo.  It’s a place that is difficult to describe.  Small yet endless, simple yet immensely diverse… walking into El Yue is like walking into a magic jungle.

The early-morning stillness gets you first.  Like a big, quiet space… until you notice that everything is moving.  Tiny creatures dart and fly and twitch and crawl… leaf-cutter ants, poison dart frogs, toucans, howler monkeys, some kind of crazy blue lizards… and there is a coating of dew on all the green life that sparkles in the sun and makes you feel like you are walking in some kind of dream.  Then you get 17 mosquito bites on your right leg and walk face-first into a spider web and remember that you are here to document what some incredible women are doing in this village out in the middle of no where.

Johanna on the property - El Yue


The women of El Yue are an anomaly in Costa Rica.  Seemingly the only women’s co-op in the country, El Yue is a mini oasis of female brilliance amid a male-dominated society.  They have an organic medicinal herb garden, a school room, a library, a kitchen and lodging, and soon will also have a functioning arts and crafts building.  And of course they have those pigs.  Two adorable pigs, which provide the fuel for the community kitchen.


So how do they do it? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure.  What I know is that one of the women sweeps the dung from the piglets into a catch, and then the gas is captured in a sort of plastic tube, and piped into the kitchen.

A great link if you want to learn more about it: Animal Waste:  Future energy or just hot air?


Architecture for Humanity

My heroes.

[Thanks to IIAD for creating this video that gives so much insight on their 2010 Pioneers in Design Award winner, Architecture for Humanity.]


I admit, I’m guilty of it.  I leave my laptop, iPhone and other gadget chargers synced into the wall at ALL times.   I know I’m wasting energy, it’s just so darn convenient!  Well, hopefully we can say good by to those phantom electric charges with the clever new Illumi-Charger.  The charger uses solar power to provide you with off-grid power to fuel your gadgets.  An award recipient at this years Greener Gadgets competition, I hope to see this product on the shelves (and with a typical wall outlet option) soon!

Tulane City Center

Since Katrina there has been an influx of creative minds and generous donations to the city of New Orleans.  The Tulane School of Architecture has utilized the countries re-kindled love of their hometown to finance several design build projects.  With encouragement and support from the faculty, these projects are led and executed by students at both the graduate and undergraduate level.  Through the City Center and UrbanBuild programs, Tulane School of archtecture has created an impressive portfolio of built works and created a Design+Build culture that applicants and magazines are noticing.

Though the several completed houses are innovative and beautiful, I was particularly enthralled my past visit with the Hollygrove Growers Pavilion.  What started with a raised garden on an abandoned parking lot has developed into a beautiful market and a source of income for the surrounding neighborhood.  The farmers, typically professional during the week and volunteer on the weekend, have managed to produce an wide variety of veggies in the heart of New Orleans.  For only $25 market goers can fill their box or bag brought from home with a weeks worth of in-season, locally grown goods.  The pavilion (pictured above) was designed and built by Tulane architecture students.  Much more than a tool shed, the pavilion serves to educate the community on rain water collection and green design practices.  As of the end of 2009, the market was only open on Saturdays.  Judging by the demand, I’m expecting expanded hours soon!

4 potatos, 2 squash, six oranges, a head of lettuce... so many great local goodies!

happy girl with her veggies!

For hours, events, and location, visit the markets official website.

Greener Gadgets Design Competition

The Greener Gadgets Competition is at it again, now in its third year running.  Held in NYC, the competition is part of the Greener Gadgets Design Conference–a gathering of forward-thinking electronic companies, innovators, and inventors from around the globe.  Entrants to the event are put to the task of creatively and aesthetically solving energy consumption issues with an eco-responsible approach.

Some of the ideas are brilliant, some have obvious flaws, but all of them get you thinking about the possibilities that are out there!  Here are a few of my favourite concepts from the 2009 finalists/semi-finalists (from Core77 – a totally brilliant design website)…. check out the Greener Gadgets website for the 2010 schedule!


“Power-Hog is a power consumption metering piggy bank designed to sensitize kids to energy cost associated with running electronics devices. Plug the tail into the outlet and the device into the snout; feed a coin to meter 30 minutes of use.”

( …click image for more details)


“With a single tap of the foot, WattBlocks easily disconnects devices in the home that are notorious for consuming standby power.

Few consumers understand that many of today’s electronics consume power while not in use. These energy vampires can account for $100 of a home’s yearly power cost, wasting up to $10 billion annually in the United States. The WattBlocks kit is designed to reduce this wasted energy. It consists of several WattBlocks, which are plugged in between wall outlets and vampire devices, and a master step switch that plugs into an outlet near the entry/exit of the home. As the user exits, tapping the step switch sends a signal through the home’s power lines, telling all WattBlocks to block power to the vampires.”

Sun Stations

“Sun Stations are pieces of public furniture that provide free solar energy in open areas, allowing people to charge and use electronics in a greener way in a wider variety of places.

They are made of concrete, teak wood, and stainless steel. The energy (84W – enough for laptops, cell phones, etc.) is generated entirely by Mono crystalline solar cells located 3 meters above ground for less shading and higher efficiency. The solar cells are set on security glass allowing people to immediately recognize where their energy is coming from. The energy is stored either in a battery pack or in a grid-tied system under the seat.”

Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver is determined to transform the way we feed our children!  Such a powerful and needed mission, Oliver was recently awarded the TED prize for his work and gave the above presentation of his ‘One Wish to Change the World.’ What is his wish exactly:

“I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.”

Moving to West Virginia to tackle the problem first-hand, Oliver has generated the perfect case study for change.  In the above video he highlights his work to date.  The accounts are eye-opening though I particularly appreciate the steps he has taken towards solving the problem that seem realistic for any school to incorporate: 2- 1hour sessions in classes, demanding better foods in schools.

Oliver also praises a few ‘angels’ that are already pioneering change.  Though he doesn’t mention them all directly, we have been impressed by a few programs:

The Edible School Yard

Tulane City Center Hollygrove Growers Pavillion and Shade Units

Food Inc. partner Hungry for Change

You can learn more about Jamie Oliver’s wish here.

Delivered in Beta

This video provides a wonderful commentary on working collaboratively and releasing our ideas/concepts/and prototypes to the people who need them before they are perfect– because they never are.

Working in this way reminds me immediately of the innovative work produced by International Design Clinic.  Created by groups of students and professionals, projects executed by the IDC  are deployed in communities in need and are assumed to be version 1.0.  The succeeding 2.0, 3.0, etc. occur as communities take in our work, accept our designs, and then evolve them into something more efficient and personally meaningful.

So start sharing!  Be Creative!  And get Excited!