Beer (cans) Will Save The World!

Beverage Can Stove

Beverage Can Stove

Original Image. (Yeah, I know, it’s a Pepsi Can not a Beer Can…
what can you expect from Wiki…)

What motivates me can be strange and wondrous. What I find when motivated can be more strange and sometimes more wondrous.

Recently I’d been a bit bummed about the lack of practical skill in many of the most educated being produced by our “educational” system, and thinking it might mean Dire Things for our collective future.

Then while channel hopping looking for something on TV to distract me from all the things that need doing, I saw a report on Fox (on, I think, The Willis Report) about the Obama war on coal and how something like 53 Coal Fired power plants had already shutdown due to EPA regulations and a whole slew of more draconian regulations would hit (just AFTER the election) that would likely cause all coal to be shutdown (and electricity prices to “Necessarily Skyrocket” – to quote Obama) and was getting just a tiny bit bothered.
As we saw in comments elsewhere, “It’s a bad idea to annoy the hacker. -E.M.Smith”…

Add to that the fact that, against my will, I’ve been afflicted with a “Smart Meter”, despite having zero “smart” appliances ( and I have no intention of buying any. All ANY appliance needs is a power cord and an on / off switch under MY control.) So the net result of the “Smart Meter” is that now I get nagging letters from the power company telling me that I cook dinner at about dinner time and watch TV then. Oh, and I turn the lights on at night… Who knew? But IF I can find a way to not cook dinner at dinner time and not watch TV then and turn the lights off when it gets dark, I could move my major energy usage time to some other time…

Oh, and it informs me that my neighbors who have 4 single guys sharing a house, have cold cereal for breakfast and eat lunch and dinner out, then come home late to crash; they use far less power than I do between 5 pm and 7 pm… and somewhat less all the time. Again, one house is empty almost all the time, my house has one or 2 people here at all times and 6 or 8 when it gets busy. One household has most meals eaten out; while we cook pretty much everything we eat (and not frozen in the microwave). BUT, PG&E is nice enough to provide a guilt nag for not burning up a lot of gasoline to go eat meals out somewhere…

Oh, the joys of an electric stove and oven coupled with a “Smart Meter”…

And knowing that “electricity prices will necessarily skyrocket”.

We’re already at 23.5 cents / kWhr IIRC once past the “lifeline” allotment that is almost enough to run the refrigerator and a couple of curly bulbs. This IS California, after all. Land of Governor Grey (out) Davis, the last Dimocrat to screw around with the electrical utility system here, who brought us rolling blackouts and brownouts on a regular basis (prior to the recall election that tossed him out. Something “Obama And The Dims” might want to remember when screwing around with the utilities…) Now we have Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown. Elected for a second time after nearly ruining the economy the first time by attacking infrastructure (such as stopping all new freeway construction and selling the right of way… that had to be bought back a half dozen years later, have the newly built houses destroyed, and the needed freeway built). He is facing near bankruptcy levels of deficit and debt, so thinks putting more taxes on rich folks and businesses will grow the economy. We have 2 massive tax proposals to hit the ballot “soon”. Even they will not fix the problem even if they DID work. But they won’t. Sigh. Wonder if we’ll have another recall election?

So I’m thinking about all this and realizing that in about a year, maybe two, we’re probably going back to the land of rolling blackouts and most likely looking at $1/2 kW-hr electricity and maybe, just maybe, I ought to think about a way to “fix it”. At least for me.

Well, one thing leads to another, and I’m thinking about the generator I own and maybe putting a natural gas feed to it (or buying one already set up for nat gas) and how that ought to cut costs a lot… when I remember that the 20 CENT per Gallon Of Gas Equivalent is the wholesale price of Natural Gas and on my last PG&E bill it was more like $1.80 / GGE. Still a lot better than the $4.40 at the pump for regular gasoline, but still… Wasn’t there a cheaper way?

Which brought me back to pondering the piles of “yard waste” constantly put out each week. Tons of the stuff. Each week. And once again I dreamed of a “Wood Gassifier” and running that “wood gas” into a generator. Which sent me off looking for any new ideas or designs on making wood gas. ( It occurred to me that I’ve got an old car with about a 40 kW engine in it and a 1 kW alternator that would probably “tick over” in neutral at about 1500 RPM on wood gas without much trouble… make about the 1 kW average the house consumes…) So what could be easier than just making a stationary gassifier and feeding the gas at constant speed operation into an existing bit of stuff I already own?… (I ponder this particular fantasy about once every 2 months… in the past it was for commuting with a mobile gassifier, now it’s about stationary power.)

So I went off to “” and youtube and such.

As you might guess, nothing much has changed in the world of “gasogens” and wood gas making in the last year…

But somehow, along the way, I got to thinking about my PG&E bill and electric kitchen. Surely I could just make a non-electric solution to cooking? Heck, I’ve already got a half dozen different camping stoves. Just add an oven…

Stoves, Rocket Stoves, and More

I’ll skip over the “looking for an oven” phase. Not interested in building a 2 ton “wood burning pizza oven” in the back yard. (What shows up most, along with giant bread beehive ovens. Too much wood usage for daily cooking and not likely to make morning coffee fast enough…) My bamboo makes enough fuel for a small cooking stove, not a large giant masonry thing.

And I remembered the Rocket Stove. This was invented for 3rd Worlders to have a very efficient stove that can be made from local materials. Home made fire bricks (lining a very small burn chamber) and then a larger space where pots are placed to cook. Turns out a few thousand variations have now been made. Some not so bright. Some really spectacular.

What does this have to do with beer cans? Not much. They came up as a sequence of “after the rocket stove”, so we’ll get to that a bit further down. Not really anything to do with bamboo either, just some neat stove tech.

This video does a pretty good job of telling the Rocket Stove story, along with telling you how to make light porous fire brick from which to make the stove.

The key points are an elbow shaped combustion chamber, a flue with some draw, and the wood sits on a shelf so preheated combustion air is applied to the burning wood ends from below. VERY efficient and very easy / cheap to build. Doing more to “save the world” in 3rd world countries than anything our governments have done. (For the simple reason that it empowers folks to do what they want and improve their own lives).

There are much larger ones than shown in the video, including some with a large iron grill plate (with holes for pots) suited for cooking a dozen tortillas at once along with a pot of beans and who knows what all else. One of them even has a box in the flue for an oven.

So I’m thinking maybe I’ll just build a Rocket Stove and “Embrace my inner 3rd Worlder”. It’s where Obama and the Dims have us headed, so why not just get out ahead of the parade and prepare now? I can likely do most of my cooking just from the annual bamboo production of my yard, and then PG&E will think I have a job and don’t eat meals at home anymore and stop nagging me about my nasty eating habit…

A bit of looking at videos and I’ve settled on “what to do”. No, not the super deluxe make your own paver sized bricks and have a 3 foot grill area type… I’m not THAT committed to it (or “not that to be committed’?) and I’m more interested in things that are “portable” anyway. Perhaps something just a bit more, um, “ersatz”… So if the local “You Can’t Burn Anything” police ( on “spare the air days” the local fire department become PC Police and use IR gizmos to make sure you don’t use your fireplace to stay warm. IIRC, there is an exception for a back yard BBQ, but why press your luck?) so if they show up; I’d rather have something that could “go away” fast, and / or who’s cost to replace would not be large.

A couple of more hours of looking at different things, turned up two interesting ideas. One isn’t really quite a “Rocket Stove” as the wood is not on a decent shelf and doesn’t have a good enough flue. The other is nice, small and fast to make, but lacks any insulation on the burner system so leaks a lot of heat. It also isn’t stable at all, being a few bricks stacked on their narrow ends and some flue pipe. BUT…

If you combine the ideas… One uses standard flue pipe to make a rocket stove combustion shelf / chamber and flue. But just a few standard bricks in an unstable layout as ‘support’. The other uses cinder blocks to make a sort of a stove, but with a crappy fire box so it burns a bit smokey and not very efficiently and with decent outside insulation but no inside layer. That is, it’s just a cinder block and doesn’t have the inner fire channel.

Combining the two would have a nice $10 firebox / elbow / flue with good air mix and draft, inside a cinderblock housing providing some thermal insulation and better stability. ( I suppose I could pack it with old “glass wool” or even just pour some sand / vermiculite / whatever around the pipe if I wanted an even more traditional design… but I like the “just some cinderblocks and pipe as parts” idea… More “mobile”…

So here are the two videos. One more true to the design, but not sturdy, aimed at a ‘field expedient solution after the fall’ mind set. The other more “durable” but less true to the actual design goal of efficiency, low fuel use, and cleaner burning.

So make one of these: (with the 3 inch diameter pipe and the ‘already the right length’ 2 foot or so flue pipe)

and place it inside a fixture / shell made more like this one (where he just knocks out a hole: put the fire tube from above in it) but keeping the grill on top ( I also have a large cast iron skillet that would make a decent ‘plancha’ and could even see putting a Dutch Oven on it.).

So I make that about a $15 to $20 ‘all up’ Rocket Stove that ought to work rather well and lets me relatively cleanly grow my own fuel. Besides, it would help me “Save the world” by setting parts of it on fire…

FWIW, one guy with an extreme stove design manages to cook 7 kg of beans (over about 2 hours) using 700 grams of bamboo… As it looks like Beans may be all most of the folks in the USA will be able to afford in a couple of more years, that’s an important demonstration!:

OK, with that out of the way, I went on to ponder a cleaner stove. Perhaps something small with high heat output for making morning coffee. Something that could be run sitting in a cast iron skillet on the indoor electric stove. I have a rather efficient and dirt simple alcohol stove with no moving parts. It his essentially a cup with the inner ‘lip’ curled all the way down ALMOST to the bottom, and with little holes around the outer edge. Just pour in some alcohol, and light it. The inner wall gets hot, causing the alcohol between the two walls to boil, and making burner like flames out the little holes up top. Nice. Got it years ago. And alcohol stove fuel is widely available and not too expensive. (Many boats use it as it can be put out with water and vapors are less of a problem than with propane or gasoline… exploding boats are no fun. My ‘live aboard sail boat’ had an alcohol stove and I used it for a few years without trouble.)

Well, turns out that some folks can’t leave well enough alone, and / or didn’t like spending a bunch of money for a bit of bent metal.

It also looks like my worries about lack of practical arts and ingenuity may be a bit over done. There are a bunch of folks making such stoves out of beer cans. There is even a wiki:

Though I find this video to be particularly compelling:

Though this next design is more true to the commercial product with both an inner and outer wall. Also note that he pokes the hole inward so doesn’t have ‘tabs’ to trim off.

But what sent me over the edge (or around the bend…) and into making a posting was simply that someone who wanted alcohol fuel but didn’t want to buy it, had designed a multi-stage fractionation tower still to efficiently distill fuel alcohol. Out of beer cans:

Thinking about it, yes, it makes sense. Temperatures are below those of the stove. That adhesives used in the stove will do fine here. All you need is a tube with plates and holes in it.. Yes, all in all, it makes sense.

As I have a small Mr. Beer that has turned a variety of things into dilute alcohol ( that I “upgraded” via the freezer… where ice forms and can be removed leaving, er, “hard cider”… but that doesn’t reach fuel concentrations) it would be nice to have a small column still to take it all the way. (Though I’d likely keep the freezer as the first step. Much less fuel burn that way.)

Some of these stoves can be quite elegant. This one uses a votive candle as ‘preheater’ and gets a spectacular heat level out. Neat visuals too:

Post Maltem

So now I’m going to get my commercial stove out of wherever it has gone off to, and see if it works OK on E85 (that is modestly cheap at about $3 / gallon around here) and perhaps pick up a bit of sealant and some beer to make a custom stove designed just for it… Perhaps I’ll also work up a beer can based lamp. I could see a whole matching set. Ought to be simple enough. A bit of oil and wick, a beer can and perhaps a glass holder or chimney…

All in all, it looks like creativity and some practical arts are still alive in the world. As long as there is beer, and beer cans, it would seem that there is hope… Carpe cerevisi!!

If beer (cans) can solve the power problems of the world, perhaps it can save the whole world…

Though I think I’ll use an electric drill to make the holes and perhaps my moto tool for the cutting.

Mixing beer, power tools, flammable liquids, and fire; what could possibly go wrong? ;-)

Sometimes I wonder about people… the rest of the time I’m sure…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Emergency Preparation and Risks, Humor, Political Current Events, Tech Bits, World Economics and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Beer (cans) Will Save The World!

  1. Andrew Newberg says:

    …combine your rocket stove with a thermoelectric generator…and you can run your laptop and a few more items while you are at it!.

  2. p.g.sharrow says:

    I would use soda pop cans, “coke cans”, as they are several times thicker then beer cans. pg

  3. R. de Haan says:

    It’s a war on productivity that is going on and a pretty successfull war it is.
    National inventor shows come up with little eco nazi’s who made an invention that allows us to ban toilet paper and the remainder of humanity is playing with it’s own garbage.

    Although I have done my own work to make me independent from the grid I rather prefer to watch how some Polish communities direct the EU, UN and US energy madness.
    They simply dig up their own coal and show authorities the middle finger.

    Of course it is only a matter of time before the authorities hit back and jail the lot but the spirit is out of the bottle. The same goes for the Greek Austerity Opposition who started to attack EU officials and succeeed to set fire to one of their cars.

    The process is escalating and our masters are playing Russian Roulette.

    Just stock up on popcorn, beer, watch the show and send your power company a letter telling them to “f*** off”.

    As for your Kw/hr prices, they are double the rate in Germany and in the mean time every year 15% of all German households is disconnected from the grid because they stopped paying their energy bills. Eon, RWE and Vattenfall have seen their profits going down the drain and their stocks have been hammered. Welcome to the brave new world.

    [ Reply: I’ve toned down the “F Word” that put your comment in the SPAM bin. Our People’s Republic Of California power rates are over double those in places like Texas. Any company with high power demand left the state some time ago. Want to build a major cloud computing data center? Apple is going to Carolina somewhere IIRC. They HAD a giant data center north of San Francisco. Beautiful facility with giant backup generators and all. (IIRC turbine based). Now WHY would a major company with a load of profit and already in possession of a major data center site / facility go build one on the other side of the continent? And our political idiot class wonders why companies are not repatriating profits to be taxed (and are lusting after some new way to tax them pre repatriation). So once major facilities are out of state (and / or out of country) just how much paperwork does it take to recandle the headquarters?… At any rate, I don’t think it’s just ME getting “the letter”. I was praised for my “lower than average gas usage” too. (Electric room heaters at night in winter rather than running the furnace to heat the whole place…) I’m pretty sure everyone gets “the letter” explaining to them what an average daily consumption by time of day curve means… So not only is it entirely pointless to tell them ‘what to do’, and the clerk that reads the letter has no power anyway, but would at best cause the Propaganda Ministry to notice me… I just wish collapse didn’t take so darned long. If it was faster there would be less damage prior to the re-start… At any rate, I’m going to be moving some of my cooking load off of electricity one way or another. Sure, it is convenient, but it is also the bulk of my use and there are plenty of alternatives. (It is the only 240 V connection in the house and at something like a 50 A breaker it’s about 20 x any of the other circuits.) Ought to both put my usage in the lowest quadrant AND flatten the curve. It will make them happy and give me an excuse to tell them to stuff it via lower payments… -E.M.Smith ]

  4. R. de Haan says:

    Better news fro the UK

    P.s my previous posting didn’t show up. Maybe it’s in the bin.

  5. DirkH says:

    Don’t worry, E.M.; beans contain all amino acids (IIRC) except methyonin. Add sesame to get that as well. Plus, they have loads of phosphatidylserine; you can never have enough of that to keep your cell membranes elastic (it’s also in fatty fish).

  6. Pascvaks says:

    @In the long run, I think Kalafornistan would get a bigger BANG for its Yuan with a pleth·o·ra of Recall Elections, but I guess it’s too late for that; as I recall the Central Committee can override any attempt to go back to the Dollar, or remove card carrying Party Members from office. I did hear that they (US Dollars and Party Members;-) make good fire starters for rice husk or sage brush fueled Vietnamese Lò Trấu stoves. I still think that we have a future of a kind in roof tile solar cells, you know the kind attached to the tar/asphalt things most of us use now. Can’t wait till we can burn all these old wooden telephone poles, they’re so weighted down with TV cables now they’re going to start breaking and killing people.

    PS: Now if we can only figure out what to do with all these ding dang plastic bottles and containers. I just know there’s a fortune to be made in the ‘down side’ of plastic, gotta’ be.

  7. adolfogiurfa says:

    Here, in Lima,Peru, SA., I have just received a bill for 477 kWh at S/202.- (exchange rate= S/2.69 per US$, =$75.09 / 477 kWh=$0.1574 per kWh.
    You can make a “Rocket Stove”also with alcohol (ethanol), using a tin can from coffee of milk powder, put a pot covering it and four holes 90º apart around close to the top (as air intake).
    Then when we societies got tired of all politicians ideas begin making another kind of “Rocket Stoves”…. where THEY are used as fuel. This way is the ULTIMATE WAY to get rid of all the real world contamination. :-)

  8. kakatoa says:

    Given it’s summer time how about switching to a solar oven for your cooking needs- (your natural gas usage isn’t tracked the same way as your electrical energy is so you could always substitute to that source of energy for your cooking needs).

    I am glad to hear that you too are aware of your greater then average usage of electrical energy. PG&E, as well as SCE and San Diego, is required to report electrical energy usage data to the CPUC as the legislature many years ago said this-
    “Legislative finding; growth in demand; uses of power; depletion of irreversible commitment of resources

    “The Legislature further finds and declares that the present rapid rate of growth in demand for electric energy is in part due to wasteful, uneconomic, inefficient, and unnecessary uses of power and a continuation of this trend will result in serious depletion or irreversible commitment of energy, land and water resources, and potential threats to the state’s environmental quality.”

  9. Andrew Newberg says:

    I have been toying with the idea of using a rocket stove to heat the entire house.

    Rocket stoves are so efficient you can run the exhaust horizontal, through thermal battery…(think urban heat effect, lol)

    It has been done and it doesn’t look all that difficult.

  10. Pascvaks says:

    The Roman’s took the technology of getting the most out of a fire to a whole new level, in a sense…

    Just imagine what they could have done with LENR;-)

  11. Chuckles says:

    Mummy, what did we use for lighting before candles?

    Electricity darling.

  12. adolfogiurfa says:

    What are you waiting for?…those eco-nuts won´t disappear by elections, as elections are faked all over the world (and I don´t mean the US but the whole world). A good rocket stove will make it!

  13. adolfogiurfa says:

    A chemical stove (I used to make coffee during the “Shining Path” terrorists´ war, when power transmission towers were blown out):
    -A 20% NaOH solution in a 1 gallon paint can.
    -01 liter pyrex laboratory cilinder.
    -Aluminum Scrap (to put inside NaOH solution)
    Water boils inside the cylinder, in a few minutes.
    -Make your coffee.

  14. E.M.Smith says:


    I like it!


    Who said I’m waiting? Made my coffee this morning on a glycol stove. It was part of my ‘quickest access’ emergency kit that sat on the shelf for the last 15 – 20 years. It looks like they are now called “Magic Stove” but this one was named “Safety Stove” when bought. It’s just a can of glycol with a wick in the lid and a pot holding screen on the top. Time to “use it up” and get something new for the kit… ;-)


    As it is labor day, about 50 something degrees and overcast outdoors, and likely to stay that way, using a solar oven is just not going to cut it. Oh, and I’m “down sun” of a few Redwood Trees my neighbor planted some decades ago… I’d complain about the shortage of sun but it also means I don’t need to run A/C …

    The SF Bay Area is notorious for offshore overcast and fog coming in during hot seasons (pulled by the rising air over the central valley) while in cold seasons it’s all clouds and overcast. Sigh. It is our “natural air conditioning”…

    Oh, and my usage isn’t excessive. It just isn’t in the “low” quadrant. Everyone needs to be below average, don’t you know… Our average consumption is something like 400-500 kW-hrs / month in winter; lower in summer. I can get rid of our “high” winter electricity usage just by leaving the furnace on all night and not using a room heater in the bedroom… Wastes a lot of energy, but then my numbers will be “more average”… not being dinged for high electric use and not being lauded for low gas use in the same ‘bill / notice / PC Nag”… The comparison they made was NOT to the average, BTW, but to the “Lowest in your neighborhood”… thus my comments about the folks in the neighborhood who are never home.

    OH, and they DO track the gas use in the same report. It has a ‘smart meter’ too, but I don’t know the time granularity. They don’t seem to care about TOD for gas, but the meter is there…

    @Andrew Newberg:

    Hmmm…. would be useful in winter, but in summer I’d rather just run woodgas through a generator outdoors… Still, for the laptop… hmmm…. a “wood powered laptop” sounds fun ;-)

    Don’t think I have enough bamboo for a Roman Heating solution, though, or a house sized Rocket Stove. My heating bill is not much anyway. It’s the cooking to eat while watching a large TV that seems to bother them… per the TOD on the e-Bill. Never mind that that is when the hoard comes home hungry…


    But when the beer can wears out quickly then you need more to replace it ;-) Haan:

    Pulled #1 out of the SPAM bin. Avoid “F bombs” and that won’t happen…

    Added a comment to it too.

    Per the UK and a CCS dodge: One can only hope that “cold and dark” causes a “focused mind”…


    Well, we can likely have rice with our beans… we do grow it here.


    Rice Hulls! We have them in huge amount out in rice country! I think I need to visit the old home town and see if they are still available by the truckload for free…

    Oh, and plastic bottles go really well in a fireplace or stove insert. They just melt and droop over a log and burn like wax…


    I understand ‘rendered fat’ works well as stove fuel… wonder where one could find “Fat Cats” to render…

    Like the “shining path” stove idea… but wonder where I can find aluminum growing… and a source of lye (that is now removed from stores as it can be ‘used to make drugs’… so no effective pipe clog removers…)

  15. Andrew Newberg says:

    @E.M. Smith

    I have a few additional ways to combine proven existing technologies and make this concept work…

    My biggest concern…can any of it be patented. Not for my benefit…honestly, but I am afraid it could be patented…and treated like the Ark of the Covenant in the Indian Jones movie. Kept on a shelf somewhere, never to be shared with the world.

    Let me just say this…I kinda cringed when I saw this post, lol!

    You need a ‘private’ password protected blog or something! ;-)

    Much of the modern worlds energy distribution system is based the technology of the 1930’s. The entire power grid system is based upon large power generators in rural areas, carrying electricity over inefficient powerlines. I think there is a better way…

  16. Andrew Newberg says:

    @ E.M.

    “but wonder where I can find aluminum growing… and a source of lye (that is now removed from stores as it can be ‘used to make drugs’… so no effective pipe clog removers…)”


  17. u.k.(us) says:

    “Mixing beer, power tools, flammable liquids, and fire; what could possibly go wrong? ;-) ”
    Sounds like something that needs a study, all that is needed is an intern to make the beer run :)
    Noteworthy results will be printed in the local newspapers, some of the most interesting results should make it onto Youtube.

  18. adolfogiurfa says:

    @E.M. where I can find aluminum growing?
    Where?…you started all this issue with a Pepsi ALUMINUM CAN!

  19. E.M.Smith says:


    Familiar with the “rhetorical question”? ;-)


    For that, I think I need to set up a camera…

    @Andrew Newberg:

    Yeah yeah yeah… but it’s not just going to the local store and paying cash. It WAS dirt cheap. Now it’s a hazardous materials delivery to your home, on credit card records, and likely tracked by the DEA. (At the local Science Shop I was told that lye, freon and glass labware required identification and reporting to “officials”… I have no desire to have to explain to folks with badges and guns that I like making soap and doing battery experiments and that my ‘drug of choice’ comes in a 12 pack at the grocery store. Just asking for trouble…)

    Someday I’ll stop being lazy and find a ‘local’ soap making supply store; but until then I reserve the right to rant about stupid laws / rules that removed common chemicals from the grocery store and cause them to be “exotic” for no good reason.

    (More likely I’ll just take some 2NaCO3 and practice turning it into lye myself. It’s a skill I ought to have anyway… IIRC it’s just burn it really hot… I’ve got an iron pan and propane stove… maybe I’ll try that tonight… or tomorrow with beer. Yeah, beer, aluminum cans, and red hot lye… what could go wrong ;-)

    Per secret or password topics: This blog supports them. If you feel compelled I can open an “invitation only” thread with a password.

    Per patents: As I understand it, if an idea is PUBLISHED it becomes non-patentable as it become “prior art”. Derivatives of it might get a patent on the new part, but much like you can’t patent the making of soap, a known art is not patentable. So if you are only worried about it being buried and hidden, It doesn’t work that way.

    Besides, once published a patent can prevent commercialization of a method, but not personal non-commercial use. (as it is basically impossible to find everyone using it).

  20. Andrew Newberg says:


    Well then…

    I share your concern over Big Brother…

    Salt is still legal to buy…no questions asked correct?

    I will get back with a few more details on my idea tonight…should time permit. ;-)

  21. kakatoa says:

    The Myth Buster team has frequented Lab Pro to obtain some reagents/chemicals for their show. Lab Pro is located in Sunnyvale (off Lawrence Expressway)-

  22. Judy F. says:


    You could make a beer can lamp, or instead you could make an olive oil lamp.

    I found a source for lye at Ace Hardware. I haven’t seen it in person, just on their website, and I am a little leary that the label says it is a lye based product, although the description says it is 100% lye

    I got fat for rendering when we had our animals butchered. I asked them to save it for me. I don’t know if you have a local butcher shop where you could beg for fat, but that might be a source for you.

    I use cinder blocks to make my compost pile. I can change the size of the compartments or completely tear it down and move it if I need to. Now I have ready made stove parts if I ever need an emergency stove. That was a really informative video. Thanks.

    I know you said you didn’t want one of these, but I do.

  23. Andrew Newberg says:

    Not too much time tonight…but think about this…Thermoelectric generator combined with a hot compost pile. In certain areas you could have a 200 degree temp difference for free. Lots of additional benefits as well.

  24. E.M.Smith says:

    @Judy F:

    Wonder if the Lye removal from stores is just a California thing? We have a lot of ditzy laws… Guess I’ll ask at the local Ace…

    I can get a fair quantity of “free fat” just by pouring pan drippings into jars. I usually have excess accumulating and end up tossing a quart every so often. Can likely get all I want from local burger joints. Though I tend to just use new if playing with soap making….

    Once made a Palm-Olive that was about the same color as Palmolive….

    FWIW, I have a couple of oil lamps around the place already. For a while I was making some using pipe cleaners for wick floating in little metal boats…

    Glad you like the stove videos! It’s always nice to have ‘field expedient’ ideas in the back of the head. I could see, for instance, using old muffler pipe to make one of these if need be. Or after a quake makes rubble, picking up some cinder blocks from it and calling it a stove; using the wood bits as fuel.

    BTW, I’d not mind having an Adobe Stove, but I can’t feed it from my own wood. I’m not against them, just more interested in the smaller cheaper option (at least until I hit the jackpot and can afford a 100 acre farm…)

    @Andrew Newberg:

    As thermoelectric works best at higher temps, might be better to burn the organics when you need the power instead of taking tiny bits when you don’t always need it…

    Somewhere I saw a story about a ‘battery’ using bacteria directly eating fuel, so maybe just stick some metal plates in the compost pile like a giant stinky lemon ;-)

    Harvard scientists working under the Lebone banner have created a bacteria powered battery that uses bacteria found in African soil. What is truly remarkable about the MFC created by Lebone is that the battery uses a layer of sand as the ionic membrane, mud with manure as the bacterial substrate, and a graphite cloth as the anode.

    Hmmmm…. carbon cloth / mud with compost? / sand layer… think that might work?

    A DIY project:

    Most non-photosynthesizing bacteria, like all animals, get their energy from the cellular respiration process, which converts glucose and oxygen to water and carbon dioxide. Oxygen works as an oxidizer, which means it accepts electrons as it combines with other chemicals in reactions. But special bacteria underground have no oxygen to breathe. Instead, they produce energy for their growth by transferring electrons to clumps of rust and other surrounding metal oxides, in a process called dissimilatory metal reduction. We now know that these electric bacteria are found in mud virtually everywhere on Earth, as well as in soil and compost heaps.

    A microbial fuel cell (MFC) does the same thing as a battery: drive electrons from an anode to a cathode through chemical oxidation/reduction reactions. What makes MFCs different is that they run on organic substrate and bacteria.

    “Metal-breathing” (Geobacter) bacteria at the anode carry out the oxidation reaction, converting plant and animal debris in the mud into electricity and carbon dioxide. Electrons flow through wires to a cathode sitting in water above the mud, where they combine with oxygen to complete the circuit. The bacteria are highly efficient in this arrangement and can produce electricity continuously for many months or even years.

    Experimental MFC-powered buoys now operate in the Potomac River, using naturally occurring bacteria in the mud to measure and transmit meteorological data.

    Happy mudding / composting ;-)

  25. E.M.Smith says:


    This may need a posting all its own….

    Click to access energies-03-00899.pdf

    A second design was developed that had a mass reduced to 16 kg, a volume of 0.03 m−2 and sustained 36 mW or the equivalent of 26 alkaline D-cell batteries per year (Figure 1). This design required little manipulation of the sediment and is deployable by a single person. The meteorological buoys obtained their entire power from the benthic MFC allowing them to operate continuously and independently from the need to replace batteries. Benthic MFCs have been operated for several years with no decrease in power output. The authors estimated that a benthic MFC could provide power indefinitely at the same power levels and the same cost as a deep sea power and light enclosed lead acid battery could deliver for one year

    36 mW isn’t a lot, but 24 x 7 x 365 it adds up. From a 32 lb lump? No decrease in power? It implies about a Watt from a cubic meter. That’s about 8700 W-Hrs / year. 8.7 kW-hrs. That would run a laptop or an emergency radio from time to time. ( though it’s all of about $1 of electricity from the wall…)

    IIRC a thermionic generator makes closer to 50 Watts, but only when the fire is lit…

    This one is 100 W

    I think I’d go for the bonfire and thermionics for bursty needs, the compost and mud for consistent micro power needs. (i.e. not the laptop)

  26. Andrew Newberg says:

    @ E.M. Smith

    If wood is abundant (like around your place and mine)…burn the stuff.

    But in a third world country…or maybe…Alaska in the winter…I could create a 200 degree+ temp diff. Remember the Thermoelectric generation works off the difference in temp. Minus 20 outside, compost pile at 150 F. You pump hot water out of your pile…a few passes over the wood stove…you have an efficient hot water heater as well. ambient heat from the 4x4x8 ft box in the garage heats the place nicely…

    Just think through the possibilities in remote area’s where your cost per kilowatt is higher. Or build a few big piles hook up to the grid…sell excess back. Oh yeah…spread ‘waste’ product on ground and grow stuff! ;-) Topsoil is in short supply in places.

    Oh…you can deal with your human waste issues as well… I am just saying….

  27. E.M.Smith says:

    Went to all my local hardware stores, including Lowes. No lye.

    Lowes DID have a “crystal drain cleaner” that listed NaOH on the ingredient list. Bought it.

    At home found that (at $4 / lb) I’d bought a blue died mix of two different little round prills with shreds of shiny aluminum in it. I’m sure there is Lye in there somewhere, but…

    They had a similar dry Drano product on the shelf next to it at about $10 / lb.

    So “still looking for lye”… but not very hard…

    Found how to make it. Not hard. Take Lime (not ‘slaked lime’ or ‘hydrated lime’ but CaOH) and add to 2NaCO3 – washing soda or Sodium Carbonate. CaCO3 precipitates. (calcium carbonate) leaving lye solution.

    Next trip to the hardware store I’ll see if “plain old lime” is available.

    If not, it adds one roasting step in a very high temp oven. (Charcoal, limestone, high temp tray).

    Don’t particularly want to “go there”, but the notion that making lye is hard is, well, silly.

    Roast limestone. Add to natron (sodium carbonte). Mix water. Remove solution and dry.

    I suspect that if you take the dry powder ( lime / natron mix) and add it to feldspar crumbles / old granite bits with a touch of clay and / or quartz sand you can make a synthetic stone ( as in Egyptian Liquid Stone). So I’d see a dry mix of lime / natron / feldspar (mica / clay / kaolin / rotted granite / crushed limestone) when made wet turning into “Liquid Stone” that would rapidly harden into a variety of different “rocks” depending on what was in the mix.

    (One of my reasons for wanting Lye was to try some “Liquid Stone” experiments. This actually gets me closer to what the Egyptians likely did…)

    So there you have it. I’m also going to duplicate this comment back on the Egyptian Liquid Stone posting where it will be more easily found in historical searches.

  28. Pascvaks says:

    FYI- FWIW-
    Making lye (for Lye Soap) from wood ash
    “Lye made from wood ash is potassium hydroxide, not sodium hydroxide — there’s 10 times as much potassium as sodium in wood ash.” (Wonder if rice hull ash would work;-)

    How to-

    Little Girl’s Can (pic)-

  29. Pingback: Camping At Home Is Cheaper | Musings from the Chiefio

  30. jim says:

    Maybe I missed something, but at adolfogiurfa says:
    27 May 2012 at 6:24 pm , there was a mention of putting aluminium in with NaOH solution. That does make a lot of heat. It also makes a lot of hydrogen gas. If you collected it, you might be able to cook two meals instead of one. I used to fill balloons with H2 as a kid.

  31. E.M.Smith says:

    I suppose I could save the ashes from the charcoal BBQ and the beer / soda cans and get “free energy” that way ;-)

    But I’m really more interested in something that takes less labor than chopping up cans (worth something like a dime each as trade ins) and washing ashes…

  32. jim says:

    Or, you could make the bottom bit of the beer can burner out of iron. Chop up the Al bottom piece and put it in the iron bottom along with some NaOH, and H2O. The heat of the reaction would warm the liquid fuel and suppy H2 to help get things started.

  33. jim says:

    I was thinking about you making lye from CaOH and Na2CO3. Any calcium left in the solution will ruin part of the soap. You might consider added some Na2SO4 to the mix. That will form CaSO4 – very insoluble – from any remaining Ca.

  34. jim says:

    Ca(OH)2 that is. :(

  35. E.M.Smith says:

    An interesting DIY “fireplace insert” that’s too big to insert ;-)

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