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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bleg for Open Source Ecology: Open Village Construction Set

I would like to call everyone's attention to the work of the Open-Source Ecology group, and its Factor E Farm demonstration project. Factor E Farm provides constant updates on the progress of specific projects at their blog.

OS Ecology's central focus is developing what it calls an Open-Village Construction Set: a collection of open-source, appropriate technology tools that can be integrated into the village economy.

Because they are open-source rather than relying on proprietary designs, and because they use locally available and vernacular materials as much as possible, they are extremely inexpensive. Just as important, the machinery is replicable, using locally available materials (including scrap and waste from the industrial economy). This means that once the initial prototypes of all the machinery are built, the entire system is almost infinitely replicable using only the labor of the people who want to adopt it.

The projects furthest along the road to completion are:

1) the Compressed Earth Block (CEB) press, which uses rammed earth as a building material, and can be produced at 20% of the cost of the cheapest available proprietary design.


2) the Life Trac, an open-source tractor, which can run on biomass fuel produced on-site, and is intended to serve (among other things) as power source for the CEB press, the sawmill, and the multi-machine (about which see below).

3) the solar-powered steam turbine generator. This project abandons the possibly futile hope of getting the unit cost of photovoltaic power competitive with that generated with fossil fuels, and instead uses a solar collector to power a steam turbine for operating an electrical generator. OSE hopes to get the unit cost down to $1/watt.

There are some 28 projects in various stages of planning. Unfortunately, limits in funding and available labor force OS Ecology to focus on a few projects at a time and put the others on the back burner.

For example, one vitally important tool ultimately envisioned in the Construction Set is the multimachine, which has been independently prototyped elsewhere, but has yet to be integrated into OS Ecology's on-site project. The multimachine is a multi-purpose machine tool, providing the equivalent of a cheap desktop metal shop, which can also be used to produce other multimachines from scrap metal.

In "The Unplugged," Vinay Gupta wrote of a movement of people "buying out at the bottom" by using "Buckminster Fuller's means to promote Gandhi's ends." This is the largest and most advanced single project I'm aware of for putting that philosophy into practice. It is very much of a kind with what the Village Earth Appropriate Technology Library, and the Intermediate Technology Development Group have attempted. But it goes much further in 1) promoting village-scale manufacturing technology and integrating machine production into the village economy, and 2) attempting an organized prototypiing effort aimed at distributing it as an open-source package.

The OS Ecology project relies heaviy on crowdsourcing for its funding, and on the work of volunteer laborers living at the Factor E Farm site. Marcin Jakubowski and the rest of the team are working in near-emergency mode trying to get as much of the Open-Village Construction Set as possible prototyped and the complete designs publicly available. The more on-site labor and the more funding is available, the more projects that can be developed simultaneously. The goal is to get the construction set, as a whole, on a sustainable path toward unlimited growth by fission and replication, and to promote its adoption wherever people can benefit from it.

The urgency is heightened by increasingly ominous signs that the old corporate industrial economy is entering a "perfect storm" of terminal crises, from the culmination of a century's worth of chronic overaccumulation, Peak Oil, and all the rest of it. The OS Ecology team want to get the building blocks out there, and the knowledge of them as widely dispersed as possible, in order to have the infrastructure for resilient local communities in place on the ground and ready to start replicating itself virally. As Jakubowski told me by private email, this might be what pulls us out of Great Depression 2.

Marcin would be grateful for any help he can get. This includes funding. More importantly, it includes contributions of sweat equity by anyone with engineering, shop, or other tech skills who'd like to help on-site for room and board. And I'm sure he'd also like to hear from anyone involved in similar projects in the human-scale technology movement, who might have suggestions for collaborative effort and mutual support.

In short, Marcin et al are working under a deadline, and putting everything they've got into the effort. For anyone with the time or resources to help, I can't recommend this strongly enough as a worthy project.

You can subscribe to contribute $10/month, or make a one-time donation via PayPal, at the support page.

Marcin can be contacted at
joseph.dolittle@gmail.com

19 Comments:

Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Sadly, there is a fundamental failure of thinking, at any rate in nos. 2 and 3.

The Life Trac is trying to do too much in one machine, and should have been split among different devices. Also, they should not have gone for hydraulics, as it is too high technology for convenient construction and maintenance under field conditions. They should have taken interwar tractors like Ford's as their guide. There is no mention of the power unit or how biomass would be used as fuel. The only rational fuel approach in those circumstances is gasifying with a simple device like Georges Imbert's or the FEMA gasifier (see Gengas), so I hope they weren't thinking of fermenting and distilling liquids or making biodiesel. The only rational approach to power units is to use scavenged engines that can be adapted to the fuel and can be maintained (which means older style petrol engines, not diesel), or two stroke split piston engines which can be made and maintained at that scale.

Likewise steam turbines are too high technology, and furthermore they don't work well if the energy input or load falls outside a narrow range (which it often would with solar power). Older style engines are far better in both respects; they reached their peak for electricity generation with Beauchamp Tower's spherical rotary steam engine. Stirling engines are also viable contenders for this role. But their best approach would be just to run a dynamo off a tractor and not bother with solar power.

February 15, 2009 5:46 PM  
Anonymous James said...

Hey P.M.

Would you mind clarifying one thing?

"Also, they should not have gone for hydraulics, as it is too high technology for convenient construction and maintenance under field conditions. They should have taken interwar tractors like Ford's as their guide."

What can be used as a substitute for hydraulics? As I understand it the early Fordson tractors used a 3 point hydraulic system, so why use them as a guide? Merely due to their reputed simplicity and ruggedness?

February 18, 2009 11:37 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

I meant the Ford tractors as a guide in general terms, to inform the design decisions and trade-offs they should make rather than the specifics. On hydraulics, those shouldn't be part of the tractor module itself, which should only provide a mechanical power take off; that includes being able to run a cable system. Particularly if a Weston differential pulley approach is used, that can do many of the things hydraulics can (especially if you use a slipping system for fine control).

But that doesn't rule out hydraulics for the things that really need that approach. It just says that that should be in a separate mechanically driven module. That way, if it's out of action or not available yet, you still have the tractor functionality to fall back on. But it looks as if that integrated approach would actually require hydraulics to steer, the way they have the front and back parts pivoting away from natural balance points; it would need a lot of torque to pivot it (you could run power assisted steering off suction from the inlet manifold, very slowly - but it's better to engineer out the need). That positioning of the pivot also makes the frame structurally weaker than it has to be, particularly if it articulates in roll to follow the terrain.

February 19, 2009 5:04 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Hey now, solar pv shouldn't be any more expensive than glass.

http://h2-pv.us/H2/H2-PV.html
http://h2-pv.us/H2/H2-PV_Breeders.html

February 19, 2009 8:08 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

P.M. Lawrence, I take it you have a technical argument against liquid biofuels such as ethanol or biodiesel? What scale are they at? EOTW? Zombie Survival Movie?

Gasification and wood pyrolysis is straightforward 19th century technology, but so is ethanol and vegetable oil.

Their orchard-fruit powder system would mesh well with a fractionated fruit cider ethanol output.

http://acbagnetwork.ning.com/
http://www.permaculture.com/

February 19, 2009 8:59 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Mark, there are a few issues here:-

- It's not the level of technology that's important so much as the level of technology used to make and maintain that technology. Anything that can be made with low technology tools doesn't require the capital and specialised labour involved in making and maintaining a pool of higher technology tools that only pay off if regularly used, which means large scale somewhere even if it is shared co-operatively - and this is about something that can be done at the small/individual level. Higher technology tools have the problem of circularity. What we have now is a virtuous circle of using lots of high level stuff a lot of times over and over, cutting overall costs of going that way. But if you are only doing it a little, that becomes a vicious circle. The numbers don't reinforce, you just have a lot more overhead to carry.

- There isn't a technology bottleneck with ethanol or vegetable oil etc., though. However, any sort of diesel engine is right out on those grounds. But the simpler kinds of internal combustion engine just make the cut. The Ford tractors were the "poor man's diesel", using paraffin (kerosene) in internal combustion engines that used the exhaust to preheat the fuel/air mixture so it would evaporate - but those can't run properly on biodiesel anyway (preheating makes the engines inefficient, and that fuel needs too much).

- Regardless, ethanol and vegetable oil etc. don't make sense because they are a poor use of resources for running farm equipment (see the R Squared Energy Blog for some serious analysis of the issues). That is, there is a problem from using them as part of the process of producing them. It makes the economics of it too circular, so the output numbers are very poor (EROI, Energy Return On Input). There isn't the same sort of problem with (say) using something else to make ethanol, butanol or biodiesel, then burning that in a car, though it still might not be the best use of the crops. But gasifiers get round that problem, by burning crop waste or rubbish crops grown on low grade land that thus don't crowd out regular crops. You still have the problem of losing soil nutrients that way, but there are fixes: recycle the ash through a settling pond and grow nitrogen fixing pond scum in it to get green manure to put back on the fields, or just recycle the ash to the fields and do regular crop rotation with nitrogen fixing crops.

February 20, 2009 3:41 AM  
Anonymous Nick said...

I don't think hydraulics are too complex for a tractor, furthermore the are actually becoming a common trend for lots of new farm machinery.

The advantages are that you can use an orbital motor as opposed to a transmission and reduce costs. Also manufacturing hydraulic pumps and motors is not rocket science, good old fashion casting and machine capabilities will do the trick.

I believe the plans for powering the tractor will be a biomass fueled steam engine. They are looking at making pyrolsis oil as opposed to handling bulky low energy density biofuels. They are also planning on using their revamped steam engine technology for the solar collector.

I guess the trick is to use integrate electronic conrtoll of steam admission into the cylinder to get efficiencies that rival that of a turbine, but at the same time have the simplest easiest engine technology out there to produce.

I think what they really need to suceed at is a succesful heat engine. Turbines as already mentioned are out due to complexity. I'd say the same for sterling engines as their use of a gas working fluid requires that the system be pressurized with an inert ideal gas to obtain decent efficincies. The internal combustion engine requires refined fuels. We can do this but the refining and complexity make it usually have a poor energy return on energy invested. Gasifiers have historically worked (WWII) but engine life is poor.

All things considered simple roboust electronically enhanced steam engine doesn't sound that bad to me.

February 21, 2009 12:13 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Testing - the reply I put up two or three days ago hasn't come through.

February 21, 2009 3:00 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Nick wrote "Also manufacturing hydraulic pumps and motors is not rocket science, good old fashion casting and machine capabilities will do the trick".

They aren't rocket science, but they are definitely late 19th century technology and need tricks, special materials and advanced tools to get precision clearances and low leakages at the pressures and power involved. All "good old fashion casting and machine capabilities" will give you are demonstration versions working with leaks and low power and pressure. The same objection also applies to anything using electronic control, only even more so.

"They are looking at making pyrolsis oil as opposed to handling bulky low energy density biofuels".

That's not a gain but a loss, once you count in all the added processing and biomass collection you need (see the R Squared Energy Blog link I gave). That's the part a gasifier engineers out better.

"I'd say the same for sterling engines as their use of a gas working fluid requires that the system be pressurized with an inert ideal gas to obtain decent efficincies".

Actually, you get quite good enough efficiencies with a compressed air or (even better) hydrogen working fluid. The real constraint is the power for a given bulk or weight of engine, which also applies to steam engines.

"The internal combustion engine requires refined fuels... Gasifierrs have historically worked (WWII) but engine life is poor".

Neither happens to be the case. Producer gas refutes the first, and it turns out that it does not affect engine life, if properly filtered; it does, however, have a problem with gasifier life, unless stainless steel or similar is used. But this is a non-problem if they can be made cheaply enough - which they usually can, as they aren't high pressure things with moving parts like the engine proper.

February 23, 2009 7:32 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

"- Regardless, ethanol and vegetable oil etc. don't make sense because they are a poor use of resources for running farm equipment (see the R Squared Energy Blog for some serious analysis of the issues)."

Oh, starting off by citing Robert Rapier tells me from where you're coming from. I assume you don't actually have specialized knowledge of the arts, but are operating off the blogosphere concensus? Basically you know something but can't really describe how you know it?


"That is, there is a problem from using them as part of the process of producing them."

How so? Integrated production is a "problem?" Like using gasoline and diesel to make more oil?

"It makes the economics of it too circular, so the output numbers are very poor (EROI, Energy Return On Input)."

EROI should be molded into the shape of a fish and put on car bumpers.

EROI is strongly positive for biofuels, espicially in integrated cycles. Pimentel et al are frauds.

"There isn't the same sort of problem with (say) using something else to make ethanol, butanol or biodiesel, then burning that in a car, though it still might not be the best use of the crops."

How is this any different?

"But gasifiers get round that problem, by burning crop waste or rubbish crops grown on low grade land that thus don't crowd out regular crops."

Regular crops? Ah, food vs fuel thing. OK. Wrong, but OK. Gasification is an old technology and it's fashionable for the blogosphere to pick it as a winner over ethanol.

"You still have the problem of losing soil nutrients that way, but there are fixes:"

No, there are no lost nutrients. The "nutrients" are included in agronomic analysis as a measure of mass balance.

"recycle the ash through a settling pond and grow nitrogen fixing pond scum in it to get green manure to put back on the fields, or just recycle the ash to the fields and do regular crop rotation with nitrogen fixing crops."

Right. There are no lost nutrients.


P.M., would you be able to describe the ethanol production cycle? Like in a nice illustrated systems model taht would be appropriate for these Gulching-scale Green Machines?

If you can, be sure to include features like using an open-cycle heat pump to replace the cooling system while using the CO2 and ethanol vapor as the working fluid. And store the CO2 overnight as dry ice so you can transfer the cooling to water ice from dew and the CO2 gas to the greenhouses to make more food. Also make sure the system heat is supplied by an open-cycle hot oil coil, so you make dehydrated biodiesel while you move the heat to-and-from the community hearth all-in-one bakery oven, barbecue pit, charcoal maker, fractional wood kiln, wood gas maker, turpentine maker, smokehouse, liquid smoke maker (smoke is very healthy when used correctly), glass furnace, pottery kiln, pizza oven, distilled drinking water maker etc that ultimately provides hot water for the household hydronic system and post-collapse saunas.

Also include some notes on how agronmic reality makes some things logical even though laypeople seem to protest it with the great fervor of truthiness.


I could go on. Designing is real fun.

February 23, 2009 8:43 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Mark wrote "Oh, starting off by citing Robert Rapier tells me from where you're coming from".

No, you're jumping to conclusions. I didn't start from there, I did my own analysis. However, it is easier to link to his coverage than to do the numbers all over again here myself.

'How so? Integrated production is a "problem?" Like using gasoline and diesel to make more oil?'

No, read what I wrote. The problem is that the numbers going back in form too high a proportion (unlike petroleum refining). Consider the curve formed by plotting t/(1 - t) against t. At low values of t, it's not important, but then it shoots up. True integrated use includes what I described, using other biomass to drive the processing more directly without cycling it.

"EROI is strongly positive for biofuels, espicially in integrated cycles".

This is simply not true, if you do it that way, cycling the refined product back into running the processing - unless you do a form of energy accounting which doesn't count energy going into the crops. But if you do that you just move the wrinkle in the carpet, as you need a lot more land, and you get the cost there. Curiously enough, that is currently realistic for Australia (where I am), but that is not the case for most countries.

"Regular crops? Ah, food vs fuel thing. OK. Wrong, but OK."

Not as wrong as jumping to conclusions like that. It's an opportunity cost thing. In many countries, that does work out as a food vs fuel thing - though, as I pointed out, not here in Australia. However, even here we often have better uses for land - for cash crops, for instance.

'No, there are no lost nutrients. The "nutrients" are included in agronomic analysis as a measure of mass balance.'

Sigh. Any high temperature processing of biomass loses the organic nitrogen and/or nitrate content, giving gaseous nitrogen instead - not a nutrient. That includes gasification. Furthermore, any simple recycling of the ash through crop rotation risks losing phosphate and other content from dust blowing away (which is why the settling tank approach is better, along with more efficient use of land). That's not a loss of mass overall, it's just the mass leaving the farm.

"P.M., would you be able to describe the ethanol production cycle? Like in a nice illustrated systems model taht would be appropriate for these Gulching-scale Green Machines?"

Of course, but there's no point in going into that level of detail since the preliminary number crunching already gave the answer no (or at any rate "not here and now").

Those other things are just plain silly, since they need so much energy input and sophisticated equipment. Being clever for it's own sake is not the point for this topic.

February 23, 2009 9:45 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

"Of course, but there's no point in going into that level of detail since the preliminary number crunching already gave the answer no (or at any rate "not here and now")."


This is all I needed to read. The internet offers endless opinions not backed by any real ideas. And the memes keep spreading...

Nah, I don't think you "ran" any numbers nor do I think you have even the slightest formal qualification in agronomics or biofuels. If you did you'd have something tangible to show for it. But that would be eerie, to find an expert in farming and ethanol production on a left-libertarian commentariate section, in between the discussions of diseconomy of scale and 19th century anarcho-socialists? But keep fronting, not many will call you on it. And internet debates are so fun, no? Much cheaper than actual degrees and longitudinal studies, no? ;-)

If there are any real designers-to-be out there reading this, ignore the spam you read on the internet. Stick to traditional agronomics and engineering degrees etc, and just build things that work.

February 24, 2009 12:00 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Sigh. Clearly there is no point in trying to reach Mark, but it is worth trying to head off any confusion he may be inflicting on unwary readers. E.g., when he wrote "This is all I needed to read. The internet offers endless opinions not backed by any real ideas. And the memes keep spreading..." he was projecting.

Mark wrote '"Of course, but there's no point in going into that level of detail since the preliminary number crunching already gave the answer no (or at any rate "not here and now")."... Nah, I don't think you "ran" any numbers nor do I think you have even the slightest formal qualification in agronomics or biofuels.'

Readers, I carefully did not claim to have "run numbers", just to have done some preliminary stuff to see if it was worth going into further detail of that sort. It isn't, because (among other things) distilling alcohol from a fermentation brew cannot yield enough alcohol to burn under a still to run the distillation needed. If it could, the undistilled stuff would itself be inflammable - and yeast can't yield anything that strong. There are various tricks to improve the efficiency, but they are off the table from being too sophisticated - and, as we have the gasification option, we know there is at least one option that doesn't even need to cycle the product back into the process to run the process. And I do have formal qualifications - in mathematics, which means I know how to do the calculations (I also have an MBA in which I researched the Australian rice industry, and I once did some mechanical engineering units - so I do have solid and relevant background).

"If you did you'd have something tangible to show for it. But that would be eerie, to find an expert in farming and ethanol production on a left-libertarian commentariate section, in between the discussions of diseconomy of scale and 19th century anarcho-socialists? But keep fronting, not many will call you on it. And internet debates are so fun, no? Much cheaper than actual degrees and longitudinal studies, no? ;-)"

Now, this is hollow mockery, since the bottlenecks have nothing to do with either "agronomics [sic] or biofuels". They have to do with physics, chemistry and straight mathematics. At the simplest level, any processing to get refined and/or fermented biofuels cannot work out better for energy than not refining and/or fermenting the input materials but just gasifying them, let alone gasifying other material with a lower opportunity cost. So it comes down to whether there is a worth while saving in collecting and processing for just one end product, refined biofuel, or doing that and also using gasifiers. But you don't need to get refined biofuel at all, for this project! The name of the game here is getting stuff for subsistence, for cash sale, and to run the farm. You can more easily save on having two lots of collection and processing by discarding processed biofuels from the list and just going for gasifiers to run equipment. (Please note, this is not a recommendation for gasifiers, just a comparison of two general approaches; yet other things might turn out even better.)

As for "If there are any real designers-to-be out there reading this, ignore the spam you read on the internet [more projecting?]. Stick to traditional agronomics [sic] and engineering degrees etc, and just build things that work." - that is why those people should do serious number crunching on things that look plausible, but thin their lists out first with the sort of approach I used. But people like R Squared, who I referred to, are already in that game and have already done that sort of thing, so there is no need to repeat all that just now. Rather, use that to tune your choice of target, revisit the numbers when you are ready to go, and then you'll be ready to "just build things that work" (if you skip all that you'll be failing to plan...).

And now I'll stop feeding the troll. Unless he wants to back his position with something substantial, either about it or about himself...

P.S., for those interested in getting a useful processed biofuel with low technology for end use, the simplest - but very wasteful - way to get it is to ferment butanol with a special bacterium, then blow warm dry air through the brew until the butanol concentration increases enough for it to separate, when it can be decanted. A farmer could get enough fuel for a hobby car that way, but not enough to run the farm with.

February 24, 2009 4:56 AM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

(This was in response to P.M. Lawrence's first post a while ago, but it didn't go through apparently.)

Excellent post Kevin! Thank you!

P.M.Lawrence thank you for your feedback! Please read the LifeTrac design rationale and further details on the design here:

http://openfarmtech.org/index.php?title=LifeTrac

and please sign up to add any further feedback to our wiki:

http://openfarmtech.org/index.php?title=Critique_of_LifeTrac

The solar turbine project has already been succeeded by the steam engine project for some of the reasons you stated. Please see some of the latest posts on this at: http://openfarmtech.org/weblog/?cat=63

You sound quite knowledgeable, we invite you to contribute to our wiki to aid in feedback and collaborative development. http://www.OpenFarmTech.org

Please email us at opensourceecology at gmail dot com if you’d like to be part of our combined heat and power development project.

Take care,
Jeremy

February 24, 2009 2:50 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

LOL, P.M.

"Mathematicians are like Frenchmen: whatever you say to them they translate into their own language and forthwith it is something entirely different." - Goethe


Like I said, you don't know what you speak of.

The ethanol cycle refines waste into a specialized liquid fuel. The waste is starch, assuming you were going to feed it to ruminant livestock, and waste heats from any number of sources.

Math degree help with understanding dairy cow feeding studies? DDGS replaces not only corn but also soybeans. Grain straw and stover easily makes up the feed ration energy deficit (about 30% of the grain used). Net result fewer acres (and energy) needed to grow a cow. The starch is waste. Cow manure contains more fermentables than sugar beets.

You use hot water? How about first using it to make ethanol, embody the high-temperature heat energy into the ethanol and processed DDGS, THEN use the heat from the finished ethanol process to the make hot water you were going to burn fuel for ANYWAYS? It's called a combined cycle. You've heard that buzzword, right?

Pretty much ZERO cost for heating isn't it?


(Top) Solid and Waste Fuel (1000F+) > 140F Hot Water (Bottom)
or
(Top) Solid and Waste Fuel (1000F+) > (liquid) Ethanol Fuel > 140F Hot Water (Bottom)

Even if it took MORE energy to make ethanol than it contains in it's energy bonds, you'd still be ahead of the game because you STILL have the heat (the energy is still there!!!), and the increased feeding value of the processed biomass, including the CO2. At any rate, the energy transfer is from lower-quality stationary solid fuel and waste fuel to a REFINED liquid fuel.

Run those numbers.

February 24, 2009 6:12 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Jeremy, check out these pages.

http://www.ecosyn.us/Interesting/
http://www.ecosyn.us/ecocity/Proposal/proposal1.html

February 24, 2009 6:37 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Oh looky, the Austrians are bitchslapping ethanol.

"The Broader Risk: Exploring the International Ramifications of American Corn-
Ethanol Policy" Luca L. Hickman (Milwaukee School of Engineering)



Yeah, I bet this is just about free market processes. Bet Hickman references Pimentel. Who's in on that bet?



We don't have a "feul ethanol" economy. Ethanol is a fuel additive. It is octane.


Someday we will need a fuel ethanol industry. I hope it is a free market. I know I can design one.

February 26, 2009 5:51 AM  
Anonymous mark said...

WOW, no technical arguments. Yep, perfect sign of those that read Human Scale without the technical expertise.

Good luck organizing technical morons Kevin. I think I've seen how that ends.

April 01, 2009 4:01 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Another comment by Marcin Jakubowski:
http://openfarmtech.org/index.php?title=Critique_of_LifeTrac

Interesting critique.

'The Life Trac is trying to do too much in one machine' - Please be more specific. LifeTrac combines all functions of agriculture, construction, and utility into one by virtue of plug-and-play hydraulics. If one reduces functionality, one will need 3-100 different other machines to do its work. Thus, the price would be 30-300 times higher, as LifeTrac is already approximately a factor of 10 cost reduction.

'and should have been split among different devices.' - that's contrary to the basic principle of multipurpose mahchinery. It is possible for a small community to maintain one tractor as such. It becomes an overbearing burden to support a large pool of machinery.

'Also, they should not have gone for hydraulics, as it is too high technology for convenient construction and maintenance under field conditions.' - Quick disconnect motors allow immediate repair/replacement in the field. This is not possible with the other option, or geared transmission. Geared transmission is the number one failure mode of mechanical devices, from the standpoint of lifetime design. We eliminate the transmission, clutch, and differential and braking system by design - as hydraulics accomplish all these functions. As such, LifeTrac has proven to be readily self-serviceable, and we no longer have to 'take the tractor to the shop' for repairs. This allows us much higher control of our lives.

'They should have taken interwar tractors like Ford's as their guide.' - We did. After we learned first hand that they break and require parts that are not available everywhere, we decided to build our own tractor. In particular, the transmission went out, we paid $2k, and a month later it failed again. This happened for our Allis and Massey Ferguson. The key is to use modern technology by moving away from mechanical transmission.

'There is no mention of the power unit or how biomass would be used as fuel.' - We aim to build a steam engine power unit in the second half of 2010. We're currently tooling up for this.

'The only rational fuel approach in those circumstances is gasifying with a simple device like Georges Imbert's or the FEMA gasifier (see Gengas),'- sure, if you favor ICEs. We favor pelletized biomass in ECEs (external combustion engines), such as the steam engine.

'so I hope they weren't thinking of fermenting and distilling liquids or making biodiesel.' - Eactly. I think pelletized biomass is abou 10 times simpler to implement in practice, and it will have energy density approximately halp of liquid fuels per volume.
'The only rational approach to power units is to use scavenged engines that can be adapted to the fuel and can be maintained (which means older style petrol engines, not diesel), or two stroke split piston engines which can be made and maintained at that scale.- This is applicable if one insists on relying on ICE paleotechnology choices- whose complexity does not meet the criteria for creating lifetime, post-scarcity design. Our opinion is that the post-scarcity economy goes to multiple-fuel engines such as the modern, high performance steam engine. This engine can be fabricated locally, and we are working on a modular, scalable Steam Engine Construction Set. This engine choice is compatible with solar power applications, combined heat and power applications, stationary power generation of all types, as well as automotive and other mobile applications.

November 22, 2009 9:39 AM  

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