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Turn corn cobs (and more!) into clean energy: cut waste and boost profits via low cost renewable power and processing.

Use agricultural waste in a compact biomass gasifier to create energy for post harvest processing, cutting waste and increasing farmer yield

Photo of Tom Price
20 12

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EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

Access to high amperage, low cost energy is critical to enabling turning raw fruits and vegetables into high value, long life products. Compact gasifier based gensets can uniquely address this need, using the waste byproducts of agricultural activities for fuel. Gasification of biomass can meaningfully improve energy access, lower GHG emissions, and enable value-adding activities across the agricultural supply chain. Processing crops, welding metal,and milling wood all require higher power amounts, at greater power density, than is easily provided by small scale solar or wind. Unlike typical PV or wind solutions, a biomass gasifier-engine system can generate electricity irrespective of weather, at high power density, and with the long run times necessary for value adding agribusiness activities. It can meaningfully replicate the functionality of the diesel genset, and do so over the multiple power output types needed for agricultural processing. In the process, a portion of the original biomass can be returned to the soil as biochar—a useful soil enhancer—creating a total power and agricultural cycle that is carbon negative. Learn more at: www.allpowerlabs.com To see a Huffington Post story on our work, click here: http://on.aol.com/video/now-what-with-ryan-duffy-s1-e10---trash-powered-51935094

WHO BENEFITS?

Small hold farmers will benefit in several ways. One, they will be able to process their crops locally, ensuring less is lost to waste and spoilage. Two, they will be able to convert otherwise worthless agricultural waste into high value energy, earning additional revenue. Three, they can charge their mobile phones, to better track market conditions. Four, they will be able to use the residue "biochar" as a soil supplement, increasing crop yields.

WHERE WILL YOUR IDEA BE IMPLEMENTED?

In rural communities near Gbargna, Liberia, in partnership with the Center for Environmental and Public Health Research ( CEPRES ).

ARE YOU IMPLEMENTING IN AN ELIGIBLE COUNTRY?

  • Yes

EXPERTISE IN SECTOR

  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for over a year

EXPERIENCE IN IMPLEMENTATION COUNTRY(IES)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

TELL US MORE ABOUT YOU!

All Power Labs, based in Berkeley California, has been developing compact biomass gasification systems for seven years. After recently passing the two year in-field testing mark on a project in Liberia, we're now ready to prove just how valuable on demand energy from biomass can be!

IS THIS IDEA NEW FOR YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION?

This would be commercial use for a farmers cooperative, on a for profit basis to prove commercial viability.

HOW IS YOUR IDEA UNIQUE?

Our gasifier gensets are unique in that they are low cost, very compact, and easy to use. They work just like a diesel generator, but don't require petroleum based fuel. This means communities will be able to literally grow their own "fuel" all around them.

WHO WILL IMPLEMENT THIS IDEA?

All Power Labs will provide the technology, in partnership with the Center for Environmental and Public Health Research ( CEPRES ) which will operate the facility, train the workers, and provide the energy to end uses.

Biomass gasification is a process of converting agricultural waste--such as wood chips, nut shells, corn cobs and the like--into a gas which can run and internal combustion engine. By doing this with compact, portable units, communities can create energy where and when they need it, with available agricultural waste. 

Attachments (1)

PP20GeneratorOneSheet11_11_14Press.pdf

Technical details on the Power Pallet biomass gasifier

20 comments

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Photo of William Lanier
Team

Hi Tom,
Would be great  to see the discarded corn cobs in Northern Ghana used.
Where will you store your cobs? Mobile utility storage has micro and macro flex space that has been used for cassava chips.
Maybe you could offer comments at <https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/agricultural-innovation/ideas/storage-to-reverse-grain-postharvest-loss>

Regards,
William

Photo of Tom Price
Team

There are SO many waste agricultural products that can be use, like corn cobs in northern Ghana. So long as they are kept dry and off the dirt we can turn them into fuel, and then into clean carbon negative energy. We haven't tried cassava chips yet--they're hard to get here in Berkeley!

Photo of William Lanier
Team

Hi Tom,
Cassava chips are a storage phase for related food and beer. I used cassava chips to suggest Mobile utility stores more than grains.
I am eager to explore the burning cobs user experience map with you. My initial thought is that it is very unlikely that cobs alone could be aggregated and kept dry and off the ground to be burned for fuel. West Africa does not come close to feeding itself because food grains cannot be kept off the ground and dry. 
I will offer that burning corn kernels rejected because of aflatoxin and/or insect damage is feasible. At some point donors will tire of helping smallholders grow aflatoxin and insects and awareness will reduce levels. Then a supply chain that can deliver safe food would offer cobs as a bi-product. Rice rejected as food is also available. Rice hulls would be the bi-product similar to cobs.
Regards,
William 

Photo of Tom Price
Team

We suspect that it would end up like many of our projects in West Africa and use abundant wood chips or nut shells. Just to put things in perspective, the same amount of biomass used to make a bag of charcoal to sell along the road for $2 can be turned into electricity worth $50.  But using variable fuels is part of the value proposition--if there is a corn meal processor who turns raw corn into meal, then they will have corn cobs. If it's a small lumber mill, they'll have wood chips. If it's a small palm oil processing facility, they'll have palm kernel shells. All can make very low cost electricity, which can be used to preserve crops of all kind, reducing waste/spoilage and increasing incomes.

Photo of William Lanier
Team

Ok but the title says Corn cobs and I must be missing something obvious? Mechanical harvesters and shellers pulverize the cob. Unless there is labor and a spare warehouse to sack and stack the residue in, the residue is soon a mess. Hand shelling is very common for household needs, but aggregating enough whole cobs would seem problematic. I see references to biomass heaters (IARC, 2016) used to enhance natural convection solar dryers. Drying activities might use the pulverized residue and maybe whole cobs quickly enough. However, the net benefits of drying grains standing in the field to reduce aflatoxin suggest the added investment and complexity of solar dryers even if they are enhanced by biomass heaters... well like many projects in West Africa great handouts while they are supported by AID.
Thank you for pointing out the obvious user experience that I am missing.
Regards,

Photo of Tom Price
Team

I can't speak to your experience, only to that of our customers, who have used corn cobs. Perhaps it's because they are co-locating the power generation with the corn processing, and so have some more control over the means by which they are processed. And yes, all fuel needs to be kept fairly dry, be it corn or nut shells or what have you.  The key point I was trying to make was the flexibility, the ability to replace diesel with a range of locally available agricultural waste as fuel, which can also enable carbon sequestration through biochar production.

Photo of William Lanier
Team

Hello Tom Price,
William (NeverIdle) hopes you are doing well and wish to invite you to the "1st All African Postharvest Congress and Exhibition (March 28 - 31) Nairobi"
<http://africa-postharvestconference.uonbi.ac.ke/>. We hope to meet and discuss more about Moisture meters and testing to Reverse Grain Postharvest Loss."
Regards,
William

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