Sunday, September 4, 2016

Pyramids of the Power Rangers

"The critical path for waste-to-energy manure-to-biochar systems runs through aquaculture."

  Last month we were invited to a psychedelic soiree and a chance encounter with Daniel Pinchbeck who wrote, among other treatises that delve into occult pyramid power, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl and 2012: Biography of a Time Traveler: The Journey of Jose Arguelles. His next book, which he gifted us through some kind of strange warp in the fabric of space and time, is How Soon is Now, out February 21, 2017 (apparently now is too soon).

If you find this post drifting towards the occult, blame it on the mind-warpi­ng microbes that we may have picked up from Daniel.

Two weeks beyond, at the USBI Biochar Symposium in Corvallis, Oregon, we listened to many wonderful stories of cascading profits from the many yields of biochar. People were using it to remediate tofu whey greywater, restore mangrove forests, and take some of the smell out of hog farming. While there were papers delivered and panel discussions on waste-to-energy manure-to-biochar systems, (already being practiced in the poultry industry), something about that method didn’t seem to fit well with permaculture principles. Why burn shit when you can compost it into a really good fertilizer? Why volatize hot gases up into the stratosphere when you can turn them into nutrients for plants just as easily?

For us the critical path for waste-to-energy manure-to-biochar systems runs through aquaculture. Instead of burning the shit, create vibrant estuarial wetland ecologies, convert biosolids and blackwater into fast growing aquatic plants, and harvest those plants for (first) their cellulosic nutrients and (second) their lignous biomass, some of which can become biochar, while returning ample net energy for heating, cooling and electricity.

This story actually began for us in big corn country, forty years ago. From 1969 to 1975, after working a few dead-end years as a sheet metal fabricator, Minnesota farmer Dan Carlson went back to college on the G.I Bill to study horticulture and indulge his particular curiosity in plant physiology.

Carlson had heard somewhere that if you played Bach or Beethoven to your tomatoes they would grow better. Perhaps he had come across Cleve Backster’s "Evidence of a Primary Perception in Plant Life," Intl J. Parapsychology 10: 4: 329-348 (Winter 1968) that described polygraph tests on the author’s ficus and his astonishment to see how his plant reacted to voices, thoughts and threats, a paraspsychological phenomenon later popularized by journalist Peter Tompkins and gardener Christopher O. Bird in The Secret Life of Plants (1973).

Dumbfounded by the notion that certain sound frequencies might affect the emotional state of plants and could affect their physiological processes, Carlson enlisted the help of an audio engineer and began experimenting with various frequencies until the two discovered a range that consistently produced plant response. Carlson discovered that oscillating sound waves at the frequency of a robin’s chirp speed up plant metabolism.

Apparently, bird chirping triggers plants to open their stomata, or mouth-like pores on leaf surfaces. Excited electrons on leaf surfaces are channeled to particular bacteriochorophyll or BChl pairs in cell reaction centers, triggering more electron transfer reactions that are coupled to the translocation of protons across cell membranes, generating an electrochemical proton gradient (protonmotive force) that powers reactions such as the synthesis of ATP (a.k.a. “photosynthesis”). Quite possibly the energetic excitement brought about by sonic oscillation also excites spinning flagella to propel the photon-capturing dance, a quantum entanglement of animals and plants we described here 3 years ago.

On every leaf there are thousands of such small pores — less that 1/1000 of an inch across. Each stoma allows oxygen and water to pass out of the leaf, or transpire, while other gases, notably carbon dioxide, move in to be transformed by photosynthesis into sugars. This process, by the way, provides the only emergency exit leading from our existential Anthropocene climate crisis to the safety, comfort and familiarity of the Holocene in which we two-leggeds evolved.

During dry conditions, leaf stomata close, giving the leaf a curled or wilted appearance. This conserves water and prevents the plant from drying out completely. Provided adequate moisture, stoma widen and breathe. This increases nutrient uptake and metabolism. Provided sonic stimulus in the right range, they open wider and plant metabolism speeds up even more — 400% to 800%. Carlson used a Philips 505 Scanning Electron Microscope to capture images of not only wider and better defined pores when his oscillator was on but substantially higher stomata density on leaves treated with what he would come to call Sonic Bloom.

Carlson spent 15 years of trial and error, experimenting with foliar sprays that plants could absorb through their stoma. One ingredient was Gibberilic acid, naturally derived from rice roots. Another was Willard Water.  Carlson included elemental nutrients derived from natural plant products and from seaweed; he balanced the trace minerals and eventually came up with his companion formula to his patented oscillators, which he sold as a hundred-dollar kit, enabling him to travel the world as a distinguished lecturer and eventually retire to a lovely farm in Hawaii where he died in 2012.

Whether Carlson’s date of death has any connection to the prophesies of José Arguelles is a question we will leave to Daniel Pinchbeck.

The efficacy of Sonic Bloom was tested at our own garden laboratory here at The Farm from 1990 to present and we can confirm: the use of the Sonic Bloom system produces greater yields, higher nutrient levels, shorter growth cycles and greater shelf life. We found that sprouts sprouted faster and kept longer, mushrooms tripled their shelf life, and when used to ward off wilting late Spring or early Fall frosts, Sonic Bloom effectively demonstrated freeze protection as a function of distance between oscillator and garden bed. The investment more paid for itself in the first season.

Last month we were invited, as part of our new COOL.DESIGN group to a permaculture consultancy for an ecoresort community being planned for the Mayan Riviera in Southern Mexico. The intended development is already both sensible and sensitive: set back from the rising ocean shore; integrated with agroforestry; cast in a Maya motif of village scale that harkens to the post-Classic Era, accessible for sail transport and sustainable for that bioregion even in your worst collapse scenario. There was a particular problem they were having difficulty with that they asked us to address — sewage.

The 240-hectare site is underlain with very porous karst limestone rubble — a residual effect of the Chicxulub impact at the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary around 66 million years ago. The Chicxulub meteor hit the Yucatan with the force of 420 zettajoules, or 2 million Tsar Bombas. The edge of the crater, for hundreds of miles, is just mile-deep rock piles. There are caves, cenotes and underground rivers passing through the area, and the adjoining property is Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sian Ka’an (Maya: “origin of the sky”) is home to jaguar, puma, ocelot, Central American Tapir, Black-handed Spider Monkey, Yucatan Black Howler Monkey, West Indian Manatee, 850 vascular plants, 100 documented mammals, 40 amphibians, 330 bird species (219 of them breeding there), 400 species of fish, and 80 recorded species of reef-building corals.  

So, as you might imagine, septic tanks, drainfields and sewage treatment lagoons are non-starters.

As we were packing to leave for Mexico, we came across a DVD passed to us last year by renowned New Zealand permaculture designer Steve Hart. It had an intriguing Sharpie-written title, “Romanian Pyramids,” so, not having watched it yet, we popped it into the superdrive and gave it a look. Great handoff, Steve!

The home-made film had Steve narrating his visit to Romania and allowed us a look over his shoulder at their sewage treatment pyramids. The claim made by the engineers in the video was that these pyramid-shaped greenhouses, built to similar dimensions of those in the Valley of the Kings, were capable of processing the sewage of a city of 100,000. That seemed a bit much to us, but the engineers go on to say that the early prototype was so successful it was taken to scale by the Romanian Army to clean the waste of a military base, which was so successful that 10 more were built at army bases around the country. The engineers, through their English translator, claimed the system was 17,000 percent more efficient than any other existing municipal system.

Googling “municipal wastewater treatment pyramid Romania” came up dry.

What intrigued us about the design was the similarity to John Todd’s Living Machines, in that all the treatment is performed by biological processes, alternating cells of aerobic and anaerobic plants and animals, under a greenhouse roof and optimized climate conditions. In the Romanian pyramids, one third of the aquatic plant biomass was harvested daily. We could envision that aquaponic biomass taken a step or two farther and being processed into cascades of products and services: leaf protein; nutriceuticals; wallboards and geotextiles; soaps, shampoos and dyes. More importantly, leftovers could then be turned into biochar, in a pyrolytic process producing electricity, central air conditioning, liquid fuels, gas fractions, and wood vinegar and leaving behind biochar (30-50% by weight) that can then be transformed into biofertilizer, water filters, plasters, insulation, roof media, grease traps, aquaponic media, human and animal probiotics, baby formula, and ultimately enough long-term carbon sequestration to more than offset residents and visitors footprints, including international flights to and from pre-Collapse Cancun.

But wait. There’s more. Don’t forget Dan Carlson.

Getting the blackwater from home or hotel to the pyramid requires energy. Sure, we could do that with the pyrolysis kilns, or photovoltaics, or even offshore tidal energy, but we are particularly fond of the SunPulse motor developed at Tamera Peace Research Center in Portugal by Jürgen Kleinwächter.

The SunPulse is a gas-filled black bladder nested in a parabolic dish. The bladder swells and releases from the heat of the sun, making a sound much like breathing. The motion drives a piston, that turns a wheel, that generates mechanical energy and voila! Electricity or motive energy for blackwater pumps.

Sitting with our sketchbook on the Mayan Riviera playa, we drew it out for the team of site planners flown in from around the world: the lines of blackwater snaking through the jungle, the SunPulse drawing the water to a predigestion settling tank at the top of the pyramid (Maya style pyramids, with the cube-shaped building at the top, are ideal for this), then gravity taking the flow gradually from cell to cell, stage to stage, through descending floors of the pyramid. Like the serpent motifs seen on the sharp edges and staircases of Mexican pyramids from Tikal to Teotihuacan, the pyramid could have a serpentine flowform cascading sweetwater down each corner.

And then there is the sonic architecture.

Like a heartbeat, the SunPulse sends a steady acoustic vibration echoing through the pyramid. The aquatic plants become accustomed to its pulse. When the sun passes behind clouds, the beat slows. The light coming through the windows dims. The stoma close to conserve energy. When the clouds pass away, the beat speeds up, the light grows, and the plants respond.

It may not be at the bird-chirp frequency of Sonic Bloom, but Sonic Bloom could easily be incorporated. For that matter, why not let the birds come and go too?

This weekend global pyronomads are re-gathered in the Black Rock Playa for Burning Man #30. No fewer than 40 giant diesel generators will supply power to air condition the uninsulated HexaYurts and SeaLand containers that, among other things, are bringing us the live webstream. 

Sewage is a huge concern, as are other relics of the non-circular, consumer culture default world that burners import to the Nevada desert to maintain creature comforts. Yet Burning Man prides itself on leaving a clean desert behind. It occurs to us that we could see something like these power pyramids handing the Man’s wastes, producing energy, and offsetting the travel footprint of all the climate-profligate burners. As we wrote this, we turned to Ranger @Motorbikematt’s live feed on YouTube and discovered, lo! Pyramids! Maybe someone has already thought of this?

Actually they were called the Catacomb of Veils, and, true to the event's utterly obscene stranded ethics regarding the greenhouse effect, they burned Friday morning at Sunrise.

Most of the burners there on the playa fixed their eyes on the flames. From our writing table in Tennessee all we watched was the billowing smoke wafting to the heavens.

Nonetheless, one thing that popped up at us from the exhibit hall of the USBI Symposium was the display from REGENiSYS® Organics whose 10,000 sq. ft. power pyramid in Whitefish, Montana, on being fed 6 tons of biosolid waste daily, produces:
  • Power (6 megawatts per day for 100+ homes)
  • Heat (28 million BTUs per day)
  • Revenue (900+ tons REGENiSYS® biochar organic fertilizers per year)
  • Food (1/2 acre climate-controlled growing space)
  • Carbon credits
  • Capital investment return within five years

We can easily imagine approaching the Yucatan coast on the Caribbean side a century from now, arriving by sail, passing through the natural break in the reef a mile offshore and seeing, just above the canopy of tall forest, the SunPulse receiver at the top of its pyramid busily converting waste into biochar, and restoring to the Si’an Kaan its original title — Origin of the Sky.

That's assuming Burning Man doesn't consign us all to hellfire and damnation first.



mic burghez said...

You don't need a SunPulse. The pyramid acts as a pump says Marioara Godeanu, one of the researcher on the original Romanian Pyramid. She doesn't say how: " Unfortunately, the ban imposed by the communist regime to travel outside the Communist bloc countries had my dream deferred. Therefore, my first desire, after 1989, it was to go to Egypt and visit the pyramids. On this occasion I checked several of my observations made in the pyramid from Pitesti. I saw in a underground room a bath, whose basin was filled by suction through a channel coming from the Nile, down in the valley. I recall that in Bucharest, together with an building engineer I made a pyramid on a smaller scale than the one in Pitesti and found that, indeed, the suction force of the pyramid exceeds the possibilities of communicating vessels. In recent years, I tried to recover that pyramid, to put it in the path of underground springs, to be able to bring water to the surface by force suction of the pyramid, in areas where there is not a sufficient water supply."

Cam said...


Reverse Engineer said...

"Last month we were invited to a psychedelic soiree"

This has been bugging me for a while Albert, so I gotta ask. Who is "we"? Does someone accompany you on these trips? Do you have a co-writer of your articles?


Albert Bates said...

This will be one for the biographical historians, discovered buried in the comments archives of Blogger in September, 2016. If you are the researcher who finds this decades or centuries hence, kudos. I hope it doesn't help you send back a Terminator.

I trace my use of the royal "we" when writing humor in the first person to Marvin Kitman, who was a strong influence in my teenage years, those most formative of my writing. I first had an article published was when I was age 11, (after many rejections by science fiction magazines). Kitman wrote for Sat Eve Post, The Realist, Monocle, was a Mad Man for a while, and a TV critic for Newsday. In the 50s and 60s, the royal 'we' form gave him outsized power as a humble witness to cultural insanity. I took note.

I recall when Kitman ran for POTUS candidate of the GOP as a Lincoln Republican against Goldwater whom he labeled a McKinley Republican. I recall when he saw the price of steel jump and ordered a short ton delivered to his front lawn in Long Island from US Steel in Pittsburgh, expecting to cash in.

When I move blog essays to book form (which is not as often as JM Greer) I will usually edit the piece back to first person singular, as in The Paris Agreement. There are exceptions, as with Pour Evian on Your Radishes, which are published as collections of essays and the initial humor is attempted to be preserved, although being topical, it may not seem very funny to the contemporaries of the historian who locates this comment.

Reverse Engineer said...

Got it. It's a joke. :)

Don't worry Albert, nobody is gonna dig up any of the shit we are putting up on the internet, or anything going in the books either.

It is all just Dust in the Wind.





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