Thu | Aug 25, 2016

An old man's take on alternative fuel

Published:Saturday | February 2, 2013 | 12:00 AM


I have often heard it said that being old one can always be sure to have a wider knowledge base than the young. It is also said that if the old could remember what it is that they know so much about, they could relay it to the young in certain knowledge that no one will take a blind bit of notice!

In the early 1960s, I saw a mechanical cow, or to be more accurate, a machine demonstrated on British television. Vegetation went in one end and milk came out the other end. I have never seen or heard anymore about that machine to this day, but I suspect it might have been 'nobbled' by the gigantic milk producers' association, or it might be working happily away producing these non-dairy products such as coffee creamers I see in the supermarkets.

Another demonstration of man's ingenuity I am sure many have seen is again a cow-related product being utilised, this time as a fuel. Yes, the cow dung is used in some parts of India and other arid areas of the world as we would use charcoal.

Now I hear the sugar cane farmers bawling because they are told that in two years they will have to stop burning cane leaves or whatever, something to do with the environment and ozone destruction, I believe. Okay, I am not mad, just old. Suppose these farmers were to find a way to grind these cane leaves and mould it in small tablets. Could they not be used as does the cow dung?

I only ask, but I know the answer because I have tried it (see accompanying photo). However, I use corn leaves and guinea grass (same difference) - the greener, the better. I crush them with a hammer - the finer, the better, as this increases the density of the finished product, thus producing more heat. Add a little water if this is too dry, cover and leave to ferment over two days, skim off into the mould, and allow to dry.

There is even a by-product, which could be further fermented into wine! I know that the cane farmers are well aware of how the cane husk (if that's the right word) is used to fuel boilers at the factory.

Disappearing issue

Yes, I hear you say, "But what about the environment? We will still be burning the stuff." My answer is: Check out the United States, China, India and all the other coal-burning countries to see what fraction of the pollution they put out; we could match with a few straws.

The issue of growing your own fuel has disappeared from the headlines now (remember the low-cost E10 we were supposed to be enjoying) and it is not my intention to bring it back. However, the sugar cane and other grasses only take a short time to grow. How long does it take for the trees that are cut down in Jamaican forests during the production of charcoal to grow? Of course, no one will take a blind bit of notice of what I have to say. I am old, you see!

Phil Foster

Southfiled, St Elizabeth