The Jean Pain method of creating and capturing thermal and methane output from decomposing biomass is a perfect embodiment of various permacultural ideals that include:
- catch and store energy
- obtain a yield
- use and value renewable resources
- produce no waste
- design from patterns to details (think about the spiral you will see in the videos below)
- integrate rather than segregate (Pain made methane AND thermal power)
- creatively use and respond to change
Jean Pain (1930 – 1981) was a resourceful forester in France (near Domaine des Templiers on a nearly 600 acre timber tract at the base of the Alps de Provence) who unfortunately died young and can not be an advocate for his amazing work.
Peter Bane wrote, in the Permaculture Activist Magazine (2000), about Jean Pain, saying:
Pain was a citizen scientist in Occitania, that fabled and historic region in the south of France, whose political fate has long been submerged within the French state, but whose spirit is still restive. Contemporary with Bill Mollison. Pain was concerned with the devastation of the Mediterranean forest by fire, a terminal process of dehumification of soils that began thousands of years ago with the introduction of grazing animals and cereal cropping. He experimented with the production of compost from brushwood thinnings of the garrigue, France’s sclerophyllic (dry loving) southern forest. By progressive applications of this compost and careful mulching to retain moisture, Pain demonstrated and recorded in great detail that high quality vegetables could be grown without irrigation in these dry soils. He further speculated that the forest itself could he regenerated by selective use of the same material.
Jean Pain articulates two basic biochemistries: a familar one, that in the presence of oxygen, cellulose and lignins in woody material break down (or build up) to humus; and one less familiar, that suspended in water, anaerobically, and held at 36°C (97°F) the same woody material will support bacteria that produce methane gas. (Only slightly different processes are required to yield wood alcohol, yet a third useful substance.)
Methane—natural gas—is an industrial fuel. It can provide combustion energy for cooking and space heating, but it can also run motors. Convenience in transport and for vehicle use dictates compressing the gas, but this too is possible with methane-generated electricity and simple compressors. The nimble French inventor set out to link all these processes by the necessary technical elements.
This page brings together various documentation of his methods as found on the web today.
These first two videos show the man himself demonstrating how to build the biomass heat and methane generator, made from brush he culled from his forest. Other videos are also included that expand on these ideas.
Its my hope that we are all inspired to try this with our own compost and reap some of the benefit that the microbial world is offering us!