“Jean Pain (1930–1981) was a French innovator who developed a compost-based bioenergy system that produced 100% of his energy needs. He heated water to 60 degrees celsius at a rate of 4 litres a minute which he used for washing and heating. He also distilled enough methane to run an electricity generator, cooking elements, and power his truck. This method of creating usable energy from composting materials has come to be known as Jean Pain Composting, or the Jean Pain Method.
Pain’s compost power plant supplied 100 percent of Pain and his wife Ida’s rural household’s energy needs. A compost mound of tiny brushwood pieces (3 metres high and 6 across) was made of tree limbs and pulverized underbrush. Pain spent considerable attention developing prototypes of machines required to macerate small tree trunks and limbs; one of these, a tractor-driven model, was awarded fourth prize in the 1978 Grenoble Agricultural Fair. The 50 tonnes of compost was then mounded over a steel tank with a capacity of 4 cubic metres. This tank was 3/4 full of the same compost, which had first been steeped in water for 2 months. The hermetically sealed tank was connected by tubing to 24 truck tyre inner tubes, banked nearby for the methane gas to collect. The gas was distilled by being washed through small stones in water and compressed. Pain used the gas for cooking and producing electricity. He also fueled a truck. Pain estimated that 10 kilos of brushwood would supply the gas equivalent of a litre of petrol.
It took about 90 days to produce 500 cubic metres of gas – enough to keep two ovens and three burner stoves going for a year. The methane-fueled combustion engine drove a generator that produced 100W of electricity. This charged an accumulative battery which stored the current, providing all the light needed for the household. Some skepticism has been leveled at the quantities of methane Pain was able to extract from his system, and it is not known if anyone has been able to reproduce this quantity of the same system.
Hot water was generated through 200 metres of pipe buried inside the compost mound. The pipe was wrapped around the methane generator with an inlet for cold water and an outlet for hot. The heat from the decomposing mass produced 4 litres per minute of hot water heated to 60 degrees Celsius – enough to satisfy the central heating, bathroom and kitchen requirements.
The compost heap continued fermenting for nearly 18 months, after which time the installation is dismantled, with the humus being used to mulch soils, and a new compost system is set up at once to assure a continuous supply of hot water.”
Owen: Biomass is low tech, cheap, and environmentally friendly. One possibility is gaining access to forest thinnings like he did. The US Forest Service is always thinning the forests. The trick would be living near one of these areas to keep transport costs low. Another challenge is obtaining sufficient biomass year after year. Sometimes the forest in a particular area is cleared of small growth and then what? Also, you need adequate space to store the large piles that are about 10’ high. You’d have to figure out the details, get the timing right, live where this is feasible, have sufficient land, a chipper, time to devote to the project, etc. You’d also want a backup system such as a woodstove in case of any glitches or to smooth out the dips in temperature. The machinery could be shared or contracted out to supply compost piles for an entire community. The resulting compost would sustain large gardens. One option in cold climates is to cover an earth-sheltered home with one of these Jean Pain compost piles.