Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bulungula III

Greetings from Cape Town

This journal issue is dealing with the Bulungula Lodge’s efforts to operate as an environmentally friendly and carbon-neutral organization. Solar and wind power, water conservation and waste management are important pieces of this process. Please skip the parts of this journal which are distasteful to you.

One of the unusual things about South Africa is that we operate over a single time zone – Kruger to Cape Town, a span almost as wide as the United States. I had become accustomed to waking with the sun at 5:30 but the sun in Bulungula rises earlier. No problem – lots of things to do before breakfast is ready at 8:30. Things – such as a rocket shower.

I don’t know why the name, but it’s probably related to the sound made heating the water and the fact water comes up like a rocket out of the tube and out the shower head. You start with a small cup of paraffin (kerosene) which you pour into the base of the vertical column. Light the wick, turn on the hot water, wait until the water heats (seconds), adjust with cold water and enjoy. You have approximately 7 minutes before the fuel is consumed and the water cools.

The soap is pretty basic, mostly phosphates with no perfumes or fancy stuff, suitable for use as a fertilizer. The water drains into a small pond, combining with the urine (nitrogen) from the toilets to provide a liquid fertilizer soup that the bananas and papayas thrive on. Sounds awful to our western ears, but it works and works well.

Which brings us to the toilets. They were represented to us as being self-composting. I must disagree with that description because there is human intervention required on a periodic basis. If this makes you squeamish, sorry, just jump to the next section.

You’ll notice the individual stalls in the picture. Also notice the urinal which is not in a stall because the men, apparently, have no need of privacy. Whatever!

The thrones themselves are interesting devices. They are constructed with a diverting partition so that liquids are kept separate from solids. The bucket in the picture contains river sand which is liberally sprinkled on the solid product of your visit. This, in combination with the liquid diversion, minimizes the odor normally associated with pit toilets, “long drops”, and other primitive defecatoriums.

The human intervention occurs periodically, very early in the morning so as not to inconvenience the guests of the lodge. The solid wastes collect in a container which must be emptied and buried. I recall visiting a facility outside of Cape Town where they processed these wastes, producing methane which was captured and used for cooking. Perhaps these technologies could be combined if the required infrastructure is not too pricey.

We were told that some well-meaning persons constructed toilet facilities at selected homes within the village. That was, and is, an example of people attempting to impose their own value systems on others. It doesn’t work. The toilets are unused, as the locals have always used the bush for those needs and treat the toilets as status symbols at best. Enough about the toilets!

Safe and adequate drinking water is a problem around the world. There is a spring nearby which is used for everything except drinking. Spring water is pumped to a large reservoir on a nearby hill where it is gravity-fed for those purposes.

Water for drinking is collected in these large containers. Metal roofs and gutters funnel the water through a screen into light-proof plastic reservoirs where it can be stored for up to a year. If they run out, they shut down. We did notice smaller scale setups at a number of homes in the area. The containers are light proof. The light-proof characteristic is very important as it prevents the growth of algae in the storage containers.

Pumps. They need power, electricity, and that’s an exciting part of the energy story at Bulungula. The site is blessed with a lot of sun and wind. All that’s needed is the technology to collect and utilize this free energy.

If you look carefully and use your imagination, you will see a small wind turbine at the left center of the picture. That simple device provides all the power needed during the average day. This includes telephones, laptops and lighting. Excess energy is stored in batteries.

Easier to see is the array of solar panels on the rooftop. We’re all familiar with the concept but may not be all that knowledgeable with the implementation. David, the guy who runs the place (it is 30% owned by the locals), has cobbled together a workable system. There are transformers, regulators, inverters, switches, and lots of wires. And, I’ve already gone beyond my technical abilities.

The (golf cart) batteries store four days worth of energy and with good care will last 20 years before needing replacement. The entire lodge uses in 24 hours the same energy that a microwave would use in one hour.

Here is a solar oven, used by the locals for baking bread, and an excellent bread it was!

As a wrap-up, the lodge consumes a lot of diesel fuel ferrying people back and forth. They offset these carbon dioxide emissions by planting trees which consume CO2. This is still a bit controversial, but they are trying.

Societal obligations are now completed. Next we can turn to the beautiful environment and the beautiful people of Bulungula.


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