How to Make a Home Methane Digester

As Jim Burgel proves, you don’t have to have tons of money to build a home methane digester. You just need found metal, a junkyard and a little ingenuity.

| January/February 1975


Jim Burgel demonstrates his home methane digester.


Jim Burgel saves money and resources by constructing a home methane digester out of recycled materials.

Jim Burgel is a young man who became interested in the production of methane from waste a year or so ago . . . so interested that he's now visited the MOTHER EARTH NEWS digester in Indiana, Alton Eliason's and Joe Pelliccio's composter in Connecticut (see MOTHER EARTH NEWS The Parsonage Hill Methane Plant for photos of both units)‚ and several other methane experiments around the country. He’s also worked on a few installations of his own and — as the following October 1974 letter from Jim indicates — young Mr. Burgel has some definite ideas about building, financing and operating alternative energy equipment.


Enclosed are snapshots of the two methane digesters I constructed this summer. The small 285-gallon unit (it cost me — excluding heating elements — about $28) has been sold to the Kalamazoo Nature Center. It's heated by two sources not shown in the photo: [1] a copper coil along the digester's floor which is connected to a 4’ X 8’ flat-plate solar collector and [2] an electric heating element. The electric heater — which is powered by a Dunlite wind generator installed by Al O’Shea of Environmental Energies, Inc. — is not immersed directly into the slurry. Rather‚ it’s fitted to a two-inch pipe filled with water and mounted at a slight angle. A pressure relief valve is inserted at a filler plug opposite the side of the element and the 2” pipe works like a miniature radiator.

Progress on the larger, 1‚000-gallon digester has been rather sluggish due to the fact that I’m building it with dollars I earn on part-time jobs. Actually, the project was supposed to be financed with a $1‚000 university grant . . . but there were so many strings attached (I must attend class and pay for tuition‚ books‚ etc.) that I’ve only had about seventy-five actual university dollars to work with.

This financial disappointment‚ however‚ has only served to strengthen my determination — come hell or high water! — to go ahead and finish the big digester. As a result, I’ve become intimately acquainted with every junkyard in southwestern Michigan and‚ whenever I see a chunk of steel lying by the side of the road‚ I collect the metal and keep it handy for the time I might need it . . . whether for this project or the next.

lee poulson
11/13/2011 6:33:19 AM

Where are the pictures?

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