Methane Gas: The Patch-Whitley Methane Generator

Methane gas idea, design, templates and instruction for this energy generator, including the collector, the digester, filter, compressor system, and end use.

| March/April 1975

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    Methane gas generator: the filter.
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    Methane gas generator: the digestor.
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    Methane gas generator: the compressor system.
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    Methane gas generator: the collector.
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    The Patch- Whitley digester is at left and their collector tank is on the right of the first photo. The smaller tank in the center contains a submarine compressor. The compressor weighs approximately 2,000 pounds, runs at 550 rpm and produces 20 cubic feet of 3,000 psi output per minute. Surplus it cost the Patch-Whitley team $1,000 . . . and it takes 55 horsepower to run the half-brass monster. Bill and Dale store some of their methane in 15 surplus submarine air tanks. Each one cost $150 and will hold 15.5 cubic feet of gas at a pressure of 3,000 psi. The system has cost Patch-Whitley a total of $4,000.
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    Methane gas generator: end use.

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Bill Patch — who rode a bicycle from Minier, Illinois to Redkey, Indiana to see THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS' methane generator last spring — turned right around and rode back to Minier where he and Dale Whitley then proceeded to build a 20,322-gallon anaerobic digester of their own. Does it work? "We burned off 142,450 cubic feet of methane during the four summer months," says Bill. "That's equal to approximately 1,110 gallons of gasoline. As you can see, it's best to get ready to use your gas before you make it! 

Energy Flashes, MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 30

At the height of production during the summer of 1974, our methane generator would fill its collecting tank a half dozen times a day. Each tankful of gas had a Btu value equal to approximately three gallons of gasoline.

Our most "practical" use of the homemade fuel last summer was merely demonstrating its flammability to visitors by burning off the methane from a pipe at the, top of the collecting tank. When we put pressure on the line, we'd sometimes have a blaze shooting five or six feet into the air. Methane will not liquefy until the temperature of the gas is dropped to116° Fahrenheit and its pressure is raised to 673 pounds per square' inch. Once it is liquefied, however, methane will stay liquid at atmospheric pressure. Then, as the temperature begins to rise around the edges of the mass of cold liquid, it will vaporize. This loss, when the liquefied fuel is properly insulated, can be held to as low as 2–to–4% a day.

Cooling CH4 and transporting it as a liquid is very expensive, so most commercial producers of the gas here in the U.S. merely filter the impurities from their methane and then handle the fuel (compressed to as much as 2,000 psi) in pressure tanks. This is what we plan to do.

Our experiments indicate that methane is a very "natural" fuel that is quite easy to make. Just seal manure with straw or hay in it as it comes from the barn, chicken house, or hog pen in an airtight container and, once the oxygen inside has been used up (two to four weeks), the little methane producing bacteria will take over.

The first gas from a new digester will burn, but to keep the flame going you'll have to hold a lighted match or candle near your burner. In another week or so, however, the methane from your generator will burn just like natural gas with the prettiest blue flame you've ever seen. Before the gas is lit, it has a slight charcoal odor but when it burns, there's no odor at all!.

Jerry Coggins_2
8/10/2010 7:53:58 PM

This story brings back great memories. As a teenager, I worked summers on the Bill Patch farm outside Minier, IL. In fact, I painted some of the large methane collecting tanks (inside and out). Bill was a wonderful easy-going guy with a great sense of humor.

12/17/2008 12:50:51 PM

I found this article interesting. I have alway thought that a methane recapture system using a normal septic system with the cabability to add compost material would be a great way to generate electricity. You could even reuse the gray water as fertilizer for yards or fields. I think that having a methane generator available to create energy to suppliment solar power on cloudy days would be great. If you added wind generation and energy conservation tecniques, you could probably meet most of your houshold energy demands, maybe even generate enough power to run an electric car.

4/10/2007 12:06:05 AM

great article... really good to be able to research past articles - just one problem... the story didn't include any of the drawings referached in the story... it sure would be nice to see the art work included in the orginal story as published... thanks... dan Mother responds: You can view the images in the "Image Gallery" at the top right of the article, under "Related."

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