L. John Fry: Methane Digester and Methane Fuel Innovator

An extended interview with L. John Fry, who as a pig farmer in South Africa in the late 1950s/early 1960s developed his own anaerobic methane digester technology to generate methane fuel from organic waste.

| September/October 1973

  • 023-006-01-Digester-with-storage-tank
    TOP: Digester with storage tank in background. BOTTOM:  Original sump digester. Upper drums have been force up by methane gas . 
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-006-01-L.-JOHN-FRY
    L. John Fry, a long-time innovator in methane fuel generation and organic waste recycling.
    PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-006-01-Richard-Merrill
    Fry preparing a digester made from a truck inner tube he developed for people who live in countries with limited access to sophisticated materials.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-006-01-13-h.p.-diesel-engine
    Fry adjusting a 13 h.p. diesel engine converted to run on methane gas. 
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

  • 023-006-01-Digester-with-storage-tank
  • 023-006-01-L.-JOHN-FRY
  • 023-006-01-Richard-Merrill
  • 023-006-01-13-h.p.-diesel-engine

There lives in Santa Barbara, California a most interesting man. Because long before most of us even suspected that organic waste could be recycled into both high-quality fertilizer and a very low-pollution fuel, this fellow was experimenting with the idea. And long before many of us were even close to solving scum and pH and other anaerobic methane digester problems, this inventive cuss had single-handedly and successfully figured out how to turn a very awkward mountain of pig manure into a most handy plant food and more than enough methane fuel to drive a diesel engine day and night for a solid six years.  

This unheralded genius is L. John Fry and his improved design for anaerobic digesters may someday be as famous as James Watt's steam engine. In the meantime we can personally vouch for the fact that L. John Fry is a genuine storehouse of information on the subject of recycling plant and animal waste directly into fertilizer and methane gas (a valuable skill indeed in these days of developing food and fuel shortages). He's also an all-round Good Guy who is most eager to transmit his knowledge to others ... as Cass Wester found out when she interviewed Mr. Fry in Santa Barbara.  


PLOWBOY: Mr. Fry, how did you begin your involvement with methane production?

FRY: Well, I'm from Great Britain actually, and I was a pilot during the Second World War. After that I went to live in South Africa and was there a total of seventeen years. During that time I built up a farm from scratch.



PLOWBOY: This was your pig farm?

FRY: Yes. It took about five years to make the operation begin to pay. Then, when the enterprise started to become financially stable and I thought all my troubles were over, I found we had quite a problem on our hands ... and that problem was getting rid of manure. We had two tons—wet weight—a day to dispose of and, at that time, there was no "official system" of using the material.






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