Feedback on Peat: Renewable Fuel and Organic Garden Amendment

Readers respond to the article on peat and their experiences with this natural resource as a renewable fuel and garden soil amendment.

| May/June 1975

Readers respond to the article on Peat in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 31. 


In reference to the article on peat in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 31, I'd like to recount a bit of local history. You may be interested to know that the building shown in the photo (see the image gallery) was erected in 1904, near Eaton Rapids, Michigan, for the purpose of processing the area's peat into a commercial fuel.

The incentive behind this venture was an energy crisis caused by the coal strike of 1902-03. Construction of the facility was financed with private fund plus $1,000 from the sale of stock in the business. Its fittings were most complete, with two big steam boilers: one to dry the peat, the other to supply a steam turbine which operated a 110-volt AC electric lighting and power plant. This, in turn, ran the motors for the conveyor systems.

Over a period of four to eight years, many attempts were made to improve the methods of processing raw peat. The original intention was to compress the substance into solid cakes (about three times the size of charcoal briquets), but this proved impossible because of the fuel's high humus content. Since the drying of the peat required three times as many heat units as the resulting fuel could produce, the cost of the operation was prohibitive. As a result, the Eaton Rapids plant (and some 12 or more similar facilities elsewhere in Michigan) were forced to close down and the stockholders and others concerned with the enterprise lost heavily. The building — more than a city block long, with poured concrete walls — still stands and is in good condition for its age. It has been a kraut factory and is now used for the storage of onions.

Although the 1904 business venture proved unsuccessful, the research behind it might be of value to those who are interested in alternative fuel supplies. The idea of processing this state's peat resources was investigated by Charles A. Davis, a faculty member at Alma College and later a professor at the University of Michigan . . . from 1901 to 1907, when he joined the staff of the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Davis was the author of a treatise entitled Peat: Essays on its origin, uses and distribution in Michigan, and I believe copies of this work, or further information, could be obtained from the Bureau of Mines or from the university.

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