The Columbia University Study of Bio-fuels in the Lister CS.

Learn why we might all benefit from this work, but first I need give you some background.

left Sebastian, middle Mali Mechanic, right Matt

left Sebastian, middle Mali Mechanic, right Matt

Some years back, I got a call from Professor Modi at Columbia University asking me If I’d be willing to help them source an engine and other parts to put together a research power plant to study Bio-Fuels at Columbia.  No surprise to fellow DIYers, the Lister CS type was the engine under consideration. I found Vijay Modi to be a very warm and likable Man, he was born in India and has been to Gujarat and of course he knew of Rajkot and the slow speed engine industry established there. It took little time to get down to the task at hand and how I might help.

I volunteered to sit in on a conference call with some students where I learned of their plans to build what amounted to an elaborate Generator set with lots of data collection. In the beginning I was a little alarmed about what the students didn’t know about this engine, and I was concerned about safety issues.

At some point Vijay introduced me to Matt Basinger who was a Grad Student at the time. I found Matt smart as a whip, not a lot of hands on experience yet, but quick to grasp a concept and apply it.  As the project took root, the study of the Lister CS and the use of Bio-Fuels became the heart of Matt’s PHD Thesis. Soon other schools joined Columbia in bio-fuels research to form the ‘BELT’ program, and additional engines were placed in labs and a plan was put into place to collect and share information, Matt organized this effort as well.

I was getting a lot of good questions from Matt, and it wasn’t long and DIYers like Bill Rogers, Quinn Farnes, Bob Gayle, Phil Podkanowicz and others were meeting online to kick around Matt’s questions and attempting to provide him with quality feedback about our collective experience.

Matt had the fortune to travel out to Seattle, and I invited him to the Utterpower shop located up against the foot hills of the cascades.  It took me no time to recognize that DIYer personality, Matt is very much a ‘hands on guy’, and of course we know how important that trait is:-)  By the end of the first meeting, I knew Matt was one of us.

Part of Matt’s research took him to Entebbe Uganda, and I was able to arrange a meeting between him and DIYer Ron Pointier who flies for AIM AIR.  Ron’s Uganda home power is backed up with a British Built Lister CS, and he knows Uganda, and the Congo like few others.  It really is amazing how far and wide our DIYer, AE family reaches.  AIM Air is an Air Lines serving Mission work. Matt’s Father-In-Law works for an Air Lines supporting Mission work in Indonesia, so that was another bridge between the two of them.  As you might know, Missionaries are often great DIYers out of necessity, their reports of Small Bush Power Plants, what works, and what doesn’t are valuable.

Engineering student Sets up a Generator in Uganda

Engineering student Sets up a Generator in Uganda

Above:  Columbia University MFP Pilot Project Leader Alison Ferris Installs an Utterpower PMG in Uganda.  Alision is is a Mechanical Engineering Student, and a member of EWB “Engineers Without Borders.”

I found a facebook page for Columbia EWB, and here’s a picture of Alison!!/photo.php?fbid=183162708396705&set=pu.156469054399404&type=1&theater

One day Matt called about a trip to Mali. He was going to Meet ‘Seb’; who was working on a project there to grow Jatropha plants for bio-fuel production and place Multifunctional platforms for village use and a research project.  Dr. Francisco ‘Sebastian’ Rodriguez-Sanchez has a background in Materials, it wasn’t long and I was getting some data from this project that validated some of my own conclusions. I became far more interested and soon found myself reading Seb’s mission statement. I will forever link the word ‘veritable’ with Seb’s work, and any mention of the word brings a picture of Matt and Seb working together in Mali.

The value of the project IS measured according to it’s economic benefit to the village and ‘their’ ability to pay for the equipment deployed. How profoundly wise.  I could easily write 30 more pages about how impressive Seb’s mission statement is and why, but maybe that’s a story for Seb and Matt to tell?

Matt and Seb are focused on the science (as they should be).  I’m opinionated and very tired of seeing all the dishonesty in alternative energy and public money squandered. I am delighted to report this work is real according to my measure. At this moment, I see a lot of wind power going up and lots of Government subsidies are solely responsible for the investment! I’d bet that most of these machines will NEVER do more than transfer money out of the public coffers and into the pockets of those who have ‘engineered’ a deal and/or can make creative use of these subsidies.  The public looks on having no clue they are being fleeced, you need not agree.

The only honest measure of the value of tools or equipment is ‘economic benifit’, and even when we use these measurments , we have a plethora of liars and cheats who will skew data in order to make the money flow their way. Vijay, Matt, Seb, and many others are dedicated to making lives better in the third world and I believe they make every effort to measure benefit with honesty and accuracy. These men fully understand that deploying equipment into a village that can not be serviced or maintained could cost lives.

If you’ve read this far, you might be rewarded by reading the research papers Vijay, Matt, Seb and others have put together. Here’s a sample.


As you look over this article, there’s all kinds of information and some innovative ideas Matt and Seb field tested. If you go back up to the picture of Seb and Matt (above), I think they were installing the modified COV plug as part of a field test in Mali.  Read about it in Matt’s paper.  Friend of Utterpower “Randy Allmand”, a very capable retired Areospace guy (and DIYer) took on the job of machining the plugs at low cost to Matt’s project.

Since the weather is keeping me out of the mountains, I hope to be posting more and it will be my goal and pleasure to tell you what Matt and Sebastian are up to today. These two are among the most impressive younger people I know.  Dr Matt, and Dr. Seb are both currently employed and doing scientific research in fascinating areas of AE.  Professor Modi knows talent when he see it..

My personal thanks to all who pitched in to help me locate parts, feedback, and Data to support Matt.

All the best,

George B.

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