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Neighborhood Recycling Energy Center

Neighborhood Recycling Energy Center


In both urban and rural areas, a recycling/energy center for the surrounding neighborhood or village could be central to the economy and service of the community.  At the core would be a highly efficient biomass/waste energy system, such as that developed by Larry Dobson.  It will burn household refuse and biomass waste more cleanly and efficiently than most residential and commercial heating systems. A prototype was tested in 1985 by DOE-Bonneville to burn cleaner than any wood burning system yet tested.

When trees and biomass crops are planted to replace the burned fuel, the carbon dioxide and water emitted from combustion is again turned into plant matter and stored solar energy, in essence a wholesome solar cell energy storage device, so there is no net gain in greenhouse gases, no pollution from the energy cycle. There may, however, be other deleterious effects involved in the way the fuel is grown and harvested, such as species and soil impoverishment, disruption of the ecosystem and reduction of biodiversity from monoculture cropping, soil deterioration, etc.  These long term concerns must be addressed by the community along with other sustainability and quality of life issues.

This technology can be incorporated into the community energy system and serve as a recycling center for the larger community, providing jobs for some of the residents.  The central furnace can be fueled with locally available paper and wood waste not otherwise recyclable, tree trimmings from local tree trimmers, even the most common household refuse, including plastics, can be burned with virtually no emissions other than carbon dioxide and steam. A chipper can be part of the recycling center to process neighborhood prunings and windfall trees and branches into fuel.  Recycled aluminum and glass could be melted down and turned into useful products.

In Germany, where tile roofs last several hundred years (rather than the 15 to 25-year life-span of our asphalt and wood roofs), glass tiles are interspersed between the clay ones for light.  These glass tiles last indefinitely and would be a useful and profitable product from our glutted recycled glass market. Other new recycled products, such as lightweight foamed glass roofing tiles, building insulation from recycled glass and a thermopane refurbishing service could be developed by the community to provide income and inspiring new directions and for other recycling endeavors throughout the world.

This inexpensive local source of high temperature heat could support other manufacturing and employment opportunities. Glass-blowing, pottery kilns, a bronze foundry and wrought-iron facilities could be incorporated into the plan, as well as other low-level heat needs such as processing steam, curing and drying facilities.  Electrical generation would be an integral part of the community energy center. Several technologies lend themselves to this application, including Sterling heat engines, solid-state thermovoltaic cells and an internal combustion engine/generator running on the wood-gas to produce electricity and direct shaft power to replace electric motors for motivating public washing-machines, clothes dryers, pottery wheels, fans and shop tools.

With second and third-level heat cycling, all the heating, hot water and laundry needs of the larger community could be efficiently met. The central heat source of the neighborhood center could further heat steam-bath, sauna, heated pool, aquaculture ponds and greenhouses. Food processing from the extensive community gardens, as well as the surrounding community, could take advantage of this free heat for canning, blanching, drying and related activities.

By integrating the energy needs of the whole system, unparalleled efficiencies many times better than presently available could be easily realized.  This is a primary key to success in making businesses profitable, eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels (and the consequent greenhouse gas buildup) and making our lives more elegantly simple.


Small, efficient, cost-effective cogeneration systems fueled with biomass promise a large near-term potential for solving the world's energy needs with local renewable fuel. The energy and environmental crisis we are facing on all fronts has forced us Americans to re-evaluate our "mega" approach to problem solving.  Utilities are looking favorably on conservation and efficiency as an alternative to building more power plants.  Decentralized electric power cogeneration is preferred to wasteful large central power plants.  We must use less, use it more efficiently, reuse it again and again. The operating principles are Conserve, Reuse, Recycle, Local.  Applying these principles to energy and waste recycling, we must conclude that small decentralized settings are the best cogeneration sites, and serve the needs of local neighborhoods and villages for waste disposal, recycling, employment and affordable facilities for community enrichment.

For further information and discussion, contact

Larry Dobson



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