A good keen man

He blew up his fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­first­first methane tank, built a boat in the shape of a saucer, and helped to de­sign a su­per- su­per-ef­fi­cient ef­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­cient wa­ter blaster, but Coll Bell’s favourite in­ven­tions in­volve ma­nure, and the more, the bet­ter.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Feature -

Coll Bell is an in­ven­tor, the proper, old-fash­ioned type who’s never hap­pier than when tin­ker­ing in his ca­pa­cious shed. His favourite line is “I’ve got a cun­ning plan!” and one of his most prof­itable cun­ning plans to date is in our back gar­den, full of busy worms com­post­ing ev­ery­thing we flush down our loo.

He’s also in­vented the per­fect ‘short drop’ loo, a sail­ing saucer, and an ark­shaped sleep-out that’s big­ger than 10m² but doesn’t re­quire coun­cil per­mis­sion.

But it’s his lat­est waste­water project that may be a game-changer and a way for dairy farm­ers to help save the planet.

Coll (64) is fairly well known in the poo busi­ness. His first ex­per­i­ments in try­ing to make some­thing pos­i­tive out of ones and twos dates back to the late 1980s. He had the idea of har­vest­ing methane gas for his self-suf­fi­cient life­style and cre­ated a poly­styrene tank coated in con­crete which was con­nected to the toi­let. But one dark and stormy night there was an almighty explosion and a ter­ri­ble smell. The less said, the bet­ter says Coll.

Un­de­terred, he tried again. The cat­a­lyst this time was that his home was at the bot­tom of a cliff and to pump poo up it to the town sup­ply sewage sys­tem was a pain. He fig­ured out a way to sep­a­rate solids from liq­uids and just pumped the dirty wa­ter up the cliff, while worms dealt

to the solids. This formed the ba­sis of his first com­mer­cial prod­uct, the Nat­u­ral Flow sys­tem, which he built up and then sold.

He’s run his lat­est com­pany, Sim­ple Waste Wa­ter So­lu­tions, for the past 10 years and his lat­est al­ter­na­tive to the sep­tic tank is the end prod­uct of his years of ex­pe­ri­ence in sus­tain­able waste man­age­ment. In his hum­ble opin­ion, it’s pretty per­fect.

The sys­tem com­prises three com­po­nents. The first is a solid waste di­gester, a 1.2m moulded plas­tic tank where a colony of tiger worms re­cline on a bed of bark and saw­dust, ready to munch through kitchen and toi­let waste. The di­gester is eas­ily cleaned out, about ev­ery

two years for a fam­ily of four.

Grey wa­ter from the shower, bath and wash­ing ma­chine goes straight into a much smaller mix­ing tank where it meets any black wa­ter that comes through the solid waste di­gester. The com­bined wa­ter is then re­turned to an aer­o­bic state by fil­ter­ing it through the sec­ond com­po­nent, a se­ries of bark and saw­dust-filled tubs planted with a va­ri­ety of green­ery, in­clud­ing na­tive grasses such as Carex vir­gata. The root sys­tems of the plants grow good bac­te­ria, and the bark and saw­dust suck up ni­tro­gen.

The fil­tered wa­ter that comes out at the end of this process goes into a small dos­ing tank, the third and fi­nal com­po­nent. This sim­ply reg­u­lates the dis­charge, and can be at­tached to a hy­dro­ponic tun­nel house which en­sures nil dis­charge of the treated wa­ter. You can also opt for a slow release sce­nario, drip-feed­ing it around your gar­den if it’s on a bit of a slope. If not, a so­lar-pow­ered pump can move things along.

Sell­ing and in­stalling this sys­tem keeps him and his sonin-law pretty busy for most of the year, but Coll isn’t sat­is­fied with small scale projects. The log­i­cal ex­ten­sion is found at the busy heart of the dairy farms that sur­round him on his small block north of Auck­land. Ev­ery cow­shed pro­duces a huge amount of waste­water ev­ery day, and Coll’s Clean Cow dairy ef­flu­ent dis­posal sys­tem is noth­ing less than his wa­ter­sav­ing vi­sion for the fu­ture of the dairy in­dus­try.

In de­vel­op­ing his new­est in­ven­tion, Coll looked at the amount of wa­ter used dur­ing a typ­i­cal milk­ing, the run-off into streams, and the need to re­cy­cle a cleaner prod­uct (and a valu­able by-prod­uct) back into the en­vi­ron­ment. Clean Cow’s con­cept is the same as the one for his sep­tic tanks, but it’s big­ger. A lot big­ger.

Coll used out­side fund­ing to set up a trial on a neigh­bour’s dairy farm. It has 230 milk­ing cows, and there was enough room for Coll to work around the ex­ist­ing set-up.

A mate who runs a ro­ta­tional plas­tics busi­ness cre­ated a 1.6m ra­dius quar­ter-tank mould which can be clear or dark green. As with many of Coll’s in­ven­tions, it works on a num­ber of lev­els: • when ly­ing flat, it is the Clean Cow de­cant­ing tanks; • when cut in half, it can be­come a solid waste di­gester; • clear ones on their sides can be used as tun­nel houses. The wa­ter used to wash down the cow­shed is di­rected into the de­cant­ing tanks on a ro­tat­ing ba­sis. Once it set­tles, liq­uid is drained off to the plant fil­ters. Any other wa­ter by­passes the de­cant­ing tanks and goes straight to the fil­ters. The fil­tered wa­ter, full of nu­tri­ents, can be stored and sprayed on to the pad­docks. The solids caught by the fil­ter are pro­cessed by tiger worms which pro­duce a rich, crumbly ver­mi­cast com­post, which can be bagged and sold.

Part of the suc­cess of this plant is due to a cow­shed­cus­tomised wa­ter blaster Coll has de­signed with a Ger­man com­pany which makes sig­nif­i­cant wa­ter sav­ings. The wa­ter blaster is not com­pul­sory for the Clean Cow sys­tem, how­ever pro­jected fu­ture droughts mean ev­ery drop in fu­ture will be­come more pre­cious. There’s also the pos­si­bil­ity that any per­mit­ted ac­tiv­ity in a wa­ter­way with a me­ter that’s overused will in­cur fines, so there will soon be a mon­e­tary in­cen­tive to save wa­ter.

Coll’s test farmer was a con­vert, us­ing it to wash down the plant, and the trac­tor and ride-on.

The re­sults were just what Coll was hop­ing for: wa­ter us­age went from 10,000 litres per milk­ing, down to just over 2000 litres, a 75% saving.

The trial set-up was also used to gauge how much liq­uid and solids a herd of 230 cows can pro­duce in a stan­dard her­ring­bone shed over the course of a few months. As a re­sult, Coll re­designed the sys­tem to have a 2.4m ra­dius quar­ter tank, with four of them giv­ing a farmer a 32,000 litre ca­pac­ity de­cant­ing tank. How­ever, Coll’s sys­tem is flex­i­ble so a farmer can add in as many tanks as re­quired for the num­ber of milk­ing cows on a farm.

Like all in­ven­tions, it’s go­ing to re­quire more money, so Coll is now look­ing for some­one to both in­vest and run the busi­ness side of things so he can con­cen­trate on get­ting the for­mula right. As well as get­ting on with his next in­ven­tion, of course.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.