Culhane teaches people to build fuel sources – powered by garbage

It looks like street magic: A food grinder, some lengths of PVC pipe, a couple of 10-gallon buckets, and flexible plastic tubing lie on the table in front of Thomas H. Culhane. He enthusiastically promises the crowd gathered at a biodigester workshop that anyone can use these items to make enough clean-burning biogas to cook food every day using the scraps from yesterday’s meals.

But his magic is backed by hard science.

Dr. Culhane, a member of the National Geographic Emerging Explorer program and a visiting professor at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., has spent the past five years extolling the merits of locally sourced biogas technology. Based in Germany, with one job in the United States and the shoots of others in the Middle East, he lives the life of a global nomad. His work has carried him to every continent except Antarctica.

Three days earlier he had been in Brazil overseeing the installation of three biogas digesters in the favelas, or slums. But on this spring day he’s in Elsah, Ill., for a conference on sustainability. He’s being honored with a Visionary of the Year award from the Euphrates Institute, a nongovernmental organization headquartered on the Principia College campus located on bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River near St. Louis.

“He really embraces the idea that there are no boundaries, that there are no categories … and that we really are one human family,” says Rebecca Tobias, vice president of the institute, who presented Culhane with the award.

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