Compost-Based Bio-Energy Systems


When done properly, composting creates a great deal of heat – heat that can be harnessed to heat water and create usable energy.

To capture this heat, the late French innovator, Jean Pain, developed a technique (Jean Pain Method) harvesting energy from composting materials, ultimately providing 100% of his household energy needs.

A heat-generating compost pile.

He experimented with looping pipe throughout a compost pile and running water through it, as well as distilling methane to run a generator and use for cooking.

I visited Brian Kerkvliet, of Inspiration Farms in Washington, to see his version of a compost based bio-energy system. Brian used about 100 ft of 1/2 inch poly-pipe coils through the pile, looping them back and forth through each layer as they built the pile lasagna method.

Cold and hot water pipes led to their outdoor shower where hot water started out at 160 degrees (thus the need to temper with cold water) and ended up heating to about 90 degrees by the end of two months. So for about 1 1/2 hours of labor (building the bed with the help of farm interns) they got two months of pretty unlimited hot showers.

After the hot showers, he also had a lovely pile of compost and the moisture from the shower fed mushrooms … Hot water, compost, and mushrooms … Permaculture!



In this podcast, I talk to Zane, at a Permaculture Design Course in Dayton, MT, on making a Jean Pain compost pile.

Two of my other podcasts mention the Jean Pain technique:


Paul Wheaton is is the tyrannical ruler of two on-line communities. One is about permaculture and one is about software engineering. There is even one for Missoula. Paul has written several permaculture articles starting with one on lawn care that he presented at the MUD Project 17 years ago, including articles on raising chickenscast iron and diatomaceous earth. Paul also regularly uploads permaculture videos and permaculture podcasts. In his spare time, Paul has plans for world domination and is currently shopping for a hollowed out volcano in the Missoula area, with good submarine access.

See all of Paul’s contributions to Make it Missoula here.