When I received the call from my friend Eric, I was already heading to the Falls of the Ohio. A simply gorgeous autumn day was upon us and the smell of freshly dropped leaves perfumed the air near the river. Soon we would experience our first full frost that would truly signal an end to the warm days and the coming cold, grayness ahead of us. For now, everything seemed perfect and both man and animals reveled in being outside. Like so many of my friends, Eric is a bit of an eccentric. He’s highly creative, full of surprises, but has difficulty at times channeling his enthusiasms into something positive and useful. I can somewhat relate to that and perhaps this forms the basis of our friendship? The plan was to meet at my outdoor atelier under the willow trees so he could show me his latest invention and sure enough…I found Eric standing next to what looked like some kind of unusual machine. Eric was fiddling with the various gizmos, dials, and buttons when I greeted him.
My friend was excited to see me and rushed to shake my hand. He spoke to me in out of breath fashion until I told him to relax and slow down. Of course, I was curious to learn what he was up to. Eric told me that he thought he had the answer to all the world’s energy problems and it took the form of this contraption that clearly looked like it was cobbled together from secondhand junk. Eric called me because he wanted a witness to observe a demonstration of his device’s capabilities. If all went well, Eric intended to send the plans for his latest invention to the patent office and from there who knew? Filled with curiosity, I asked Eric what was the function of his machine and how exactly did it work?
To back track a bit, here is a fuller description of the look of this device. The main body of the machine was boxy and covered with a white insulating material. All sides of the box were embellished with tubes, light bulbs, vials of mysterious fluids, gears, pulleys, dials, levers, and what appeared to be radiator panels for keeping the machine cool while it operated. A large yellow hose protruded from the back of the machine. In the front where the operator did his “thing” was a “hopper” where material could be fed into the machine. A large, clear, horizontally mounted bottle introduced water into the process. The whole contraption was mounted on four wheels which made it a mobile power plant that could be moved to any location that was required. Now, I’m not a scientist and so a lot of what Eric told me I frankly did not understand, but in short, here is what the machine did along with its practical applications. The purpose of the machine as Eric explained it to me was to produce “UBF” or Universal Bio Fuel which my friend believed would not only make us energy self-sufficient, but would also solve the world’s hunger problems as well! Anything organic could be fed into the “hopper” and as a way of demonstration…Eric picked up a large arm load of dried leaves and stuck them into the cup and fired up his machine. One of the beautiful things about his invention was that it operated on the fuel that it produced. The next stage occurred within the bowels of this odd mechanism. I could hear sounds of the leaves being broken down, ground up and masticated into mush. Water, various enzymes, acids, and yes…bacterial cultures were introduced into this leaf mash. As this bolus moved through various internal chambers, the mash would ferment and in quick order convert into “UBF”. The desired product has a waxy consistency when cool. Eric’s machine not only could produce “UBF” to be utilized for industrial needs, but also had a soft-serve function where it could be doled out like some nutritious, but hardly tasty ice cream. Flavoring could come later. According to Eric, apart from a cheese-like odor, very little waste would result…so complete were the reactions that created the “UBF”.
As I watch, I’m thinking the machine is working as intended, but soon notice that Eric is frantically operating the buttons and dials and a small puff of white smoke emanates from his machine. He quickly runs to the yellow hose where a small bowl for receiving the “UBF” has turned over on its side. Too much of the precious bio fuel is being produced and is spilling forth and coagulating on the ground. I ask is there anything I can do, but Eric doesn’t hear me and for some unknown reason takes the following rash action.
Eric grabs the end of the hose and sticks it into his mouth! I hear a guzzling sound as he swallows a massive amount of the surplus “UBF”. He then runs to the front of the machine and hits the button that stops all the reactions. Why Eric did not do this first is due to the fact that he panicked. He told me that in his mind, he heard his inner voice saying that this fuel is precious and should not be wasted. Eric had a dazed look upon his face and then the oddest thing happened…all the hairs on his head stood straight up and they remained that way!
Exhausted and over-wrought, Eric decides to call it a day. He leaves his bio fuel extracting machine where it stands and with assistance from me…we head for home. Eric is a persistent fellow and with his mission to solve the planet’s energy needs… I know this latest setback will not keep him down for long.
Sure enough, about a week later, I run into my mad scientist friend back at the Falls of the Ohio on another beautiful day. As it turned out…this hair-raising experience was permanent. The “UBF” is such a rich mixture and the full physiological effects of eating such a large dose are unknown. Certainly, he had eaten more than a minimum, recommended serving which according to plan was to be determined later. Just a little bio fuel goes a long way. Luckily for Eric, there were no other scary after effects. Undaunted, Eric is willing to try his machine again soon, but first he had to clean it out and replenish his water supply. On this day, I find him waste deep in a stagnant pool of water. He has adjusted his hose by placing one end into the water and the other end delivers liquid into the hopper. This is required to flush all the enzymes and other residues out of his bio fuel plant.
As he tinkers with his contraption we converse. Eric told me that he has a lot more to learn about which organic materials produce the most energy. I ask him if by organic, would that also include plastic and a lot of other waste products and detritus that our current technologies produce? He’s intrigued by the question and thinks plastic by-products could work to create energy although he doesn’t think they would have much food value. I nod my head in agreement.
I don’t know if Eric was ultimately successful in earning his hoped for patent. I didn’t hear what happened the other times he tested his machine. I know he places a lot of faith in technology and believes that it will save us in the long run. Of course, reality is more complicated than that. Part of me fears that if he was successful in his quest…some large corporation would just buy him out and warehouse the solution until they could profit from it. What I appreciate about Eric is that he never talked about money or getting rich. There simply are great problems out there in the wider world and he finds fulfillment in trying to resolve them. Working on his machine has given Eric a renewed sense of purpose. As I contemplate the prismatic colors on the surface of the water…I hope Eric finds an answer. Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.