FUXIN, China — Living through winter in northeastern Liaoning Province is a harsh experience for many at the best of times, but if you live without a central heating system, it can be a devastating one.
After suffering for a winter too many, Liu Xingshan, a farmer from Shuangchengzi village in Fuxin city, decided to solve the problem troubling himself and many of his fellow villagers directly by developing his own housing system. Even better, it was to be powered by affordable, sustainable, green energy.
The idea set 59-year-old Liu on a bumpy road. With only nine years of education behind him, the farmer began experimenting on his own house in 1984 to test his green living concept. In order to fill the gaps in his knowledge, he spent over 10,000 yuan (US$1,500) on books on energy and how to save it.
After knocking down his home three times, Liu succeeded in building a two-story solar-powered house, which also uses other sustainable materials including recycled crop residue, biogas, and wind energy.
In the integrated household, each of the eight components helps the others: the fire pit, solar energy roof, greenhouse, kitchen, lavatory, livestock shed, biogas pool and a bathroom. Instead of inventing new devices, he has found ways to combine existing technologies so they can work more efficiently.
The “8-in-1 Eco-home” has earned Liu 5 patents and second prize in the Leadership in Environmental Conservation on 2012 Conservation & Environmental Grants, China (CEGC) programme held by Ford.
“I love the research because it can help people to have better lives in the rural areas, and I am glad to know my design is good for the environment,” he told Jin Yangyang, a Ford employee who voluntarily travelled to Fuxin to follow the project for the CEGC.
“Pollution in villages is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. For example, there are 66 households in Shuangchengzi; we sell 20,000 eggs and 2,000 pigs annually. People just dump the excreta on the streets or into the river, which is why I plan to build a biogas pool for everyone in the village,” Liu added.
Liu has been recognized by the media as “the first farmer in China to go low-carbon,” as his eco-home is widely reported and televised nationwide. He was also approached by researchers, giving him opportunities to further improve and promote his concept.
“Liu’s innovation could let bio-mass energy meet 100 percent of daily demands, replacing coal,” said Chen Bin, a professor at Dalian University of Technology, during a field investigation in Fuxin.
Liu’s innovation is a blessing for the 40 rural households that have been modified into eco-homes in Fuxin. With the new solar-powered system, each home’s indoor temperature reaches 20 degrees Celsius in winter time.
“Now we are totally rid of coal, which created lots of smoke; our rooms are much warmer as well,” said Liu Lisheng, a Shuangchengzi villager who installed the system in 2007. “Xingshan is a very kind man. He did not charge me for the patents and consulting fees, only a small amount of money for installation. But his invention is priceless for us.”
Adding to the value, Liu’s eco-home can be easily copied to be utilized in any other northern village in the country. Liu has taught related technologies to more than 400 farmers in other provinces, while more than 100 eco-homes have been built in these regions so far.
“I will consider donating some of my patents to the government when the time and conditions are ripe,” Liu said. “So more farmers like me in the country can enjoy the convenience and comfort that the system provides.”
With the prize of the CEGC, Liu said he will carry on improving his inventions and promoting them to more people around the country.
“CEGC, like we Chinese say, ‘using the right steel to make the blade’, it not only offers the most practical support for someone like me, a grassroots environmentalist, but also excellent publicity for my projects. It was an honor to be invited on stage with all the talents in the country in terms of conservation,” he said.
When asked about his future plans, Liu said: “With Ford’s support, I am planning to build a 100-cubic-meter biogas pool for our village, solving the energy problem once for all. I am looking forward to more partners who are drawn by the reputation of the CEGC programme. With their professional help, I will be able to promote my energy model to other villages in Liaoning, or even across the country. I believe biogas is the solution for the energy challenge in rural areas.”
“In the future, I will found an ‘Organic Eco-Agriculture Cooperative’ to educate more young people about the environment and sustainable energy,” he added.
As one of the most respected environmental awards in China, Ford’s Conservation and Environmental Grants, China (CEGC) program has helped trailblazing grassroots environmental organizations and leaders realize their vision. Since 2000, CEGC has awarded RMB 12.6 million (US $1.85 million) to 278 grantees.
Liu receiving his CEGC prize from Joe Hinrichs, president of Asia Pacific and Africa, Ford Motor Company
An Eco-home in Fuxin for demonstration purposes