Jean Pain Compost Heating

Jean Pain was an ingenious French inventor who composted woody biomass on his farm to make fertile soil while collecting large amounts of emission-free energy. The Jean Pain Mound is a large pile of chipped forest wood brush (up to 40 tons) with a bioreactor in the middle and plastic piping spiraling through the pile to absorb the heat of decomposing wood mass. It produces:

  • methane
  • heat for hot water
  • compost from wood chips

His exciting discovery is the basis of an integrated and holistic energy and soil solution to build decentralized and resilient communities around the globe.

Figure 1: A Jean Pain Compost (Source: Compost Power Network)

Compost Power Network

The Compost Power Network is a not-for-profit educational networking organization dedicated to expanding the use of regenerative soil-building energy systems based on woody biomass and who have a mandate to:

  • embark on research and development projects to refine and develop holistic systems for generating soil from woody biomass while capturing energy
  • expand awareness, public knowledge-base and application of regenerative soil-building energy systems based on woody biomass by making their findings available to all
  • serve as an educational and networking resource to empower individuals, farmers and institutions to apply these systems, bringing best practices to market

Their team includes experts on:

  • forestry
  • permaculture
  • compost science
  • renewable energy
  • biogas engineering
  • local economic development

and they are dedicated to building a regenerative waste-free forestry/agriculture/energy model to answer the enormous challenges posed by peak-oil, soil depletion and wasteful energy systems.

One of the organizations main tasks is to aggressively expand the work pioneered in the 1970s by the French inventor Jean Pain, who powered his entire home and farm on the heat and natural gas he captured from specially designed woody-biomass-based compost-systems. The network has tested Jean Pain’s methods with some success and believe that with a “Jean Pain Mound” it is possible for a home, farm or business to generate cost-effective combustion-free energy for space-heating and hot water, using local renewable resources while generating soil.

Jean Pain’s method of generating natural-gas using woody-biomass in anaerobic digesters can also potentially provide cost-effective, clean, renewable, local fuel for cooking, transportation, heating or electricity-generation. One of the most exciting aspects of Jean Pain’s results was that the high-carbon, low-nitrogen woody biomass becomes a balanced, complete compost by way of the bacteria pulling nitrogen out of the air and into the material, (nitrogen fixing).

Jean Pain’s farm relied on woody-biomass compost for all of his crops and documented larger crop-yields compared to conventional compost/fertilizer. Refinement and further testing are required to understand all the variables but the Compost Power Network team believe that woody biomass has tremendous potential to build soils and provide energy, while sequestering carbon, with minimal or zero emissions or waste. Woody-biomass compost+energy systems therefore have great potential to become holistic solutions supporting:

  • local food production
  • forestry health
  • localized energy independence
  • sustainable economic development

Step-by-Step Procedure to Build Jean Pain Composting Heap



The complete instructional Compostpower PDF can be downloaded here

Summary Notes

  • Most Compost Power systems can be built in a singe day with the right materials and equipment
  • Three to five people should be able to construct a mound this size in an eight hour period with the use of a small tractor or excavator to dump mulch onto the mound as each layer is built
  • Wheel-barrows and pitch forks turns this into a multi-day project
  • A mound this size could produce between 20,000 and 40,000 btus per hour, enough to heat an average home
  • A mound made of shredded bark or bark + woodchips should produce heat for twelve to eighteen months

Feedstocks: Bark Mulch, Wood Chips, Sawdust

  • A variety of feedstock-materials can be used to generate significant heat
  • Controlled tests are being conducted through UVM and other demonstration-sites to document the temperature and longevity of various combinations of mulch, chips, sawdust, manure and other compost-process materials. Some materials or mixtures may run hotter but for shorter periods of time
  • Hard wood materials may provide more heat than soft materials but soft woods may heat for longer periods
  • The material should be shredded or small-diameter wood-chips to provide enough surface area for the bacteria and air to reach the material and build critical mass of activity (heat)
  • A mound made of wood-chips alone will produce 95 to 110 degree water for in the spring/summer/fall but will cool off in the winter
  • Shredded bark-mulch works very well and should provide 110 to 140 degree water as long as it’s fresh and has not been contaminated with industrial lubricants
  • Rot-resistant feeds-stocks like cedar, hemlock or black locust will not produce heat and are to be absolutely avoided
  • Pine is ok in small proportions but not recommended as the primary feedstock
  • Fresh double ground barks will provide about the right particle size for most projects but wood-chips mixed with sawdust and/or manure will also work
  • The quality of the feedstock and the aeration of the system are the main factors determining the amount of heat produced and the value of the compost after you stop collecting heat from it

Design-Build Notes

  • It may be possible to embed heat exchangers into Compost Power mounds
  • There are lots of possibilities but the method outlined above is the simplest and most affordable
  • Moisture content is important: too much water will fill the spaces between the particles and reduce available oxygen. Insufficient water will reduce overall biological activity.
  • Humidity of 30% to 50% is ideal.
  • Covering the mound with loose-packed hay or other air permeable insulation will improve winter heat output of the mound
  • Tubing and other materials can be recycled so the second mound should be less expensive to construct than the first
  • Measuring the circumference of each layer of tubing relative to the center-stake is helpful so that you know where the tubing is when you tear down the mound. (this makes it easier to use equipment to tear it down without breaking the tubing)
  • If you break the tubing a few times while tearing down your mound, you can just splice it back together

(Source: Compost Power Network)