Rethink Waste, and Help Save a Promising Green Technology

John Perry Barlow, left, on stage with Larry Harvey at Black Rock City

John Perry Barlow, left, in a panel discussion with Larry Harvey at Black Rock City

JohnPerryBarlowJohn Perry Barlow has been a fixture at Burning Man since 1994. That makes him a founder in my book. Recently he starred on stage with Larry Harvey in a session called The Founders Speak at Columbia University. He’s also a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (with Burning Man lawyer Terry Gross), the Grateful Dead (he brought them to Timothy Leary’s castle in 1967 and wrote 57 of their songs) and WIRED (he was on their masthead when it launched).

Burner Barlow has given a lot over many years to our communities: Burners, Techies, Deadheads, and particularly the large Venn Diagram intersection of them all. Now he could use our help in return. For the past 6 years, he has been working with a company called Algae Systems, which has developed some amazing technology. The low oil price has made their investors jittery, and so they are now in a last-ditch effort to save the company and keep their breakthrough inventions alive.

Cutting a long story short, they can turn raw sewage into clean water and fuel, without wasting energy.

If ever there was a time for Burners to come together to support a positive environmental impact, where what we give will actually make a difference, it’s here and now. Their Indiegogo fundraising campaign is open for 8 days.

Barlow says:

Become a Better Ancestor: Save Our Technologies So They Can Save Your Descendants…

For the last 6 years, my colleagues and I have pursued a dream to address the most dangerous environmental problems we believe our descendants will face: poisonous drinking water, insanely variable weather, the end of the green revolution as we run out of mineable phosphates, offshore “Dead Zones” as more and more nitrogen and phosphorous is lost to the sea. 20 million dollars later we have proved it can be done. And done in a way that is consistent with our vision of closing the loop to turn wastes into resources.

Furthermore, we developed a method of photosynthetic energy capture much more efficient than solar cells and able to stand on its own without federal subsidies and using no land currently used to grow food.
But we have reached a surprising impasse with our strategic investor, the oldest company in Japan. They believed, with good reason, that they were investing in a company that would produce a green fuel that extracted more CO2 from the atmosphere than it returned when burned. But crude oil is now so cheap that they lost faith in their investment.

Moreover, we discovered that we had developed technologies along the way that could revolutionize wastewater treatment. As I’ve said, we recognized that we had created a sewage purification process that produces more energy than it uses. In addition, our unique HTL (Hydrothermal Liquefaction) process could transform noxious sewage sludge, currently being hauled to landfills at 30 million tons a month, into fossil equivalent crute oil and a nutrient rich biochar that can restore the millions of acres of depleted topsoil our grandchildren will confront.

But our strategic investor got out of wastewater treatment a decade ago and was unwilling to get back in, no matter how game-changing the technology. Our interests no longer aligned and they decided to withdraw support.

They offered us an opportunity to buy our company, including our plant and IP, for pennies on the dollar.

We saw this coming and had three investors lined up to cover the buyout, as well as the amount necessary to jump-start our operations in Alabama and commence building HTL skids we believe we can sell to enough wastewater treatment operators to make us profitable by 2017.

But one of our prospective investors developed cold feet and withdrew. Upon which the other two did as well. So we suddenly found ourselves looking at a January 17 buyout deadline to come up with the money. We decided to go long. Yeah, it’s nuts to think that we can raise this kind of money in a week, but we’re fresh out of alternatives. It’s a real Hail Mary, but we’ve been successfully hurling Hail Mary passes into the foggy future through the history of our company.

I pray you will look at our tech and see, as we do, the genuine prospect of a planet with life-support systems sufficient to provide for 7 billion passengers as they hurtle through space. We’ve developed an integrated system that can handle that. I personally endured this Sisyphean quest because I wanted, as ever, to be a good ancestor. My devout hope is that many of you will as well.

Please support them, this is aligned to Leave No Trace, Civic Responsibility, Communal Effort, Gifting, Radical Self Expression and Immediacy. This could be an amazing example of how Burners do care, are capable, and can make a difference. I urge BMOrg to get on board and promote this campaign too, perhaps they can find it in their hearts to give something back to this Burner who has contributed so much to us all – and this beautiful, beat-up planet.

More on Algae Systems:

Official web site and Twitter

Seeing Purpose and Profit in Algae – New York Times, 2014

Pilot plant in Alabama produced exemplary results – 2015

algae systems


From Indiegogo (emphasis ours):

Planet Earth has no externalities. As Bucky Fuller told us 40 years ago, it truly is a spaceship. We need solutions that recognize that waste is either a verb or a squandered resource, since all flows are in a closed loop.

Our team spent nearly every waking moment of the last 6 years of our lives, approximately 394,200 hours, dedicated to developing our waste treatment technology.  We’ve had numerous successes and exceeded our expectations.

We figured out how to transform raw sewage into energy-positive clean water and carbon-negative, water-positive green fuels. In the process of growing biomass and turning it into fuel, we discovered something much more valuable. We can purify wastewater without wasting energy.

We are excited about the viability of our technology and the benefits it can bring to a world where millions of children are killed every year by dirty water.

However, our primary investor, a large Japanese corporation who initially funded our small startup, isn’t interested in wastewater.  They are no longer willing to provide funding to us as our interests no longer align.

The truth is, we are in a tight spot. 


We have until Jan 17th to raise enough money to buy back our company and continue operating.  If we do not raise enough capital, our technology and IP will be shelved indefinitely, its benefits never brought to light.

To our knowledge, there is no other process that can provide the benefits we can and do so at a profit.

We are in a position to invite people like you to help us continue developing our waste treatment system and deploy it at a commercial scale to bring its benefits to communities.

Let’s harness the power of the crowd to support existing technology and is so critically needed on this planet. We hope that you are inspired by our work and that you see the benefits it can provide.


In Alabama’s Mobile Bay we successfully built and tested a demonstration facility that takes a community’s raw sewage into one end, and outputs carbon-negative fuel, clean water, and fertilizers from the other end.  Unlike most water treatment strategies our system generates energy while producing clean water. A community using this method could get energy back while treating their water.

Learn more about the science behind the system here.

When Alabama Governor Robert Bentley visited our facility, he had this to say:

“This took a lot of knowledge in biochemistry and the ability to take wastewater and use natural ingredients like algae and be able to produce clean water and oil…it’s a great system.” ~ Robert Bentley

AlgaeSystems CEO Matt Atwood (left) speaks with Governor Robert Bentley (right) on a tour of our Mobile Bay facility.

It is our hope that you will decide to support our campaign and empower us to continue on this path.  Every little bit helps. Please donate and share. Together we can change the world. One city water treatment plant at a time.HOW YOU CAN HELP
With your contribution, we will be able to:

  • Obtain full control of our science and patents by buying back our company from our current investor
  • Jumpstart our Mobile Bay facility to get it running again
  • Reinstate our dedicated employees who want to contribute to the success of our waste treatment system
  • Develop existing relationships for already selected sites to deploy HTL skids + photobioreactor bag technology
  • Scale up to an economy of scale that makes our waste treatment system competitive in the marketplace


Technologies like ours that generate new solutions to climate change, ocean warming, topsoil depletion, and greenhouse gas pollution are needed immediately. The world needs more resilient and resource-efficient infrastructure. That’s what we provide.

Our cities are in need of help.  Some municipalities use up to 30-40% of total energy for water systems ( EPA). We need more energy-friendly water production.
In the United States, we use about 40% of all water for fossil fuel energy production (DOE).  Negative implications of this practice include competition for water supplies among agricultural uses and human consumption. Additionally, warmed water coming out of thermoelectric plants has adverse impacts on local aquatic habitats.
This wasteful system is ripe for innovation. We need more water-friendly energy production.

Algae Systems disrupts traditional wastewater treatment with a more resourceful, systems approach. Our technology pushes wastewater treatment and energy production into new territory that is far more beneficial for humans and other living systems than current practice.

Solar and wind have grown leaps and bounds, but they aren’t going to get us all the way there, experts say.  Bill Gates recently announced the creation of a private equity fund to invest money in 20-30 companies with existing technology that can be scaled up to become commercially viable.  Algae Systems is the type of tech Bill Gates is talking about.  It is viable technology that needs financial support to scale up. As the deadline of Jan 17th looms ahead, we are working as hard as we can to capture the attention of the crowd to meet our crowdfunding deadline.

Algae Systems is a valid solution for a more resourceful water-energy nexus. You have the power to help us create a more sustainable world for future generations.

People are excited about the potential of Algae Systems.
Visit our press room here.

We are a group of professionals united in our efforts to apply an entirely new approach to solving some of the most basic problems impacting our communities, our environment and our public utilities. We are entrepreneurs, chemists, engineers (civil, marine, and aeronautic), utility operations managers, vanguards of more sensible futures. Click here to learn more about our team.

[Source: IndieGogo campaign]


2015 (Almost) Final MOOP Map Released [Update]

Inspection tools. Image by @Shalaco

Inspection tools. Image by @Shalaco

This year, the BLM approved Burning Man’s “Leave No Trace” status a full week before the MOOP inspection could be completed. This seems a little strange – as does “we passed with a visibly wide margin” in light of the amount of red on this “almost final” map posted yesterday. Is this a sign that the volunteer MOOP inspectors are now being more zealous than the actual MOOP inspectors? DPW scored a few reds and yellows, and there is a giant big red for The Man. A few camps with red have been specifically named, including Ibiza Camp, Distrikt, Emergency Services Station 3, and the dead-eating nun-fuckers at the Totem of Confessions. Celtic Chaos and Ooligan Airways get named and shamed for large amounts of red, while White Ocean is the biggest red of the whole map and yet somehow manages to avoid a direct link to it.

2015 Moop-Map-2015_Day-9

The “final” map is still several months away, according to VOBM.

This is NOT the final map. The final is still being created, and will be released in a few months, along with detailed information about what was found where. If you’re wondering about what happened, and you’re a placed camp, you will hear from your Placement representative in a few months with more information

Apparently, the delay is simply in getting the data into the graphics, not doing the sweeps:

we have finished line sweeping our way through the streets of Black Rock City …However, it takes us several days to produce the Moop Map images…Sorry for the confusion. Have you ever tried computering in this desert? It’s a slow process [Source]

Here’s how the BLM inspection works:

The BLM can’t inspect the entire 4.5 square mile event site in a single day, so 60 randomly-selected points throughout the city are chosen as a sampling. Each inspection point is one tenth of an acre. They cover all parts of the city, from the streets, to the Man and art sites, to the open playa.

In order to achieve success, there must be less than one square foot of moop found per acre. Therefore, each inspection point must produce less than one tenth of a square foot of moop. That’s a 3.8 inch wide square. It’s small.

And yet, once again, we passed with a visibly wide margin. Do you know how big a deal that is? It’s a tremendous accomplishment, and it’s something we all did together, as the community of Black Rock City. [Source]

It’s great news that we passed. It’s just a little confusing that “passed by a wide margin” is the same as “large amounts of red and yellow all over the map”.

Congratulations to all the camps who scored a green. Anyone who scored a red must live with the public shame for months, without any information about “what” or “why”, and no chance to defend themselves. Surely there could be a better way. Why not just sweep the whole site on the Wednesday following Burning Man, taking photos with GPS co-ordinates? They could post any red marks online and let the camps who care come and explain themselves, apologize, or ask how they could have done it better. Dealing with this more publicly could help educate the whole community together; this system of “we say its red and that’s that and you won’t even find out why for months” seems to help the NPD social capital brigade more than it helps the global community of Burners.

And while we’re at it, what about an abandoned bikes map?

Thanks to Gary Justgary for posting these from previous years:

moop 2014 moop 2013 moop 2010

[Update 10/14/15 11:09am]

Adam La France has shared a couple of photos of MOOP left behind this year.

2015 wood left behind adam la france

Abandoned timber is gathered in one place and burned. Image: Adam La France via Facebook

2015 abandoned bikes

Many of these bikes were stolen before being abandoned. Image: Adam La France via Facebook

Midburn Damaged Ancient Site [Updates]

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

So much for Leave No Trace. Apparently Midburn damaged, perhaps even destroyed, a cultural site  150,000 years old. Ironically, they erected their Temple right above the site.

From Asssociated Press:

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli Antiquities Authority says revelers at a Burning Man festival famous for its pyrotechnic spectacles have accidentally torched some remnants of prehistoric man.

Archaeologist Yoram Haimi says organizers of Midburn, an Israeli affiliate of the Nevada carnival, burned a wooden temple Saturday on a hilltop scattered with flint tools from the Paleolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods.

The site was discovered 30 years ago by an Israeli archaeologist. The area is not marked with signs and it is hard to see the ancient remains. He says the extent of the damage is unclear.

Eyal Marcus, Midburn spokesman, said antiquities officials only approached organizers in the middle of the festival.

“We are sorry,” Marcus said. “One of our principles is ‘leave no trace.’ We are not for destroying.”

From Haaretz:

the burning of the Midburn “temple” Saturday night, which caused a huge blaze lasting several hours, damaged an archaeological site at the community Nahal Boker. The site contains ruins from the Middle Paleolithic period 150,000 years ago and the Epipaleolithic period 15,000 years ago.

The flat-topped hill on which the temple stood served as a workshop in ancient times. The site was discovered 30 years ago and the find scuttled plans to build a power station there.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the damage may be great, though it can only be fully assessed once the weather turns rainy and the dust is washed away.

“It’s unfortunate and sad,” said Yoram Haimi, the authority’s archaeologist for the district. Haimi said he toured the area during the event, after the temple had been put up, and asked Midburn’s organizers to ensure that it would not be burned to the ground.

He also asked that the coals stoking the fire be removed manually, not with heavy equipment. On Monday, it was clear that neither request had been fulfilled.

Haimi plans to file a police complaint. “Maybe that will deter them next year,” he said.

Midburn’s organizers said they had received permits for the festival from all the necessary agencies, including the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

“The antiquities authority contacted us only in the middle of the event,” they said in a statement. “We tried very hard not to harm the area and collect all the waste, because that’s part of Midburn’s principles. We regret any misunderstanding.”

Midburn was also interrupted by bomb disposal squads, who removed 2 unexploded bombs found at the site, and the tragic death of an experienced Burner.

From the Times of Israel:

organizers had to call in a bomb-disposal unit during the festival to take care of two unexploded ordinances, likely left over from Israeli military training exercises. Part of the camp was evacuated for a few hours while the bomb-disposal unit worked, but no one was injured and the bombs were disposed of safely.

There was also a death for the first time at a Midburn event: An older participant suffered a heart attack just 15 meters from an ambulance stationed at the event.

The man, in his 50s and a veteran of many Burning Man events around the world, collapsed from an apparent heart attack, likely unconnected to the festival or to substance abuse. Paramedics instantly began life-saving measures and stabilized the man before he was taken to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, where he later died.

Other than that, it seems like a good time was had by all. More coverage, including photos, at:

The Guardian

The Globe and Mail

 [Update 5/28/15 8:06am PST]

Page 11 of the Midburn transparency report said that they were required to get an inspection by the Israeli Antiquities Authority. It seems this may have happened this year after the Temple had been constructed.

Midburn have released this official statement on Facebook:

Dear Midburners,

Today we read in the press that there is a concern we may have caused damage to an archeological site while burning the Temple. If this is true, we consider it a very serious matter. We’ve of course received all the necessary permits from all authorities (Nature and Parks Authority, the Regional Council, the Police, Israel Land Authority etc’) to hold the event in a lawful manner, including permits for the specific locations of the art installations and the city’s perimeter. Throughout the permitting process, we worked in full transparency and coordination with all the relevant authorities.

Nevertheless, Civic Responsibility is our guiding principle and that requires us to act as responsibly as possible and take measures that extend far beyond the minimum requirements of the law.

We will therefore examine the claims by Israel Antiquities Authority and continue to be a community that is involved and is aware of the environment in which it exists. We promise to investigate the matter thoroughly and to keep you updated.

Image: Midburn/Facebook

Image: Midburn/Facebook

[Update 5/29/15 4:04pm PST]

Say anything critical of something in Israel, and it won’t be long until someone throws Anti-Semitism into the social media trollfest. Like, there are all these special rules, that wouldn’t apply to discussing Kiwiburn or Burning Seed or Flipside or Element11.

That’s not right. Burners are burners, dude. Wherever they are, whatever they do for a living, whatever god they worship (or not). There are not “some special Burners” and then “the rest of the Burners”. Whoever is thinking like that needs to experience some Radical Exclusion and Civic Rejection.

I’m not even criticizing Midburn – kudos to them for more than tripling in size since last year, getting the support of a Nobel Prize winner and Royal Society Fellow, getting judges to back them, and overcoming all obstacles in their path. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if there is some political backlash against them, and maybe that’s why the media is piling on.

Type “burning man” into Google and then in the Search Tools put “past week” or “past 24 hours”. That is what Burners.Me is here for: to share my opinions about what is being said on the Internet about Burning Man and the intergalactic (and inner-galactic psychonautic) realms of this Burner culture that is spreading around the world.

If you did what I just suggested, you’d see a lot of talk about Midburn. It’s not just me making things up, all of this really happened. And many people are taking the allegation of disrespecting a culturally sensitive site quite seriously. If I could speak in the vernacular of the Voices of Burning Man propaganda channel for a moment, I would say it thus:


Some say “the principles are just guidelines”, a vague and self-contradictory ethos.

Many Burners say “this is not just a festival, it’s not just a party in the desert, sex and drugs and sects and EDM”…this is a movement. Something substantial, and long-lasting, and growing and improving all the time. To many Burners, having Principles behind the movement means something in their lives.

All Burners around the world are now being smeared with this slur of trace-leaving. Did Midburn leave a trace? Or not? There is not enough evidence available yet to decide either way. But here is just a sampling of what is being said on the Internet over the last day or two.

Some original content re-blogged here from Tablet Magazine:


Ancient Archaeological Site Torched at Israel’s Midburn Festival

Flint tools from Paleolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods are history

Last week, the second annual Midburn festival—a radical five-day event of art and expression and self-reliance and sundry communal tomfoolery—took place in a “temporary city” in the Negev Desert. An estimated 6,000 attended, who, by virtue of being present, adhere to “The Ten Principles” as established by Larry Harvey, the founder of the U.S.-based Burning Man festival after which Midburn is modeled. But it appears that two principles, namely “Civic Responsibility” and “Leaving No Trace,” were violated.

On May 24, a Saturday night, festivalgoers watched a wooden temple burn on a hilltop. I imagine many danced, or gazed agape as they contemplated the meaning of it all, as the flames screamed upward into the night sky. Below the fire, however, and atop the hill, were prehistoric artifacts. Reports Haaretz:

…a huge blaze lasting several hours, damaged an archaeological site at the community Nahal Boker. The site contains ruins from the Middle Paleolithic period 150,000 years ago and the Epipaleolithic period 15,000 years ago.

The flat-topped hill on which the temple stood served as a workshop in ancient times. The site was discovered 30 years ago and the find scuttled plans to build a power station there.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the damage may be great, though it can only be fully assessed once the weather turns rainy and the dust is washed away.

“It’s unfortunate and sad,” said Yoram Haimi, the authority’s archaeologist for the district. Haimi said he toured the area during the event, after the temple had been put up, and asked Midburn’s organizers to ensure that it would not be burned to the ground.

Haimi told Haaretz that he will file a police complaint. Apparently, Midburn authorities covered its tracks, obtaining all the necessary permits.

“The antiquities authority contacted us only in the middle of the event,” they said in a statement. “We tried very hard not to harm the area and collect all the waste, because that’s part of Midburn’s principles. We regret any misunderstanding.”


Related: Israel’s First Burning Man, One Mile From Ben Gurion’s Grave

There is very little being said at Midburn’s English-language Facebook group. Where is the community of thousands of people who were at the event, rallying around to defend them?

Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.16.34

That’s not a selection, at the time of writing – that’s it.

Over at their much bigger Israeli group, there seems to be very little concern about this.

Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.30.12

Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.31.34 Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.30.51 Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.30.31

The above was taken out of about 14 comments. Blame Bill Gates if anything was lost in translation. Perhaps anyone fluent in Hebrew or with inside knowledge could comment here and update us if this is being taken more seriously in the homeland, in a discussion group we’re not yet privy to. I’m just gathering whatever I can find from the Internet and sharing what I think is the most relevant with you guys, the more detail the better. Anyone reading this can do the same, so please share with the group if you find something.

This story from US News says that Eyal Marcus has an official antiquities authority map of the site that shows no archaeological sites there – curiouser and curiouser. There can’t be “no sites” and “some sites”, so somebody either has their facts wrong or is deliberately spreading misinformation.

Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.38.50

It would definitely be great if Midburn shared a copy of that map, in the spirit of transparency.

Why are we not hearing about any drug arrests? Perhaps because they didn’t happen? This seemed like the main police fear, and it seems like Midburn did very well on that. However that is purely speculation on my part, I have absolutely no evidence to back it up. Perhaps those with more information, might care to share the more positive aspects of this story like that. Greenpeace isn’t all bad just because they graffiti’d the Nazca lines. And I’m sure no-one in Midburn would intentionally disturb a sacred archaeological site. But if a Burn was held on my nice rug in my living room, shouldn’t “Leave No Trace” mean my rug is still fine the next day? Let alone things that were buried in the ground beneath it for tens of thousands of years…

“All of Israel is an archaelogical site, all of Israel is a bomb site”…these arguments don’t wash with me.

“It’s totally fine if we trashed the site because we got permits”…this attitude is atrocious, and reminds me of THIS.

“Political haters are trying to screw with Midburn”…that sounds plausible, though not convincing. If Midburn can produce some documentation supporting their side, or if the Israeli Antiquities Authority fails to produce any evidence of damage, this argument will look stronger.

The remains of the remains, remains to be seen. We must wait for the rainy season, so it seems.

2015 midburn_620

[Update 6/4/15 4:13am PST]

Much more detail about this story here. The concern was not the fire, but heavy machinery used in construction. It sounds like Midburn made an effort to co-operate with the IAA last year, and is doing so now.

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