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[BEIJING] A farmer in China is partnering with scientists to promote his design for low-carbon households.

His concept, developed over the past 30 years on his farm in northeast China, is a combination of existing green technologies. Now the country's scientists want to scale up the design to make it affordable.

Liu Xingshan, a 57-year-old famer with no higher education, designed his novel low-carbon living spaces to combine solar and bioenergy sources. His ideas were showcased at the launch of the China Low-carbon 2010: Entrepreneurship Competition (28 November) — the country's first such competition, organised by Science News, the magazine of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"I love the research because it could make life better and I'm glad to know my design is low-carbon and good for the environment," Liu told SciDev.Net.

In his integrated household each of the six component parts helps the others: the fire pit, solar energy roof, greenhouse, livestock shed, biogas pool and a bathroom.

Instead of inventing new devices, he has found ways to combine existing technologies so they work more efficiently.

"For example, putting the biogas pool beside fire pit can increase biogas production," said Liu, "because the pool can absorb heat from the pit."

The biogas, produced from sewage and plant leftovers, is used for boiling water, cooking and lighting, while the heat from its production warms the house and the livestock shed, Liu told SciDev.Net.

Liu has patented five of his inventions, including the angling of the chimney flue so that carbon monoxide fumes can combine with other flammable gases for a second burn, heating the house further while cutting emissions.

So far, there are 30 of Liu's low-carbon households in Fuxin city, Liaoning province.  

But re-configuring living quarters to Liu's design costs almost 80,000 Chinese yuan (US$12,000), which is too expensive for many. And some people are also reluctant to listen to a farmer's advice on design.

So, last year, experts from Dalian University of Technology investigated the low carbon layouts. They praised Liu's model and have launched a project to advance and promote the design to lower costs and increase uptake.

"Liu's innovation could let biomass energy meet 100 per cent of daily demand, replacing coal," said Chen Bin, a professor at the university.

"I will tell experts all I know without any restraint," Liu said, "with the help of experts, my low carbon model will be better."

Liu recently took out a US$6,000 bank loan to work on his design, but is still not charging for his consultancy.

The winners of the competition will be announced in May 2011. They will receive strong support from the government and private enterprises, according to competition organiser, Jia Hepeng.

Additional reporting by Chen Lihua, Funxin Evening News.