Open source compressed earth block machine

The Liberator project aims to make an "open source" compressed earth block machine that can turn out 3-5 blocks per minute for a total cost of $1,000-$1,350. That's enough blocks to build a new house every day, turning dirt into shelter. The project page does a good job of making the case for the efficiency of compressed earth blocks, challenging some of the conventional wisdom on the subject.

This page is an introduction to the collaborative development of a high performance Compressed Earth Block (CEB) press, The Liberator. We aim to provide a low-cost, ecological, ergonomical, and economically-significant press. The design process and final plans will be "Open Source"-- part of the public domain, with free access to anyone. The press is designed through voluntary efforts. Funding for parts, labor, testing, and development are procured via donations from interested parties (ie. builders, buyers, producers of CEB presses; community developers; general supporters of our work). At the same time, we are developing an open source enterprise, according to the principles of neocommercialization If you are interested in helping the development process in any way, please feel free to contact us.
Link (via Beyond the Beyond)

(Image: Cebhomes.jpg, by Dan Powell, from Wikimedia Commons)


  1. Best of luck to this project.
    This is EXACTLY the road for innovation to go (from what I saw here and on thier site). Technology made such undertakings not only possible but gave them reasonable chances for success.
    If some people pull off design efficient enough – it may spread around the world in few years and make tremendous difference.

    And… I’m radical supporter of market economy, not some humble and average on purpose servant of collective. FYI collectivists (if any open this section) market has nothing against VOLUNTARY non-profit cooperation and is against goverment lending power to lobbying corporations to crush their competition. Corporation running on coercion and lawsuits is hardly market entity.

  2. The whole anti-commercialization feel of it leaves me wondering what the true purpose of the effort is.

    Is it to truly help people or is it to make anti-globalization first-worlders feel good about themselves?

    If the project can help people, all the more reason to add the profit incentive and get it out to even MORE people in need.

  3. Don’t assume that everything is legal in California. The UBC covers the whole US. States have their own additional laws, as do counties, municipalities and planned developments. Some parts of California are quite hostile to alternative building techniques.


    Why would you think RRSAFETY was trolling? The profit motive is a powerful tool, and it doesn’t seem like trolling to argue that more people would be served by market forces.

    The market may or may not be the most effective tool to use for any given situation, but it isn’t a troll argument.

  5. @ Rich Gibson

    He’s trolling because he’s delibarately misunderstanding the entire purpose of the project, and it’s worked – you fell for it. The third sentence in the quoted section, the introduction to the project, is:

    The design process and final plans will be “Open Source”– part of the public domain, with free access to anyone.

    So how does this prevent commercialization? The very purpose of putting the plans in the public domain is to encourage businesses to form around making and selling the things, without having the additional overhead expense of licensing the plans, or accepting the risk that next year the licensing fees might go up and crush the business.

    Also from the quoted extract above:

    At the same time, we are developing an open source enterprise, according to the principles of neocommercialization.

    The link didn’t make it through the copy into the story here, but if you follow the link, you’ll see that the word “neocommercialization” is also a link, to a wiki page on the term, which begins:

    “Neo-commercialization means that we can both ‘commercialize’ a product – make it available for sale at competitive prices to others – and help others replicate the enterprise itself. We are interested not only in production, but also in business replication by others, because it’s good for the world. The replication goal is grounded firmly on the open source nature of the entire development program.

    Pretty much the opposite of “anti-commercial” isn’t it? But YHBT and you bit.

  6. California is still under the IBC, as are a couple of other areas of the US, but neither the IBC nor UBC preclude rammed block or rammed earth building. Really, you just have to convince your local building department it meets all the requirements of code. Rammed earth will actually help you out quite a bit with energy code and get you a few points for LEED. Rick Joy, who works out of Tucson, does some beautiful work. Google image search him if you’re interested.

  7. BB, Thanks for a great post on our work. I’d like to clarify the economics involved in this open business model. Steve Bosserman, consultant, wrote a great article explaining commenting in particular about our CEB press:

    P2P foundation claims that our work may be the most important social experiment in the world –

    You can follow our developments on our blog:

    We are looking for people interested in forming a serious open source product development effort. Let us know if this lines up with your interests.

    OSE, founder
    joseph.dolittle on

  8. Are the laws similar to the ones for adobe? If they are, I know you can have adobe buildings up to 2 stories in New Mexico (though it’s possible to build much taller/more impressive ones).

  9. At the turn of the century in England, Gustav Stickley (Art’s and Crafts movement) promoted the idea of giving away free plans for homes and interior built-in furniture in his magazine, The Craftsman. Nearly a hundred years later I used those same plans. At the time Stickley was criticized by many home builders who said he was taking money out of their hands by showing the amature woodworker how to make “stuff.” The magazine never made much money.

  10. On the contrary, my post was not trolling. I guess that “troll” is a label that some here use when they disagree with someone.

    The project’s own OSE proposal specifically states that they are supporters of the Global Villages philosophy of Nahrada (not to be confused with Hillary Clinton’s philosophy). They themselves indicate that their project’s philosophy is the “opposite” of the global supply chain upon which globalization depends. I have no problem with either concept, but to ignore these philosophical underpinnings of the project is unwise.

    Further, their concept of neo-commercialism is not the same as commercialism.

    But none of this goes to my primary point which is the balance between this project’s desire to help people while at the same time attempting to live up to a new philosophical paradigm.

    Should these two laudable goals come in to conflict, which gives?

  11. These things are cool. We had a talk from one of our professors who helped develop machines like this in Africa so villagers could produce their own bricks instead of buying them at a premium from suppliers. Of course, that not only reduced the price, but also the distance of transport – good for the environment!

    Judging by the way he described their work, though, people who want to make bricks from their local sand have to do a *lot* of trial and error work to find the right consistency, though. It will be interesting to see if a community of sand mixologists starts up to trade recipes after a while.

    RRSafety, I’m a little confused by your fervent dislike of people who have ideological goals and put them into action. It would be interesting to hear more about the negative effects of utopian thinking, which you suggest might sink this project.

  12. Unreinforced masonry (including adobe) is known to perform poorly in major earthquakes, and is a significant hazard to occupants should these structures collapse. I hope the construction protocols for these buildings include seismic-appropriate reinforcement.

    I live in southern California and own an adobe house, built in 1938. I love the house — the thermal efficiency is amazing (which is good and bad, because once it settles in at a particular temperature, it’s awfully hard to change it either up or down). Its 14 inch thick walls are also virtually soundproof, and it has a certain aesthetic that is hard to describe. From the outside it just looks like any old plain stucco house, but on the inside it’s lovely.

    This is a great building material, economical and beautiful, but it can also kill you. My house shows signs of repaired damage from a severe quake 50 years ago, and it has obviously withstood an unknown number of smaller quakes as well, but any unreinforced masonry building is a potential hazard.

    I hope the enthusiasm for this project does not overshadow the very real necessity to reinforce during construction.

  13. I don’t have “a fervent dislike of people who have ideological goals”. I have QUESTIONS for people who have ideological goals. I admire these folks. I am simply wondering why they have chosen the “business” strategy they have and what will happen should their do-gooder instinct come into conflict with the way most commercial enterprises must be run in order to succeed.

  14. This is the wrong way to do adobe (which is used all over the sw and thus, likely legal).

    I have only seen the right way once, and it is so much better than bricks Im amazed they presist:

    Make a cement footer foundation.

    Pony clamp plywood sheets to it

    ram in slightly moist earth–repeat

    4 of us with no heavy eqpt did all the interior and xterior walls of a 2000sq ft house to 8′ in a couple weeks.

    Lots less bricklaying that way.

  15. RRSafety – I accused you of trolling because I thought surely nobody could be that obtuse. Perhaps I misjudged you, and you really are that obtuse.

    So their goal is to have the technology used by people who need it, even if it means no global monopoly can make vast profits off a simple technology, simply because of a patent.

    If a global monopoly really is the best way to get these devices, and the bricks and housing that it produces, within reach of the needy – fantastic, bring it on. They’re releasing the designs precisely so that can happen.

    If they were anti-free market, they would have put all sorts of silly riders on the license – no company with more than X employees, or more than Y offices, or with a market cap greater than Z, can use the design. But they didn’t.

    The only one anti-free market is, apparently, you – you seem to think that a truly free market, where anyone is free to compete with the big companies, is a dangerous and counterproductive thing.

    OK – explicate.

  16. Soybeans- Give me a break. Go find any house that was built in 1938, from any construction method, that has lived through earthquakes, that has not sustained any noticable cracking and settling.

    And furthermore, you have any house fall on top of you and you will die. I say make it quick.

    I think that this is going to be the way of the future for many people to build a house. It is time tested and best of all, affordable. Talk about instant sweat equity.

    I have been in the construction industry all my life and seen many construction methods and I keep leaning towards build it yourself with materials that are available. Dirt is very available and when done right more suitable than any other.

Comments are closed.