[permaculture] [Fwd: [SANET-MG] biogas bonanaza]

Lawrence F. London, Jr. lfl at intrex.net
Tue Jun 21 15:22:11 EDT 2005

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: 	[SANET-MG] biogas bonanaza
Date: 	Tue, 21 Jun 2005 15:14:17 -0400
From: 	jcummins <jcummins at UWO.CA>
Reply-To: 	Sustainable Agriculture Network Discussion Group 

http://www.i-sis.org.uk/BiogasBonanza.phpISIS Press Release 20/06/05
Biogas Bonanza for Third World Development
Biogas, a by-product of farmyard waste-treatment, has emerged as a major 
boon for Third World countries, bringing health, social, environmental, 
and financial benefits Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Sources for this report are available in the ISIS members site. Full 
details here

Biogas energy, readily available, cheap and decentralized
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 1997 Report, Energy 
After Rio: Prospects and Challenges [1] identified community biogas 
plants as one of the most useful decentralized sources of energy supply. 
Unlike the centralized energy supply technologies, such as power plants 
based on hydroelectricity, coal, oil or natural gas, that have hitherto 
been the only choices open to rural communities, biogas plants do not 
require big capital to set up, and do not pose environmental problems 
that excite public opposition. Instead, in most cases, they offer 
solutions to existing environmental problems, and many unexpected 
benefits besides.

The organic materials needed for producing biogas in an anaerobic 
digester are readily available in developing countries. These include 
firewood, agricultural wastes and animal wastes. Many countries have 
large cattle and buffalo herds producing tonnes of manure. 
Traditionally, these wastes are carefully collected in India and used as 
fertilizer, but the increasing scarcity of firewood has forced many 
villagers to burn dung-cakes in cooking their food.

As biogas plants yield good quality sludge fertilizer, the biogas fuel 
and/or electricity generated is an additional bonus. And this has 
motivated the large biogas programmes in a number of developing 
countries, starting with China.

Overcoming early obstacles
China began mass adoption of biogas in 1975 under the slogan “biogas for 
every household”. Within the first few years, 1.6 million digesters were 
constructed annually, but these were of low quality; and by 1980, half 
of all digesters were not in use and the rate of adoption had slowed. By 
1992, only 5 million family sized plants were still operating, many of 
them redesigned to avoid leakage [2].

In India, as in China, a too-rapid implementation policy in the early 
1990s exceeded the capacity of India's research and development 
organizations to produce reliable designs and to optimise digester 
efficiency. The situation has improved since, especially with the 
introduction of a low-cost polyethylene tubular digester. Now, everyone 
in India installing a biogas plant has the right to an allowance paid by 
the central government [3].

In a report, Biogas in India: A Sustainable Energy Success Story [4], 
the authors identified women and children as the major beneficiaries of 
biogas in India, where every year, 200 000 families turn away from the 
traditional fireplace and have a biogas plant installed to provide 
energy for cooking and lighting. By 2000, more than 2 million biogas 
plants have been built in India and almost 200 000 permanent jobs created.

India's early difficulties and recent success is being replicated in 
countries such as Nepal [5], Sri Lanka [6] and Vietnam [2].

In Vietnam, as in other developing countries - Colombia, Ethiopia, 
Tanzania, Cambodia and Bangladesh - the polyethylene tubular digester 
was promoted to reduce production cost by using local materials and 
simplifying installation and operation. The resulting low-cost digester 
has been well received by poor farmers, especially when farmers 
participate fully in the necessary maintenance and repair work. Within 
ten years, more than 20 000 polyethylene digesters were installed and 
mainly paid by the farmers themselves. However, the digesters are still 
not fully integrated into the farming system, as there is only limited 
use of the effluent as fertilizer for fish and crops (“Dream farms”, 
this series). There are also potentials for improving the digester for 
greater efficiency, ease of maintenance and durability. More cooperation 
between scientists and farmers and credit systems for poor farmers to 
install digesters will also help to increase the adoption rate.

In Sri Lanka, biomass accounts for 45% of the country's energy needs, 
with petroleum and hydroelectricity supplying 41% and 14% respectively 
[7]. Sri Lanka's economy is still largely based on agriculture. A major 
constraint to production is the increasing cost of fertilizer, while 
solid waste, mainly organic, is collected and disposed at a large number 
of unprotected sites, affecting the health of the poorest.

Although biogas digesters have been introduced in Sri Lanka since the 
1970s, poor design, lack of maintenance skills and insufficient capacity 
to deal with the problems meant that only a third of the 5 000 units 
installed functioned properly [6]. The Intermediate Technology 
Development Group (ITDG) started a project in 1996 to improve the 
success rate of the units on a national level by setting up 
demonstration units to help spread information, restoring abandoned 
units and training users to operate and maintain them. In addition, 
individual farmers get help to install biogas units on their farms to 
make use of the manure from their cows.

Mr. Ratnayake is one of the lucky farmers. With nothing more than cow 
dung, he now has enough power to cook with, iron the laundry and provide 
heat and light for his home without using a single piece of wood. All he 
has to do is to collect the manure from his cows in a specially adapted 
cattle shed where they feed, mix it with water and leaves it to ferment 
in a large concrete tank or pit. The gas produced is collected in a 
simple storage tank, from where it is piped into his house to use.

The women and children, freed from firewood collection and from cleaning 
smoke-blackened utensils and the disposal of animal waste, gain some two 
hours a day for other activities. About 80% now use this time to earn 
extra income that currently accounts for approximately 24% of the 
family's monthly income. Another advantage of using biogas is that there 
is very little waste from the process and it is environmentally friendly.

The dried manure left after biogas is generated is richer than ordinary 
manure and makes a fantastic organic fertilizer for Mr. Ratnayake's 
crops, which he can sell at a higher price as organic produce.

Biogas brings numerous benefits
The many benefits of biogas are now generally recognized. It has 
resulted in a smoke-free and ash-free kitchen, so women and their 
children are no longer prone to respiratory infections, and can look 
forward to longer, healthier lives. Women are spared the burden of 
gathering firewood, a load of 60-80lb per week, which can take up to one 
day a week. That, and the practice of containing livestock for manure 
collection, which might otherwise graze in the forest, both contribute 
to protecting the remaining forests and allowing the forests to regenerate.

The sludge remaining after digestion is richer in valuable nutrients 
than the animal manure, providing vegetables, fruits and cereals with a 
top quality fertilizer that guarantees better crops.

In rural areas where there is otherwise no electricity supply, biogas 
has enabled women to engage in evening study, literacy classes and other 
home and community activities.

Cattle dung is no longer stored in the home, but is fed directly to the 
biogas digester along with toilet waste. The anaerobic digestion process 
also destroys pathogens. As a result, sanitation has greatly improved.

Carbon trading bonanza
There are other benefits for countries that decide to adopt biogas. The 
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has set up a Clean 
Development Fund, and the World Bank has put together a Carbon Finance 
Unit to allow rich countries, which are pumping more carbon into the 
atmosphere than is allowed under the Kyoto Protocol, to buy emissions 
that poor countries prevent through conserving forests or promoting 
renewable energy. An article in the Nepali Times [8] pointed out that 
Nepal's successful biogas programme not only brought farmers a 
non-polluting fuel, conserved forests and provided high quality 
fertilizer for crops; it can make the rest of the world pay hard cash 
for not burning firewood to release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

About 85% of the fuel used in Nepal comes from biomass sources like 
firewood, animal manure and agricultural residue. The remainder, 
kerosene, diesel or liquefied petroleum gases. Its biogas programme 
would not have been possible if the users had not received subsidies. 
Each biogas unit costs $300 to set up, but the government pays one-third 
of the amount.

Nepal's biogas programme is internationally regarded as a model for 
successful use of alternative energy for the rural Third World. Nepal 
has now overtaken China and India in the number of biogas plants per 
capita. Each of its 125 000 functioning digesters prevents five tonnes 
of carbon dioxide equivalents from being pumped into the atmosphere 
every year. This ‘saved' greenhouse gas is what rich countries are 
buying to offset their own emissions, and is worth US$5 million. This 
money can be invested back into clean energy that would make Nepal 
eligible to trade even more carbon offset to rich polluters.

“We have an initial agreement with the World Bank,” said Sundar Bajgain, 
executive director of the Biogas Support Project, which has played a 
leading role in installing biogas plants in private houses in 66 
districts across the country. The biogas model can be applied to other 
renewable energy sources such as hydropower (under 15MW, as recommended 
by the International Panel on Climate Change) and solar power to reap 
rewards from carbon trading.

Admittedly, paying cash to poor countries not to burn firewood is a 
measure of desperation for rich countries like the United States, which, 
at 4.6 percent of the world's population and growing, is responsible for 
25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions due to human activities 
[9]. It would make much better sense for developed countries to cash in 
on the benefits of biogas themselves (“Bug power”, this series), as they 
also have greater capacity for research and development to optimise the 
production and use of biogas.

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