FIRE AND ICE: To make biogas work in cold climates, this plant in Kyangjin Gompa in Langtang uses a compost heap to insulate the underground digester so the yak dung can be converted into cooking gas.
Away from the political turmoil in the capital, a quiet revolution in rural Nepal has made this country a world leader in alternative energy.
In the past 50 years, over 205,000 households have built biogas plants to turn farm manure into methane gas for cooking and lighting. The simplicity of the Nepali-designed technology that allows bacteria already inside the cow's stomach to turn cowdung into a clean and safe gas is only half the story.
The other half is a successful government-subsidised soft credit scheme. There is almost 100 per cent payback, the effluent is excellent pathogen-free fertiliser, and the elimination of indoor pollution from kitchen fires has reduced child mortality.
The Nepali fixed-dome biogas design is cheap and maintenance free, and proved to be superior to Indian and Chinese models. After initial support from the United Mission to Nepal, the Dutch group SNV stepped in with the Biogas Support Program (BSP), and millions of farmers in nearly all districts of Nepal have benefited in the past decades.
Today, 98 per cent of the plants are still functioning, some of them nearly 30 years old. Nearly 20,000 new plants are being added every year and BSP's goal is to have a total of 500,000 plants in Nepal. The organisation won the prestigious Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy in 2005.
One of the limiting factors is that biogas doesn't work as well in the cold climate at higher elevations. But with its new pilot plants in Langtang, BSP has found a simple way to generate methane from yak dung even at higher altitudes. Pasang Demdi Sherpa, a trekking guide, is happy with the biogas plant in his hometown. "It saves us a lot of firewood, and I wish more people would use it," he says.
What Pasang Demdi and other high-altitude biogas users have done is to pile a compost heap on top of the underground digester so that it heats and insulates the† digester from the chill of the Langtang winter.
Kyanjin Gompa, the highest settlement in Langtang Valley at 3,850m, is where no biogas plant has gone before. At first, the plant at Hotel Yala Peak just looks like a pile of rubbish, but beneath the heap of steaming compost is the underground dome digester that supplies methane to the kitchen even in winter.
"We've considered many other methods of heating the digester, from using solar heaters to building biogas plants within greenhouses, but those are very expensive solutions," explains Hari Bahadur KC, an engineer with BSP. Heap composting to insulate digesters is a small-is-beautiful solution that needs no added cost, and the compost itself can be recycled for fertiliser. Biogas can now go to mountain regions, where replacing firewood for cooking is even more important to protect the environment.
BSP's executive director Saroj Rai is not someone who rests on his laurels. He is happy that Nepal's biogas program is an internationally acclaimed success story because of the 'ecology of support' it has from the government, banks, donors, technicians and farmers. But he wants to concentrate on making the technology even more widely available, and maintain the quality of the construction and after-sales service.
The technology couldn't be simpler. All you need is four cows for a four-member household, mix the cowdung with an equal amount of water, allow it to ferment in an underground digester and the carbohydrates are decomposed into flammable methane gas. The spent slurry is very good fertiliser, and the process is completely organic. The beauty of it is that the technology has no movable parts and needs very little maintenance. Larger families with fewer cows have also successfully linked their latrines to the digester.
Usually, BSP provides a Rs 12,000 subsidised credit to defray the cost of building the plants and most farmers offset that cost by the Rs 10,000 a year they save in not buying firewood and kerosene. an 8 cubic m plant usually costs between 50-100,00 rupess depending on road-access. Plants in roadless areas of Nepal cost more.
Congratulations to Nepali Times for covering such an unglamorous subject. Nepal is indeed a model for other countries in propagating biogas, and it is proof of what can be achieved with sustainable aid policy, political will and government commitment. The technology alone was not the answer, it was marrying it with affordable delivery and followup mechanism of organisations like BSP. Hats off for showing us there are other things happening in Nepal other than politics that are far more important! Thomas G
04 JUNE 2010 | 2:43 PM NST
2. Prof. Nava Raj Panta
Thanks to the all Biogas related companies, NGO, INGO, Goverment departments.
Nepal Saemaul Undong Center is¬†helping to make a Model Saemaul Village at Piple village of Chitwan, Nepal where Korean Development system " Saemaul Undong or New Community Movement" implimented. Saemaul is encourging to construct the Saemaul Community Toilet with Biogas and bath room¬†at community houses at Piple. 3 families can use 1 community biogas toilet and land owner¬†is using¬†the cooking gas. The person who has very small number of buffalos can also produce the gas. The person who has buffaloes, they are constructing Biogas Toilets by their self too. Now Piple has hundreds Biogas Toilets as a pioneering village. It is very good system to protect the ground water pollution too.
It is very necessary and very important in Nepal and the third world.¬†All schools of Nepal can make Biogas Toilets and may convert the¬†human dung to Salary amount to teachers by the selling of slury and urine too and gate keeper can cook the rice.¬†Nepal need more than 3 million Biogas Toilets. Thanks to the innovative idea of UMN engineer John Finlay who innovate it at 1974 in Nepal.¬†The foot steps of God's people may be a great blessing in millions grass root villagers of Nepal.¬†
The forestation and reforestation is another area need to be highlighted and encouraged particularly the community forest projects. Nepalese living in high earning societies should be encouraged to help them. These guys seemed to be engulfed by what is happening in politics and not aware of marvelous works people are doing.
Another sector where Nepal can be proud of is health care and education.¬†
All these sectors got a big boost after revolution of 1992. These are the projects which¬†benefited¬†from democratization of society and devolution of powers with utilization of local human and natural resources.¬†
Tom is right. These are the areas where we Nepali can be very proud and need to be highlighted.
04 JUNE 2010 | 12:06 AM NST
This is much better than the stupid promotion of individual solar for urban areas elsewhere in this issue.
Biogas could be really useful in remote areas.
Has anyone looked into generating (small amounts of) electricity from biogas using (small) methane fuel cells? Such fuel cells are available.
Although it would be much more expensive than diesel gensets for a reasonable amount of electric power, it might be worth investigating for very small amounts just to charge batteries for radios, mobile phones, mp3 players, white led lamps etc at lower threshold cost than a genset.
Small methane cartridges are being developed with handheld fuel cells to compete with lithium batteries for portable mobile phone rechargers (about 25 Watt hour capacity) eg this link to Mobion. Could biogas be used with these?
Any links to technical details on Nepal biogas projects?
06 JUNE 2010 | 3:40 AM NST
5. Chandra Gurung
My parents in shardanagar chitwan have been using it since 21 years, and they are reluctant to switch to natural gas. Unfortunately, though I know it is a superior form of energy gas consumption, new generations are unlikely to be charmed by it. My own family has other members who don't want to raise gai/bhaisi anymore, unlike my parents who not only raise the cattles, but enjoy doing so, which has made biogas feasible in the first place. May be I will raise one gai, to do puja occasionally just like my mom does, but I don't see myself taking her dung and processing it like my father does. I am afraid that a generation will pass and we will be back to square one at several places.
08 JUNE 2010 | 10:05 PM NST
6. Fred Johnson
Wonderful article highlighting appropriate technology. I would also like to mention the pioneering work that Peace Corps Volunteers: Brat Coburn and Merle Garner did on biogas in the late 1970's.
08 JUNE 2010 | 4:32 AM NST
It was so refreshing to hear that folks invent things so differently out of norms, as and when need arises.
Likewise, I'd dare proposing a more elaborated method for the use of biogas by using the usual trash or rubbish as raw material and transforming the same into methane gas (CH4) after a much perfected putrefaction.
In Europe more and more countries are amateur of using this method because you can kill two birds with one stone. More precisely, do away with trash and then energy in the form of lighting.
Pl. wait for the exact address,¬† right after.
09 JUNE 2010 | 2:37 PM NST
The challenge of new energy sources
What kind of new energy sources for tomorrow? How to meet the demand of incessant increase of population without compromising the future of earth? Here lies the dreadful challenge.
The world population has risen from 2.3 billion in 1950 to 6.7 billion today and shall probably culminate in 8 billion in 2025.
But, actually an African consumes 35 times less energy than a North American, an Indian 20 times less and a Chinese 10 times less as well. If energy consumption can be stabilized and lessened because of better energy saving policies applied in haste in advanced countries, the energy consumption of developing countries is continuously in growth.
The most optimistic statisticians estimate that energy increase in the world as a whole could be well evaluated at 50 percent in the next quarter of century.
Until now 85 percent of global energy consumption was made available by means of combustible fossils such as coal, fuel oil and gas. But slowly this kind of natural energy resources shall come inexorably to an end one day.
Above all, exploitation of these fuels engenders the emission of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and the amplification of its spread in atmosphere has become a great threat for the survival of mankind because of the climatic upheaval due to global warming. Fair enough, everybody is diversifying the energy sources and at the same time adjusting himself according to the local geographical environment.
For long time, nuclear power energy development was envisaged by ameliorating protection against the leak of radioactivity, if there is any. Also, complete control of fusion, aeolian or wind energy, solar energy, geothermal energy and hydroelectric power energy etc. must be undertaken to meet any dearth of energy supply.
In Nepal it is impossible to rely on rivers because of global warming there will be possibly no water streaming down from the glaciers of the Himalayan mountains in a very short span of time.
Meanwhile, a judicious and efficient brand-new way could be envisaged for the treatment of city garbage by simply sleuthing around everywhere the new methods made available by advanced countries, producing methane gas (CH4) through the process of controlled putrefaction which is definitely used with success elsewhere all over the world, thus providing lighting and energy for a whole city.
Some of the major ecological token-gestures for energy saving:
The rule of "4Rs", namely, 1.Re-use
2.Repair 3.Reduce and 4.Recycle
All your electrical apparatus must be put off before you go to sleep because all of them in sleep mode (for example; hi-fi chain, tape recorder, television, refrigerator, radio-alarm, computer, washing machine, washer-dryer, dishwasher and ceiling fan etc.) consume in a year almost as much as a fridge in activity.
You must use a thermostat to keep the temperature of an apartment around 18¬įC.
Give importance to the label quality of an electrical equipment. For instance, class A apparatus can consume almost 3 times less energy than a class C; equally applicable to the consumption of water and the level of soundproofing.
Use a good thermal insulation of your houses to make the energy saving of about 10 to 30 percent.
Prefer train to air flight for your voyage within 1500 kilometers.
In towns and cities, use public transports such as bus, tramway or tube instead of personal cars. That is one of the ways to produce less CO2 (carbon dioxide) to alleviate greenhouse effect.
To consume with prudence so as to produce less household and industrial wastes and they must be biodegradable. Avoid littering with plastic bags and paper, the sign of unconsciousness of civility of the citizenry.
In near future, hydrogen gas (H2) could constitute the principal vector of energy for multitude of utilization; mostly for personal vehicles equipped with batteries to produce power.
Already many world renowned car-makers are ameliorating the output and everybody hopes that very soon H2 shall be the major fuel for mankind. And it is relatively easy to obtain it from the natural sources. (4H2O = 4H2 + 2O2), where H2O stands for water, O2 for Oxygen and H2 for Hydrogen.
If Nepal adapts such biogas powerhouses by means of joint venture, it shall cost relatively less. Those municipalities that want to get rid of their garbage and at the same time produce energy for lighting from methane gas (CH4) could consult the respective Embassy, if need be.
Log on to the following URL to have a preview of the plant concerned:
To answer my own question in #4, extensive details can be found via the Biogas Support Program (BSP) - see especially the publications page where the first item is a 64pp 2.8MB .pdf yearbook for 2009.
Elsewhere via google I found that there is quite a lot of work, especially in India (which has lots of cow dung) on small gensets using biogas instead of (or together with) diesel, to generate small amounts of electricity locally.
This would seem highly relevant in remote areas of Nepal, especially where there are supplies of cattle dung and pig dung, but also simply using human latrines (eg to provide a rechargeable battery exchange service at local schools).
I did not see any reference to electricity generation in the BSP yearbook, perhaps because the program is oriented to individual households, which could not afford the extra cost of a genset (and a slightly larger biogas plant).
The BSP seems to be soundly oriented towards the rural majority, so I assume this omission is not the result of urban focused middle class NGO platitude mongering like the lecture from Sargam.
I hope somebody is looking into the possibility of institutional/communal biogas plants with gensets eg at local schools for a rechargeable battery exchange program. This could be cheaper than transporting dry cell non-rechargeable batteries to remote areas and could help accelerate the penetration of mobile phones, radio,¬† etc.
Also as most poor households do not have enough cattle or cannot afford a biogas plant, they could still benefit from white LED lighting with batteries recharged from a local biogas genset, even though this provides much less light than the gas lamps available to households with their own biogas plant.
I have noticed that white LED lighting projects in Nepal seem to be closely tied to use of solar power, which may be much more expensive. A school based rechargeable battery exchange could provide (very small amounts) of battery electricity for many purposes, using a genset fueled by diesel, petrol kerosine, or biogas whether or not supplemented with more NGO intensive solar or wind power.
The key difference from existing household BSP would be the need for community organization. Schools would be a natural focus for transport of batteries to and from households (as well as needing their own latrines and therefore providing a supply of human excrement for biogas generation).