Nepali Times
Cowdung takes the cake


Nepal's internationally-recognised biogas promotion program has got yet another feather in its cap. The Biogas Sector Program (BSP) has won this year's prestigious Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy, beating out hundreds of other applicants worldwide.

BSP Executive Director Sundar Bajgain received the award from Prince Charles earlier this month in London at a gala ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society attended by 300 dignitaries (see picture).

The citation for the 30,000 pound award says BSP won for 'outstanding achievement in using sustainable energy to improve the quality of life and protecting the environment'. Since it was launched in 1992 with Dutch and German support, BSP has built 137,000 family-size biogas plants in 66 of Nepal's 75 districts, saving 400,000 tons of firewood, 800,000 litres of kerosene and preventing 600,000 tons of greenhouse gases from escaping into the atmosphere.

At a ceremony last week in Kathmandu to celebrate the award, Bajgain said the Ashden prize money would be ploughed back into BSP's cold climate biogas research, which is integrating biogas with rainwater harvesting in arid high-altitude areas of Nepal.

"The award was not just a recognition of the numbers we have achieved, it is a recognition of our success in using appropriate technology to improve living standards of farmers who have installed biogas and helped save the forests," says Bajgain.

Underground biogas plants are fed a mixture of cowdung and water, and bacteria already present in the dung breaks it down into methane gas which collects in the digester dome under pressure and can be piped to the kitchen stove.

Aside from biogas plants, BSP has helped set up 57 private construction companies specialising in digester construction and development of ancillary industries, which together employ 11,000 people and benefit nearly a million Nepalis. In the next phase, BSP hopes to add another 200,000 plants by 2009, develop a commercially viable market-oriented biogas industry and to follow the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) guidelines so Nepal can collect its reward for carbon dioxide not emitted into the atmosphere because of the biogas plants. Nepal is already eligible for $5 million a year in CDM compensation for the plants constructed to date, but first it has to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. (See also: 'Hurrah, Nepal's future is in the dung heap', #234)

The Dutch aid group, SNV, BSP's main backer, is now replicating the project in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia and some African countries. Says SNV's Nepal Director Matthias Moyersoen: "It's a tribute to the hard work and commitment of our Nepali colleagues at the BSP that the biogas program has become a model for the rest of the world."

BSP has been testing modified designs of biogas plants in Solukhumbu at altitudes of 2,700 m in the past two years. "The results are promising," says BSP's Prakash Ghimire, "we got good gas generation even in winter." By allowing mixed slurry to soak in the sun all day in holding areas and with proper insulation, the temperature inside the plant is high enough to sustain gas generation.

The Ashden award coincides with the launch this weekend of Biogas: Theory and Development by the founding father of biogas research and application in Nepal, Dr Amrit Bahadur Karki, with Jagan Nath Shrestha and Sundar Bajgain. This book has everything you always wanted to know about generating methane from dung but were too hoity-toity to ask.

Pare away the chemical formulae, the technical jargon and the graphs and what you see in biogas is nature in its infinite simplicity. The sun's energy is converted into carbohydrate by chlorophyll in plant life, domesticated livestock eat the plants, digest them with the help of bacteria in the intestines and if the digested material is allowed to ferment in the absence of oxygen, it produces methane, which can be used as cooking gas. So, in a roundabout way, you are bringing the sun's fire into your kitchen. All you need to do is have a pressure control system, which is achieved with Nepal's indigenously-designed biogas digester of which Karki was one of the early pioneers in the 1970s.

This simple technology is beautifully explained with neat diagrams. There are do's and don'ts and a trouble-shooting chapter. The future of the technology is discussed with particular reference to cold climate biogas in higher altitudes and human sanitation aspects.

The book is a result of Karki's lifetime of work in appropriate technology, not just in Nepal but in Africa and southeast Asia. In that sense it is a labour of love. It is also a tribute to the application of the technology in the field by the BSP. The only thing we can add is that this book should be translated into Nepali and disseminated as widely as possible so Nepali farmers benefit even more from biogas' proven benefits.

As Renewable Source of
Energy in Nepal
Theory and Development
Edited by Dr Amrit B Karki
Prof Jagan Nath Shrestha
Mr Sundar Bajgain
BSP, Kathmandu 2005
Pp 171 +xiv

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)