Monday, May 30, 2005

Cambodian Villagers Power Up With Biogas

At the centre of the experiment is a device called a biological gas digester – or biodigester – which converts a by-product of manure into cooking gas. The technology has taken hold in other countries as a way to generate gas or electricity, and now an independent development group is hoping to spread it to Cambodia’s poor rural people.

Brendan Boucher, the Australian co-ordinator for the non-profit Cambodian Rural Development Team, which is financed by donations from abroad, introduced the project last year in Tamoung.

Now, Som Chhear's biodigester not only provides him with free cooking gas, but also with nutrient-rich effluent – organic fertiliser – that “keeps my vegetable garden green for all seasons.”

Human and animal waste is flushed through the toilet into a plastic “digester” tube 10m long and 1.5m in diameter that sits in a ditch under a thatched roof. At the far end, a knee-deep trench collects liquid residue for use as fertiliser.

A PVC pipe attached to the tube’s midsection channels methane gas emitted by the manure mix into a plastic storage bag in the house, from which it is fed into the stove. Each unit cost about 400,000 riel ($100) to set up.

Boucher says biogas units are part of an integrated development package of water wells, fish ponds, vegetable gardens and training in farming methods, all meant to bolster food security. About half of Cambodia’s 13 million people live on less than 4,000 riel ($1) a day, so many families are at the mercy of nature for their sustenance. The entire package for Tamoung village cost 540,440,000 riel ($13,511), which was paid by the Australian government.

Twenty-five biodigesters were installed, serving 30 of the village’s 130 families.

His family has been using the new technology to generate power for four months.

“Sometimes, we even use the power from the generator to operate our karaoke machine and sing for fun,” he says.
Nice, nothing quite like using animal feces to fire up the old karaoke machine.

I remember being out trekking in the hills of Thailand and staying at a hill tribe village. While everything seemed primitive, I wandered over and found a guy who was hooking up a laptop to some speakers and a microphone for a little karaoke night.

I like this idea of using the human and animal waste to create methane. I am not quite sure that the economics of this project work though. $100 to buy sounds cheap in the US, but at $1 day of income, this is a 1/3 of a year's wages. So this is like buying a new car in the US.

I wonder why you couldn't just have one of these devices per village, where you train one person to collect all of the animal waste and then capture the methane. He could then sell the methane to people who wanted it. A small business would have the advantage of making it easier to capitalize the system and allow one person to become an expert at it.

via The Star Online

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