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Observer Ethical awards Winners 2011

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Biogas -an inspiring tale from the Ashden Awards

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 16 August 2010 at 10:56 am

Inspiring is the only word to describe a day at the Ashden Awards 2010. Sustainable energy champions from around the UK and from the all over the world are recognised for the work they do, and it’s a great privilege to hear them describing the difference they make to people’s lives.

The overseas ones are all the more powerful for the way that many of them make such a profound difference to the quality of people’s lives and to their health, as well as making significant reductions in carbon emissions and benefit to the environment generally.

Two that really stood out for me are both using biogas systems. In Vietnam a partnership between the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (Mard) and Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) has developed a nationwide biogas programme for farmers which transforms the waste (and smells) from their piggeries into gas which they can use for cooking.

The dome biogas plants, which range from 4m3 to 50m3, decompose pig and poultry manure and toilet waste. The gas they produce saves the women nearly 2 hours a day, which they previously had to spend collecting fuel, and tending cooking fires. Everyone’s health improves due to less indoor pollution and improved hygiene and sanitation.

A typical biogas system costs about $550 to install (a government subsidy of $67 can be claimed once it’s up and running). With average savings of $120 a year on cooking fuel, it pays for itself in four to five years. An additional benefit is the slurry from the system, which can be used to fertilise crops, leading to better yield, and income from slurry sold to neighbours.

Since 2003 over 78,000 systems have been installed, benefitting more than 390,000 people and providing more than 1,800 masons with work.

In Kenya, the problems are slightly different, but the solution is the same. Sky Link Innovators are tackling deforestation and rural poverty with biogas systems. Kenya only has 1.9% forest cover, yet the population continues to rely on wood and charcoal for fuel.

Sky Link are installing both domestic systems, which tend to be fed with cow dung, and institutional ones in schools and a prison. The latter are fed with a mix of human waste and animal dung.

“The cook likes it because he doesn’t have to chop the wood, the food cooks faster, and the kitchen doesn’t get smoky like before. And the children love it because their food doesn’t taste of smoke,” says Mercy Mungania from Tania School, Kenya.

The question that struck me most as I watched the videos, and heard the representatives of the projects speaking, was ‘why aren’t we doing this at a micro level too’? All talk about anaerobic digestion in this country seems to be at a bigger scale. It’s an area I can’t claim much knowledge of (and most of what I do know comes from the failed attempt to set one up on The Archers), but doesn’t community and farm level biogas make sense? Please let me know what you think, and whether there are, in fact, lots of small scale projects around already.
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