Cook & Grow: Cambodians Find Biodigesters a Gas

Cook & Grow: Cambodians Find Biodigesters a Gas
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An innovative household biodigester has proved itself to a point where a consortium of international investors has put down $1 million for further expansion in Cambodia and for exploring new markets in other countries.

According to its developer, ATEC Biodigesters International — a social enterprise co-owned by Engineers Without Borders (EWB), Australia, and Live and Learn Environmental Education, Cambodia — the biodigester uses an anaerobic chamber to break down organic manure from livestock to produce biogas (CH4 and CO2), which is piped to kitchens as cooking gas. Consequently, the resulting residual sludge is transformed into high-quality organic fertilizer.

While most biodigesters are vulnerable to groundwater pressure, soil expansion or flooding, the polypropylene ATEC biodigesters are designed for installation “in-ground, half in-ground or totally above ground, depending on the local conditions”, says Sophea Sum, ATEC technical sales manager.

Developed for use in Cambodia and other countries prone to seasonal flooding, the ATEC biodigester bagged the Google Impact Challenge Award in 2014.

Over the past three years more than 250 units have been installed and ATEC estimates that during a 25-year life cycle each biodigester will reduce 75 tons of greenhouse gases, save over $6,000 in fuel and yield more than 492 tons of fertilisers.

‘Clean energy solutions that utilize natural system principles to unlock the inherent energy in our waste streams have the potential to transform the way we power homes across the world’, says a press release last month (August) by Small Grants, Australia, one of the new investors.

Bernadette McCabe, bioresources scientist and Australian task leader for the International Energy Agency (IEA), says it is important to improve the environmental performance of these technologies without disproportionate increase in costs.

“For isolated, rural, and less wealthy populations, the benefits of a sustainable anaerobic digestion system are more direct than for urban populations in developed countries,” says McCabe, adding that there is room for improvement given that greenhouse gas emissions from small-scale biogas plants are far higher than the more highly engineered, continuously-stirred tank reactors adopted by developed countries.

Cambodia’s National Biodigester Programme (NBP), coordinated by the ministry of agriculture, forestry and fisheries (Maff), developed a biodigester market in 2006 and has since been providing micro-loans to families keen on installing the biodigester. The programme, now operating in 14 provinces of Cambodia, provides immense relief from indoor smoke emanating from stoves that burn wood or biomass.

 

This article was written by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk and first appeared on SciDev.net as Cambodian biodigester finds success, attracts investors under a Creative Commons licence and is reproduced here with its kind permission.

 

Feature photo Atecbio

 

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