Biogas bonanza!

A biogas plant under construction

A biogas plant under construction

We’ve spent the last few days traveling around the Indian countryside, far removed from any big city trying to see if there’s a difference between the more suburban areas and those that are truly rural.  It was lovely and I decided that I definitely prefer the calm of rural India to the overwhelming activity of the city.  This preference is new for me… I’ve always been a city person in the past, perhaps it was just the fact that it was finally cool for the first time since I’ve been here.  Either way, it was beautiful and peaceful.

It’s great to actually get out into the villages and see what it is I’ve been reading about, and what it is we’ve come here to work on.  To recap biogas plants for everyone who’s not in the know: currently, the people are reliant on wood, agricultural by-products, or dung for energy for cooking.  They burn these things in open “stoves” and place pots and pans directly above the fire.  This technique causes both health and environmental problems as these fires burn very inefficiently and create lots of smoke.  Biogas burns just like normal gas you would have in your home in America… turn on the gas, light a match and BOOM! Instant macaroni!  The way it works is that you take the dung from your animals (usually cows) mix it with water and put it in the biogas plant (basically a big concrete dome in the ground).  Out of the top you have a pipe that transports the gas into your kitchen and the other end of the plant comes a liquid slurry that when dried, is very high quality organic fertilizer.

It’s a great idea that, like so many development initiatives, looks great on paper.  But, also like nearly all of those initiatives, something gets lost between the academic’s brain and the implementation in the field.  What we’re seeing is that many people that have installed a biogas plant, have it break and then never repair it.  It’s very frustrating because the initial program works, but then people lose interest or fail to take responsibility for it breaking.

As our professor says, “if it was an easy problem to solve, it wouldn’t be worth studying.”  At least this problem will keep us busy.


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