Lameck Chibago in Tanzania carefully looks after the solar panel on the roof of his house.

From: Sustainable energy – Footsteps 114

Practical examples of how off-grid sustainable energy can improve people’s day-to-day lives

We travelled along dusty, bumpy tracks towards a remote farm in northern Tanzania. I had first visited the farm three years before, just after the construction of the family’s biogas digester, and I was eager to see if it had made a difference to family life.

Biogas digesters turn organic matter, such as animal manure and kitchen waste, into a clean fuel that can be used for cooking. The biogas can replace, or significantly reduce, reliance on other fuel sources such as wood or charcoal.

Smoke-free kitchen

We sat on the veranda overlooking the farm and Pastor Julius spoke with me about how well the biogas digester was working. Marsha, his wife, served us tea, freshly made on a stove powered by biogas from the digester.

Marsha showed us around her kitchen and I was struck by how different it was to my previous visit. Then, the walls had been black with soot and an open fire had filled the kitchen with eye-watering smoke. Now it was clean and tiled with a raised work surface.

‘Biogas is better than firewood because it helps us to simplify our life and shorten the amount of time needed for cooking,’ said Marsha. In Tanzania, some women and children spend four hours a day collecting firewood. This adds up to 1,460 hours (61 days) over a year. Another thing that is really good is now my husband comes into the kitchen and we can talk about the family,’ Marsha continued. ‘My husband does not like smoky kitchens, but now I can talk to him while I am cooking.’

Pastor Julius explained that he used to stay out of the kitchen because the smoke made his eyes water and in Maasai culture it is shameful for an elder to be seen crying. Now he enjoys spending much more time in the kitchen with his wife and the rest of the family.

It was quite an emotional moment as we stood chatting near the biogas stove while Marsha cooked a pot of green vegetables for us to eat later.

Pastor Julius and Marsha spend a lot more time together now that there is no smoke in the kitchen.

Pastor Julius and Marsha spend a lot more time together now that there is no smoke in the kitchen. Photo: Tze-Hung Seeto/CREATIVenergie

Bioslurry

Walking out of the kitchen we went round the back of the house to see the digester itself. It no longer stood alone in the middle of a muddy plot of land but was surrounded by green leafy vegetables and banana plants.

In addition to producing cleaner fuel, biogas digesters provide a source of rich, organic bioslurry that can be used to improve soil structure, soil fertility and crop yields. Applying bioslurry to crops is more effective than using raw manure because the digestion process increases the availability of nutrients.

Feeding the digester

Holding a bucket in one hand and a shovel in the other, Pastor Julius led us round to his cow shed. He filled the bucket full of cow manure and led us back to the digester where he poured it into the mixing chamber, followed by a bucket of water. He explained that he leaves the manure in the mixing chamber for a couple of hours to let the sunshine heat it up, before returning and allowing it to flow into the digester.

Pre-heating the manure like this helps the digester to maintain a warmer temperature which, in turn, speeds up the digestion process. Combining this with feeding the digester each day ensures that the family has a constant and reliable supply of biogas fuel for cooking.

Pastor Julius has covered his digester with a protective structure made of transparent plastic (the type of plastic used to make greenhouses). This helps to maintain a higher temperature inside the digester and protects it from being damaged by the sun, birds or animals. Digesters can also be covered by a tin roof, straw thatch or a concrete dome.

Abundant life

As we walked back towards the kitchen, we saw the pipe that carries biogas from the digester to the two-ring stove Marsha placed her saucepans on earlier.

Reflecting on our conversations I was so encouraged. The construction of the digester has not only resulted in greater yields of nutritious crops, a sustainable supply of cooking fuel and cleaner air in the kitchen, it has also enhanced the relationship between husband and wife. What a great example of biogas technology unlocking sustainable energy for abundant life!

CREATIVenergie is committed to unlocking sustainable energy for abundant life. The team works with local and international partners to find solutions to energy problems. Join one of their interactive webinars to find out more: www.biogas.eventbrite.co.uk


Bitesize Energy Exchange

Across sub-Saharan Africa, solar panels and biogas digesters provide clean and sustainable electricity and cooking fuel for people whose homes are not connected to national electricity or gas grids.

However, many families are unable to afford their own solar panels or digesters, excluding them from the opportunities and benefits that clean sources of energy bring. At the same time, some of their neighbours have more energy than they need: more solar power is generated than is consumed during the day; biogas systems continually produce gas and the excess is wasted.

After winning an Energy Catalyst award in 2019, CREATIVenergie and several international partners are working to develop a system that will allow the fair distribution of clean energy supplies.

Starting in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda, their Bitesize Energy Exchange (BEE) project aims to develop technologies to allow excess solar power and biogas fuel to be packaged, distributed and traded in small quantities.

For example, surplus solar power can be used to charge portable batteries. These batteries can then be rented from an energy hub and later returned for recharging. Excess biogas can be packaged into safe, portable containers.

This will increase access to reliable supplies of affordable, clean energy for low-income families who are not able to generate energy for themselves.

Written by

Written by Joel and Esther Chaney

Joel Chaney is a Co-Founder, Trustee and Innovation Director of CREATIVenergie and Esther Chaney is the Programme Coordinator.

www.creativenergie.co.uk

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