In this world full of poverty and pollution, electricity and fuel for consumption have become luxuries. Developing countries have women choking up in smoky kitchens. Blue skies have turned into grayish-black smog. As the world is dooming towards its end, humans have found yet another way to fuel their existence for a little longer.
About 80% of the population of world’s superpowers- China and America has switched to biogas. Biogas is a gaseous mixture produced during anaerobic digestion of organic matter or biomass. A basic biogas system includes an anaerobic digester (an underground tank), an inlet and outlet pipe, and a pipe for biogas. The feed includes plant and animal wastes such as, crop residues, tree litter, weeds, manure from poultry animals and water. Under conditions of pressure and temperature, bacteria help to break down the organic waste and release about 60-70% methane. A 10,000 liters digester tank can supply enough gas for cooking and lighting for a family of five. In fact, the liquid slurry from the outlet pipe and sediments at the bottom of the tank are effective fertilizers.
The small scale biogas digesters can be easily constructed using clay, sand, bricks and pebbles. Also most governments across the world provide with subsidies for installation of biogas plants. Even though some cattle would be needed to feed the digester, the other requirements are low. For example, in China, a 8000 liters biogas plant can be set in about 3,534 Yuan (about $US500), out of which government gives an incentive of about 1000 Yuan. Other than this, low interests loans are available and the costs involved can be recovered in just a year or two.
Biogas can simultaneously address many problems: provides cleaner cooking fuel, the human and animal waste is being put to use, reducing the levels of water pollution and water-borne diseases in rural areas, the leftover slurry can be used as fertilizers, without having to use inorganic fertilizers responsible for soil degradation and leaching of water bodies, and the rural household do not have to look for firewood to use as fuel, saving both energy and trees. Every year, tons of organic wastes are dumped into the landfills, and the decomposition happens anyway, releasing warm greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This energy can be tapped in the correct manner, since biogas uses up these gases and prevents them from rising into the atmosphere. In some places, biogas production has shifted from small-scale household domestic production for cooking and lighting to large-scale power production which can be distributed to individual houses through pipelines.
While there are problems such as, maintenance, lack of feedstock and discontinuous use of the digester can question the effectiveness of this alternative fuel gas in meeting the needs of the people. There are also other easier household options such as LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas), but with research and development getting only better, there are plenty of options in the field of growth and awareness. Constant technical innovations and governments’ continued efforts to provide the poor with safer fuel will definitely make the biogas sector sustainable.