Sustainable Development in Northern India
As part of the ConservEN program, four of my intern colleagues and I recently participated in a two-day Biogas Workshop aiming to increase basic awareness of biogas plants and their potential as a renewable energy source in Northern India.
On the first day of our workshop, we learned how a biogas plant functions and why it may be a beneficial sustainable energy source for the communities we live in.
A biogas plant produces clean gas through the digestion of cow dung and non-woody biomass waste. The resulting biogas is used as a low-cost fuel for various energy needs. This workshop focused primarily on using biogas for cooking as an alternative to LPG (liquid petroleum gas), a limited environmental resource.
Biogas plants provide an extensive list of benefits. The input, most commonly cow dung mixed with water, has high levels of the greenhouse gas methane. After biogas digestion, however, the biogas plant emits the processed cow dung as waste with significantly lower levels of methane. This “waste” product can be used as a nitrogen rich, odorless organic fertilizer full of beneficial bacteria that’s easily absorbed by plants. Therefore, the biogas plant not only provides a sustainable source of cooking fuel, it also supports rural sanitation, organic plant growth, and greenhouse gas reduction.
The Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy provides subsidies for biogas plant construction, reducing the 30,000 rupee cost to roughly 20,000 rupees.
On the second day, we visited several working biogas plants in nearby villages. First, we visited the village of Charhi, where the head of the village, Mr. Dadwal, invited us into his home to study his biogas digester.
This biogas plant was built 20 years ago for a cost of approximately five thousand rupees (roughly 100 US dollars), which was quite an important amount at the time. The biogas plant features an aboveground input tank to insert the dung mixture, connected to the underground concrete reservoir where anaerobic process occurs and produces the gas. The waste outlet expels the processed dung as pressure builds. They feed the biogas plant roughly five kg of cow dung each day from their one cow, producing two-three hours of biogas cooking fuel daily. The family uses up to two cylinders of biogas per month due to the reception of many guests, which is linked to the position as head of the village of the father.
The second visit took us to Mr. and Mrs. Shamsher’s home, near the EduCARE intern house in Maiti. Like Mr. Dadwal’s family, this family has an important role in the community as current village committee members.
Mrs. Shamsher kindly demonstrated how to use their 18-year-old biogas plant, a similar model to the plant in Charhi.
She also welcomed us into her kitchen where she uses three sources of energy for cooking: wood, biogas and LPG. According to her experience, the biogas flame is slightly weaker compared to the LPG and provides the slower heat best suited for cooking chapatti bread and vegetables. She uses the biogas for 75% of their cooking, up to 2-3 hours per day, with dung supplied from their three cows. One supplemental cylinder of LPG now lasts her 3-4 months. During the winter, she uses the stove more often because of the heat it provides to her home.
by Adrien Calvez Petit and Katrina Sill