SEATTLE, Washington — The realities of climate change make sustainable development an imperative for impoverished nations striving to catch up to the developed world. The world is already experiencing the effects of the substantial carbon pollution unleashed during the industrial age, with much of the burden falling disproportionately on the poorest communities. Leading scientists and engineers are attempting to develop new means of harnessing the natural energy sources of the planet.
One ingenious solution to the sustainable energy question is the development of anaerobic digestion. This multistep process essentially breaks down biodegradable material for the production of biogas that can be used as a fuel. Although not a nascent technology, governments and plant manufacturers have been working to implement these bio-digestive systems in impoverished communities throughout the world.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has applied this bio-digestion process in dozens of villages throughout Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe. One such project involves a farm in Blace, Serbia. The farm, Lazar Dairy, is home to 700 cows that produce several thousand gallons of manure daily. Thanks to USAID’s Agribusiness project, this manure is processed through the biogas plant, virtually eliminating the farm’s waste.
The plant takes the newly processed biogas and converts it to electricity, which is sold to the national electricity company, Elektroprivreda Srbije. This plant is now producing up to one megawatt per month and providing energy for over 1,000 homes. As an added bonus, the bio-digestive process produces materials that can be cleaned and reused as cow bedding and fertilizer.
A similar project in South Africa organized by the Green Network, a membership network of over 45 community based organizations, and sponsored by the United Nations Development Program, installed a bio-digester in Willowfountain, South Africa, on the farm of Ernestina Chamane. By using the cow manure from her farm’s 12 cows, she produces enough biogas to provide her home with power for up to 10 days.
The remaining liquids used for fertilizer have helped the Chamane family increase crop yields and they are able to distribute the surplus to the community. In areas like Willowfountain, residents often rely on charcoal and firewood for energy. The biogas provides communities with a cleaner, more sustainable energy source.
As bio-digestive technology and biogas conversion capacity develops and increases, people in impoverished communities throughout the world will have greater access to energy. This is an important development in the battle against climate change and we hope more governments will work to implement this solution in their countries.