Turning cow poo into electricity


April 6th, 2015

It was drizzling when we drove to the biogas electrification project site. Going through the maze of roads, it took us 45 minutes from Narayanghat, the main market in the Chitwan district, to reach there.

Chitwan, in the southern plains in Nepal, is home not only to the magnificent royal Bengal tigers and one-horned rhinoceroses but also a happening trade hub. Regarded as the country’s poultry capital, with the establishment of Nepal’s largest milk industry, Chitwan is seeing a wave of innovation in agriculture sector.

Adding to the list of innovations is the biogas electrification project being run at the Livestock Development Resource Centre of the Annapurna Dairy Producers’ Cooperative (ADPC). The project, supported by Practical Action, boasts of being the first in Nepal to generate electricity for commercial use from biogas.

A small scale study on bio-electrification through agricultural and livestock waste was carried out by students of Kathmandu University earlier, producing electricity to light 9 LED lights, each of 5 W.

When I reached the site, Bodh Raj Pathak, the vice-president of the cooperative, drenched in the rain, was waiting for me to show the centre.

The first thing he did was to switch on the system. He then one by one switched on the bulbs and fans. For a technology loving person like me, it was a real pleasure – all were working as if they were running from regular electricity.

The gas generated from the dung of 85 cows is enough to generate electricity that can run a generator of 5kW load continuously for 8-9 hours, according to Pathak. Few months ago the centre had more than 100 cows. Some of the cows were sold to the community people on demand.

The cows at the Dairy produce a trailer of cow dung daily that goes into the digester for biogas generation. There are two inlets and two outlets.

“Currently, only one inlet is being used and it works for 8-9 hours,” said Pathak. “If both the inlets operate, it will produce electricity for 16 hours.”

The process is simple – the dung, urine and water are mixed into a concoction. The mixture is then fed through the inlet to the chamber. The gas generated is passed through a filter to get rid of the precipitates and then to the generator that produces electricity.

Right now the Dairy is using the electricity for light bulbs, fans, water pump and a chaff cutter. The gas is also being used to cook food for six staff at the Dairy.

The Dairy has plans to utilise the biogas for pasteurisation of milk. Right now it is saving Rs. 30,000 – 35,000 rupees per month in fuelwood. After the full utilisation, the Dairy will save around Rs 100,000 (USD 1000) per month.

However, the slurry, a precious fertiliser has not been well managed. It was left to dry in the open. Pathak told me that they have plans to dry the slurry and package it as organic fertiliser.

Looking at the outputs of the pilot project, the prospects are promising in spite of the dismal data of electricity contributing to the total energy consumption and use of biogas in Nepal.

According to the Water Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS) Energy Sector Report 2010, electricity contributes only 2% to the total energy consumption by fuel types in Nepal. As per Alternative Energy Promotion Centre, the government apex body for the development and promotion of renewable energy, there are more than 300,000 biogas plants in Nepal.

In Nepal, cooking and lighting are the main purposes biogas has been mainly used for, amounting to 80% and 20% respectively. The successful biogas electrification in Chitwan has opened doors for using biogas to produce electricity and scaling up the technology at the cooperatives throughout Nepal.

While 1.3 billion people are still living in darkness with no access to electricity and 2.7 billion still cook over open fires, replication of innovations like biogas electrification will help us move from a state of technology injustice, to find a way to remove the barriers that now prevent poor people from using the technologies they need for the most basic of services.

With technical details from Ganesh R Sinkemana

2 responses to “Turning cow poo into electricity”

  1. Rabindra Says:

    nice blog and keep it up. Let this technology be spread across the country

  2. Sanjib Says:

    Thanks Rabindra. If this technology is replicated by big cooperatives, dairies and municipalities across Nepal, they would be self-sufficient in producing energy. Development organisations need to promote it.

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