Biogas warms up Pacific communities
By Samisoni Pareti
Local families are excited to see savings in their energy bills with the introduction of biogas technology.
Firewood and fossil fuel used to be the most common energy sources for the 60 residents of Ovea, a Fijian rural village located in the north of the capital, Suva. But it is not the case any more – years of back-breaking work of collecting firewood ended in Ovea with the introduction of the village’s first biogas digester in July 2011.
Biogas refers to a gas produced by the biological breakdown of organic waste such as dead plant, animal material, and kitchen waste. Significant economical benefits can be gained by using household waste to produce methane gas and the digester outflow for farming.
“I’m very excited,” says Talica Matairavula, a resident of Ovea. “We don’t need to buy gas cylinders anymore and we use half the kerosene we used to.” The switch from firewood or fossil fuel—kerosene—to renewable energy automatically earned Talica’s family a saving in their energy bill of $F40 (approx. USD28) per month. As the family becomes more familiar with biogas technology and their use of biogas increases, they should be able to save a lot more.
The adoption of biogas as a renewable energy source has not only led to direct monetary savings, but also environmental benefits. There used to be a lot of unmanaged waste materials in the waterways, but now, the outflow from the digester is being used as fertilizer and natural pesticide on pea crops. Members of a neighboring village also use the outflow for fish farming.
Household waste is used to produce methane gas.
Another environmental benefit of biogas technology is the net reduction of greenhouse gases. Methane production is a biological process, occurring naturally in organisms such as cows, pigs and humans. In biogas digesters, the process of producing methane, the major component of natural gas, is managed. Since methane is a more severe greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, capturing and burning methane as fuel reduces the amount of methane that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere.
Harnessing renewable energy through methane capture from human and animal waste is a project of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in collaboration with the Korean Government. The project was implemented in Fiji and its neighboring island Samoa by the Youth With A Mission, a faith-based NGO that is registered with the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development. For the Ovea Village Biogas Project, the Youth With A Mission sent their representatives from Samoa to assist in the installation of the Fijian village’s biogas digester. The Samoans helped train about 16 young people of Ovea on the construction and maintenance of the digester. The goal is that these Ovea youngsters will acquire the necessary know-how and skills to build new digesters and maintain them on their own.
The outflow from the biogas digester is used for farming.
As part of the launch programme, information and training sessions were provided to the local community, and a training and demonstration centre was established at the Youth With A Mission campus. At this centre, the community members can benefit from the “training of trainers,” which includes lessons on brick making, explanations of biogas storage and transmission methods, and outlining of safety procedures. At least 50 households have benefited directly, with six workers employed in its initial stages, and more than 200 people trained in biogas technologies.
The training sessions for the biogas project in Ovea also showcase a successful example of sharing the new technology among neighboring villages, particularly through youth involvement. The project has provided a strong sense of ownership and empowerment to the young people in Ovea, as well as the immense potential for the use of renewable energy for rural communities.