Nepal: Biogas Program Generates Sustainability

Sabitri Ghimire’s family in Chapagaun, just outside of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, has been using biogas stoves to cook two meals every day for the last three years. Ghimire’s biogas plant can run for four hours, exactly enough time for her to cook rice, lentils and vegetables for her family of seven.

“I used to spend all day looking for firewood and cleaning pots and pans,” says Ghimire. “Those days are now gone!” When her neighbors saw Ghimire had more time for other chores, they were encouraged to install their own biogas plants. Like Ghimire and her fellow villagers in Chapagaun, 140,000 rural Nepali households cook in biogas today. It is a known fact that biogas plants of Nepal help save 400,000 tons of firewood and 800,000 liters of kerosene and prevent 600,000 tons of greenhouse gases from escaping into the atmosphere. While the global benefits of the biogas plants are immense, the technology of the plant itself is quite simple; dung goes in, gas comes out. The Nepali biogas plant design uses an airtight underground digester, where dung is put in the stirrer with some water. Here bacteria, which occur naturally in cow dung, break raw materials down to produce methane. The reaction in the biogas plant takes place in the absence of oxygen and the gas contains up to 70 percent methane and 30 percent carbon dioxide. When gas is produced, out comes the slurry, which can be later used as organic fertilizer. Nepal’s Biogas Support Program has extended its work to 66 of the nation’s 75 districts and plans to have 200,000 biogas plants installed by 2009. A plant suitable for a rural household costs US $300. Government subsidies have made the plants affordable. An individual invests only $200 and his investment is recouped in three years. A very good deal indeed! Now the Nepali biogas plants are on their way to becoming a “good deal” for the global environment. When Kyoto Protocol, the global climate treaty, will enter into force for Nepal in December 2005, it would be eligible to start trading the carbon dioxide not emitted by using biogas and earn up to $5 million per year. The Clean Development Mechanism established under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change makes this trading possible. The industrialized nations can buy such credits to compensate for the extra greenhouse gases they produce over the allowances set by the Protocol. Bikash Pandey, Nepal Director of Winrock International, which has been assisting the Biogas Support Program in developing the biogas project into a Clean Development Mechanism project, says biogas has tremendous local benefits, ranging from decrease in indoor smoke to reduction in work load of rural women and children. “The payment for reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases generates enough revenue to provide the local benefits for free.” Recently the Biogas Support Program was awarded US$54,000 Ashden Award for ‘Outstanding achievement in using sustainable energy to improve the quality of life and protecting the environment’. The program is planning to use the award money in high altitude biogas research. “With the money from the award, we are looking to install biogas plants in 400 more households in areas of Nepal where water is scarce,” says Sundar Bajgain, the biogas program’s executive director. The success of this project huge and it is being replicated in other Asian and African countries. The secret to success of Nepal’s biogas program is strict quality control. One company controls quality here and this nonprofit organization uses local people and local financial institutions. “Everyone is involved and they all have a sense of ownership that has generated sustainability and success of the project,” says Bajgain. About the author Mallika Aryal recently moved back to Nepal from the U.S. She works as a reporter and lives in Kathmandu. Mallika was an intern with during the summer of 2003 and is now a regular contributor to is seeking both domestic and international contributing newswriters to communicate news, trends, issues and policy on Renewable Energy from their home countries. Please follow this link to indicate your interest.
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