From Waste to Wisdom – Strengthening Biodigester Practitioners in Southeast Asia: Project Update

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In Borneo, the price of cooking gas (LPG) increased by 27% in 2017. For remote villages, the cost and difficulty of transporting bulky cylinders of gas from distribution centers make it even more inaccessible. This situation leaves most families with only one option for cooking: burning dirty, dangerous biomass. A staggering 80% of rural households in Malaysia’s Northern Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak rely on firewood for cooking, releasing toxic emissions that are harmful to human health and the environment and contribute to deforestation. Over the past two decades, there has also been increasingly widespread use of harmful chemical fertilizers by rural farmers, causing further degradation to soils and waterways.Biogas digesters (BGDs) offer a creative, sustainable, environmentally-friendly solution to biomass cooking, while also offering an alternative to mainstream agricultural practices. BGDs utilize organic waste from households and agriculture to produce clean-burning biogas for cooking fuel as well as organic effluent fertilizer (biol) that can be used to cultivate crops. By replacing firewood with biogas for cooking, BGDs reduce emissions, capture additional methane emissions from agricultural waste, improve human health and decrease deforestation; and integrating BGDs into waste management and agricultural systems provides an integrated, efficient and cost-effective energy solution for rural families. 

Orlan and Linggit work together to construct a biodigester.

Orlan and Linggit work together to construct a biodigester.

In late 2017, working with partner Janathakshan, Green Empowerment developed a regional knowledge exchange program to bring BGD technology to our program countries in Southeast Asia, starting with Malaysian Borneo. Janathakshan is an expert in implementing biodigester projects in Sri Lanka, and Green Empowerment has experience using the technology to strengthen communities and individual households in Latin America.With the generous support of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy (WISIONS), the first phase of the knowledge exchange took place over two weeks in March of 2018 in Sri Lanka. The workshop covered both theoretical and practical components, using classroom lectures, site visits and the on-site construction of an actual biodigester. A total of thirteen participants—eight from Malaysia, one from the Philippines, one from Indonesia and three from Sri Lanka—attended. GE and Janathakshan designed and conducted the workshop so that participants left with the knowledge to design, install, operate and maintain low-cost biogas digester systems that are adapted to their local social, environmental and economic contexts.

Koto and participants smile during the International Training Workshop for Biogas Service Providers at Wayamba Training Institute.

Koto and participants smile during the International Training Workshop for Biogas Service Providers at Wayamba Training Institute.

The next phase of the exchange will take place in Malaysian Borneo in July-August of 2018. During this exchange, participants will reinforce previous learning, put it into practice and integrate some of the lessons learned from Green Empowerment’s experience implementing biodigester projects in Latin America. Participants will also learn how to teach these skills to their colleagues and to promote the dissemination of BGD technology in their home regions. They will also develop pilot biodigester systems to test several different designs and materials to see what works best in rural Borneo.Stay tuned for future updates!

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