Just last month, gasworld’s Rob Cockerill discussed the fascinating value of biofuels. Indeed, it is a theme enjoying a worldwide uptake; as evident this week, when Trade plus Aid (TPA) launched the South African agricultural biogas project.

The initiative is hoped to implement domestic biogas projects throughout impoverished rural areas in South Africa. It is being orchestrated with the help of the South African arm of Swiss biogas technology company Acrona. TPA has a 50% interest in the recent creation, Acrona South Africa, which will manufacture micro gas turbines and other related products associated with the humanitarian venture.

The Agricultural Biogas Project
Within the first, agricultural phase, Lagoon Biogas Digesters will be installed at farms, replacing open lagoons that are currently being used as animal waste management systems and are allowing unrestricted emissions into the atmosphere. Benefits of this will include energy security, high quality fertilizer, improved manure management and enhanced air quality.

In an official statement, TPA, explained the reflexive approach to engineering involved, “These digesters will be engineered specifically to suit the farm environment, and the amount of animal waste currently being generated by the farm and deposited daily into the existing open lagoon.”

The philanthropic organisation continued, “The captured methane-rich biogas, which is the result of the anaerobic digestion (AD) process, is “scrubbed” to remove hydrogen sulphide. This is necessary as hydrogen sulphide has a corrosive impact on the power generating equipment; the gas is then used as a fuel for electricity generating equipment, providing power to be used on the farm.”

“Each installation will have a digital monitoring system that will relay all process information to a central server for up-to-date monitoring via the Trade plus Aid website,” concluded TPA.

The Domestic Biogas Project

The surplus revenue generated by the Trade plus Aid's Agricultural Biogas Project will be used to implement a domestic biogas project throughout rural areas of South Africa. TPA’s Domestic Biogas Program has been initiated with the installation of 11 digesters in the Richmond area of Kwa-Zulu Natal. The funding for these digesters has been made available by a grant from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

The digesters are airtight containers in which water, organic wastes, animal wastes and/or manures and urine are acted upon by anaerobic bacteria. Biogas is formed by bacterial action on organic matter, with three primary sets of bacteria involved in the biological breakdown.

But why biogas?
One cubic meter of biogas will provide at least 2 hours of cooking time, or 1.5 kWh electrical output. Furthermore, according to TPD, biogas is well suited to the locale thanks to its simple maintenance and operation: “Biogas is particularly suited to meeting small-scale energy needs across rural southern Africa… Globally, biogas technology seems to have outpaced the dissemination of other decentralised energy technologies, with a reported 25 million units installed worldwide.”

“Biogas technology has played an important role in improving the quality of life for rural households wherever the technology has been introduced. In addition to being a renewable source energy that is locally available, Biogas has a wide range of additional benefits to people,” added TPA.

Just some of these benefits include:

• More hygienic conditions, thanks to the elimination of indoor air pollution, which is particularly harmful to women and children.
• Preventing deforestation by reducing the detrimental harvesting and consumption of wood for fires.
• Burning biogas is cleaner than burning woody biomass. Apart from being smokeless, the only emissions are carbon dioxide and water.
• Macro-economic benefits such as job creation thanks to the staffing needs of biogas firms and plant construction.

And to complete the altruistic circle, the emission reduction associated with household biogas digesters will be reinvested straight back into the domestic biogas program.