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Author: Jarra Hicks

The Biogas Sector Partnership's crucial support for household biogas plants in Nepal is helping reduce CO2 emissions, improve health and reduce impact on natural resources.

Project overview

The Biogas Sector Partnership (BSP) is a non-profit, non-government organisation (NGO) that supports the installation of community biogas plants all over Nepal. Between 1992 — when BSP was founded - and 2008, the partnership managed the installation of 205,820 biogas plants.

The plants use manure, crop scraps, and kitchen and toilet waste, to produce biogas (mostly methane), which can be used for cooking and lighting. These plants reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the unsustainable use of wood for fuel. They also free up time normally spent harvesting wood, and there's far less smoke in the household, which has clear health benefits. A biogas plant's main bi-product is rich compost, which can be used on crops or sold.

Project cost and sources of funding

Household-sized biogas plants cost between $285 and $375 to set up, but with government subsidies, it costs a household just $205. Of this, a household provides the equivalent of $68 as labour, food and basic materials, and finances the remaining $137. For a poor family in Nepal, this is a significant amount, so households can get small loans to cover the initial cost.

BSP receives financial support from the Governments of Nepal, Germany and the Netherlands.

Background

In Nepal, 80% of the 4.2 million households use wood, cattle-dung cakes and crop scraps for cooking, and kerosene for lighting. These fuels are very polluting when burned on open fires indoors, and often lead to respiratory and eye diseases. What's more, the demand for wood means it's used faster than it can be replenished, which can damage ecosystems and water supplies. And it takes on average three hours a day to collect the wood needed for a typical day's use.

BSP's simple biogas plants are easy to operate, using only local inputs. They basically involve mixing manure and other organic matter with water and feeding this into an underground cylindrical tank. The mixture then undergoes anaerobic (without oxygen) digestion. This produces methane and some carbon dioxide (at a ratio of about 7:3), which rises to the top of the tank and is then piped to the house. Any new material added to the tank pushes out the already-digested material at the bottom into a separate 'holder' tank, where it's collected and used as compost. The plants need 24kg of waste matter a day — about the same as the daily dung of two cattle — and produce between 1.5 and 2m3 of gas a day, which is enough for basic cooking and lighting needs.

BSP is also overseeing the installation of bigger biogas plants in schools and hospitals.

Challenges

For biogas plants to work properly, they need a constant supply of water and temperatures between 28°C and 36°C. This means not all places are suitable. However, BSP is working on designs that help overcome these challenges. For example, rainwater harvesting and storage to ensure the availability of water.

Also, for a biogas plant to be truly sustainable, the manure and crop wastes fed into them must also come from sustainable sources. For example, for a village to be sustainable, it can only support a certain number of cows and crops. So if the biogas plants in a village put too much pressure on other local resources, then the system needs to be re-assessed and balanced out to be truly sustainable.

Results

The use of biogas as a fuel source has grown significantly in Nepal in the last 15 years. BSP has played a vital role in training people to install and use biogas, and in ensuring plants' quality and long-term reliability. Since 1992, BSP has trained 6,000 people in biogas plant construction and currently provides 61 private biogas installation companies in Nepal with accreditation, monitoring and support. BSP has been crucial in shaping a successful biogas industry in Nepal, and this success is down to its collaboration with governments, construction companies, donors and finance organisations.

According to a recent independent review, 97% of the biogas plants installed are still in use. The biogas sector provides 11,000 full-time jobs in Nepal, and meets the energy needs of more than 4% of the population.

BSP estimates that every year, the 205,820 biogas systems installed to date:

  • save 939,000 tonnes of wood
  • produce 547,750 tonnes of quality compost
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

Biogas systems also mean women and children no longer have to cook in smokey, sooty environments. And by saving three hours a day by not collecting wood, women and girls can focus on education and income generation.

More information

Biogas Sector Partnership Nepal (BSP-Nepal) or email bspnepal@wlink.com.np.
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