Rwanda eyes biogas to help curb deforestation

Rwanda eyes biogas to help curb deforestation

The kitchen of Ecole Secondaire Kanombe Efotec, a boarding school here, is busy from dawn to dusk while the staff cooks meals for more than 1,000 hungry teenagers.

At onetime, the school went through about 330 pounds of firewood a day for the porridge and rice that boil in industrial-size vats. But since 2014, the kitchen is using one-third less wood, and spending less on fuel, after it started using biogas derived from a renewable energy source: methane from the school’s latrines.

Anaclet Karamuka, director of study, pointed out the school’s row of tiled latrines. Gigantic concrete receptacles buried beneath a grassy clearing collect human waste along with the methane it creates. The school’s 20 dairy cows also contribute their share of methane. Narrow pipes carry the odorless methane to the kitchen. In the airless underground “biogas digester” bacteria eventually convert the solid waste into fertilizer.

Previously the school used pit toilets, which can prove dangerous, and had to pay for a septic truck to remove the waste. “Biogas has brought many ideas for us,” Mr. Karamuka said.

The biogas system was provided and built by Rwanda’s government; the school pays for minor maintenance. It is part of the country’s larger initiative to curb an urgent environmental problem: deforestation that results from felling trees to make charcoal and firewood for cooking. Biogas and liquefied petroleum gas are two promising alternatives.

In Rwanda, a small nation of about 12 million people, 82 percent of the population relies on charcoal or wood for cooking.

“By promoting alternative cooking energy, the government of Rwanda hopes to halve the dependence on biomass,” or energy from plants and plant materials, “as the main source of cooking energy by 2024,” said Oreste Niyonsaba, manager of social energies at the Energy Development Corporation, the government agency leading efforts to promote alternative fuels.

Source: The New York Times

Date: November 2018

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