Field Test: Biogas Really Works!

March 1, 2016 | ProgressTH About a year ago we covered a remote village that solved its energy problems (not being connected to the national power grid) through using solar power and biogas. Not only could the simple biogas reactors they built help power generators on cloudy days to charge their homes’ batteries, but the biogas could also easily meet daily cooking gas requirements.

With just some kitchen leftovers and some misshapen cucumbers fed to it everyday, a biogas reactor can meet a home's daily cooking gas requirements. Really! We've done it!
We visited the training and support center locals created to maintain, improve, and expand their localized power grid and saw all of these systems in action, from solar powered water pumps used for local irrigation, to biogas fueled kitchens, to lighting at night drawing from batteries charged during the daytime.

But visiting a training center and seeing others doing it is one thing, doing yourself is another. The villagers had a lot of experience, and the stories they told of how capable their systems were seemed too good to be true. Since that visit, we have stayed in touch with this amazing team running the center. Eventually, one of our co-founders decided to install a biogas system at the family farm so we could test it for ourselves.

Like livestock, worms, or aquaculture, biogas reactors help break down organic material into a nutrient rich by-product perfect for use as an organic fertilizer. It also has the added bonus of creating a convenient and reliable source of cooking gas. "Feeding" it everyday makes it almost like having a pet. 

This was probably the first biogas system built in the entire district. Neighbors were curious but skeptical, especially during the first week or so as the system adjusted and the bacteria took their time breaking down the organic waste and slowly turned it into methane gas.

Some common "feed" for the biogas reactor. Left are some watermelon rinds, and right are some misshapen cucumbers that could not be sold at the market and could not be consumed in time at the farm. 

Eventually, the system began producing gas. And it has continued producing gas, enough to do all the farm’s cooking, everyday, ever since then.

Eggplants grown with biogas by-product.
Since the farm produces vegetables as well as rice (its main crop), there are always vegetables such as cucumbers left over that can’t be sold, and cannot be consumed on the farm in time. So they are “fed” to the biogas reactor instead. Everything else you’d usually throw out or put into a compost pile, like watermelon rinds, scraps from cutting vegetables while cooking, and even waste left over from landscaping can go in.

The next step was testing the output from the digestion process which comes out the other end. It is a rich fertilizer perfect for organic agriculture, much like compost. It's been applied to a crop of eggplants that have been doing incredible.

Biogas is more than just an environment-friendly news story. It really works. It was so cheap and so easy to do, we can't imagine why more people aren't doing it, except perhaps, they are simply unaware of how cheap and easy it really is.

We’ve seen others use it, and now we’ve used it ourselves. How far we can push this simple technology remains to be seen, but we’ve officially gotten a whole family farm “off the grid” from the cooking gas industry. It is a statement of self-sufficiency, and of localizing and securing one aspect of energy production. It is also a compact way to perform waste management and produce fertilizer all at the same time.

After organic material is broken down and biogas produced, what is left over is a highly rich organic fertilizer perfect for agriculture. This can be used to grow even more fruits and vegetables, like these healthy eggplants which can be consumed, and whatever is left over, sent back to the biogas reactor. 
Next, we hope to put solar energy through its paces. We’ve seen two very impressive teams working on solar power nationwide in Thailand, and would like to prove its practical use both on a rural family farm, and in the city. Stay tuned.

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