UPDATE: It turns out that the information I relied upon for this post needed updating, so I’ve written another post with more accurate information on this project. My apologies!
While families in the developing world live quite differently from one another based on culture, religion, and available resources, most keep domesticated animals. Some do this for meat, others for the literal horsepower. Regardless of the reasons, all of these animals produce waste, and all of that poop releases methane as it decomposes. The folks at social enterprise Climate Friendly saw potential in all of that poop, and are testing a waste to energy project in Vietnam.
The Vietnam Household Biogas Project “is installing biogas systems across Vietnam which use waste from household cattle and pigs to create electricity for the home.” As 16% of Vietnamese currently have no access to electricity, but probably do have a few cows or pigs, there’s plenty of opportunity for this approach. Furthermore, most of these households burn wood for fuel, and, as we’ve seen before, that creates health problems, and places a special burden on women who must spend lots of time gathering fuel for the home stove.
Capturing the methane produced by animal poop keeps it out of the atmosphere, and that both environmentally and economically beneficial. As such, the biogas systems create carbon credits (which fund the construction of the systems, and training on how to use them). Bringing power to people without it increases the productive hours they have available to them, providing more time for economic or educational activities. These benefits apply particularly to women and girls, as the time needed for housework decreases tremendously.
Finally, this project produces another valuable product: fertilizer. The leftover biomass can be used for soil amendment instead of commercial fertilizer; for those with excess, it becomes a product they can sell to neighbors.
It’s amazing what picking up a little poop can do! And it’s made a huge difference for many Vietnamese people: Climate Friendly notes that between 2007 and 2011, it installed over 88,000 systems, and brought clean electricity to 440,000 people.
Pretty impressive! If you know of similar initiatives turning animal waste into electricity in the developing world, we’d love to hear more…