Biomass Energy

Rural communities in Nepal are now harvesting cow dung to process into biogas, thanks to an innovative program being implemented in 66 of the country’s 75 districts. The Biogas Support Program (BSP), founded in 1992, supports the construction of household-scale “digesters” that use bacteria to break down the dung in airless conditions, producing a clean, smokeless gas.

A striking contrast to development projects stalled by the 10-year Maoist insurgency, the BSP has lit 140,000 Nepalese kitchens to date, saving an estimated 400,000 tons of firewood and 800,000 liters of kerosene. It has also helped reduce the respiratory problems associated with burning fuel wood.

Perhaps the most valuable savings come from the estimated 600,000 tons of avoided greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Through the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol, the World Bank has agreed to buy the $5 million in GHG emissions saved by the BSP. Other financial institutions in Germany and the Netherlands are eyeing carbon credits from the BSP and could provide important income for rural villages as the European Union’s new emissions trading system makes carbon an attractive investment. And local communities in Nepal have also benefited from the jobs created to support the biogas facilities. Nearly 60 private companies have hired approximately 11,000 Nepalese for digester construction.

Nepal joins many nations in efforts to reduce carbon emissions and increase energy independence through adoption of alternative bio fuels. A U.S. company, Changing World Technologies, makes bio crude using digesters that process turkey carcasses; in Ireland, cow dung is being used to run vehicles; and in Sweden, biomass is fueling an experimental train. In India, villagers process local pangamia seeds into biodiesel to fuel rural electricity grids and, like the Nepalese, sell carbon credits through the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism.

Burning biomass is considered carbon-neutral, unlike the fossil fuels these sources replace. A recent study by the European Biomass Industry Association and the WWF estimated that industrialized countries could increase biomass from 1 percent to 15 percent of energy needs by 2020. As energy demand continues to grow and GHG emissions become less desirable, renewable fuels, like biogas, will likely play larger roles in the provision of energy everywhere from rural communities to large urban centers.