Monday, 11 May 2015

Keeping it small

Biogas electrification and Barsha pumps are two innovations benefiting small enterprises, farmers.
By Sanjib Chaudhary (@sankuchy) and Ganesh R Sinkemana (@GSinkemana)

Following EF Schumacher’s idea of small is beautiful, innovative technologies have been changing the lives of millions throughout the world – enabling environmental and human sustainability. However, most of the technology innovations are overwhelmingly favouring the wants of rich consumers in developed countries with only a few of them catering to the needs of poor in the developing countries. Biogas electrification and Barsha pumps are two such small but beautiful innovations that are poised to benefit small enterprises and farmers in Nepal.    

Cow excreta, clean energy
When John Finlay helped develop the very first commercial biogas unit in Nepal in the year 1975, he didn’t have a faint idea that it would turn into a gamechanger in the renewable energy sector. Starting with the 95 biogas plants built by United Mission to Nepal’s Development and Consulting Services the same year, the country has seen more than 350,000 biogas units.

The biogas has been crucial in households to minimise the household air pollution saving the family members from respiratory infections. While the gas replaces using fuelwood, the slurry can be used as organic fertiliser for increased productivity. According to the Water Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS) Energy Sector Synopsis Report 2010, a biogas plant reduces the workload of women and girls about three hours in a day. Annually, two tons of fuelwood can be saved using a biogas plant if it runs at 90% operability and a plant can reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the extent of 7 tons carbon dioxide.

With the technological advancement, biogas which had earlier been used only for cooking and lighting purposes is also being used to generate electricity. In Nepal, the biogas electrification project at the Livestock Development Resource Centre run by the Annapurna Dairy Producers’ Cooperative boasts of being the first to generate electricity for commercial use from biogas. The project has been supported by Practical Action. Earlier, a small scale study on bio-electrification through agricultural and livestock waste was carried out by students of Kathmandu University, producing electricity to light 9 LED lights, each of 5 W.

A biogas electrification unit

According to Bodh Raj Pathak, the vice president of the cooperative, the biogas generated is sufficient to run a generator of 5 kW load continuously for 8-9 hours. The electricity is being used for light bulbs, fans, water pump and a chaff cutter. The gas is also being used to cook for the staff at the centre. 

The designed plant has a capacity of 50 m3, divided into two units of 25 m3 tunnel type digesters and currently only one inlet is being used. The biogas from the dung of 85 cows at the centre can generate electricity continuously for 16 hours if the biogas unit operates at its maximum capacity. The dairy has plans to use the electricity for pasteurisation of milk. The by-product slurry will be dried and packages as organic fertiliser, says Pathak.

The tunnel design has certain advantages over the circular dome design. It is simpler to construct and requires a shallow digester and hence is useful in locations having high water tables. It is a sectional type of construction and can be made of any size by adding extra sections. The tunnel design didn't gain popularity in Nepal as it is expensive to install and difficult to transport the pre-cast slabs for covering the balancing tank.

The biogas electrification technology is simple, easy to install, socio-economically viable and carbon neutral. If replicated by big diaries and cooperatives throughout Nepal, this technology has potential to making them self-sufficient amidst the current energy scarcity.

A Barsha pump can provide water to nearby fields without use of fuel and electricity

Right as rain
Likewise, Barsha pump, a brainchild of Pratap Thapa and his team members at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, is poised to change the irrigation scenario in Nepal. The pump, inspired by the ancient Egyptian design, helps communities near rivers irrigate their field without the use of fuel or electricity. Barsha pump meaning rain pump in Nepali, comprises a water wheel fixed onto a floating platform. Installed into a flowing river, the wheel rotates with the flow of water and the air compressed by a special mechanism of the wheel pumps the water through the attached hose to the fields nearby. The pump can provide water up to a height of 82 feet with a maximum rate of one litre per second. The pump is environment friendly with zero emission rate since no fuel is required for its operation.

aQysta, the company co-founded by Thapa is building and testing Barsha pumps in Nepal with Practical Action’s support. One of the Barsha pumps installed at Haritjyoti Organic Agro Farm Private Limited in Waling of Syangja district in Western Nepal, is serving around 50 ropanis (2.5 hectares) of vegetable farming. The five micro-sprinkler heads are directly coupled to the Barsha pump, which run continuously for 24 hours without any fuel, electricity or any other operating costs. All the people, working in the farm, need to do, is to shift the sprinkler heads to different areas, which need to be irrigated from time to time. For the Haritjyoti farm, which had used and abandoned diesel pumps because of its running costs and had invested in getting a three-phase electricity line to the farm, to be able to run electric pumps, the Barsha pump has proved to be an exciting solution to keep their irrigation costs low.

As per the World Bank data, only 27.74% agricultural land in Nepal was irrigated in 2008. Since, most of the farmers cannot easily access the irrigation facilities, innovations like Barsha pump will help them irrigate their fields that are near rivers without any extra expenditure. aQysta and Practical Action are looking to scale up the implementation of the Barsha pumps in Nepal by localising the manufacturing and distribution value chain, and selling thousands of Barsha pumps across Nepal.

While Schumacher’s idealism has been overpowered by multinational companies and mass productions, it is need of the moment to promote technologies like biogas electrification and Barsha pump that have social value and are environmentally sustainable. Also the concerned authorities need to make sure that the technologies are made available to all who need them.

Republished from The Kathmandu Post (dated 26 April 2015)

Photos by Ganesh R Sinkemana

No comments: