Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pilot Project in Ghana Turns Human Waste into Renewable Biofuel

Biomass power plants that mainly use manure or other similar waste materials are not that uncommon. However, we do find a peculiar shortage for projects that include human waste. Indeed, there are only a few publicized projects using the idea, and most alternative human waste management usually heads towards composting strategies.

Researchers at Columbia University’s Engineering School, Waste Enterprisers Ltd., Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, and the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly joined together last Novermber 19 in the launching of a pilot facility in Kumasi, Ghana that converts fecal “sludge” into biofuel. This was part in celebration and commemoration for the World Toilet Day, which is also set on the same date.

The technology that is used for the facility doesn’t seem to be different than the one used by most biomass plants and facilities (anaerobic digester/composter). In fact, according to the “trail” left by the details of the report, the actual objective of the pilot facility was to create a link and a loop between human waste management and energy production. They sought to address the problem of sustaining the efficient production of alternative energy sources. In the case of biofuels, it is the search for a way to produce it without affecting food production, as most biofuels today are derived from crops.

There are two major benefits that we can clearly see with a facility that can directly use and convert human fecal waste into usable energy. The first one of course is the addition of yet another possible source of fuel-based energy. The second, more important one is the conversion of something that has no value (but gets produced in large quantities) into something that can even be profitable.

Both benefits create the complete sustainability loop, where both the problems of sanitation and energy production are solved using just one convenient system. As indicated in the report, they plan on turning the “burdens” of a waste processing facility into a highly productive investment.

Pilot Project in Ghana Turns Human Waste into Renewable Biofuel