Bringing Biogas Technologies to Nepali Farms

June 12, 2019

Biogas is a burning issue in Nepal

Photos and written content provided by Lisa O’Doherty, Country Director – Nepal

Access to clean cooking is an important issue in Nepal. Nearly 20 million Nepalis use dirty or solid fuels such as wood, dung, or charcoal for cooking. Since 2012, Renewable World has been promoting household, community and enterprise-owned models of Biogas technologies as a means to promote clean cooking. To-date we have helped 10 communities and a further 614 individual households improve their access to clean cooking, reaching over 4,000 people in total.

In our most recent Biogas project site, we have worked with an existing dairy cooperative to test new biogas technology, with the hope that it can sustainably provide clean biogas energy and agricultural bi-products for small farms and surrounding communities in Nepal.

Case Study – Pramis Dairy Farm

Krishna Maharjan is the visionary Chairperson of Pramis Dairy farm, the first Dairy Cooperative to be established in Kathmandu Valley. Three and half years ago he, along with partners Ratna and Birbal Maharjan, rented 1.5 acres of land in Lalitpur and brought together 25 households who were interested in engaging in dairy-farming to initiate this endeavour. The dairy farm is now well established, successfully collecting and selling milk to the local market. While the centre has seen success, with the support of Renewable World (RW) and Biogas Sector Partnership (BSP Nepal), they have ambitious plans to further diversify their sales through harnessing the bi-products from cattle farming that are all too often misconstrued as simply being waste products.

In 2017, Pramis Dairy Farm agreed to take part in a pilot project initiated by RW and BSP. Together, the group installed an innovative two-chamber Bag Digester (green arrow), using technology imported from Germany. This is a new form of Biogas technology for Renewable World and is the first of its kind to be trialled in Nepal. Dung is collected from the cattle every day, mixed with water (red arrow) and fed through an entry point (yellow arrow) into the bag digester system (green arrow). Through the digestion process, the slurry then forms a layer at the bottom of the bag and the gas rises to the top of the bag.

The bag digester is currently producing 15m3 of gas on a daily basis. Many adaptations and innovations have been put in place since the original design. After all, new technologies require a lot of work and an iterative, collaborative design process!

In the original system design, the gas was collected in backpacks which could then be moved to the kitchen area and connected to stoves used for cooking cow fodder. This system, however, proved impractical as the backpacks took up valuable space in the kitchen and also the backpacks needed to be refilled every 2-3 days. To improve the system, the backpacks were replaced with pipes connected to two cooking areas where the gas is being used to fuel two cooking stoves, which is proving to be more practical. This, however, brought new challenges. Namely, the lack of pressure meant that gas was not efficiently and reliably reaching the cookstoves. This was resolved through another innovation: a pressure booster, which was installed and now ensures that the supply is regular.

Even with these adaptations, we are still learning how to improve the system! The cooperative is now using 6m3 of the 15m3 of gas produced per day, saving them 1,500 NPR per month (approximately GBP10) on purchasing liquid petroleum gas. However, the remaining gas is currently being leaked to the atmosphere due to lack of capacity to either store or use the gas. Krishna tells us that they plan to purchase larger cookstoves on which to prepare larger vats of cattle fodder using the rest of the gas. This would save the cooperative a further 3,500 NPR (approximately GBP25) per month. Alternatively, the cooperative is considering maximizing the system by incorporating a separate bag to store the accumulated gas or by connecting the system to nearby households up to 200 metres away. The latter approach would provide the nearby community with gas by offering them an opportunity to purchase clean cooking energy through a metering system at a lower price than liquid petroleum gas, offering financial benefits to the community (cost savings) and the cooperative (profit).

In addition to gas production, the bag digester also emits a steady stream of slurry – a by-product of biogas systems that is rich in nutrients. This fills the slurry pit that Baburam Paudel (Renewable World Nepal) and Bala Ram Shrestha (BSP Nepal) are standing next to. The slurry, when mixed with organic matter (typically grass, kitchen waste, and rice stalks), can be made into a nutrient-rich organic fertiliser for crop production.

This slurry is currently being used irregularly on the cooperative’s land but, again, there is potential for this by-product to generate additional income for the cooperative. BSP Nepal has linked the cooperative to a nearby organic agricultural centre. The centre has agreed to train the cooperative in organic farming techniques, including the productive use of the slurry, and will then buy the resulting organic produce from the cooperative. The cooperative expect to be able to generate a profit of 4 million NPR (approximately GBP27,000) per year in this way.

With cost savings and income from the biogas production, as well as income from organic fertiliser sales, the cooperative plan to repay the loan they took out for the bag digester technology within just one and half years, whilst the technology is expected to last up to seven years.

Next Steps

This successful pilot has demonstrated that this innovative renewable-energy technology has the potential to enable dairy cooperatives across Nepal to generate a sustainable income not only from the dairy products, but also through realising the huge potential of the generation and sale of by-products to enhance their income. We say ‘cheers to that’ with a cup of tea, made to perfection over the cooperative’s biogas fuelled stove.

Renewable World and BSP will now look to scale clean Biogas solutions to dairy farms throughout Nepal. This will be done by developing a small number of best practice bio-digester reference sites to develop the procedures, technical support structure, and appropriate monitoring approach. Next, we will look to utilise direct biogas outputs and undertake additional agricultural activities for dairy or mixed farms. Opportunities will also exist for non-farm entrepreneurs to add value through buying or selling biogas outputs. Finally, we envision that these next phases will incorporate a mixed-finance funding model with a short payback period combined with farm or enterprise equity.