Ethan Arpi

Green Fuel Has a Dirty Little Secret

BiogasThanks to President Bush, there is nothing more patriotic these days than looking for ways to end America’s oil addiction. So when I came across this article, Tapping the Latent Power in What’s Left Around the Barnyard, while perusing the New York Times on the 4th of July, I knew I had done my civic duties. Of course, here at Nextbillion being patriotic is not enough; we must also be cosmopolitan. So once I washed down my hotdog with a Sam Adams, I got on the computer and did a little research. As it turns out, anaerobic digesters like the ones discussed in the New York Times are being used throughout the developing world. Perhaps the most intriguing case I read about was a prison in Rwanda, ?which reduces cooking fuel bills by using methane gas from inmates’ toilet waste.?

The Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, which is based out of Rwanda’s capital, won a $53,000 prize from the Ashden Awards last year for ?underlining the vital role which small-scale sustainable energy can play in tackling both climate change and poverty in Africa.? Before the Kigali Institute came along, the kitchens in Rwanda’s prisons were powered by firewood, costing the government tens of thousands of dollars per year. The prison system was also plagued by poor sanitation, as waste management officials struggled to sanitize the sewage from such a highly concentrated population of prisoners.

Now, with the support of the Kigali Institute, six of Rwanda’s largest prisons have installed biogas digesters, which cut their energy costs by half. Once the natural gas is extracted from the waste, the left over organic matter is composted and used as fertilizer in the prison gardens. “Look at all these bananas!? a warden told the BBC while standing in the prison’s garden. ?This fertiliser really is the best.”

The biogas digesters, which are used throughout the developing world, especially in China and India, take organic material, in this case human waste, and force it into an air tight tank where bacteria break down the waste. This process produces methane gas, which is captured and later burned as fuel.

If President Bush really is serious about ending America’s oil addiction, he should follow Rwanda’s lead and urge America’s Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to install biogas digesters in all its facilities. I get giddy, perhaps even a little patriotic, just thinking about all the gas that two million prisoners could produce.

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World Resources Institute