Biogas – What a blast!!!

Our planet is drowning...
Glaciers are melting, seas are rising, storms, floods and droughts are increasing,
species are disappearing and if we don’t act now, millions of people will have
to leave their home.
Tuvalu, a south pacific nation
made of 9 small low lying islands,
might disappear because of the
rising sea level and the changing
climate. Its people may have
to “abandon ship” and leave
their country.
Talofa !
Hello !
How did it come to this?
Simple: to stay warm, the Earth lets the sun’s rays enter the atmosphere
and prevents them from going back into space. How? With what we call green
house gas, such as vapour, carbon dioxide or methane. Together these gases
act like a car window and keep the sun’s heat inside the atmosphere. Without
them, temperature would be -18°C (O°F) instead of the average 15°C (59°F).
This is known as “the Greenhouse Effect”
The problem is that we humans are burning more and more fossil fuels (coal, gas,
diesel, etc) creating more of these greenhouse gases. It’s getting hotter around
the planet and the climate is going crazy. This is what we call “Climate Change”.
The good thing is that we know how to do things differently.
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from the beginning
The greek word “energeia”
means “power in action”.
It could be the energy
of our thoughts, our muscles
as well as… the energy
from machines.
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Millions of years ago, to live, eat and move around humans
used their own energy and that of their animals. Men learned
how to make fire. Then, using wind, their boats sailed,
and with wind and water their mills turned. Wood was used for heating
and cooking, and animal oil for lights. Humans used whatever they could
get their hands on to create energy.
Fossil Fuels
At the end of the 18th century, men went deeper underground to look
for resources. Coal replaced wood. Burnt in a furnace, it produces
steam that supplies energy to engines, lights and heating systems.
Then, when humans found the way to move electricity through wires,
slowly but surely fossil fuel energy powered our homes.
At the beginning of the 20th century, everything
started going faster with the use of gas and petroleum.
Like coal, they’re fossil fuels. Buried deep in the earth
and oceans, they took millions of years to form…
so they can’t be replaced in a lifetime. We say they
are “non renewable”. Fossil fuels are responsible for 80% of our carbon dioxide
emissions. Today we use energy for everything: to eat, move around, work, wash,
dress, to get cooler or warmer, or play on our phones and pads.
Although we are becoming aware that we are harming the climate, there
are more and more humans on earth using more and more energy. In 3 generations,
we’ve used up half of the world’s easily available fossil fuels. It will cost more and more
to get to them creating more pollution and one day there won’t be any left…
Another good reason to learn how to do things differently!
Renewable Energies
a renewable
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of trees
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Nature offers many
renewable energy
sources that can be used without polluting: solar,
wind, geothermal energies, rivers, oceans energies
, made from plants and organic waste.
bi o mass
Biomass is the organic matter from plants (wood, flowers, vegetables)
and animals (poo, grease, fur, etc). It renews itself rapidly. Biomass, like gas,
coal and petroleum, is made of carbon. When burnt it transforms
into energy. The advantage of biomass is that while growing, a plant absorbs carbon
from the atmosphere and soil which is released into the atmosphere when burnt.
In the end, the plant absorbs as much carbon as it emits. Therefore, using
biomass energy sustainably does not increase the quantity of green house gases
in the atmosphere.
Another advantage: plants produce the oxygen we breathe.
Last but not least, with biomass, one can also produce
agrofuels - also called biofuels: biodiesel, bioethanol
and gases.
Tuvalu has a dream: to become fossil fuel independent.
With the Alofa Tuvalu NGO, people in Tuvalu learned
how to create biofuels (biodiesel and bioethanol)
and biogas from coconut trees, plants and animal waste.
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Biodiesel and Bioethanol
Biofuels are liquid or gaseous fuels produced from biomass.
Biodiesel can replace petroleum-based diesel. It’s produced from vegetable oil
(coconut, colza, soy, sunflower…) or from animal grease, transformed into biodiesel
by a chemical process called esterification. Biodiesel can be used alone in engines
or mixed with diesel. A diesel engine car can also run on colza or coconut oil!
Bioethanol can be used for gasoline engines. It’s an alcohol made from plants
that contain sugar (beats, sugar canes, coconuts, wheat, corn etc). It can be mixed
with gasoline up to 85%. Bioethanol is the most used biofuel in the world.
In Tuvalu, coconut biodiesel is ideal for electric generators.
Toddy - the alcohol derived from coconut tree sap - was transformed
into bioethanol and was successfully tested on motorbikes and small
fishing boats.
Tuvalu has enough coconut trees to make local use of biofuels a practical
reality, if they replant from time to time. In some bigger countries, like the USA
or Brazil which actively grow agrofuels, it can become a problem
when there aren’t enough fields left to grow food. The solution?
- like in Tuvalu - food first, fuel second! To help get around this problem,
some scientists are for example working on biofuels from algae.
The Biomass Gases
Organic and animal waste has been used to produce gas for quite a long time.
There are at least two ways:
Gasification consists of producing a mix
of gases by burning dry, fibrous organic
wastes (wood, sawdust, coconut shells
etc) at a very high temperature, in a kind
of oven called a gasifier. The gas can be used
in a stove for cooking or in a generator
to produce electricity.
Methanisation or digestion produces
methane, the same gas as our farts,
also called
bi o gas
In swamps, manure or inside the guts of animals
and humans, a gas called methane or biogas
is formed. It comes from the breaking down,
also called decomposition or methanisation,
of organic waste: wet wood, vegetable
and fruit scraps, grease, fur and hair or… poo.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, but when
produced and stored in a digester, it doesn’t get released into the atmosphere
and also provides a renewable form of energy.
A biogas digester functions like our stomach.
During digestion, what we’ve eaten produces a gas (the fart… about 1 liter
per day) and a solid (the poo).
Bacteria, living in an oxygen free
environment, decompose the contents
of the digester and produce compost
and biogas. This process takes several
weeks, but if the digester is fed every
day, just like your stomach, it will produce
compost and gas every day after. Biogas
is used to cook on a stove or to produce
BOOM! electricity. Compost is a natural fertilizer,
ideal for gardens and fields.
In Tuvalu, Alofa Tuvalu installed 12 biogas digesters
on 3 of the 9 islands. The first one was made of brick
and collects pig manure. The others, made of 2 plastic
containers, one inside the other, digest any
kind of organic waste and the biogas
is used to cook with every day.
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Biogas in the world... The first biogas engines appeared
in 1870. And during World War II, the German army used
trucks that ran on biogas produced from farmyard manure.
Today, in China 20 million families run their personal digesters
from human poo! In Europe, biogas is used to light and heat city blocks
and to run cars and buses. In the UK and the US, dairy farms produce
their biogas from cow manure while, in France, it’s also being produced
with sauerkraut (pickled chopped cabbage) and sausage waste.
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What can I do with my organic waste?
• In cities, it’s hard to safely make biogas but I can:
- Compost my organic rubbish and feed the plants
- Ask if we can install a composter in my school and make a vegetable garden to put
the compost in
• In country areas I can:
- Check out existing biogas plants in my area
- Explain the process to my parents and talk to farmers that I know...
Did you know?
Cows burps and farts are made of gases, and methane is one of them. Farm animals
create 14,5% of worldwide human-caused greenhouse gas releases that add
to climate change. Scientists say if we feed the cows with lindseed instead of corn or soy,
we could cut back the amount of methane that they produce by 20%. Hmmm, some
also say, that it might make the animals sick. Well, all considered… nothing’s better
for a cow than grazing in a meadow…
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To reduce mydeserve
greenhouse gas emission,
an A if :
• Food: I buy local produce and choose seasonal fruits and vegetables. I eat less meat and avoid
industrialized frozen food. I put a cover on pots and pans when cooking (it heats 4 times faster
and uses 4 times less energy).
• Cooling and Heating: I turn off the AC and use natural ventilation whenever possible
and prefer a fan to AC (one of the most harmful appliances for the climate). In cold regions,
if I feel chilly, I put on a sweater. 19°C (66,2°F) is enough. I hunt down drafts coming under doors
or windows…and stop them.
• Waste: I respect the 7R rule: I Rethink the way I buy; I Refuse what I don’t need; I Reduce
my waste by choosing items with the least amount of packaging or… I chose Refill; I have
my things and clothes Repaired; I Reuse and always have some bags on me when I go shopping; I sort
my waste so that paper, cardboard, metal, glass and plastic can be Recycled. Globally, about
1,7 billion tons of waste are produced each year. Top 3 wasters are: the United States (800kg
a year per person), China and Japan. Best recycler is Austria with 63% of waste being recycled.
• Water: I turn off the tap when using the soap or brushing my teeth. I check for leaky taps.
I don’t flush after only 1 pee. I take a quick shower (30 liters) rather than a bath (150l, 5 times
more) and save the cold water while it gets warm to use it to water the plants.
• Electricity: I turn off the lights when I leave a room and don’t leave electric or electronic
equipment on standby. I don’t put warm food in the fridge and make sure the fridge door
is properly closed.
• Transport: I walk or ride my bike rather than take a car, I take the train rather than the plane;
I ask my parents if the family car’s engine is well tuned and the tires properly inflated; I suggest
carpooling with friends to save a ride.
• Above all: I set the example; I give a presentation to my class on how to protect
the environment; I explain to my friends, especially to the ones who say that environmentally
conscious behavior isn’t worth the effort…
Texts : Gilliane Le Gallic and Fanny Héros
Drawings : Kent
Layout : Elisabeth May
Editorial adviser: Philippe Decaux
Translation from French to English :
Gilliane Le Gallic, Christopher Horner, Linda Cohen,
Sarah Hemstock, Cat Moulogo, Gill Hickman
and her Ringwood school students (Jasmin, Sam,
Rebecca, Millie, Katy and Sam)
Thanks to Michel Courillon, Yves Leers, Dominique
Campana, Denis Tappero, Florence Clément, FarraH
Diod, Norman Barth (US Embassy), Lee Faeva Moresi,
Leota Sio, Captain Iefata Paeniu, Sailoto and the whole
TMTI team, Garry Wiseman (UNDP), Teuela Manuela,
the Nanumea biogas project volunteers: Tumao, Steven,
Piaka, Failase, Puatei and Nanumea Kaupule.
April 2014
Produced by
With the participation of Sikeli Raisuqe, Gilles Vaitilingom,
Kaio Tiira Taula, Eric Freycenon, Laurent Leguyader,
Monica Fossati, Fanny Vaucelle and Brigitte Cheilan
(teachers), Egon, Antonin, Louise, Alice, Jeanne...