About This Project
Access to energy is arguably one of the most important prerequisites for a community’s well-being. However, energy is limited in many areas. Moreover, if energy is available, it may be unreliable, labor intensive, unsafe to retrieve, unhealthy and environmentally unfriendly. Biogas can alleviate these problems. Biogas generators are inexpensive, safe and easy to build. We propose to build a biogas generator on campus as a pilot study, followed by two in distressed Appalachian communities.
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What is the context of this research?
Although access to reliable energy is critical to the development and well-being of communities, energy is limited in many parts of the world, including the United States. Decomposition of waste (e.g. landfills and degradation, animal waste) produces enough natural gas (i.e., methane) to significantly support the needs of these communities. Biogas generators take advantage of this natural decomposition process and provide energy for communities around the world, in a simple and inexpensive way. Furthermore, as a greenhouse gas, methane is ~25x more powerful than CO2, so the capture and use of methane has both community and global benefits. However, biogas generators are not as ubiquitous as we would expect, and we would like to know why that is the case.
What is the significance of this project?
Small-scale biogas generators have been in use for over 50 years and are an effective way of providing cheap, reliable, clean energy. Biogas generators have ancillary benefits to health and hygiene as they can be used to boil water for drinking and washing. Despite these benefits, biogas generators are not globally ubiquitous. With this project, we plan to address the following questions: Why is kitchen waste not used as a primary organic-substrate? Can kitchen waste alone provide sufficient energy? Why do many small-scale biogas generators fail? Why are there no/few generators in many parts of the U.S. with limited energy sources (e.g. Appalachia)?
What are the goals of the project?
(1) Install a 55-gallon pilot campus generator. 55-gallon drums are accessible and inexpensive. We will monitor the digestion process, and make any necessary adjustments, before building a fixed-dome generator. Campus kitchen waste will be used as the organic substrate. We will use the fertilizer effluent on campus. Gas will be used for cooking in the College’s Fair Trade Café.
(2) Upgrade to fixed-dome generator on campus. This type is the most widely used domestic generator, the most beneficial and cost effective under many climate conditions.
(3) Build fixed-dome generators in two underserved Appalachian communities, where we will test a broad range of climate, environmental and social factors.
(4) Civic learning - connecting hands-on science to real world challenges.
They will be used to build a 55-gallon pilot generator on campus, a fixed-dome generator on campus, and two fixed-dome generators in two distressed communities in Appalachia
Meet the Team
I’m a geology professor at Franklin & Marshall
College (Lancaster, PA). More specifically, I’m a structural geologist,
so basically I study how mountains form. I essentially get paid to hike
around the world! Anyway, during my field-work, I’ve come across severe
poverty. I soon learned that most of the world’s poorest live in
mountainous regions. I can no longer, with a clean conscience, study the
formation of mountains without giving back to the people who live there.
Biogas generators are becoming more prevalent in
mountainous regions and may be one of the easiest ways to help a
community. I’d like to set up a biogas
generator on campus, as a pilot study, and then set up some generators in
distressed communities in Appalachia.
Some of the poorest communities in Appalachia are less than 90 miles
from Franklin & Marshall College. My ultimate goal is to help set up
generators in refugee camps and other distressed areas around the world.
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