Cameroon Contemplates on Producing Biogas from Human Waste

Bioenergy-Cameroon, a non-government organisation spearheaded by young people is initiating the turning of human waste into biogas. This initiative is providing inexpensive, renewable energy to the increasing populations of university towns in Buea and Bamenda.

This NGO are installing equipment that turns waste from pit latrines and septic tanks into biogas that can be used for cooking or heating and can supply energy to small generators to run electrical household appliances.

According to Cedrick Kemajou, Bioenergy’s coordinator, many people are discovering the use of cheap energy in their area and are both embracing the technology and learning the conversion process.

The organisation’s efforts are stimulating the use of clean energy in secondary schools and homes where grid electrical power supply is either unreliable or non-existent and alternative energy sources are very expensive.

The Project

Mayor of Buea, Patrick Ekema said that with the enormous growth of the university town of Buea, the government is having concerns on handling human waste. With the introduction of converting human waste to biogas, the government will not only be able to manage waste, but will also help residents in tackling sewage management problems.

Having waste and sewage in control, the council can attend to other developmental concerns such as providing clean water to the residents.

Generally, biogas is produced by attaching a septic tank to a bio-digester. The bio-digester breaks down organic matter and produces a natural gas called bio-methane.

The bio-digester and generators are installed and maintained at schools by students who are trained in the biogas conversion process and maintenance of the infrastructure.

Monique Ntumngia, coordinator of a Cameroonian NGO named Green Girls said that they target especially female students to be trained on how energy is generated from water, sun and human waste. The organisation’s goal is to break barriers and get the girls into innovative technology.

Currently, Green Girls has 600 trained girls in schools in the towns of Bafut, Mankon, and Nkwen.

Through the project of Green Girls, additional 3,000 households in Bamenda and Buea have obtained domestic bio-digesters and the demand is enormously growing.

A  female student from the University of Buea, Magdalene Lum, said that the project has helped her tremendously especially during blackouts that sometimes last for more than a week. The power from human waste will provide cheaper and constant electricity, Lum added.

Based on World Bank’s data, only 12 million out 23 million of Cameroon’s population have access to electricity.

Cameroon’s poorest can’t afford bottled cooking gas. According to Ministry of Trade, a 12 kilogram container of liquefied petroleum gas costs 6,000 FCFA (Central African Francs) or about $10. With the savings from using cheap biogas, families are able to spend their money on other essentials such as medical care and education.

Mercy Kum, a trader in Buea is one of the many that benefited from using biogas. She is spared the problem of paying electricity bills monthly and buying bottled gas which is often out of stock. Her savings helps her support her children’s schooling.

College officials are pleased that biogas enables to insulate the budgets of many households from the fluctuating rates of electricity due to availability of hydropower. Climate change causes more droughts and floods that tremendously affect hydropower plants.

Generation of biogas provides consistent supply of energy compared to hydroelectricity which is very unreliable, said Peter Nke, the principal of Baptist High School Buea.

The cost of installing and training to use and maintaining a bio-digester is 500,000,000,000 FCFA or about $800 to $1,100. This amount is paid by the household of institution that asks for the service. To share expenses and save, a group of homes can use a common bio-digester.

Biogas Technology

In Cameroon, turning waste into biogas is not something new, but producing it from human waste in various households and institutions, and training particularly female students on the conversion process is an innovation, according to the youth organizations.

Ntumngia said that many boarding schools in the Southwest and Northwest regions are now using biogas for lighting and cooking produced from human waste and managed by trained students.

Executive Secretary of the Center for Environment and Development (CED), a Cameroonian NGO, Samuel Nguiffo explained that many communities in urban areas still use kerosene or charcoal stoves for cooking. Apparently, production of charcoal creates a large demand for wood, which in turn leads to government’s imposition of bans on charcoal burning and forest devastation.

He further said that the use of biogas energy can help preserve and protect the country’s forests.

CED projects that the biogas project may reduce greenhouse gases by about 60 percent in the area of the projects, as well as decrease pollution from pit latrines and open air defecation.

Cameroon will derive massive economic, health and environmental benefits if renewable endeavors are spread throughout the country, Nguiffo added.

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