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The impact and challenges of sustainable biogas implementation: moving towards a bio-based economy

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Background: Engineers face increasing pressure to manage and utilize waste (whether of animal, human or municipal origin) in a sustainable way. We suggest that a solution to the problem of organic waste in rural communities lies in their being able to convert it to biogas technology. This would offer smallholders and farmers a long-term, cheap and sustainable energy source that is independent of the national electricity grid. However, although the technology involved in making biogas from waste has already been fully developed, there are obstacles impeding its adoption. First, there is a general ignorance about this source of energy among the very people who can most benefit from using it. Second, at present, South Africa has no regulatory framework to support the installation of biodigesters. Methods: The research focused on the current gap between knowledge and need. The two objectives were raising general awareness of the many and varied benefits that biodigestion can offer, especially to rural communities, and demonstrating how it works. Using science events as a platform, the team introduced the concept of biodigestion, its functioning and uses, to their audiences, and then invited informal responses, which were recorded. The second stage, the case study, entailed the setting up of a small-scale (10 m3) household biodigester in the Muldersdrift community in Gauteng, South Africa. It was put into operation, using fresh cow dung as the feed. Members of the community were invited to watch every step of the process and afterwards were asked to participate in a more formal survey, which sought their opinions on whether biodigestion offers a power source the individual farmer could (and would) use. Results: The results presented in this paper were derived from a comparison of the ‘before-and-after-installation’ responses of the persons interviewed. We found that the members of the Muldersdrift community who had been involved in both phases of the case study (explanation followed by experience of a hands-on educational example) had become more willing to adopt the technology. Conclusions: The results justified our contention that, to ensure a greater adoption of biogas technology in South Africa, it is necessary to provide targeted communities with educational programmes and exposure to pilot plants.




Muvhiiwa, R., Hildebrandt, D., Chimwani, N., Ngubevana, L., & Matambo, T. (2017). The impact and challenges of sustainable biogas implementation: moving towards a bio-based economy. Energy, Sustainability and Society, 7(1).

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