IMPACT JOURNALISM DAY 2015: WATER/CLEAN ENERGY

Making, moving biogas easily

B(pack) is a biogas-filled backpack, seen here being used in Ethiopia, that weighs less than 5kg when fully inflated. It is created by B(energy), a German social enterprise, that helps poor rural communities turn their organic waste – such as manur
B(pack) is a biogas-filled backpack, seen here being used in Ethiopia, that weighs less than 5kg when fully inflated. It is created by B(energy), a German social enterprise, that helps poor rural communities turn their organic waste – such as manure or kitchen waste – into energy. PHOTO: JAMES JEFFREY

MS BELETE Tura straps a large, lightweight pack to her back before starting her short walk to a nearby biogas facility in Arsi Negele, in the Central Rift Valley of Ethiopia.

She is participating in a pioneering scheme that gives her clean and affordable energy.

The inflatable pillow, or (B)pack, is a biogas backpack created by (B)energy, a social enterprise in Germany. The project helps poor rural communities turn their organic waste - such as manure or kitchen waste - into energy.

The founder of (B)energy, Ms Katrin Puetz, is an agricultural engineer who learnt about the potential of biogas while studying for her degree.

  • SNIPPETS

  • Turning fog into drinking water

    FOR the first time in North Africa, a new flagship project is turning fog into safe drinking water.

    The "fog sensing" principle is a technique that uses a special net stretched between two poles to trap water droplets in the fog.

    When the wind pushes the fog across the net, it condenses and falls into a container placed below the net.

    The site where the nets are built for the "Reaping the fog" project is located in the mountains of Ait Boutmezguida, Morocco, at an altitude of 1,225m.

    This unique project was initiated by the Association Dar If Hmad which promotes development, education and culture. It benefits about 400 people living in the village.

    Women in the village were trained to use mobile phones to report on the progress of the project via SMS and phone calls.

    FATIHA NAKHLI/ L'ECONOMISTE-MAROC (MOROCCO)

  • Storing solar, wind energy

    HOW do you store energy from renewable sources?

    A team from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) has been working for four years on building a storage system that can store the energy and release it at times of peak consumption.

    One project looks at producing a battery capable of storing solar and wind energy.

    "The starting point was to use a redox battery," said doctoral student Veronique Amstutz, 29. These batteries, which were developed by Nasa in the 1970s, store energy in liquid form.

    The battery is made up of a solution, a mixture of salt of vanadium (a metal) and water, which enables energy to be stored.

    This is what makes the project unique: By passing the vanadium solution through a powder, a chemical reaction produces hydrogen. This production of hydrogen takes its energy from the liquid, which returns to the battery discharged.

    "This process has many other advantages: It's cheaper, lasts longer than a lithium battery and is safer," said Ms Amstutz.

    SOPHIE DAVARIS/24 HEURES AND LA TRIBUNES DE GENEVE (SWITZERLAND)

It's a cheap and renewable source of energy: The dung of one goat mixed with kitchen waste and waste water produces enough biogas to supply the daily energy needs of three people.

While working on her master's thesis in Germany, Ms Puetz came up with a range of biogas products. She established (B)energy with her own savings.

The (B)pack has to be used with (B)plant, a digester in which organic waste (manure, kitchen waste and agricultural residues) and liquid (waste water and urine) are mixed together and decomposed anaerobically to produce biogas, which is mostly methane and carbon dioxide.

The digester is available in several sizes. The smallest, which costs around €200 (S$302), can produce a daily biogas output of 2.5 cubic metres, or eight hours of cooking time.

Each (B)pack costs around €45 and weighs less than 5kg when fully inflated.

Ms Tura, who used to collect wood to burn for fuel, now spends an hour each day cooking, instead of three.

She has been saving the equivalent of €10 a month in energy bills - a big sum as the average monthly salary in Ethiopia is just four times that.

MATTHEW NEWSOME/SPARKNEWS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2015, with the headline 'Making, moving biogas easily'. Print Edition | Subscribe