Poop piki piki for my biogas system

Piki piki means motorbike in Kiswahili

This gadget was created to solve a real problem with biogas – getting the dung to the system quickly and efficiently. Motorbikes are the taxi’s of Africa so why not? Before I tell you about the above gadget I just want to remind you about the problems we have been having to solve to get the biogas to work at home.

Installing biogas at home has a real experience in afrigadget – we have figured out by trial and error how to get the gas under pressure –

At first we tried using water pressure, but when we stepped back and looked at it we realized that it really wasn’t simple or appropriate for bush applications ..

In fact, all we needed to do was to put pressure on the bags.

The pressure wasn’t enough to run the stove until we modified the stove jets by enlarging them slightly.

Next we had to figure out how to get the dung to my digester – you see I don’t own cows but my neighbors who live a few kilometers away do and are selling it at a very nice rate of Ksh 50 (70 US cents) for two large buckets . The owners are happy to see the dung as it  accumulates in the nighttime stockades and attracts annoying flies that carry diseases if left on the land.

The problem I face is common to many folks around here, we rent houses  but we don’t have livestock. But there are huge cattle farms around us. So Dominic came up with a solution that creates jobs and moves poop quickly and efficiently.

So we went to the local juakali welder on the roadside to create a dungmobile ..a trailer designed specially for cow dung!

We tested it with a human load to ensure it is balanced … each bucket weighs about 50 kg.

And the first delivery arrived without a problem! 🙂  Big Thanks to Dominic Wanjihia who seems to always have a simple solution to any problem.

I know you are wondering, if it’s that easy, then why doesn’t everyone use biogas?

Now that I’ve got biogas running my kitchen I wonder why so few people have done so in Kenya. There are countless articles, publications, websites and people who will tell you that biogas is the most economical and environmentally sustainable way to produce energy. In fact, the benefits of Biogas have been known for tens of years, and hundreds of systems have been built in Kenya. But it hasn’t really taken off –  few of the installed systems are actually working and the uptake of biogas systems at a domestic level has been slower than slow – it’s virtually non-existent.  A review of biogas in Kenya reports that technical breakdowns has discouraged uptake but the main limiting factor is cost.

Here’s a simple comparison of costs – from continuing using charcoal/fuelwood or Kerosene and LPG to using various biogas options.

Options Cost (US$ ) Time to install (days) Labour Maintenance Durability
Fixed dome 1,500 – 2000 21 5 people Low Decades
Floating top 2,000 – 3,500 21 5 people Low Decades
Flexi bag envelope 400 1 1 person Low 10 – 15 years
Fuelwood  or LPG cylinders 200 (per year) 0 0 low Decades

For a simpleton like me these figures are immediately revealing – it takes 2 years to pay off a flexibag digester after which domestic fuel is free for at least the next 10 – 13 years. For the underground systems you have got to be  hugely rich, or suffering from environmental guilt to make the decision to switch to biogas – from an economic perspective it will take 10 to 20 years to pay back. You could grow your own trees and make your own charcoal  in that time frame….

Why is it so expensive for the constructed biogas systems? Because most of the biogas systems  in use are constructed systems requiring engineering and masonry, they are very expensive, take weeks to install, require experts, and intensive follow up. If they go wrong it’s a major engineering task to fix it. This is why we are promoting the flexible bag option for domestic and small industry use.

Congratulations to Skylink Award winning Kenyan  biogas innovators

We would ;like to congratulate Skylink Innovations who have just won a the Ashden 2010 Award for their biogas installations in Kenya.

Skylink recieve the Ashden Award from Sir Richard Attenborough

I thought skylink was an airline… Biogas operated planes???

Human waste digester under construction in Meru Prison

Their industrial scale system costs Ksh 1.6 million (US$ 19,753). Such installations may need to be financed by the Government institutions where they clearly make enormous economic and environmental sense for schools, prisons and other large institutions.

For small scale house hold units, we need solutions that will compete against the cost of installing LPG or using charcoal, firewood or kerosene stoves. When we talked to local Maasai near Nairobi they found the flexi bag systems appealing because they could be purchased with the sale of just 2 or 3 cows, can be rolled up and moved when they migrate, and it saves the women the work of searching for firewood, it’s hygenic because water can be heated for bathing children, while it also removes dangerous piles of rotting cow dung near the homesteads which are breeding sites for biting and disease carrying flies which affect livestock and people.

House hold jua kali gadgets

I’ve been going around and checking out what people have at home – here are some lovely ideas to save money while recycling

See through wire radio - and it works!

This amazing radio was purchased on the street in Johannesburg

Oil filter lamp shade - with a baboon skull
Spoon for a key - if it works, why not?
Part of a landrover to clean your shoes! Get one from junk yard
Or just nail an angle iron onto two posts of wood! A tile catches the mud
Jane from Mathare Valley made this to keep her new house in Kaputei clean

Recycled beer can hat – at Kitengela Glass

Have you created something juakali at home? Let us know – we will share your pictures!

Solving the flexible biogas digester problems

You’d think that given the amount of cow dung available around rural Africa that biogas would be a big hit right? Well, its actually relatively unknown. The main reason is materials, coast and complicated technology. People in these areas use charcoal or wood for their domestic cooking needs – its not only dirty hard work to collect firewood, but it’s unhealthy and damages the environment. But, it’s free …

We believe that  biogas from cow dung holds huge promise for rural and urban areas as a cheap source of energy that can be turned into domestic use or even business anywhere in rural Kenya….eg. pasturizing milk, making yoghurt, running fridges, generators, hammer mills for grinding corn, cooking, baking, heating water, running machines… and reducing your carbon footprint.

I have recently become the latest guinea pig for Dominic Wanjihias experiments … and it has been quite a learning experience

Problem No. 1.The system needs to be cheap and mobile for communities who don’t own land or who move regularly (pastoralists)

Simply Logic flexi -bag for biogas - small, cheap and made of parts you can find in any hardware
Biogas system on a motorbike in Kenya
You may need a Dominic to help set it up
It can be dirty work - but don't let that discourage you...

After only 2 weeks it will have ballooned like this

After only 2 weeks the bag will have inflated with methane - beautiful biogas
Great party trick: The biogas will burn and amaze

Problem No. 2. The pressure is not enough to light a stove. Nothing ever works as you initially planned that’s why having a fundi like Dominic around to modify, adapt and rethink as you go along helps so much.

To create pressure Dominic got two tanks, and did some juakali pipe connections. One tank was placed above the other. The lower tank was filled with water. Long pipes and short pipes were put through the lids and specially made holes in the tanks …  It’s all about applying simple physics really…

You need a few tools - all available at tusky's or Nakumatt

Then using a pump ..(we’ll be using a modified bicycle pump next time) he was able to move the gas from the flexi bag to the lower tank and displace water to the upper tank. This water creates enough back pressure to get the stove to light.. that’s the theory … here is what happened.

A curious boda boda rider (motorbike taxi) called Victor volunteered to help… Rhoda watched in awe

Victor pumped... others set up the stove

“Houston we have a problem” …Ok, accidents are bound to happen…pressure pushed the pipe off  and Victor got soaked..just water though. The top tank fills with water as you pump biogas into the bottom tank, and the water drains back to the bottom tank as the gas is used

Course all this hard work was not for nothing – we had to make a cup of tea –

It took 15 minutes for the water to boil!

Yes we are very very proud that the system worked so Cheers! a well deserved cup of tea.

We estimate that it took about 1/4 to 1/2 of the gas in one blue tank to boil the kettle – that’s about 1/8th of a cubic meter – and the entire flexi bag contains about 5 cubic meters… which means we have about 10 hours of gas use…..and the stuff is being produced all the time (we had quite some wastage as we fooled around to get the system to work)

Well it all seemed to be going just fine when …pssssssttttt

Houston, we have another problem...we sprung a leak!

Nothing serious but we were losing a bit of gas through one of the lids (holes had been drilled through the  lids to insert pipes) …we  need to fix that before we build up any pressure in that tank.

If you are interested in biogas let us know! Leave a comment.

Nokia: Bicycle Charger Kit for Mobiles

There was a major announcement today from Nokia about the release of cheap phones for the emerging markets, featuring dual sims and the ever useful LED flashlight. What is even more interesting is that with the launch of the phones, a bicycle charger kit. According to CNET Asia, the kit will be available by year’s end.

Bicycle charger kit for mobiles

Rounding up the announcements today is the Bicycle Charger Kit, which comprises a charger, dynamo and phone holder. When docked to the latter with a 2mm charger jack, the electrical generator will produce energy to juice up the handset. According to Nokia, the dynamo starts charging when the speed of the bicycle reaches 6kmh and stops when it hits 50kmh. It matches the efficiency of a normal charger when the bike is traveling at 12kmh.

The bicycle charger kit will be useful to many people in Kenya and other emerging markets, its only a matter of time before it is repurposed to charge other devices like small radios. All in all the phones seem AfriGadgetty, what with their dual sims; perfect for markets where people have more than one carrier – thinking of Nigeria here, where its not uncommon to see someone with multiple phones because of varying network coverage/dependability + LED flashlights, it is clear that Nokia is making products that have utility for millions of people around Africa. Personally I can’t wait to try out the phones and mobile kits as soon as I can get my hands on them. Come to think of it, this is hardware localization, something that could go hand in hand with the software localization we are clamoring for in the African market.

Bicycle charger kit for mobiles

For modded bicycle posts from the AfriGadget archive, click here.

Many thanks to my friend Cyrus for the heads up, I think he has just inspired me to blog again.

Genius strikes again: kids in village build radio from scrap parts

It is one thing to drool over the coming digital age in Africa just by studying the numbers, charts and info-graphics. It is a whole other experience to encounter the early signs of all of those numbers and projections in real life. An even bigger experience when you stumble upon genius in the making right in your back yard.

Remember these kids that built their own toys? Turns out creative genius runs in my family. (Must have skipped right over me, this gift. Le sigh.)

As I was leaving my mother’s house in Masindi after an all too brief visit, I stopped into the boys quarters to say bye to my little brother and two of my nephews. They were busy listening to the radio and I was wondering where the radio came from cause certainly my mother wouldn’t afford them such a luxury.

My jaw dropped and Afrigadget logos started spinning above my head in excitement all cartoon-style! After pestering my mother to get them a radio for the room they used as their club house to no avail. They decided to just embark on building one themselves.

So while on holiday from school, my brother Caleb, 12; my nephews Ronald, 15 and Jesse, 12 rounded up some scrap parts and built what you see above in about a day. I didn’t have enough time to interview them properly, but man was I smiling all the way to Kampala.

Mind you that this was done out of curiosity and not some educational endeavor. Can you imagine what else Africa’s kids could build given even a slight revamp of the education system? With nearly 50% of our population under the age of 15, just how many curious minds are just waiting for an opportunity to do something like this?

As an aside, you can’t tell me you would have thought to use a jerrican as a boombox! That’s just beyond mad genius. Anyone know of cheap engineering kits I could get them to continue to play?