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.

Hardware Hacking: Handmade Tools in Africa

I’ve written about handmade tools in Africa before, but it didn’t generate a ton of interest, so I’ve not followed-up on it very much in my travels. I was really happy to see that another person was intrigued by this though, Kevin Kelly has a post where Tom Ritchey, master bike frame builder, sent him pictures of hand-made tools he spotted at bike shops in Rwanda.

Fabrication is an important skill in developing nations. Along the whole process you see reuse taking place, even down to the tools being used to create the items in question.

A Kenyan micro-entrepreneur recently told me:

In the sixties, during the space race between Russia and the U.S.A the Russian Engineers, when told there was no more money for the budget philosophically said “now we have no money then we can think” and they were able to be tremendously creative when compared to the Americans despite the limited funds at their disposal. This is the same approach I use in my initiatives.

As I’m not the only one who thinks these are pretty cool, I’m digging into the AfriGadget Flickr Group to pull out a picture that I never published here on the blog. These are small engine repair tools built to work on motorcycles, generators and lawnmowers (among other things):

Modified Small Engine Repair Tools

And finally, a video of Bernard, one of the local small engine repair guys in Nairobi (who’s shop has since disappeared) talking about how he makes some of the tools: