Digesting the future: Could biodigesters offer a new way forward for renewable energy production?

Ishka Bess is an honour student at the University of New South Wales, investigating innovative new ways to implement biodigesters on the invidiual farm level. After all, animal production means animal waste and biodigesters thrive off this type of organic matter. Ishka is also after survey responses from pig and cattle farmers, so if you have a spare minute fill out the survey here. Over to you Ishka!

A biodigester converts biodegradable waste such as animal dung and green matter to biogas and biodigestate.

This may not sound classy but on a household-level, this offers small-farm holders a unique solution to waste management. While ensuring the safe removal of waste, biodigester technology provides direct returns and benefits to farming households. Biogas is a clean and versatile fuel that can be used for stove-top cooking and lighting. Biodigestate provides an organic fertiliser that can be used on farming land or sold as a source of income. The advantages of household-level biodigesters do however extend beyond their primary outputs, to provide economic, environmental and social benefits.

It is feasible to deliver biogas to 18.5 million, predominantly rural households [1]. Thus, where 38% of the world’s population lack access to clean cooking technology [2] biogas will play a crucial role in the realisation of Sustainable Development Goal 7. And, in countries such as Australia where rural and remote farming households have been hard hit by high electricity prices, power blackouts and low-voltage problems, household-level biodigesters provide a low-cost investment in a renewable energy alternative.

Yet, despite a long list of accolades, the long-term adoption of biodigester technology has failed to meet expectations. Several studies have analysed the barriers to biogas adoption and it is evident that we are failing to identify and incorporate the needs and priorities of small-farm holder households in the process of biodigester design, implementation and maintenance. Surprisingly, there is no current decision-support tool to assist decision-makers in incorporating the values and priorities of small-farm holder households across the design and development process.

So, here I am – setting out to do so! Having developed a decision-support model, I will be testing and validating the concept in an Australian context. In order to do so, I am looking to connect with Aussie small-farm holder dairy and pig farmers as well as beef cattle producers to complete a 10 minute survey. With their livestock being primed and ready to support biodigester technology, all contributions would be greatly appreciated.

The survey is accessible here.

References

[1] The World Bank, “The Power of Dung”, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, Washington, 2019.

[2] International Energy Agency, “Energy Access Outlook 2017”, International Energy Agency, Paris, 2017.

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