Biogas as an alternative source of fuel in schools

Biogas in schools in Kenya
Biogas replaces conventional fuel like kerosene and firewood, thus preserving the environment. Photo: Joyous Begisen / UNDP Kenya

Until recently, 1000 mature trees were felled every year to provide cooking fuel for Njuri High School, at a cost of about KES 400,000 (USD 40 000). Located in Tharaka Nithi County on the foothills of Mount Kenya, Njuri High school is representative of the high dependence of most learning institutions in Kenya on biomass - firewood, charcoal, straw and crop residues - as a source of energy.

Biogas technology, installed in the school through UNDP and the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Program , is now providing a clean source of cooking fuel and energy for lighting; replacing kerosene or firewood and preserving the environment.

Biogas also minimizes health-related problems for the students like common colds, pneumonia or typhoid.  “This area is cold and some students got sick bathing with cold water. With firewood, we had to wait for the food to be cooked before we could get boiled drinking water or hot water for bathing. In fact, most students would attend morning preps without showering. Now, hot water is readily available at any time,” explains the school head girl, Ms. Flora Mugambi.

As an added bonus, the biogas plant has made learning more practical and enjoyable. “In our final year, we have a whole topic on organic chemistry, and the bio system is a living application of the production of methane gas ,” says Mugambi.

According to the United Nations, around 3 billion people rely on wood, charcoal, dung and coal for cooking and heating, which results in over four million premature deaths a year due to indoor air pollution (PDF).

Cooks at Njuri High School are no longer at risk of being part of these statistics. Use of biogas has significantly reduced indoor pollution within the kitchen, and cooks are no longer exposed to firewood smoke or prone to respiratory illnesses and eye ailments.

The school generator is also powered by the 48m3 biogas plant.  Whenever there is a power outage at night, students can go on with their studies uninterrupted.

Decreasing use of firewood leads to significant expense reduction for the schools, which can channel this money into better classrooms or expand their livestock. Photo: Joyous Begisen / UNDP Kenya

Additional dorms are currently under construction to accommodate the rising number of students the school admits every year. “Our decreasing firewood consumption has led to a significant reduction in our expenses. We have channeled this money into construction of better classrooms and buying more animals,” notes the school principal, Mr. Chrispus Ndeke.

Ndeke also explains that the slurry from the plant provides an excellent fertilizer that has increased the productivity of the school farm. This means additional savinga as the school consumes its own farm produce instead of buying from the market.

The school has also been able to preserve 10 acres wood land that would otherwise have been felled for fuel. Additionally, the biogas project gave rise to an environment school club which established  a seed bed and tree nursery. The club  has grown 500,000 seedlings which will be used to expand the school woodlot and the rest will be sold to the community at a subsidized rate.

Kenya’s Energy Regulatory Commission notes that biogas is widely produced in the country with over 8000 plants utilizing various raw materials e.g. agricultural wastes, slaughterhouse waste and municipal wastes. However, there is no consolidated data on biogas production making it a challenge in determining the country’s overall capacity.  Still, the Commission is optimistic that the future of biogas in Kenya is bright, with a potential of over 1000 Megawatts.

The plant at Njuri High school, set up at a cost of KES 2.2  million (around USD 21 0000, has been in operation for one year now. The school now serves as a model for other academic institutions on the eastern side of Mt. Kenya and several heads of schools have visited the biogas system, with the intention of installing their own.

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