Biogas from Crop Wastes: European Perspectives

Most, if not all of Europe has a suitable climate for biogas production. The specific type of system depends on the regional climate. Regions with harsher winters may rely more on animal waste and other readily available materials compared to warmer climates, which may have access to more crop waste or organic material.

Regardless of suitability, European opinions vary on the most ethical and appropriate materials to use for biogas production. Multiple proponents argue biogas production should be limited to waste materials derived from crops and animals, while others claim crops should be grown with the intention of being used for biogas production.

Biogas Production From Crops

Europeans in favor of biogas production from crops argue the crops improve the quality of the soil. Additionally, they point to the fact that biogas is a renewable energy resource compared to fossil fuels. Crops can be rotated in fields and grown year after year as a sustainable source of fuel.

Extra crops can also improve air quality. Plants respire carbon dioxide and can help reduce harmful greenhouse gasses in the air which contribute to global climate change.

Biogas crops can also improve water quality because of plant absorption. Crops grown in otherwise open fields reduce the volume of water runoff which makes it to lakes, streams and rivers. The flow of water and harmful pollutants is impeded by the plants and eventually absorbed into the soil, where it is purified.

Urban residents can also contribute to biogas production by growing rooftop or vertical gardens in their homes. Waste from tomatoes, beans and other vegetables is an excellent source of biogas material. Residents will benefit from improved air quality and improved water quality as well by reducing runoff.

Proponents of biogas production from crops aren’t against using organic waste material for biogas production in addition to crop material. They believe crops offer another means of using more sustainable energy resources.

Biogas Production From Waste Materials Only

Opponents to growing crops for biogas argue the crops used for biogas production degrade soil quality, making it less efficient for growing crops for human consumption. They also argue the overall emissions from biogas production from crops will be higher compared to fossil fuels.

Growing crops can be a labor-intensive process. Land must be cleared, fertilized and then seeded. While crops are growing, pesticides and additional fertilizers may be used to promote crop growth and decrease losses from pests. Excess chemicals can run off of fields and degrade the water quality of streams, lakes and rivers and kill off marine life.

Once crops reach maturity, they must be harvested and processed to be used for biogas material. Biogas is less efficient compared to fossil fuels, which means it requires more material to yield the same amount of energy. Opponents argue that when the entire supply chain is evaluated, biogas from crops creates higher rates of emissions and is more harmful to the environment.

Agricultural residues, such as rice straw, are an important carbon source for anaerobic digestion

The supply chain for biogas from agricultural waste materials is more efficient compared to crop materials. Regardless of whether or not the organic waste is reused, it must be disposed of appropriately to prevent any detrimental environmental impacts. When the waste material is then used for biogas production, it creates an economical means of generating useful electricity from material which would otherwise be disposed of.

Rural farms which are further away from the electric grid can create their own sources of energy through biogas production from waste material as well. The cost of the energy will be less expensive and more eco-friendly as it doesn’t have the associated transportation costs.

Although perspectives differ on the type of materials which should be used for biogas production, both sides agree biogas offers an environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to using fossil fuels.

Clean Cookstoves: An Urgent Necessity

Globally, three billion people in the developing nations are solely dependent on burning firewood, crop residues, animal manure etc for preparing their daily meals on open fires, mud or clay stoves or simply on three rocks strategically placed to balance a cooking vessel.  The temperature of these fires are lower and produce inefficient burning that results in black carbon and other short-lived but high impact pollutants.

These short-lived pollutants not only affect the persons in the immediate area but also contribute much harmful gases more potent than carbon dioxide and methane. For the people in the immediate area, their health is severely hampered as this indoor or domestic air pollution results in significantly higher risks of pneumonia and chronic bronchitis.

To remedy the indoor air pollution (IAP) and health-related issues as well as the environmental pollution in the developing world, clean cookstoves are the way to advance. But to empower rural users to embrace the advanced cookstoves, and achieve sustainable success requires a level of socio-cultural and economic awareness that is related directly to this marginalized group. The solution needs to be appropriate for the style of cooking of the group which means one stove model will not suit or meet the needs and requirements of all developing nation people groups.

Clean cookstoves can significantly reduce health problems caused by indoor air pollution in rural areas

Consideration for such issues as stove top and front loading stove cooking, single pot and double pot cooking, size of the typical cooking vessel and the style of cooking are all pieces of information needed to complete the picture.  Historically, natural draft systems were devised to aid the combustion or burning of the fuels, however, forced draft stoves tend to burn cleaner with better health and environmental benefits. Regardless of cookstove design, the components need to be either made locally or at least available locally so that the long term life of the stove is maintainable and so sustainable.

Now, if the cookstove unit can by powered by  simple solar or biomass system, this will change the whole nature of the life style and domestic duties of the chief cook and the young siblings who are typically charged with collecting the natural firewood to meet the cooking requirement.

Therefore the cookstoves need to be designed and adapted for the people group and their traditional cooking habits, and not in the reverse order. To assess the overall performance of the green cooking stoves requires simple but effective measures of the air quality. The two elements that need to be measured are the black carbon emissions and the temperature of the cooking device.  This can be achieved by miniature aerosol samplers and temperature sensors. The data collected needs to be transmitted in real-time via mobile phones for verification of performance rates.  This is to provide verifiable data in a cost effective monitoring process.