News from the field: work at Indian rural technology institute
It may sound wishfully ambitious. But if everything goes well, Calum Thompson, an EWB-UK volunteer, may well be drawing up a set of parameters and testing engines running on biogas in practice in a small city on the West coast of India.
Thompson, a mechanical engineering graduate, is currently on a three-month-long internship at the Appropriate Rural Technology Institute (ARTI) at Phaltan in Maharashtra, India.
Part of EWB's placements scheme, which offers voluntary placements to students at partner organizations in developing countries to meet their demand for technical support, ARTI was selected once again after a successful placement in 2007.
ARTI is a 12-year-old scientific society established by a group of Indian scientists , technologists and social workers to develop and transfer innovative and sustainable rural technologies to rural people to ensure income generation and a better quality of life for them.
Efficient production of biogas from waste food, as compared to the conventional practise of generating it from manure/sewerage in India, is one of the key projects of ARTI. Thompson, who is involved with this project, is intrigued by the efficacy of the technology.
"I am surprised at the effectiveness of the technology in general," he says. "It works really well and is a good alternative to the rising fuel prices."
Thomspson is working specifically on producing electricity from biogas. He is currently testing an engine/generator set running fully (100 per cent) on biogas and determining the optimum operating parameters to achieve high electricity production efficiency.
"I am also working on reconfiguring an old scooter engine to run on 100 per cent biogas for use with water pumps," he says and adds,"If testing goes well i will draw up a set of operating procedures and test the engines in practice."
ARTI won the Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy in 2006 for developing a compact biogas plant, which uses waste food as feedstock to supply biogas for cooking. The plant is currently in use in 2000 households in Maharashtra, both in urban and rural areas.
ARTI is the only organization in the world to have won the Ashdon Award twice. The first one was awarded for its chain of technologies for converting agricultural waste into charcoal and using it as a clean domestic fuel.
Developed by Dr. Anand Karve, who heads ARTI, the compact biogas system , which uses starchy or sugary feedstock like waste grain flour, spoilt grain, overripe fruit etc., is nearly 800 times more efficient than the conventional system of producing biogas from manure, cow dung and sewerage.
If Thompson is successful, the biogas system, which is so far being used directly for cooking, could be used to produce electricity.
"The project is technically challenging but we have managed to get over most of the hurdles." says Thompson. Despite the difficulties, the most rewarding experience for him has been the massive development potential that the project holds. "I am delighted to be associated with such a project. It makes the effort truly worthwhile. Besides, I am also understanding the culture of India and experiencing a different way of life, which is a wonderful opportunity in itself," he adds.
- Read more about EWB-UK's project partners in 2008