Human waste

Brown treasure?

Biogas, approximately 60 percent methane by volume, is generated through the bacterial breakdown of organic matter in an oxygen free system. Image: Corinne Schuster-Wallace, UNU-INWEH

11/9/2015 — For United Nations researchers, waste is too valuable to waste.

The United Nations University's Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health has partnered with other agencies to create a pilot program that takes human waste from a Ugandan school’s latrines and transforms it into biogas and residue material that can be used as fuel. The series of vessels containing the waste relies on anaerobic digestion technologies.

Called Waste to Wealth, the initiative is funded by Grand Challenges Canada along with the Ugandan Ministry of Water and Environment, its agencies, and other NGO and academic institutions. There are other pilot projects in Africa funded with grants from Grand Challenges Canada for collecting waste and processing it into agricultural or energy products.

A report this week from the Institute for Water, Environment and Health says that biogas from human waste worldwide could have a value of up to $9.5 billion in natural gas equivalent. Dried and charred residue could be used as a substitute for charcoal—some 2 million tons of it—which would mean fewer trees would be cut down. Which would help mitigate climate change.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, dealing with human waste as a potential economic boon in a systematic way will improve human sanitation and environmental health in developing countries.

"Rather than treating our waste as a major liability, with proper controls in place we can use it in several circumstances to build innovative and sustained financing for development while protecting health and improving our environment in the process," according to the report, "Valuing Human Waste as an Energy Resource."

Approximately 60 percent methane by volume, biogas is produced through the bacterial breakdown of fecal matter, and other organic matter, in an anaerobic—oxygen free—system. Dried and processed fecal sludge comes with an energy content that’s like coal and charcoal.

According to the United Nations, 2.4 billion people don’t have access to adequate toilets. And about 1 billion people, 600 million of them in India, just poop outside, anywhere they can.

Let’s say someone could collect the waste of these 600 million people and then process it. The biogas it could generate would be valued at more than $200 million annually, reaching almost $376 million. And it could generate enough electricity for 10 to 18 million households. And the processed residual fecal sludge could replace 4.8 to 8.5 million tons of charcoal for industrial furnaces.

More news >>

The United Nations University, established in 1973, is the academic and research arm of the United Nations.

This story was based on information obtained from the AAAS. Source >>

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