Using biogas to help poor

East London resident Thulani Bono is taking part in an initiative to bring renewable biogas to impoverished schools.

RECYCLING WASTE: ThulaniBono is working to provide a sustainable source of biogas to local communities
Picture: MATTHEW FIELD

The project is being organised by Finishes of Nature Global (Fong), an organisation dedicated to the promotion of biogas and waste reduction.

Bono was first inspired to help his community after seeing the difference between rural and urban schools.

“When I saw what was happening in rural schools compared to urban schools, there was an ache in my heart saying ‘what can be done’,” Bono said.

He got involved with Fong seven years ago and helped them roll out their pilot biogas project in Three Crowns School in the Drakensburg area.

“From there we explored how this project could be improved. This innovation exists, it works and it’s a matter of using reducing it to fit individual local schools,” Bono said.

The system proposed by Fong involves an extensive process.

Waste water is first introduced into a 4m-deep fermentation digester where heavy metals and parasites are trapped.

Solid sludge sinks to the bottom and is digested by bacteria over the course of hundreds of days.

The digester produces carbon dioxide, which then supports algal growth in the upper levels of a facultative pond.

The next step takes place in the high rate algal ponds where the effluent undergoes oxidisation.

The combination of dissolved oxygen produced by micro- algae and UV rays from the sun sterilises the effluent and destroys any pathogens that may be present.

A wind-powered paddle-wheel prevents the growth of algae on the surface and encourages the micro-algae to form easy-to-harvest clumps.

The algae can then be harvested to provide a highly-nutritious source of fertiliser.

The remaining effluent passes through to the maturation pond as highly oxygenated ‘bright’ water.

This pond is stocked with Mozambique tilapia which feed on the zooplankton within the effluent that blooms in the nutrient-rich environment.

The waste produced by the fish are mineralised within the pond, adding to the nutrient cycle. The water produced here is ideal for gardens given its high nutrient-value.

In addition to installing the system, Fong makes sure to train the community in operating and maintaining the system to help with self-sufficiency.

“They must be left with the knowledge because“If we go and install the system without that training, then there’s going to be no benefit,” Bono said.

In February, Bono was selected to take part in the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy which happened in June. The Academy consists of an eight-day workshop and an 18-month mentorship programme.

“In those eight days, it was basically about cultural immersion and being introduced to other social entrepreneurs from around the country,” Bono said.

One of the facilitators who spoke at the workshop was William Kamkwamba, who became famous after constructing a wind- operated water pump for his village out of scrap metal.

The mentorship programme places a mentor with each participant who observes the progress of their businesses and offers advice.

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