Nelly Bassily | September 26, 2011
The dusty barrels standing outside family compounds in the Léona neighbourhood of Kaolack, Senegal are signs of the growing popularity of biogas as a source of energy. For the past two months, Amadou Faye and his household of 25 have relied exclusively on biogas energy produced from livestock waste.
Mr. Faye’s family raises cows, goats and sheep and grows groundnuts. They are early adopters of biogas. Mr. Faye says, “To spend 300,000 CFA francs [over 600 US dollars] … to install biogas is difficult. But I think it’s important. Since we started using this energy, I haven’t had problems with electricity cuts.”
Nearly every West African country is wrestling with frequent power cuts. In Senegal, cuts have led to public demonstrations against the national electric company, which is struggling to keep up with demand. Firewood and charcoal present environmental and health problems. So Senegal, along with Burkina Faso, has turned to biogas as a partial solution.
Senegal’s National Biogas Program (known as PNB in French) is supporting the construction of thousands of biodigesters by local masons. Biodigesters feature an underground tank and a system of barrels. Owners add cow dung and water to the tank each morning. The gas produced is trapped in barrels and then piped to the household kitchen.
Alassane Dème is secretary general of Senegal’s Ministry for Energy. He explains, “The fermentation of the mixture of dung and other waste will produce, in conditions similar to human digestion, methane gas.” In addition to gas, biodigesters also produce organic fertilizer.
Mr. Dème says that a major obstacle to the program is the high cost of installation. Each biodigester costs between 800 and 920 US dollars, depending on its size. The Senegalese government subsidizes between 35 and 50 per cent of this cost, according to the energy ministry. Eight thousand biodigesters are expected to be built between now and 2013.
Ignace Ouédraogo is head of PNB in Burkina Faso, which has also begun experimenting with biogas. He says the cost of a six cubic metre biodigester varies between 850 and 1100 dollars. This is higher than in Senegal, but here too the government is subsidizing start-up costs.
Mr. Ouédraogo explains, “The government allocated a subsidy of 160,000 CFA (around 340 dollars) per biodigester … the beneficiary contributes up to 190,000 CFA (400 US dollars) in cash.”
Back in Senegal, Mr. Faye notes the practicality of biogas, saying, “We have our own energy source. I can easily find replacement parts when it is damaged, because … the company responsible for the installation provides them to us.” For him, biogas is a good alternative to charcoal, firewood and the unreliable electricity supply.