Small scale biogas production and distribution in Swaziland

The overall expected project output was to build a biogas pilot plant that aims to use pig manure to produce household energy to be used for cooking at the community of Lwandle in the Manzini region, Swaziland. This biogas will then be purified and bottled into gas cylinders, which beneficiaries will to take home to use for cooking. It was expected that through the use of bottled biogas from the plant, the end user (each household) will save 200 Euros worth of Liquefied Petroleum Gas per year.

The project was planned to be a showcase project of biogas as an option for meeting some energy needs in Swaziland. The original plan was to build one biogas digester which would produce biogas to provide energy to the piggery. In addition, the plan was to provide clean biogas cookstoves and bottled biogas in gas cylindersto the community to compensate the work the women (one from each of 20 households) contributed to build up the biogas plant. The broader objective was to use this project as an example to roll out similar plants across the country. The original target was to achieve the following outputs:

  • One biogas digester plant to be constructed at the farm located at the Manzini region.
  • A biogas purifier, gas compressor unit
  • 24 stoves to be distributed to 20 households, school and orphanage
  • 24kg gas cylinders, filled with biogas to be distributed to 20 households, school and orphanage

The biogas plant was expected to produce 75m3 of gas per day. Originally the beneficiaries would have been 20 households using the stoves and bottled biogas for cooking and the piggery benefiting from the biogas production. Shortly after starting off with the project, it became a reality that distributing the bottled biogas to the households was not achievable (too complex and risky to carry out at household level). Also the stoves were never purchased due to challenges with the overall project objectives.

Eventually, two biogas digester plants were constructed instead of one because there was not enough manure at the chosen site to feed one big tank and there were also concerns about the operation stability of one large plant during the cold months. Initially 500 pigs were supposed to be present on the farm, currently there are only about 100. The biogas digesters have been constructed and pipelines to the piggery are in place. There are few remaining activities to be done to make the biogas plant operational.

Lessons learnt:

The business model for a small-scale biogas production must be carefully assessed. The project was not technically feasible from the beginning and bottling and delivering biogas at a household consumer level is extremely challenging to make feasible and low in risks.

The co-financing is always recommendable to be secured to the level that a project is not fully depended on grant funding that is reimbursable by its nature. This project has had challenges with the funding and the time schedule due to lack of funds.

The biogas technology, even at a small scale, must be installed and tested by people who are familiar with the concept. The farm owner was not comfortable starting to run the production without an expert’s assessment and training. To make the project functional, to produce biogas for the piggery and farm workers, the ECO team has provided a detailed, standard manual of how to run this type of biogas digester to the project develope and the farm owner. The ECO team is also currently busy planning the business and technical support plan to carry out the remaining actitivities at the plant. The project developer is also busy seeking the support from the ministry.

For the continuation of the project, a MoU should be drawnup between an biogas expert (company, university, etc) and the farm owner to ensure that the site can be accessed for educational and biogas training purposes. As this was the purpose of the project initially, to create a reference plant for small scale biogas production from pig manure in Swaziland, this project neds to be accessible to persons and community members that would like to replicate it. Some University students have already been involved with operating the digester during its first fill, but this as not sustainabley managed. A working agreement between the farm owner and operator and the University should therefore be put in place.