Faecal sludge to biodiesel (Columbia University, USA and Kumasi, Ghana)


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  • mv2368
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Re: Faecal sludge to biodiesel (Columbia University, USA and Kumasi, Ghana)

Dear Dorothee,

Thank you for your questions! Indeed, a new organization has now taken over the site in Kumasi. Nonetheless, the project continues in New York at Columbia University labs. During our pilot phase in Ghana, there was a reassessment of the original objectives and new ones have been introduced. More funding was received to look into the following:

1. Pathogen removal through fermentation/digestion
2. Inclusion of other feedstocks
3. Methane to methanol conversion
4. Other processes for lipid production from fermentate.

This research project is ongoing and we are glad to be receiving one of our collaborators, a PhD student from Kwame Nkrumah University of Technology, visiting for a few months to carry out some of these experiments.

Based on the pilot research findings, it was determined that more laboratory research needs to be carried out before scaling up the process.

We will keep SuSanA posted!

FS2BD team
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  • timwikoff
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Re: Faecal sludge to biodiesel (Columbia University, USA and Kumasi, Ghana)

Dear Dorothee and Naomi,

Thank you for the questions about the biodiesel research. I would like to address your questions in this reply but I'm also attaching some financial analysis of the revenue streams and operating costs. You will notice on the assumptions tab that you can manipulate the various revenue scenarios to explore which combination of endpoints makes sense in the Ghanaian context.

You will see on the summary tab some high level observations - I would be interested in your feedback and questions after you have a chance to experiment with the model. Please note that this exploration focused on the revenues and opex primarily because our research indicated that the challenges present in Cost of Goods Sold were the main bottleneck to profitability. Based on our research the capex would also be significant but there is grant money available to cover these expenses if one were able to build a profitable/sustainable operating model, which you will see proves tougher than we might have thought.

Feedback on your questions:
To what extent does a demand for biodiesel exist in Ghana?
Based on our research there is no extra demand or premium for biodiesel. However, we did define with several potential buyers that if we were to hit the Ghana Standards Board quality certification for biodiesel and we sold at or below the price for traditional diesel we would have a market vastly larger than our production capacity. This was primarily based on demand from the mining industry and the need for many companies to run backup electricity systems on diesel generators.

Are the local technologies able to be fed with biodiesel instead of fossils?
Yes. The mining industry possesses all the necessary technology without need for modification. Also as a tropical country, any of the cold weather issues experienced in the north are not a problem in Ghana.

You mentioned that you would like to set up a social business model that aims at financing and incentivising complete urban sanitation.
I represent Waste Enterprisers, a local partner on this project. It is our stated corporate mission to validate and replicate profitable models of resource recover in order to finance urban sanitation in SSA in a completely new way. The ultimate goal of the research was commercialization but you will see in the model we do not currently have the correct process nor can we generate sufficient lipid yield to reach financial sustainability on the back of biodiesel. We hope that continued research by Columbia might begin to dismantle some of these challenges so the model can be taken forward in the future.

Will the revenues of the biofuel sales thus be directly reinvested into building urban sanitation?
Again, that was the original goal. A profit-based resource recovery model that allows for expansion of sanitation to the urban poor who otherwise struggle to afford pit emptying services and are therefore excluded from the sanitation value chain.

How high is the sanitation coverage at present? And what sanitation systems are you intending to use?
In Accra, approximately 1500m3 are collected everyday by an active network of privately owned exhauster trucks. However, these services often do not include the poorest as an average tank emptying fee hovers around $100. And regardless, that entire amount of FS is dumped directly into the ocean without any treatment. In Kumasi (Ghana's second city), the figure is closer to 1000m3 but that is at least dumped into a treatment pond system. However, due to lack of funding those ponds are not desludged regularly and their effectiveness in treating the waste stream is suspect.

Are you pilot plant results promising and are there plans to scale up?
While the project made progress in technology and business model development, the financial analysis does not indicate that now is the right time to scale up biodiesel technology. There are some interesting results concerning methane to methanol which are there to explore in the future, but for now we will not be scaling this technology.

Was there any work already done on the optimization of the fecal sludge collection system as a raw material for the process?
Waste Enterprisers is currently working on collection issues for a different business model in Kenya but we found that working with the truck companies would have been sufficient to start the business in Ghana. Ghana has a well developed network of companies that do collection. We would certainly work with them to expand services to the poor and improve service quality, but we would be helping improve a working system in that case, not creating a new system.

And do you have primary results on the financial viability of the system "collection of fecal sludge - biodiesel production - biodiesel selling" in Kumasi?
Please see the attached. Due to the active nature of the truck companies, you will not see numbers on the collection side as that was not explored in the research. The costs of biodiesel production are explored in the attached. Regarding sales, the assumption was made that 100% of the product could be sold locally at the going rate of diesel. As stated above this was a direct result of market research conducted at the beginning of the project.

Thanks to you both for your questions and interest. Please do follow up with any more thoughts.

Tim Wade
Waste Enterprisers Holding llc

Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors as this was written in the forum editor and I might not have caught everything.
Timothy Wade, MBA
Partner and Chief Business Development Officer

Waste Enterprisers Holding LLC
Pivot Ltd.

Mobile: +1 206 650 8025
Skype: timwikoff

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  • pkjha
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  • Working for over 30 years in the fields of sanitation, biogas from human wastes, septage management, waste water treatment in rural as well as urban areas in India and other developing countries.
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Re: Faecal sludge to biodiesel (Columbia University, USA and Kumasi, Ghana)

Dear Melanie
Production of bio diesel from septage is quite interesting. I have some queries:
Production of 1000 kg of VFA from 10,000 kg of septage is too high. Septage contains good percentage of water part also. Further, production of 370 kg of methane from 10,000 kg of septage is again too high. Biogas generation from septage is very low as it is completely biodegraded / semi-degraded depending on the time interval of emptying of septic tank. This much quantity of methane can be produced from fresh human excreta. I would like to know more about process of extraction of VFA. It appears I am missing some information from your paper. You may like to explain.

Pawan Jha
Foundation for Environment and Sanitation
Mahavir Enclave
New Delhi 110045, India
Web: www.foundation4es.org
Linked: linkedin.com/in/drpkjha
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  • SeptienS
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Re: Faecal sludge to biodiesel (Columbia University, USA and Kumasi, Ghana)

Dear Melanie,

First at all, I would like to introduce myself. I am a post-doctorate from the Pollution Research Center at the University of KwaZulu Natal, Durban, South Africa. I am supervising Master Students projects about the treatment of human waste in the context of 'Reinvent the Toilet Challenge'.

I would like to share with you a helpful information for your researches that I get from the South African Chemical Engineering Conference last week. In that conference, I assist to a conference untitled: 'Optimization of biodiesel production from waste vegetable oil and egg shell ash: application of response surface methodology' by Ngoya Tshizanga, from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, South Africa.
On this research, a CaCO3 catalyst obtained from egg shields ash was tested for the production of biodiesel, and shows to improve the process. You can find several other work related to this subject in literature.
I think the use of egg shields ash as catalyst for biodiesel production can be interesting in our context, as this kind of material is very accessible (mainly in rural areas).

You may already know about this, but we never know. If you are interested, I can contact the researchers from the presentation.

Best regards,
Dr. Santiago Septien Stringel
Dr. Santiago Septien Stringel
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  • psewor
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Re: Faecal sludge to biodiesel (Columbia University, USA and Kumasi, Ghana)

I appreciate your design of using feacal sludge to biodiesel. The design and technology, I hope would be a solution to water pollution in Ghana and other countries. Obviously, water bodies are polluted through uses of designed and accepted technology of on-site treatment and disposal of human waste. In recent laboratory test carried out on water bodies in four districts in Volta Region, E-coli and feacal coliform was found. It was about 90% of total water bodies tested.
This results calls for critical rethinking to save our water bodies and also health of the people.
Your design if adopted would add value to human waste (that is from "waste to money").

I have carried out critical comparative case study analysis between Ghana and United Kingdom on treatment and disposal of liquid waste, its effect on water bodies. The book can be found at Amazon online library.

I wish you all the best.

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  • mv2368
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Re: Microbial conversion of synthetic and food waste-derived volatile fatty acids to lipids

The research article for our process to biologically convert the volatile fatty acids produced from fermentation of food waste to lipid/biodiesel has been published.
Here is the link:
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