Energy recovery & waste treatment with floating biodigesters (Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia - LLEE)


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Energy recovery & waste treatment with floating biodigesters (Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia - LLEE)

Dear all,
I would like to introduce to you a research grant with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which I am leading:

Title of grant: Energy recovery & waste treatment with floating biodigesters
Subtitle (more descriptive title): Innovative floating and small scale biodigesters for human and animal waste treatment, gas production, and agricultural application in floating and flood-affected areas.

Name of lead organization: Live & Learn Environmental Education
Primary contact at lead organization: Robert Hughes
Grantee location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Developing country where the research is being tested: Cambodia.

Short description of the project: This project will develop and trial floating and small-scale biodigesters to convert human and animal waste to biogas for energy and treated waste for fertilizer, while improving the sanitation and public health outcomes of communities living in challenging environments such as water-based and floodprone communities.

Goal(s): To develop and make available new low cost biodigesters appropriate for application in challenging environments, where access to sanitation and energy is severely limited. To demonstrate the potential to improve public health, water quality, sanitation, natural resource protection, energy access, and livelihoods in vulnerable communities.

Objectives: 1) Develop, test, improve and document small scale and floating biodigesters and required supporting systems (flotation, inlet systems etc) to allow effective operation in floating and flood-affected villages. 2) Collect supporting data on operational performance under controlled conditions 3) Conduct preliminary practical field trials for community uptake and acceptance feedback and evidence. 4) Integrate biodigesters into holistic development programs especially for sanitation, health,

Start and end date: November 2011 - October 2013
Grant type: Grand Challenge Exploration (GCE) Round 7
Funding for this research currently ongoing: yes
Research or implementation partners: Live & Learn Environmental Education, Engineers Without Borders Australia, Royal University of Agriculture (Cambodia), Lund University (Sweden), Communities of the Tonle Sap Lake Cambodia

Contacts, links, further readings:
Documents in SuSanA library:

Video about the project:


Key components:
Research is covering 4 main areas: a) waste treatment effectiveness and related parameters, b) biodigestion operation and gas production c) system physical performance and material requirements, d) community acceptance evidence.

Bear in mind the project is still in progress so we plan to complete and upload more work later. We don't have a lot of results publishable yet, but some background info is attached below (scrol to the end of this post).

So, what do you think about this research project and its relevance? I am happy to answer any questions you may have.


P.S. Oh, and here is some more information about our work with the floating communities on Tonle Sap lake in general if you are interested:

I think our work is really working in a difficult and often neglected space so we always aim to encourage more awareness and action in these areas, and especially in innovation technologies and approaches that can help change the playing field a bit.

Some of the innovative technologies are fairly new - the communities may be a little bit familiar with the concepts, but often they do not exist in their community yet. In the flood-affected areas some of the technologies exist but are not well adapted to the flooding, while in floating villages they do not exist at all. Biodigesters, for example, have some limited use and understanding in flood-affected areas, but in floating communities they are completely new. Toilets exist in flood-affected areas but can fail during flooding, while they are non-existent in floating communities. The agricultural techniques mostly build on basic experiences already utilised but are targeted at extending and improving agriculture - for example floating and raised gardens that can extend the growing seasons into the wet season.

Introductory activities comprised several key approaches: Generally we have taken a participatory approach to technical development so the innovations are suited to the communities and developed with their help. Then for introduction of the solutions we used initial workshops and focus groups, then establishment of demonstration systems, sites, and gardens as good examples, then capacity building of community volunteers including Field Facilitators and Farmer Collaborators to be focus points and disseminate to the community. In Cambodia, 'seeing is believing' and real life practice and examples that people can see are much more effective, while little attention is paid to theory and words.

For selection of crops for floating gardens, we conducted desktop research and focus groups on different crop requirements as well as value to identify potential crops, then these were tested in trial gardens on demonstration sites.
We're really interested in the links between sanitation and agriculture, and resource recovery. There are a lot of chickens, dogs etc that are too difficult to collect much waste, however pigs, cows, and buffalos are the most suitable for use in biodigesters. In floating communities there are an increasing number of floating pig farms that are impacting water quality so that is a major focus of floating biodigester applications. We are also utilising waste from fish processing in the biodigesters which is readily available.

In general, our approach is to demonstrate that even in the most challenging situations (environmentally, economically, culturally etc), there are solutions that can have multiple benefits for livelihoods, sanitation, nutrition, energy, and environmental protection. A holistic approach with some targeted innovations can overcome some of the major challenges for some of the most vulnerable and neglected communities. In particular, sanitation is non-existent in floating villages (of which there are millions of inhabitants around the world), and has typically been put in the 'too hard basket'. This is the challenge we aim to overcome.

Some more information is at the links below:

Floating Toilet Project:

Floating Gardens:
Case study - designing gender sensitive sanitation for floating villages:

Case Study Number 2 in this case study collection explains our project with the floating toilets ("Case Study 2: Floating Community Ecological Sanitation Project on the Tonle Sap Lake"):
Rob Hughes,
WASH Manager,
Live & Learn Environmental Education

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