|The Biogas/Biofertilizer Business Handbook (Peace Corps, 1985)|
Many of the organizations that promote and provide information on biogas systems believe the systems are an appropriate technology. A dictionary definition of appropriate technology would be a "suitable technical method of achieving a practical purpose." That definition only begins to describe what people involved in community development mean when they say biogas is an appropriate technology.
The following explanation adapted from the Appropriate Technology Sourcebook should help explain appropriate technology and why biogas systems can be used as an appropriate technology.
The tools and methods of appropriate technology share the following characteristics:
1) low in capital (money and machines) costs;
2) use local materials whenever possible;
3) create jobs, employing local skills and labor;
4) are small enough in scale to be affordable by individuals or small businesses and cooperatives;
5) can be understood, controlled, and maintained by people who are not experts whenever possible;
6) can be made locally;
7) has faith that people can and will work together to bring improvements to their communities;
8) involves decentralized renewable energy sources, such as wind power, solar energy, water power, methane gas, animal power, and pedal power;
9) makes technology understandable to the people who are using it and thus suggests ideas that could be used in developing more new ideas, methods, machines, and tools;
10) are flexible so that they can continue to be used or adapted to fit changing conditions;
11) do not involve patents, royalties, consultant fees, import duties, shipping charges, or financial experts; practical plans can be obtained free or at low cost and no further payment is involved.
Some of the thinking that supports the idea of appropriate technology can be explained this way:
1) it permits local needs to be met more effectively, because local people are involved in identifying and working to meet those needs;
2) it means the development of tools and machines that extend human labor and skills, instead of tools and machines that replace human labor and eliminate human skills; there is no attempt to eliminate the human element, but to make it both more productive and more creative;
3) it represents an understandable and controllable scale of activities, organization, and mistakes, at which people without expensive management training can work together and understand what they are doing;
4) it allows a more economical operation by cutting down on the amount of goods that have to be transported in this time of expensive oil, allowing greater growth of local industry and permitting greater use of local resources, both human and material;
5) it makes unnecessary many expensive or unavailable finance, transportation, education, advertising, management and energy services, and avoids the loss of local control that the use of such outside services so often means;
6) it helps establish skills in a community that are not dependent on outside control, that are not expensive to learn or use, that are self-sustaining, expanding, and have their beginning with skills that already exist in the community;
7) it tends toward decentralization of production, thus permitting the full benefits of work to remain within the community; this also allows control to remain within the community;
8) it provides a region with protection against the effects of outside economic changes such as the collapse of a cash crop market or an increase in fertilizer prices;
9) it helps reduce, economic, social, and political dependency between individuals, regions, and nations by recognizing that people can and will do things for themselves if the obstacles are removed;
10) it is in harmony with the cultural traditions of the area; this does not mean that it is stagnant, but that it grows along with the culture and does not contradict values people believe to be important; the technology is adapted to fit the culture rather than the culture being forced to adapt to fit the technology.
A few more ideas about the purpose of appropriate technology, from a slightly different viewpoint, adapted from Experiences in Appropriate Technology.
Appropriate technology is not just windmills, solar energy, water pumps, and biogas systems. It is not so much a particular type of hardware as it is a process of local people choosing a particular type of hardware that will best help them generate social and economic development. Like any other technology, the hardware of appropriate technology is nuts and bolts, systems and procedures, motors and tools. It differs in how it is used.
It is both a technology which combines existing local knowledge and resources with new information and a style of technical, social, and economic development where local people and outside experts work together as partners. One can easily photograph the hardware of appropriate technology but not the process of people identifying their problems, discussing options, and choosing workable solutions. This process is the critical element often lacking in most descriptions of appropriate technology.
In many cases, local knowledge or skills are not more productive because social, political, or economic conditions prevent them from being so. An approach to appropriate technology that only focuses on adapting technology to social and economic conditions, and not on helping to strengthen local organizations to change these conditions, is incomplete. The use of appropriate technology in development is a process that should never stop. It is the sharing of knowledge, the learning from experience, and the development of local organizations and skills.
The concept of appropriate technology was a result of what was learned from Third World development projects of the 1960s. In response to poor and often negative results from the use of imported technologies, many people began to question the choices of technology and the way these choices were made. Even the most optimistic observer had severe doubts when faced with the discarded tractors that farmers could not maintain, broken and abandoned water pumps and biogas digesters, and new hospitals which treat diseases which could be prevented by clean water supplies.
The term appropriate technology has been used to mean many things. In the last five years many organizations have become interested in appropriate technology, some because it is now in fashion, others because they are seriously thinking about answers to the questions it addresses. Critics have dismissed appropriate technology as an extremist, anti-modernization, or anti-industrialization ethic. It is none of these.
Appropriate technology asks what style of progress or industrialization is wanted, what balance between large and small-scale production is needed, what choices of technology will promote development, and who will participate in the selection of the choices. Appropriate technology is more than machines, tools, and "how-to" manuals; it is also less tangible things such as knowledge, management, and organization of work.
Appropriate technology is an approach to development:
1) A technology designed, developed, and chosen in partnership with people to increase their productivity and meet their immediate and long-term needs, without in any major way increasing their dependence on outside sources of materials, energy, money, or knowledge.
2) A social and political process of integrating better technology into communities.
3) A style of development which recognizes the fact that users of any technical method have important and necessary social, economic, and technical information and resources to contribute.
4) A technology that can promote and strengthen local organizations and businesses so that they can increasingly assume more control over the choice of improved technology and adapt outside resources to their own situations.
5) An approach to designing technology that promotes local economic linkages between the public, experts, local leaders, skilled workers, and business people.
6) A technology that will work, that local people and organizations can afford, control, maintain, and improve on.
The benefits of biogas technology can expand, like waves from a stone thrown into still water.
A cooperative builds a chicken coop to house chickens owned by its members and to make possible the collection of the chicken manure from a cooperative biogas digester.
· It should also be easier to keep the chickens dewormed and healthy.
· Not only do the cooperative members now have biogas and biofertilizer, they also have larger eggs, larger chickens, and at least two or three Jobs have been created.
This story can work just as well with a cooperative or business that operates a piggery or cattle pens and uses the manure to feed a digester.
· A concrete floor is added to the pens to make it easier to collect the waste and keep dirt from getting into the digester.
· Because the pens are easier to clean, it is easier to keep the animals healthy.
· Pens also make vegetable gardens safe from damage by wandering pigs and cattle.
A barn (with a concrete floor) that cattle and other farm animals can be kept in when they are not in the fields, will not collect all of the manure produced by the animals. But the manure it does collect for biogas and biofertilizer uses and the advantages of improved public sanitation, animal health, and shelter from bad weather should make the costs of animal feed, buildings, and labor worthwhile investment towards biogas system profits.
The benefits of large business or cooperative biogas systems are many:
· high gas and fertilizer production rates,
· low per cubic meter of digester capacity construction and operating costs,
· plenty of fertilizer for fish ponds and/or crops,
· engine-generator combinations that in many cases can use or distribute mechanical and/or electrical energy made from biogas more efficiently than biogas itself can be used or distributed,
· and a large biogas system could even afford a tank truck to distribute or sell the liquid fertilizer.
Biofertilizer which, after aging, can be used in fish ponds and on crops may be more valuable than biogas. It has been estimated that 230,000 tons of nitrogen fertilizer that is produced in a year by one high-technology coal-based fertilizer plant will employ 1,000 people. At approximately the same cost, 26,000 biogas systems could produce the same amount of nitrogen fertilizer and create 130,750 jobs (Diagram 3).
But if the owners ignore the needs of their biogas system, it will ignore their needs for fuel and fertilizer. The operation of a biogas system is not as simple as putting in waste and taking out fuel and fertilizer. If that is how a biogas system is operated, it will become a disappointment. Poor performance will sooner or later lead to abandonment of the biogas system.
Think of a biogas system as a small factory or mill. A factory whose products of fuel and fertilizer are of high quantity and quality only when the owners: understand how and why the factory produces fuel and fertilizer, make sure routine work is done correctly, and are able to solve unexpected problems. Biogas is a business where questions of management and sales are as important as technical questions.
To find out if biogas technology, or any technology is practical, ask:
· How is it made?
· How does it work?
· How is it used?
· How could it be used here?
· Who pays the costs?
· Who gets the profits?
· Who controls it?
In other words, ask questions about how the technology might change the way things are. This handbook has enough information to begin to answer these questions, but only the people who will use and live with the technology can finish answering the questions with the knowledge of their own situation, resources, and needs.
Where biogas has been a successful response to local needs, it is because the people who tried biogas asked questions and experimented with the technology and the management of the systems. They compared their experiences with other people using biogas systems and decided for themselves how to use biogas technology to help meet their needs. The gas and fertilizer products, the sanitation benefits, and the economic opportunities of biogas systems are tools which families and communities can use to create more financial security, health, and independence.