WHAT IS ‘OUR MISSION’ IN THE PACIFIC?
Energy poverty is a serious problem for many Pacific Island households and communities. In Samoa, for example, the cost of electricity per unit is over twice that in New Zealand, yet the daily wage for a labourer is just one seventh what they would earn in New Zealand. Also, for many Pacific Island countries the costs of imported liquid fuels for transport and electricity generation is a huge financial burden, seriously impeding economic and social development.
Yet island communities will typically have a substantial resource of renewable green organic material, faecal waste (animal and human) and woody biomass that can be utilised for energy needs. The waste material is most often seen as a problem rather than as a potential resource of reusable and recyclable energy and nutrients. This is especially true of human faecal material. Pacific Islands most often do not have reticulated (piped) sewerage systems, resulting in untreated waste frequently entering the environment directly or via poorly performing septic tanks, leading to serious sanitation problems and high related disease and mortality rates.
Bioenergy technologies such as biogasifiers and biodigesters, and associated systems for nutrient recovery and use, are proven technologies to access these resource streams. There is some (limited) experience with biodigester technologies and systems in Pacific Islands, most often due to the awareness by some community groups of their use in high population Asian countries, especially China. The typical model for the use of biodigesters, however, is based on waste from domestic animals living in close proximity (e.g. pigs). Human waste and green waste (from food waste, crop residues and invasive grasses, weeds and vines) is a secondary consideration, if at all. There is virtually no experience in Pacific Islands with utilising biogasifiers to access the energy in woody biomass.
This lack of experience and knowledge limits the application of these technologies and prevents the economies of scale developing that might make them affordable to most businesses, communities and households. Taking up this issue, and challenge, is the primary focus for BioEnceptionz.
For governments the adoption of such small-scale distributed infrastructure systems may save large sums compared with the costs of centralised reticulated infrastructure. It may also address community needs of waste management, water management and affordable energy much more directly and quickly.
Direct economic and social benefits to the community can derive from:
- decreased costs of purchased energy (wood, bottled gas, electricity) for cooking, lighting and water heating
- decreased costs of purchased energy required to process and store food items (e.g. drying, refrigeration)
- decreased transport fuel energy costs
- improving backyard crop yields or beautification gardens through the application of self-generated organic fertiliser previously not available and not affordable
- provision of far superior sanitation management, especially for intense residential areas, and
- reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
Other economic benefits can be gained through additional local employment and lowered health costs. Social benefits can be gained through the access to locally derived affordable energy. Given the relative simplicity and low cost of the technologies and systems involved, these total benefits can be expected to be greater than the costs, so the overall concepts socially cost effective in practice when implemented with some scale. However, these benefits need to be demonstrated and ‘seen to be believed’ before there will be substantial uptake of these technologies and systems.