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Ghana Explores a Truly Renewable Fuel Resource: Human Waste

| Friday November 30th, 2012 | 6 Comments

As gas prices continue to elevate across the globe, both political instability and biological limits provide an ever present threat to the reliable ongoing availability of gas, many alternatives are being explored. Each seems to have its limitations, whether it’s cost, ability to scale, or willingness to be included in the existing fuel infrastructure. Often, the environmental impact is just shifted to another location or depletion of an alternate resource.

And then there’s what’s happening in Ghana. As Co.Exist reports, Ghana must generate 10 percent of its electricity from alternative sources by 2020, and has cast an eye on quite an unorthodox, yet plentifully available resource: human excrement. It’s not as far fetched as it may appear to the casual observer, as methane, the gas emitted by decomposing sewage, has long been a viable power source. 

Dumping 1000 tons of sewage into its ocean daily, Ghana could stand to doubly benefit from finding an alternative end use for this waste. As could many other countries around the world, developed or not, I suspect.

Regardless of the direct environmental benefit, this method of fuel creation may well stand on purely economic merit, as this report from Environmental Science & Technology shows that it’s three cents per liter of lipids extracted, “…which is lower than those of all current biodiesel feedstocks.”

However, as with other emerging alternative fuel possibilities, the end cost, all things considered, may end up being $7 a gallon to start. But, as with any new technology, new efficiencies and scale have the potential to decrease cost. However, given the uncertain future of petroleum-based fuel, this may end up being an affordable alternative, as is.

Further, if Waste Enterprisers succeeds in creating this, the question is, would countries with comparatively plentiful resources, such as the United States, consider using it, or developing their own capacity? Would there be a consumer market for this, and could marketing help shift the likely repulsed reaction people would have to fecal-based gasoline? Perhaps the market would be focused on industrial uses, where their main concern is cost, and need to meet a local environmental mandate.

Definitely one to watch.

Readers: What are your thoughts on poo power? Is this something you’d investigate using, were it available? What would you as a marketer do to make this an attractive consumer option? Any roadblocks, inefficiencies or issues you see that need to be overcome?

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Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, global trend tracker, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.

Image source: Waste Enterprisers


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  • Nicholas Palmer

    These guys are doing a lot to bring poo-power to the third world – it’s cheap, it works, right now! They mostly use food waste however which is another overlooked source of energy

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/methanogens/

    • http://GreenSmithConsulting.com Paul Smith

      That’s good to know. So many possibilities to create fuel from what otherwise is just sent off as waste…

  • Christie Landtroop

    I think it’s fantastic. There’s the urine -> electricity girls in Nigeria. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/09/african-teenagers-develop-pee-powered-generator_n_2101778.html

  • Wirecutter

    A Farmer friend in Devon has been using a “Digester” for the last 20 years to generate power to run his house and in 2010 X 5 the size of the unit to make use of the “output” from two other farms and now supplies them and about 10 cottages as well as (with difficulty) feeding the Grid but that’s another story

  • GreenTaiwan
  • Corbolt

    This is an excellent choice for alternantive fuels, tons of it a day. We in the United States should take the lead in this new choice of fuel,like in the space programs, and truly study and find a way or take all our technical abilities and create technology that will create a new fuel resource. Yes, we can do this………..