Nature and Biodiversity

How Uganda is turning waste into power

Sophie Mbugua
Journalist, Thomson Reuters Foundation
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Uganda’s largest slaughterhouse runs 24 hours a day, turning up to 700 cattle, 200 sheep and 300 chickens each day into meat for the local market.

But the energy-thirsty Kampala City Abattoir is often brought to a stutter by the city’s daily power outages, which can last up to 12 hours. At those times, it is forced to rely on polluting diesel generators that are expensive to run.

Then there’s the problem of the large amounts of blood, wastewater and other waste produced, much of which is drained directly into nearby Murchison Bay in Lake Victoria.

Across East Africa, increases in processing of agricultural products – a change meant to boost local economics and provide jobs – is being accompanied by an increase in organic waste dumped into bodies of water and open landfills.

But a pilot project to turn that waste into biogas is getting started this month in Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania.

Funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) through the Bio-resources Innovations Network for Eastern Africa (Bio-Innovate), the effort aims to provide training and technology to agricultural factories to help them generate their own power, save on electricity and cut down on climate-changing emissions.

Capturing cheap energy

At the Kampala City Abattoir, the changeover is already underway.

To turn waste into power, the slaughterhouse puts its waste and wastewater through a fermentation process that releases methane, which is then captured and burned to produce electricity.

The facility uses the biogas it produces to power its generator.

“We are generating on average about 10 to 15 cubic metres of biogas daily,” said Joseph Kyambadde, head of biochemistry at Makerere University and one of those involved with the project.

“With 60 cubic metres of gas we (would be) able to run about 15 security lights, 15 deep freezers and 15 refrigerators at the abattoir, helping save around 8 million Ugandan shillings ($2,800) per month,” he said.

To add to the project’s green credentials, it uses solar panels to heat water and raise the temperature in the digester, to allow it to produce the most burnable methane, said Robinson Odong, a biological sciences lecturer at Makerere University and a manager of the biogas project.

Besides helping the slaughterhouse get around the city’s frequent blackouts, using biogas for energy has cut the plant’s monthly diesel bill by 90 percent.

“We are now spending 300,000 Ugandan shillings ($105) per month on diesel instead of 3.5 million shillings ($1,200), as the generator now runs on biogas during power blackouts,” said Nsubuga Muhamed, the Kampala City Abattoir secretary.

Plans to scale up

According to Odong, the project currently treats 40 percent of the Kampala abattoir’s waste, though the facility plans to eventually treat 100 percent.

“There are plans to upscale the technology to completely rely on biogas and sell the excess (energy) to the national grid,” said Kyambadde of Makerere University.

Using $275,000 in SIDA funding, backers hope to replicate the project across Uganda, said Allan Liavoga, manager of the Bio-Innovate project.

Uganda’s government is also watching the effort closely, to see if it might offer one answer to Uganda’s energy problems.

“We are an energy-poor country, with 95 percent of rural households having no access to electricity,” said Ronald Kaggwa, an environmental economist at the Uganda National Environmental Management Authority.

If the biogas project is scaled up, it could allow Ugandans who live too far from the power grid to generate their own energy, he said.

And if the country could turn more of its waste and wastewater into biogas, it would also be closer to its goals of switching to greener power sources and reducing deforestation, officials say.

“About 15-20 percent of our felled trees are used to produce charcoal (which is in) demand in urban areas,” Kaggwa said. But “biogas will help us save our forests,” he said. (Reporting by Sophie Mbugua; editing by Laurie Goering)

This article is published in collaboration with the Thomson Reuters Foundation Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Sophie Mbugua is a journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya, who writes about food and agriculture, climate change and gender issues for the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Image: Cattle rest outside the Kampala City Abattoir in Uganda, where waste from slaughter is being turned into biogas. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Sophie Mbugua.

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Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversityGeographies in DepthEnergy Transition
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