It’s good to be back in Malawi although it was a pretty horrendous trip to get here – flights re-routed, bags lost, etc. You arrive all flustered and frustrated but very soon you realise that these are small problems compared with the everyday experience of Malawians. I spent a few days visiting farms on the outskirts of Lilongwe and the potholes are worse than ever, the power was off and we tried a dozen filling stations before we found any petrol. Just living and doing business in Malawi is so hard.

We were straight to work this week – starting a long term research project investigating the potential for biogas on farms. Animal waste and other farm wastes can be fed into an anaerobic digestor to produce biogas and we are keen to understand how feasible this will be on our new farm, what we can do with the gas, and how we can use the run-off from this process as a fertiliser for crops.

Oscar, Patrick and Wezzie from Green Impact Technologies with their Biogas Project.

We always want to learn from others and so we visited a project run by Green Impact Technologies which is based in the marketplace in the town of Tsangano. The organic waste from the market and the slaughterhouse is used in the digesters to produce biogas – the two digestors produce about 12 cubic metres per day. The gas is then sold to a cafe in the market and they use it for cooking.

Biogas cooking replaces wood or charcoal burners so turning waste to energy helps reduce deforestation
Every day, huge amounts of timber and charcoal are used for cooking in Malawi. We saw hundreds of bikes like these making their way into the city.

Our interest is in doing this on a much larger scale. The farm we are developing (more on this in the blog next week) will have plenty of animal dung and plant waste and we are investigating whether we can create a whole circular economy where the farm waste produces biogas; the biogas runs a generator to produce electricity; the electricity pumps the water for irrigation; and the run-off from the digestion process is used as a rich fertiliser for the fields. It’s a very early stage project but it’s exciting to think that all this could happen right on the farm, reducing the need for chemical fertilisers.

We visited a farm which produces many tonnes of organic waste every month. So much potential for biogas with the right project design!