When Gerry Baron returned to the Philippines for good after 17 years in North America, our country was not in dire straits, nor was anyone able to predict that the price of crude oil would exceed $60 a barrel.
Baron, an agriculturist at heart, decided to move his family straight from the province of Tarlac where his parents and siblings have various agro ventures. Since their business of layer farms is running well, the La Salle-trained engineer — who had worked on GE locomotives while in Canada — decided to get into other agricultural ventures.
Although he was not sure which one, Baron wanted to work on something that would not involve importing raw materials that would be environmentally sustainable and would be a foreign currency earner. He also felt that the venture should somehow address the plight of most Filipino households that subsist on so little a day.
This intrepid agriculturist and inventor plans to start a national incentive program to build at least 5,000 family-type digesters all over the country.
An Affair With Biogas
Baron is more practical than scholarly; his senior college thesis was on methane gas production from garbage. Instead of refuse, he thought of using poultry manure to make biogas. With the soaring fuel prices worldwide, the idea was perfect.
Biogas is a concoction of gases produced by the fermentation of animal wastes, human sewage and other organic materials in an airtight condition. It is rich in methane (55-70%) that can be used as fuel for stoves, heat lamps and engines used to generate electricity.
By-products of biogas production are also used profitably. The solid residues (sludge) are commonly used as soil enhancers, while the nutrient-rich effluent is an excellent fertilizer. The wastes, that would have been directly returned to the ground and to waterways, are properly processed so they no longer pollute. What’s more, the stench from farms that everyone complains about is greatly reduced.
Biogas as Energy Source
Biogas production for energy is not a new concept. Highly industrialized countries like Sweden and the Netherlands have been in biogas research and production for decades. The initial function of biogas extractors was primarily for odor and pollution control in animal farms and dump sites. In recent years, however, many towns and cities all over the world are able to produce enough biogas to provide electricity for entire municipalities; even buses run on this gas put in cylinders similar to liquid petroleum gas (LPG) tanks.
India and China have 2.9 million and six million family-size extractors, respectively, in remote areas that had relied solely on wood, coal, kerosene and cow manure for fuel. This does not include the 27,000 community-type digesters that are set up in India as well. Now that these communities use biogas for cooking, and running generators for light and water, India saves 3 million tons of wood that would have been used for fuel, and produces 700,000 tons of nitrogen-rich fertilizer annually.
An International Award for Baron
As if to reinforce Baron’s conviction that biogas is one concrete solution to the world’s energy woes, the 2005 World Expo in Japan, awarded the Filipino-Canadian engineer one of 100 Eco-Tech Awards, given to energy-related technologies that can be replicated and used the world over. The awards were given in line with the Expo’s theme of conserving the environment. Baron and Justino Arboleda, a soil scientist who invented a soil anti-erosion device, were the two winners from the Philippines.
The Tarlac farmer’s prototype, patented as the Philippine BioDigester, was designed by Baron after studying and experimenting on various designs of scientists and enthusiasts from Australia, Austria, Brazil, India and China. These individuals have Websites and blogs where they discuss and share their findings. Baron is in touch with many of them.
Built for the Filipino Farmer
“Biogas technology has been around a long time, so the invention isn’t mine,” Baron says. “But the Philippine BioDigester was designed with the Filipino farmer in mind. It is modular, so whether you are a backyard or an 80,000 pig farm, we build the digester to your needs and specs,” he further said.
Baron uses HDPE or High Density Poly Ethylene material for his digesters. HDPE is used worldwide as a liner for landfills since it is tough and chemical-resistant. The award-winning units operate at high efficiencies, producing in excess of 1.25 cubic meters of biogas per 10 liters of manure and water. An excellent nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer is also produced. Used efficiently, a 5-cu.m. HDPE bio-digester which costs P30,ooo installed, can pay out in just 1.25 years.
The methane gas production enthusiast is also constructing commercial digesters all over the Philippines. Besides becoming electricity self-sufficient; and selling the fertilizer made from the manure residue; large-scale farms are given the added incentive of selling the gas emission credits they receive for burning their wastes properly.
In 1999, the Department of Science & Technology’s Region IV promoted the use of biogas in Maria Aurora town in Aurora province. It convinced piggery owners to set up biogas extractors for their backyard ventures. In a visit to that province last January, Baron discovered that the 45 biogas extractors installed to date were still working and providing users with unlimited biogas.
These owners who paid at least P25,ooo for their extractors four years ago are very satisfied with their DOST-made digesters. One owner, a Mr. Rogelio Virgo, raises pigs for slaughter. Before investing in the digester, his business and household combined, consumed two 11-kg cylinders of LPG a month.
In 2001, an 11-kg cylinder of LPG cost P180. At today’s prices, a cylinder costs P500+. Virgo enthuses that his biogas digester has been more than able to replace LPG for their cooking needs, citing a savings of at least P900 a month. He says he produces so much gas that he gives excess fuel to his grateful neighbors.
But even with these ongoing local projects, many rural Filipinos don’t know how cheap and easy it is to make biodigesters. Worse, despite the low prices of better-designed and efficient extractors, information is not readily available about this abundant natural fuel that can be made in one’s backyard.
Unbeatable Benefits for Agribusiness
Baron hopes that more Filipinos — a majority of whom live in rural areas anyway — soon reap the unbeatable benefits of biogas production. Considering how easy it is to build and run extractors, as well as how fast digesters pay for themselves, it is unthinkable that we keep this energy source untapped. In fact, Baron plans to utilize most of his one-million yen prize from the Japan World Expo to start a national incentive program to build at least 5,000 family-type digesters all over the country. So that more rural households will benefit, Philippine Bio-Digesters will offer grants and easy-payment plans to those who may want to install them in their backyards.
Calling all Filipinos who still care and want to save this wonderful country for their children and their grandchildren! After learning more about biogas, perhaps you will become interested in this underutilized, naturally occurring phenomenon waiting to be tapped — the way Baron did a few years back.
Biogas helps prevent global warming; saves our land and waterways from harmful wastes; provides an excellent organic fertilizer and best of all, produces a free fuel that does not pollute. Where else can we ever find an unlimited supply of energy like this?
author: Didi Guanzon-Lucindo, Marid Digest