World Intellectual Property Organization

From Cows to Kilowatts – A Case Study in Successful Technology Transfer

March 2009

A bioreactor, jointly designed by a Nigerian NGO and a Thai technology innovator to convert abattoir waste into biofuel, will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from a slaughterhouse in Ibadan.  (Courtesy of the Seed Initiative)
A bioreactor, jointly designed by a Nigerian NGO and a Thai technology innovator to convert abattoir waste into biofuel, will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from a slaughterhouse in Ibadan. (Courtesy of the Seed Initiative)

By Julia Steets

The “Cows to Kilowatts” initiative in Nigeria is a partnership project which aims to reduce the water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from slaughterhouse waste. Building on innovative technology from Thailand, the project converts abattoir waste into household gas and organic fertilizer, providing local communities with clean, cheap fuel. This report by Julia Steets, who oversaw the Global Public Policy Institute’s work on the Seed Initiative Research from 2004–2006, updates her earlier article published by the Climate Action Programme.

In the face of the combined challenges of climate change, environmental degradation and poverty, an increasing number of companies, governments and NGOs are opting to join forces. Large scale partnerships involving global players are the most visible examples of such cooperative approaches. Yet projects initiated at the local level sometimes offer more tangible outcomes.

The Seed Initiative (Supporting Entrepreneurs for Environment and Development) was founded by the UN Development Program (UNDP), the UN Environment Program (UNEP) and The International Union for the Conservation of Nature in order to support locally driven, entrepreneurial partnerships for sustainable development. It found that a huge variety of such local initiatives exists, often working to enhance environmental sustainability while at the same time alleviating poverty and hunger. Many of these initiatives rely on the generation or transfer of relevant knowledge and technology.

The Nigerian Cows to Kilowatts, initiative is an example of such a project. One of five Seed Award winners in 2005, it epitomizes how an innovative approach based on cooperative partnerships can have a real impact on the environment and on the well-being of local communities.

The problem

Slaughterhouses are a major source of water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, especially in the developing world. Specific regulations for abattoirs often do not exist, or are poorly monitored and enforced. Untreated wastewater enters local rivers and water sources, affecting the development of aquatic life. Slaughterhouse waste often carries animal diseases that can be transferred to humans, while the anaerobic degradation of wastewater generates methane and carbon dioxide - greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change.

A Nigerian engineer, Dr. Joseph Adelegan, drew attention to this issue. He studied the effects of wastewater discharged from the Bodija Market Abattoir in Ibadan, where nearly two thirds of the animals in Oyo State are slaughtered. He found high levels of organic pollution with strongly negative impacts on nearby communities. In order to seek a solution, Dr. Adelegan’s NGO, the Global Network for Environment and Economic Development Research (GNEEDR), joined forces with two other Nigerian organizations - the Centre for Youth, Family and the Law, and the Sustainable Ibadan Project, a UN-HABITAT initiative.

The solution

The first solution embraced by this group was simply to build an effluent treatment plant. Discussions with experts, however, revealed that, while treating effluents with conventional methods reduces water pollution, it also leads to increased emissions of methane and carbon dioxide. The team therefore set out to find an alternative approach which would minimize the carbon footprint of the initiative.

The solution involved capturing the gas emissions and transforming them into a useful product. They identified relevant technology that had been developed by a Thai research institution, the Center for Waste Utilization and Management at King Mongkut University of Technology, Thonburi. This was based on the use of anaerobic fixed film reactors in the treatment of agro-industrial waste and the production of biogas. By modifying this technology, slaughterhouse waste could be turned into clean household cooking gas plus organic fertilizer.

This approach offered at least three crucial advantages. Firstly, it would minimize water pollution from slaughterhouse waste. Secondly, it would significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the slaughterhouse and/or by the treatment of its waste. Thirdly, it would create valuable biogas by-products. Through selling the biogas, the project could become not only economically self sustainable, but a profitable enterprise.

Implementation I: building partnerships

The project began in 2001. As a first critical step, Dr. Adelegan had to find competent partners for GNEEDR, able to contribute expertise and resources.

Several organizations have provided key inputs to the project:

  • GNEEDR developed the initial project idea, conducted primary research on water pollution, represents the initiative and handles the construction of the plant.
  • The Nigerian Center for Youth, Family and the Law provides legal advice and helps engage local stakeholder groups, such as the local butchers' association and the Bodija market development association.
  • The Sustainable Ibadan Project was central to securing the support of the Nigerian government.
  • The World Bank's Global Development Marketplace gave an important impetus to the initiative by suggesting the integration of a renewable energy component in its design.
  • The Thai research institute was the technology innovator and technical adviser in the design and construction of the bioreactor and in the adaptation of the technology for use with slaughterhouse waste.
  • The Seed Initiative helped further develop the project and brokered a crucial contact with UNDP Nigeria.

Implementation II: raising finance

The capital requirements for designing and constructing the waste treatment and biogas plant, as well as for administering the project and consulting with local stakeholders, amounted to around US$500,000.

The project is designed to be commercially viable and plans to sell its household cooking gas at a quarter of current market prices, i.e. US$7.50 per 25 liters. By producing around 270 cubic meters of compressed biogas a month, the plant would generate returns on investment after two years. With an estimated lifespan of 15 years, the plant is therefore expected to create substantial economic returns.

Despite these figures, it proved difficult to obtain affordable commercial finance for a promising but untested project in Nigeria. The initiative gained international recognition through its selection as a finalist in the World Bank Global Development Marketplace and as a Seed Award winner, but still no financial support. Finally, UNDP provided the necessary start-up capital through its Energy and Environment program.

Implementation III: transferring the technology

The Biogas Technology Research Centre of Thailand’s King Mongkut University of Technology Thonburi had developed an innovative technology for treating agroindustrial waste and generating biogas based on many years of research under an Asian-Australian cooperation program. Through the use of anaerobic fixed film reactors, the institute had achieved much higher treatment efficiency, handling larger quantities of waste and generating high quality biogas at a faster rate than conventional biodigester technologies. Prior to the Nigerian initiative, however, the technology had been applied successfully only to treating waste from a rice starch factory and from a fruit canning factory.

The Thai institute agreed to work with GNEEDR to adapt its anaerobic fixed film reactor technology for use with slaughterhouse waste. Successful test results showed that the adapted reactor could handle from two to ten kilograms of “chemical oxygen demand” per cubic meter (COD is used as a measure of the amount of organic pollution in wastewater), with a retention time of two to four days. It yielded between 0.4 and 0.5 cubic meters of biogas per kilogram of COD, containing 60 to 70 percent methane.

Having signed a formal memorandum of understanding with the University, the partnership is currently in the process of patenting the new technology for treating slaughterhouse waste.

Implementation IV: building the plant

Even once the financing was secured, project implementation could not start immediately. UNDP's Programme in Energy and Environment is executed nationally, which means that funds are normally only disbursed to national governments. In the Cows to Kilowatts case, the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Environment agreed to receive and transfer the resources to the partnership. This, however, involved a number of bureaucratic hurdles.

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The compressed biogas by-product, to be supplied to local communities, will eliminate the smoke and health hazards caused by other commonly used cooking fuels. (Photo © David Steets)

With the adaptation of the relevant technology completed and the design of the biogas and waste treatment plant finalized by the Thai research institution, construction finally began in 2007. The plant is scheduled to begin operation in June 2008.

Expected results

Once the waste treatment and biogas production plant starts operating, it is expected to generate 1,500 cubic meters of biogas per day and to capture 900 cubic meters of pure methane per day. This is equivalent to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the slaughterhouse of over 22,300 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. In addition, the sludge from the plant will be used as organic fertilizer.

The captured methane will be upgraded and compressed for use as household cooking gas to be sold locally, so generating additional employment. The gas is expected to be distributed to around 5,400 households each month at significantly lower cost than currently available sources of natural gas. A cleaner alternative to other commonly used fuels, the gas will reduce indoor air pollution and associated health hazards in the homes of these predominantly poor communities.

Many other cities in Nigeria and across the African continent are facing similar environmental and health challenges from untreated slaughterhouse waste. Once proven, the Cows to Kilowatts model offers potential for further roll-out and replication.

Through its use of innovative technology, the Cows to Kilowatts initiative offers a solution to waste treatment which at the same time minimizes the carbon footprint of slaughterhouse operations. Moreover, it is economically self sustainable and even profitable, generating a classic win-win situation. Finally, the pilot project in Ibadan is financed with the help of international donor money. Since the plant is expected to repay its start up capital within two years, the necessary financial resources should be available for replicating the project by 2010.

Acknowledgements: Dr. Joseph Adelegan, GNEEDR;  Climate Action Programme.

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