Spinning straw into gold…

Producing biogas from organic waste. Interview with Sameh Seif Ghali, TADE.
Sameh Seif Ghali has been working in community development in Egypt for 25 years. Passionate about solving some of his country’s most pressing problems in rural areas, Sameh established the Together Association for Development and Environment (TADE), an association that develops low-cost community-based projects for rural areas. Dealing with the prevalent problem of the lack of sustainable energy in the region, TADE is currently focusing on a project that implements biogas plants.

TADE has worked on several projects in the past. Why did you decide to concentrate on biogas?
The energy produced by biogas plants is clean. And it’s also renewable. People have waste: They have bio-waste, they have agricultural waste. There’s lots of waste and nowhere to put it! Biogas plants are ideal as they produce vital energy sources from this waste. Not only that, biogas provides organic fertilizer! This means that people don’t have to use chemicals in their soil when farming – a real health benefit! Biogas really does spin straw into gold…

Producing biogas from organic waste

© TADE

This seems like a huge undertaking. What are you hoping to achieve with this project?
Well, we can divide the answer into tangibles and intangibles! Tangible effects include providing as many people as we can with biogas. Our aim is to build and run 40 biogas plants, so far we’ve have implemented 12 plants in six Egyptian villages so we’ve made a start. We are helping to save villagers money. They are allocated with cheap gas tanks by the government but when they run out they have to buy more on the free market – these are highly-priced.

Biogas is simply cheaper to produce and we can pass on these price savings. The great side-effect of producing biogas is that it will not produce a clean energy source but biogas also reduces waste and help to reduce the pollution in villages – this is something that we continually battle against here.

© TADE

What exactly do you mean by intangible impact?
We definitely want to educate, that is, raise community awareness for the importance of waste. We tell people about the benefits of organic fertilizer and biogas systems. Especially people in rural areas need to understand climate change and its impact on public health and the environment. They need to successfully grow crops in unfavorable conditions to provide for themselves and their families. This is why they need to know how to use the manure in the biogas plants as a fertilizer. We’ve devised seven sessions and we want to educate men and women on these topics and more, for example on recycling solid waste.

We also plan on training two technicians for each of our six villages who will be in charge of the implementation of the plants. We are actually cooperating with the Ministry of Environmental Affairs, more specifically the Bio Energy for Sustainable Rural Development Project, to train these technicians. We hope for the environmental model to spread to other villages because this will have a positive impact on their economy.

You have worked on sanitation systems in the past. Have you been able to combine the two projects?
Yes! Actually, the mechanics of it are fairly simple: We take sewage sludge from the built-in sanitation systems that have already been installed in the villages and have been implemented with a simple technology, which is low in cost compared to other traditional sanitation projects. This is based on citizens’ pariticipation either by the donation lands or with help in digging the streets. The sewage sludge is then converted into energy in the biogas digester.

We were slightly worried about how the system would be accepted but people have understood the benefits. As long as they don’t smell the waste, they are not concerned about the origins of their energy. This is already a huge step in the right direction – we just need to keep on walking!

If you’re as impressed with the work of the Together Association as we are, then please take the time to nominate him as a Hope Maker here: Hope Maker.