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Bio-energy Solutions by Michael Iyanro

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Converting poor urban infrastructure of human waste and water into an opportunity to mitigate climate change





According to Dr Okonjo Iweala, the managing Director of World Bank, 550 million people in sub Saharan Africa have poor access to energy which in turn affects economic growth and poverty alleviation (1) if we are to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to reduce poverty and its impacts, we need sustainable solutions that can be locally adapted and implemented. Biogas technology is indeed one solution that will help eradicate extreme hunger, alleviate poverty and maintain environmental integrity. In my country Nigeria, we have come to see what’s usually considered wastes as resources. Sustainable technology such as anaerobic digestion is relatively new. Though a lot of people have heard of it, practical implementation has been a problem as well as education.

My overall goal is to introduce Bio-Gas Technology into the Nigerian environment to reduce environmental pollution, degradation, and Green House Gas Emission.

Biogas technology is the use of biological process, in the absence of oxygen, for the breakdown of organic matter into biogas and high quality fertilizer. Biogas is a combustible mixture of methane and carbon dioxide. The process also eliminates disease-causing organisms that cause disease in humans and animals. Biogas technology is a “Carbon neutral process” meaning it neither adds nor removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Potentially, this technology is a significant and profitable way of mitigating global climate change.


Category of the action

Reducing emissions from waste management

What actions do you propose?


In 2008, for the first time in human history, 50% of the global population lived in urban areas. The United Nations predicts that this figure will rise to 69% by 2050.A significant part of this urbanization is taking place in developing countries as a result of natural growth within cities and large numbers of rural – urban migrants in search of jobs and opportunities. Rapid urban tend to overwhelm these cities, where there is already a struggle to develop infrastructure.

I have lived in Lagos city Nigeria all my life. Lagos city is the economic capital of Nigeria with the highest population density of 4,193 people per square kilometer. The U.N estimates that the population of Lagos will hit 16 million by 2015 making it the world’s 11th largest urban system. A combination of official neglect, corruption, extreme poverty coupled with rapid population growth which is largely uncontrolled has lead to the decay of existing city infrastructure that determines how livable a city is.

Specifically, the infrastructure of human wastes (sewage), water and sanitation generally is inhumane. The infrastructure is poorly organized and not controlled.

It is common to see drinkable water pipes pass through open drainages. At times these drainages receive human wastes when locals at times open their septic tanks into them or leak out directly in these drainages. The City does not treat all the human wastes generated by millions of individuals daily. These wastes are emptied directly into the Lagos lagoon. The urban poor are affected. 

Many people living in this city depend on sachet water, local water vendors, private boreholes or expensive water filtration units for their daily domestic and sanitation needs. Drinkable water infrastructure is very poor and lacking in many areas.

Storm water management infrastructure is not properly planned. No specifications and coordination of urban drainages. The raining season is a nightmare to lagosians as floods destroys existing infrastructure such as roads.

Reflecting on these issues one can only possibly imagine the impacts of climate change on Lagos city. Lagos is a coastal city and vulnerable to flooding from rise in sea levels and storm surges.

Recently Lagos city experienced a heavy rainfall attributed to climate change for just 24hours. The storm water overwhelmed the poorly designed drainages and canals that were already filled and choked up with refuse. 25 people lost their lives and existing city infrastructure was grounded. Both the rich and poor were affected as they both lacked basic infrastructure to manage the storm. One can only imagine the contamination that occurred between the storm water, drinkable water, human sewage and the receiving water body. The state of public health can only be imagined.

These challenges should propel us to a greater livable city. I see a city as a combination of systems.  The appropriate combination of these systems makes that city move, produce and become sustainable.

I believe going back to the basics of urban design can only help us solve these challenges. A city should be planned and managed to limit resource consumption and carbon emissions.

Based on this proposal, my objective is to retrofit the conventional septic tank which is the infrastructure that handles human sewage into a biogas plant.

A biogas plant produces biogas a combustible mixture of methane and carbon dioxide. Biogas is a green energy source. Based on my research, I envision a scenario whereby we can combine the street grid system, water management system and energy systems to solve these pressing issues.

Assuming Lagos city has 50 streets, the streets can be divided into Units of 5 blocks of Streets each. The septic tanks of 5 streets are linked to a central waste system (biogas plants). The biogas produced is used in running gas engine pumps for water generation from water boreholes and circulation back to consumers in the streets. So we have 10 Units (Decentralized and closed System) independently treating its own waste water, generating green energy and providing clean water.   


The storm water will be properly harvested through well designed and coordinated drainages and used for non-domestic purposes. Using this model of compact urban development will help pave way for proper road construction planning that will facilitate the collection of refuse from streets that choke up the drains and canals.                 

Using very conservative figures and taking into consideration the adequate amount of water required for domestic and miscellaneous use by a family of 5 people. 

Estimating that a street in Lagos has an average of 50 houses with a family of 5 in each, a Street block will produce 187.50Kg of Sewerage per day, which is far above the required 172Kg per day. There will be adequate sewage production for the generation of 1720Liters Biogas per day required for running a pump of 1BHP that will produce 31250Liters of clean water in 4hours enough for domestic and miscellaneous use by 250 people.  

Tackling Climate change for a city like Lagos needs to be framed in the context of achieving a sustainable development pathway that includes poverty reduction and environmental protection.



Who will take these actions?


Bio Energy will be structured as a hybrid organization based incorporating both for-profit and non-profit strategies and will be made up of an interdisciplinary team of emerging talents in the areas of environment, urbanism, architecture, art, design, science, technology, education, and sustainability.This team will see to the day in day out activities of the organization and will spend time making Bio Energy better every day by inviting and involving  various stakeholders from around the world. 

Where will these actions be taken?


The project launch will begin from Lagos Nigeria. We will work with several partners to make sure that the organization will pilot this model in an effective and sustainable way to foster growth.


What are other key benefits?



1. An alternative, renewable and sustainable form of energy for electricity generation, running of engines, cooking lighting, heating e.t.c.
2. Provision of mineralized irrigation water for soil and fishpond fertilization.
3. Provision of high quality fertilizer
4. Savings on energy, health and prophylactic expenses, thereby increasing income.
5. Preservation of forest and natural vegetation by reducing demand for wood and charcoal.
6. Isolation and treatment of wastes, eliminating disease causing organisms and reducing odors.
7. Top soil management and enrichment
8. Increased food production.
9. Big boost to organic farming.
10. Improvement of indoor air quality.
11. Poverty alleviation.
12. Underground water conservation.
13. Reduction in the pollution of surface water bodies, where these organic wastes end up.
14. Reduction of green house gas emissions responsible for global climate change.


How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

What are the proposal’s costs?


I anticipate an investment of $1,000 in administrative, travel, and research expenses to write a business plan. In the near future, I will require an additional $2,000 to $5,000 for incorporation and legal expenses, plus $100,000 in seed venture financing to launch the project in Lagos.


Time line


The Project will be launched in five major phases, during the following estimated dates:

Phase 1 Incorporation: Finalize business plan, incorporate, file with the CAC, build project website: January—March, 2014

Phase 2 Venture Financing: $100,000 for construction of Bio-Energy Centre, and to jump-start operations: February—September, 2014

Phase 3 Construction of construction of Bio-Energy Centre: October—December, 2014

Phase 4 Optimize station: November, 2014

Phase 5 open for operations: December, 2014

Related proposals


DFID,2008.One world a million stories,Developments,issue 42.Depeatment for international development United kingdom.
FAO,UN.1986,Better farming series-BIOGAS 2,Building a better biogas unit,Food and Agriculture organisation United nations.
Ho MW. Biogas bonanza for third world development. Science in Society 27, 29, 2005.
Ho MW. Dream farm. Science in Society 27, 26-28, 2005.