Awareness and visions:
83 percent of the population in Nepal, particularly the rural, burns fuel wood to produce energy every day. The demand for fuelwood is increasing. Without proper management of fuel wood cutting, forest resources can be depleted in no time.
Various institutional bodies contributed financial resources and technical expertise to find a more efficient way of producing energy to replace the conventioanl fuel wood burning, in which the gobar gas plant was discovered.
Late B.R. Soubolle, a missionary schoolteacher was the protagonist of biogas technology in Nepal. He built an experimental basis, the gobar (animal dung) plant and demonstrated the possibility of utilising organic waste for producing biogas in early 1960s. The gobar gas technology is based on anaerobic fermentation of organic waste causing its decomposition, which generates 60-70 percent methane gas.
After 15 years of Soubolles experimentation, the government launched a gobar gas plant construction program in 1975/76, the Agriculture year, by providing interest free loans to farmers for installing gobar-gas plants. In the following year, low interest bearing loans were offered. Since the cost of the plant was too high for an ordinary farmer to bear, UNDP and UNICEF came up with a subsidy program of 50 percent cost for installing community plants.
In order to promote this technology in an organised way, a private company Gobar Gas Company (GGC) was established in 1977 with three principle shareholders, The Agricultural Development Bank (ADB), the Fuel Corporation and the United Mission to Nepal (UMN). With coordinated efforts of GGC as plant supplier, ADB as grant and credit provider and the Development and Consulting Services (DCS) of UMN providing technical supervision, about 9000 gobar gas plants were built in 14 years. In 1992, SNV of the Netherlands came up with a comprehensive support program for biogas technology promotion. With this support, a program has been launched to commission 100000 biogas plants in a period between 1996/97 to 2001/2.
According to APEC, one biogas plant, on average, helps to save 2 tons of fuelwood, 0.8 tons of agricultural waste, 0.45 tons of dung cake and 50 litre of kerosene per household. Another benefit is the annual reduction in CO2 from households. Apart for these benefits, there are more, such as, saving of labour at least 3 hours per day per household, improvement in health due to better kitchen environment, appreciable saving on plant nutrient with better organic fertilizer in the form of slurry etc. also accrue.
The recently conducted Biogas Users Survey 1998 by Biogas Support Program shows a very positive trend. The most significant finding is the majority of plant owners are marginal and small farmers. Previous surveys reported that the facility was mostly enjoyed by medium to rich sections of the community. Another noteworthy finding is 90 percent of the users were satisfied with the working of their plants. It was also found that the operation cost of biogas plant was virtually nil. Smoke free cooking and easy working equipment was considered to be the main reason for plant installation. The subsidy was found to be the main attraction for installing biogas plant. The survey has estimated that 100 plants have helped saved approximately 3.2 hectares of forest calculated based on gas consumption.