(IAP ’18 FELLOW) Sami Khan, G
Blog Post 3: We generated biogas bubbles!
In my last blog post, I described how I put together our biodigester with help from the orphanage staff, and designed and built a sustainable vegetable garden. I officially concluded my project in Takengon on January 6th, and now I am back in Boston with plenty of time to reflect on my wonderful experience there. Time for an update!
Typically, biodigesters take about a month to fully generate biogas. And even then, the first batch of gas must always be fully purged because it contains air that can create a dangerous explosive mixture if burned right away. So about a couple of weeks after we sealed up the biodigester, we opened the main valve with a tube leading to a jar of water and voila! We saw bubbles! Check out this following video showing our delight at seeing our first batch of biogas: Biogas Bubbles
This was particularly a huge relief given the erratic cold and rainy weather we had over the couple of weeks during my project! Given that cold weather significantly slows down biogas generation, I was delighted to demonstrate proof-of-concept as well as ensure there were no leaks in the system.
We then fully purged this batch of gas. It took about three minutes to fully purge the gas and then we closed all the valves. I purged the gas one final time on my last day and instructed the staff to let a fresh batch of biogas generate for a month. They will then test it with a specially designed biogas stove. Below is a picture showing my envisioned setup for the biodigester for a sustainable, long term operation.
Every time a batch of biogas is generated, the black bicycle tube on the left in the image will be first filled up to store the gas (multiple tubes can be used as necessary to store the gas). Then, the gas can be used to run a stove either from the main valve or connected to one of the storage tubes as necessary.
Three full weeks after we planted our vegetable seeds, plants sprouted out! Look at the children delightedly checking out their own vegetable patches and the products of their hard work!
Finally, I would like to end by a reflecting on the impact I left on this community. On my last day, the staff and children put up a very touching farewell ceremony for me and thanked me for spending time with their community. They made a wonderful thank-you poster for me and put it up in their central hall! It says the following words: “Thank you very much Brother, we really felt a sincere kindness for you taking care and giving valuable knowledge, may your goodness get the best reward from Allah (God)”. Aww!
I was also delighted to see the STEM impact I left. In my last week, I taught the children about water-repelling materials (“hydrophobic”) and demonstrated some cool nano-engineered materials I had brought over from MIT.
The next day after my lecture, a few students went into the backyard and plucked a leaf and delightedly showed me how hydrophobic it was. They then went online and researched more about the leaf and put together a presentation to my delight. I could really see that they grasped the concepts and were curious about science!
All in all, my experience at the Noor Deen Orphanage was absolutely incredible and I thank everyone, especially the staff at the PKG center and members of the GiveLight foundation who made it happen!
Blog Post 2: A Poopy Affair!
Happy New Year from Takengon, Indonesia where I am volunteering at the Noor Deen Orphan Home! Since my last blog post, we continued our quest to build a functioning biodigester. As many of you may know, biodigesters are an extremely sustainable way to produce a reliable supply of clean cooking gas as well as high quality fertilizer, all for little-to-no-monthly-costs. An important component of the biodigester is cow manure which contains valuable methanogen bacteria that break down organic wastes in an anaerobic environment and generate gas. So, as the next step in our biodigester production, we decided to go hunting for cow manure in Takengon. Luckily, we found a cow farm close to our orphan home and scooped up a few buckets of fresh poop!
We gathered some wastes from the kitchen and literally any organic products we could find. I encouraged the kids to keep track of their waste to be added periodically to the biodigester. In order to make the digestion process a bit more efficient we cut up plant waste into smaller pieces.
We then mixed them all together with some water and funneled it down our biodigester. The staff and kids really seemed to enjoy the process despite the slightly disagreeable odors involved! This gave me confidence that my project is in good hands once I’m back in the US…
The biodigester was then completely sealed up with all valves shut closed. The plan is to let it sit undisturbed for a good 7-10 days before opening the main outlet valve and seeing if we generate any gas. Check my next blog post to see how we did!
In the meantime while the biogas merrily generates itself I decided to get some sustainable gardening initiatives going in a small plot of fertile land owned by the orphan home staff. We dug up the soil and prepared vegetable beds, and added horse manure as fertilizer. We purchased seeds for spinach, cucumber, chillies and kangkung (a local nutritious green leafy vegetable) and planted them together. I encouraged all children to maintain their own vegetable bed space and plant whichever plants they were interested in growing and cultivating.
Within a month or two we should have have some veggies ready to be cultivated: my ultimate hope is that the kids, along with the orphanage staff, will do a weekly “sustainable soup night” event where they cook some of the veggies they grow on our (hopefully soon-ish) fully operational biogas stove. Wouldn’t that be a lovely wholesome metric of success from my project?!
Aside from these projects, I have had the priceless experience of spending time teaching and mentoring these orphan children. Every day we spend a few hours together learning English, studying science and math, playing games, doing origami and so much more. I’ll end by sharing a pic from our new year’s celebration together!
Check back next week on how my projects turned out in my final blog post!
Blog Post 1: A 10,000 mile journey to Takengon, Indonesia
After a grueling journey from Boston that involved over three days of flights with four layovers and a long overnight bus ride, I found myself in the beautiful town of Takengon located in the heart of Sumatra, Indonesia. Nestled among towering mountains and located on the shores of the beautiful lake Laut Tawar, Takengon offers an ideal climate for growing coffee. The well known “Sumatra coffee” that all true coffee connoisseurs are familiar with is primarily grown here. A cool, temperature reprieve from the otherwise sweltering weather of Indonesia, Takengon is the venue for my 2018 IAP PSC fellowship experience!
Just outside the city center is a beautiful orphan home called “Noor Deen” (translates to “Light of the Religion”). This orphanage was established by the GiveLight Foundation (http://givelight.org) one year after the 2004 Asian Tsunami, which left behind many orphaned children. Since its inception, the Noor Deen home has cared for over 300 orphans, and presently supports 40 children.
Orphan homes are primarily supported by volunteer donations. As such, it is imperative for them to minimize their annual operating costs as well as maximize their sources of revenue in order to be sustainable, and thereby efficiently target their funding directly towards orphan welfare programs. In my three weeks here, I am interested in evaluating if the Noor Deen home can become at least over 50% close to being energy-independen) in terms of electricity and cooking gas requirements. It is an ambitious goal and I have decided to focus primarily on biomass-derived energy and solar energy.
In this endeavor, one of my first goals was to set up a simple bio-digester which would provide a regular and reliable source of cooking gas. As soon as I arrived, I worked with the local orphanage staff to procure materials and equipment to build my biodigester. We bought a cheap oil drum and cleaned it up. I also engaged the children in the process, so it would be a scientific learning experience for them.
The objective is to fill the drum with compostable wastes and cow manure and let it sit in a sealed environment to generate biogas. Once the gas is generated, it would be stored in a tube that can be subsequently used in the kitchen as a source of cooking gas.
I was able to buy a few pipes and valves in the US before leaving. To my delight, they fit perfectly in the oil drum without the need for any welding or adjustments!
Check back next week for updates on how the biodigester design is progressing and updates on the other side projects I plan to do!
Sami will be working at the Noor Deen Orphan Home in Takengon, Indonesia. He will identify their main operating costs and propose solutions towards making the orphan home self-sustaining. A major goal of the project is to determine if the orphan home can become completely energy independent; in this endeavor, Sami will survey the energy needs of the home and conceptually design an affordable solar farm. He will also design and set up a biogas facility that will provide clean, renewable fuel for cooking, thereby reducing natural gas costs. Finally, he will mentor the orphan children and encourage leadership development, and empower them to succeed in their endeavors.
Check back for updates on his project!