Protecting the Environment Through Biogas

Photo & Text:
Fahreza Ahmad
Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Yusnidar cooks by utilizing methane gas that is decomposed from fecal waste at the Banda Aceh Fecal Waste Treatment Plant (IPLT) complex. Since 2015 until now, Yusnidar and three other neighbors have been using the methane gas. They use it for cooking needs and receive cake orders to help the family economy. For Yusnidar, whose husband works as a heavy equipment operator at the Kampung Jawa landfill in Banda Aceh, the methane gas can reduce her expenses. “In a month we can save 300 to 400 thousand rupiah instead of having to buy LPG gas,” Yusnidar said.

Edo, a desludging truck officer who also lives in the IPLT complex, explained that throughout the year the methane gas from the decomposition of fecal waste flows well. “There is no problem,” Edo explained.

Edo continued, previously, the methane gas from the fecal waste reactor was first channeled to the Kampung Jawa landfill. The gas was then combined with methane gas from the decomposition of organic waste before being channeled to the homes of residents in the two villages around the landfill. However, in the last three years the methane gas pipeline from the STP to the landfill was closed by the Banda Aceh Municipal Government. As a result, currently only residents in the IPLT complex can utilize the fecal biogas. “It’s good for us because now the fecal methane gas can flow more smoothly,” he said.

Yusnidar (35), a housewife, utilizes the methane gas from the fecal waste for cooking.
Water bubbles from the methane gas of a human feces biogas reactor in Banda Aceh.
Every day, the biogas reactor of Kampung Jawa STP receives 30 m³ of fecal sludge from 7 tanker trucks that are taken from people's houses in Banda Aceh and parts of Aceh Besar district.
The pipe network that becomes the terminal for organic waste methane gas before it is flowed to the compressor unit at the Kampung Jawa landfill.
Leachate water is poured over a 33-meter-high mound of waste at the Kampung Jawa landfill in Banda Aceh to accelerate the fermentation of organic waste into methane gas.

The IPLT complex is adjacent to the Kampung Jawa landfill. Kampung Jawa Landfill actually also has a facility for decomposing organic waste into methane gas, which both started in 2015. However, unlike the fecal methane gas, currently the methane gas from the decomposition of organic waste in Kampung Jawa landfill has almost run out.

According to Teuku Dharma, the Biogas operator of Kampung Jawa landfill, the methane gas is running out because Kampung Jawa landfill is only a transit location for Banda Aceh residents’ waste before being transported to Blang Bintang landfill in Aceh Besar. The transfer of the waste disposal location is because Kampung Jawa Landfill is currently experiencing overcapacity. This landfill receives more than 200 tons of household waste from Banda Aceh residents. The mound of waste is up to 33 meters high. “The mixing of organic and inorganic waste also accelerates the excess waste capacity here,” Teuku Dharma explained.

Previously, the benefits of this methane gas had been felt by 210 residents around the Kampung Jawa landfill, although only during limited hours, namely 08.00 to 12.00 WIB and 15.00 to 18.00 WIB.

Methane gas from decomposing organic waste is driven by a simple compressor unit to be utilized by residents around Kampung Jawa landfill, Banda Aceh.
A herd of water buffaloes search for scraps among piles of garbage at the Blang Bintang landfill in Aceh Besar. Currently, livestock are responsible for 16% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.
Waste pickers are one solution to the problem of mixed waste in landfills. However, households hold the greatest responsibility for sorting waste before disposal.

Methane gas is produced when certain types of microorganisms decompose organic matter in airless conditions. Methane can come from various sources, one of which comes from the food we produce. The process of waste decomposition produces gases including methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2), and nitrogen oxides which are products of organic waste decomposition.

According to Indonesian Environmental Statistics 2017, major cities in Indonesia produce an average of 962 cubic meters of organic waste per day. Of the decomposition results, 94.64 percent produces methane gas. Methane gas is 21 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide gas. If the above amount of methane gas is released, it can pollute the air with the destructive power of 1 ton of CH4 equal to 21 tons of CO2 exhaust emissions.

The dangerous gas from the decomposition of organic waste triggered a tragedy when the Leuwigajah landfill in Cimahi, Bandung, exploded on Monday morning, February 21, 2005. The explosion was suspected to have been triggered by the concentration of methane gas in the waste pile. As a result, 157 people died from Cilimus Village and Pojok Village, which is 1 km away from the Leuwigajah landfill. The two settlements were devastated after being buried by a mountain of garbage 200 meters long and 60 meters high from the Leuwigajah landfill.

The Leuwigajah landfill tragedy is just one example of the adverse effects of environmentally unfriendly waste management. Another impact that can occur, mountains of garbage can spread foul odors and contaminate underground water sources with toxic liquids from the decomposition process of organic waste.

Seeing the bad impact that can occur due to the accumulation of waste, there needs to be an alternative to waste management. One of them is through processing waste into biogas.

Anaerobic ponds that precipitate fecal waste into dry fertilizer.
Staff shoveling dry fertilizer from the fermentation of fecal waste in the anaerobic pond of the IPLT complex, Banda Aceh.

Biogas energy generation can restore landfills polluted with waste materials. Mountains of garbage can be reduced by biogas production, which can help improve water and air quality. In addition, the anaerobic process can inactivate pathogens and parasites. This process effectively reduces waterborne diseases. Ultimately these efforts lead to improved environment, sanitation and hygiene.

Unlike non-renewable fossil fuels, biogas has the advantage of being both renewable and environmentally friendly. The raw materials used in biogas production are renewable because trees and plants will continue to grow. Our crop and food scraps are raw materials that will always be available, making it a sustainable option. The gas from organic waste is also non-polluting as there is no combustion in the fermentation process. This means no greenhouse gas emissions are released into the atmosphere.

A by-product of the biogas decomposition process is organic fertilizer, both from organic waste and human feces. Organic fertilizers can accelerate plant growth and disease resistance. It can also increase soil nutrients as well as the soil’s ability to bind water. Indonesia’s agrarian sector has been heavily dependent on chemical fertilizers, which are not cheap. Excessive use of chemical fertilizers can also lead to decreased soil fertility and environmental pollution.

The technology to produce biogas is quite cheap. Only a small-scale investment is needed so that a biodigester or organic waste reservoir can be used at home by utilizing kitchen waste and feces. Generally, all types of processed organic materials produce biogas, but only homogeneous solid and liquid organic materials are suitable for simple biogas systems.

It is estimated that there are three types of feedstock that are prospective for development as biogas feedstock in Indonesia, including animal and human manure, organic waste, and liquid waste. The manifested gas can be used directly for cooking or electricity generation. This allows the cost of biogas production to be relatively low.

Officials load organic waste onto a truck from a traditional market in Banda Aceh. Traditional markets are among the largest producers of waste, both organic and non-organic.

The potential for biogas in Indonesia is quite abundant, given the dense population and the existence of livestock as one of the activities of the agricultural community. Almost all farmers have livestock including cows, goats, and chickens. Among these types of livestock, cattle are the largest greenhouse gas contributor, accounting for 14.5 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the world.

The construction of a biogas plant will effectively balance carbon while helping to combat climate change and access to clean energy. Utilizing waste to produce clean and sustainable energy can save revenue while realizing a clean environment.

Fahreza Ahmad

Documentary photographer based in Banda Aceh. He was awarded for environmental issues in Anugerah Pewarta Foto Indonesia 2018 and second place in the Photo Story Competition “Stories of Climate Change”.

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