The digester that I started up in my last post has worked like a clockwork! Like a schoolbook example!
So I filled it for the first time on Saturday two weeks ago. I used super fresh cow dung and very old water. On the 3rd day I started feeding it a bit, waited one day, then fed it a bit more, then every day and then twice per day, although I skipped some times when I felt I didn’t get the time. Every day you could see the gas storage in the top of the digester tube getting more and more inflated…
After one week and a day, on Sunday, the gas storage was full. I let it out without burning it, in agreement with the safety recommendations in my own thesis. This is because if somehow lots of oxygen has managed to remain somewhere in the system, and mixed in the right amount with the biogas, this could cause an explosion. It’s not likely that oxygen would remain, because some of the microorganisms involved in making biogas can consume oxygen, and prefer doing so if it is there, but just to be on the safe side. Besides, the gas probably wouldn’t burn anyway, because there would be too much carbon dioxide in it. When there is oxygen present, the end product tends to be carbon dioxide.
The gas smelled like the worst fart you’ve ever felt, plus some… All the kids were helping me squeezing the gas out, but everybody kept moving away from where the gas tap was pointing, so in the end we put a rock there instead. All the grownups left the sight completely.
Only two days later, the storage was full again! So you see, the bacteria had adapted and were getting the speed up. The kids helped me squeeze again. Saidi said it smelled a little bit different, and I guess I wasn’t quite as nauseated, but oh, it still smelled bad… Lots of H2S!
Two days later, and the digester looks like a balloon, ready to burst… It’s now 1,5 weeks after startup. So I decide to try and light the gas for the first time. Jiko man has not been reachable on the phone for a while, so I’ve improvised the simplest possible device just to test if it burns: It’s just a thin metal pipe that I put inside the hose pipe and tightened with clips and glue. And voilà, the gas burns!…
Oy, those moments of satisfaction, after months of planning and preparing! 😀 It’s like the whole household here lit up with the excitement. The gas burned with a beautiful, blue flame, sometimes a bit pink or orange, without any smoke and no smell either, except when the flame blew out now and then.
Ok, remains only to get a jiko sorted, and then we can start cooking for real. But already the next morning, I improvised again, so that I could warm my bath water with my biogas… And it was quick, mind you! (Which was good, because holding the sufuria (pot) like that kind of hurt my hands…) Another moment of blissful satisfaction! 🙂
Yesterday morning, I woke up by myself when it was still dark, thinking:
‘Where is that cock? Has it overslept . . .?’
I checked the time, and it was 4:25. About 5 min before the cock normally crows. So after a few minutes, it did crow. I nodded in satisfaction, and went back to sleep. Again and again I heard it and went back to sleep, until the sun was well up, and I woke up fully rested! We have finally reached harmony, me and the cock. 🙂
I think I’ve figured out why we have so much sleeping problems in Sweden. We’re just not tired enough! Of course this is partly because of what the experts also say, that we live too inactive lives, too stationary, too little physical labor and activity (and too much looking at screens). But I think it’s also because we just sleep too much! And too quietly! Too undisturbed! . . . So when something does disturb us, our bodies are probably quite happy to wake up. We were developed for a life with disturbances, after all . . .
Preparing my morning bath. I like those pictures best, that somebody takes of me when I’m not aware. 🙂
Though I’m also feeling strong for another reason. Yesterday, I started up my digester, with fresh cow dung from a nearby slaughter house! 🙂 We filled it with around 60 l of cow dung and 60 l of water, that had been stored for long, so that all the chlorine would be gone from it. Chlorine is, of course, bad for the biogas process for the same reason it’s good for drinking water: It kills microorganisms! No bacteria, no biogas.
Already today, the digester is showing some significant swelling . . . That dung must indeed have been very fresh! 🙂
Digging my digester pit. The purpose of the pit is both to give the digester a nice shape to lie in, to reduce stress on the material when it’s heavy with slurry and swelling with gas, and to offer some temperature stabilization.
Inventor and business talent Seif has finally arrived to the spot.
Seif contributes to the design, by adding a support to the pit, so that the weight of the digester doesn’t block the inlet and outlet. Sasha helps testing their strength and possible use as balance practicing equipment.
Filling the digester with water, just to test for whatever! . . . How much water it takes, how heavy it gets, if the pit holds, if it leaks . . . though nobody seriously believed that last one! But I stood on it, just to confirm. 🙂 (In fact, that was when we were trying to get the water out again . . . It was not a very effective method.)
We were filling it using the siphon principle, of course.
Isn’t it great when science just works? The crazy grins of two technical nerds in action . . . 🙂
Trying to get all the air out
Emptying it afterwards. This digester is just a tiny one for experimental purposes, so it wasn’t TOO hard . . . for three people!
Building a roof to protect the digester from the sun. Sasha helps untying the knots that uncle Kupata has just made.
There are some things that only happen to female engineers. In the middle of having my roof built, I’m called to wash the dishes! Hey, I’m busy here! . . . I’m watching my structure coming up!
Well, there are some things that only happen to male engineers, I guess. Being called into a war, perhaps . . . Actually, washing dishes is not bad.
Those slender rods are actually sisal flower stems. Very strong, yet very light. Yep! In Africa, there are flowers that you can build houses with.
This cover is just temporary. It will be coconut tree leaves later. Which is more of a grass than a tree . . . Because, you know, in Africa, the grasses grow high like trees. Yep.
I tried using a jug for the dung but it didn’t work, so I just used my hand instead. It was fine, really! Fresh cow dung smells healthy and organic, and feels like warm, wet grass. It was only afterwards, when the smell didn’t leave my hand that it became a bit bothersome . . . I recommend a small shovel, and possibly gloves, for this work!
Two hand-fulls of cow dung, one jug of water.
The sun still got to it in the afternoon, but this will be fixed.
Can you see how it has risen . . . ? 😀
Stay put for the exciting continuance! 120 l was even less volume than we expected to fill it with . . . but perhaps we’ll be able to cook at least tea with it next week?
Yesterday morning, Delina woke me up at 4:45 to go and fetch water with her and Mnyazi, since the tap had been dry for several days and all the water was over. It was great! We found grandma Fenny already at the well, filling those jericans of 50 l. We worked hard as the sun came up to bring them to our house, which, luckily, is less than even 100 m from the well.
A 50 l jerican of water though, I can not get up on my head! If I got it up, I could hardly correct it if it would start to fall, and it would surely break it I dropped it. Carrying one by that hand hurts your back. Carrying two… well, grandma Fenny does it, but it’s hard work indeed! So me and Delina, we took three between the two of us – one on each outer hand and one that we shared in the middle. Turns out the weak link was the left hand… None of us could carry far without dropping the one we carried alone with our left hand! (It occurs to me now that we could have both had our left hand in the middle, so that we would be facing in different directions, and then be walking sideways on a line…?) Anyway, the sun came up and water was there! It was very satisfying.
Delina asked me if I was tired “ama bado?”, or not yet. “Bado!”, I answered, not yet! They laughed. Delina asked if we go one more time, her and me, and I said ok. They laughed again but said it’s not possible, because the well was dry now anyway. The water was over. Which was ok, coz we now had plenty.
The next morning, Delina woke me up same time. I did not hear what she said, but didn’t need to. I just got up. But when I reached the well, as Delina was still cooking the snacks she sells in the school where she teaches, grandma shook her head and said the water was already over. And she had been there since 4:15! Already then, it had been gone!
“Nakuambia, watu wamelala hapo, people they slept here at night!”, she said. “You better go home and sleep again.”
So I went back home, although of course I would not sleep again now as day was breaking. Grandma stayed to keep harvesting the little trickle of water that filled the well, as she had been doing for 1.5 h…
As I reached home, I told Delina there was no water, and she exclaimed:
“Oh! People they slept there last night!”
Perhaps people really did sleep there, by the well…?
So as I came back from picking Sasha at school, I immediately went with the children to the well to see if there was water. Several people were already sitting there harvesting the trickle, in the darkness because the sun had already set, but there was no water. We went to another well, which is still only around 2–300 m from home but it’s up a hill and down a hill. I had seen people getting lots of water there in the morning when our well was empty. But I could see already from a distance that there was nobody there, so that did not raise hopes… and as we reached, the well was of course dry.
So after an early supper, I put the kids to bed and we went to sit by our well to wait for the trickle. Again, there were many people there… It must have taken us over an hour, and yet we probably didn’t get more than half the amount we had fetched the previous day… Not so satisfying anymore! But what can you do? As we sat there, Delina shook her head and said:
“Without water, oy… Life is hard!”
It’s not even drinking water in the well. In fact, when it’s scarce like this, it’s quite dirty. I wonder what these people drink? Since the food poisoning both me and my youngest, Sasha, had last time the tap was dry for long, I’ve been giving bottled water to the kids when the tap is dry. They store tap water for drinking separately here, but after a few days, I think it’s still not great to drink…
I also wonder what those wells are really about!… They’re not boreholes! Down there, there is a huge pipe which they’ve told me is the main tap water pipe… They’ve also said the water from there is, in fact, tap water, but they don’t drink it, because that well is open all the time so you don’t know what has come into it… But why would the water company want to leave tap water out like that? It’s obviously not just a broken pipe (though I’ve seen places that look like they are that too, and people collect even that water, but) this is a properly cemented place with two hatches on top to lift the water up…
It’s weird. But we need to shower, wash clothes, clean utensils, clean our house… so what can we do? We go to that weird well! At least, I’m getting a full body exercise! 🙂
And the reason me and Sasha were so late from school was that we had a cup of tea and a very fruitful conversation with the chief of this place. He knew of a slaughter house maybe 2 km from here where I can probably get cow dung. So with any luck, I’ll be carrying a small bucket of cow dung on my head for 2 km every morning soon! 🙂 To feed my tiny experimental digester, of course. I look forward to that!
And one of the import agents found by googling gave a price that is at least only 2/3 of that other one… That’s around USD 900 for 3 digesters. It’s still high, but it could maybe be done, for a first attempt… Were rolling! 😉
And now, it’s past midnight and I’m up writing. It’s because after our disappointing water adventure in the morning, I had some light food poisoning again, and then I went back to bed and slept until 2 pm… My day rythm is completely up! But I’ve taken my sleep medicine and now I’ll just publish and try to sleep. For 5h, until my alarm rings again. Or maybe 4h, until the inside cock crows… because one of the chicks have grown up to become a rooster. I’m not thrilled about it!… But I’ll get by.
I’ll try to add pictures tomorrow, but right now I haven’t really taken any. So good night!
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Now, the story in pictures:
Yes, I can carry a jerican on my head!. . . If I support it with one hand! :p
Kenya banned plastic bags! I’m so impressed. . . Here are some of the results:
Reusable shopping bags sold in the supermarket. Yes I have mine!
Street food being sold in paper cones. Why not! Just like in Sweden of old.
I had a picture of two young men selling a variety of reusable shopping bags in all colors in the street of Mombasa. I was going to name that one New business opportunities, but it’s like I lost it. . . Oh well!
Who thought I would find myself walking around in skirts and scarves all the time?!. . . It’s very comfortable, you know! When the temperature is around 30 centigrade and the humidity 100%. . . (And no, my waist bag is not normally open! But I had just removed my phone to give to Sasha, who wanted to take my picture)
And it protects you from the sun, too! Though this is becoming less and less important. . . Btw, I’ve actually managed to avoid getting burned, all together! 🙂
Felix giving his new brother a hair cut. More enthusiastically then well, though. . . But with some subsequent adjustment. . . Yeah!
Today (read “yesterday”) Felix started in his new school. He was super excited! 🙂 We have gone around to three different schools just to see the difference, and to ask which ones will force him to cut his hair and which won’t. He has given up his previous school, his friends, his country, his culture and everything that is familiar to him without much fuzz, but if anybody tries to take his mohawk, that fight will go all the way to the finish!…
A proud and happy Felix at lunch, his first day in school
Only from going for these school interviews, it is also very evident to me that there is a stark difference between one school and another here. We went to one public school and two private ones. The public one was of course the worst. No surprise there really – everybody had told us so – but it’s different when you see it for yourself. Their attitude seemed to be “Do you really HAVE to bring us one more student…? And this one doesn’t even know Swahili and only a little English, it will be lots of work for us!”. On the whole, I got the impression that they felt that children are a nuisance that only needs to be kept in check as much as possible.
But the most expensive private school was not the best! It’s probably good enough, it was mostly the fees that scared me away. But later I also heard that the head teacher there has said that he keeps the fees that high so as to make sure he only gets “the right people”… Hmm. I’m not sure the right people for him is the right people for us!
But the middle option really impressed both me and Felix! Novel Junior School. I loved the head teacher there, Naomi N. Kioko. She talked with us a bit and Felix did a test with one of the teachers, and towards the end when I said I think Felix will catch up quickly what he lacks in language and hand writing, she said, with a wink to him:
“No, I’ve seen him. I know he will!”
Novel Junior School in Miritini
Me, young Sasha and the head teacher madam Naomi Kioko in her office.
She seemed happy to have the opportunity to nurture Felix’ talents and enthusiasm, and make sure he gets the attention he needs so that he can develop them well. Like she is in it for the passion, not for the money or anything else.
Otherwise the project is moving, “slowly by slowly”. I’ve come in contact with a woman in Nairobi, Joyce Wango, who installs fixed dome biogas digesters and is interested in venturing into tubular digesters. I’m planning a little tour with my tiny biogas digester, where I will visit her, the NGO Goshen that I’ve blogged about, Polycap and Samuel from my biogas club in the Nyasanda design project, Orongo Widows and Orphans Center, and all those people over there in Western Kenya where I’ve worked before, to see who is willing to work with me and what each one is willing to do. I will also try and get hold of some people that I have lost the contact information to!
I have ordered a biogas burner from a local “fundi”, a welder. He has seen the digester and the site and seemed interested in long-term cooperation. However he seems very… Kenyan… in the sense that he never shows up when he has said he will. In fact, he hasn’t showed up at all in a while! Well, we’ll see.
Good night, for now!
Fresh from purchasing school uniform
Second day of school, at 6:45 am. Breakfast on the way! From left: Felix, Sasha, Mama Fenny, Fenny and Esther.
The intended site for the miniature digester. My house on the right. It says “Danger” on the electricity pole right there, but. . . that’s ok, isn’t it? And I think a small latrine could fit on the other side of that pole, just for me and my kids in the beginning. . .
Relaxed African village life. Just resting a bit while waiting for the members of the “chama”, that is the microfinance group, to arrive.
We’ve landed in Mazeras, just outside Mombasa. So the plan was to go to Zanzibar at first, because of political tension, and I actually bought a ticket there at Nairobi airport. But I cancelled my ticket and got my money back (Kenya Airways! Still the best return policy you’ve seen in an airline company…) when it turned out to be very expensive, plus everybody convinced me there was not going to be any political violence this time, and even if there was, it would not be in Mazeras.
We’re currently sleeping in a room in “auntie Feni’s” house, the mother of my friend and co-worker Esther, cousin of my teammate Samseif. Today however, we started repairs for a room in another building on the compound: It will be enlarged, the floor will be cemented, windows will be put in, and when it’s done, I and the kids will sleep there. We will even get furniture from Esther’s old house in Mombasa, which she is planning to move out of, so that she also stays here in Mazeras. Our household thus consists of: Auntie Feni, her two grown children Esther and Suma, Esther’s 11-year-old son Saidi, Sumas wife Delina and their 7-year-old daughter Feni, who only lives here part-time, and the rest of the time with her other grandmother near her school. Plus me and my kids, Felix, 7 years, and Sasha, 3 years.
The arrangement is perfect, since it means we all eat and live together, meaning that I and the kids are constantly exposed to the Swahili language, authentic Kenyan food and just Kenyan life in general! (I asked Felix the other day if it’s true what I had predicted, that Kenyan kids are more fun to be with? He said it’s true! So I asked how so, and he said: “They come up with much more fun games to play all the time!”… I’m gonna stick with my theory that this is because Kenyan kids are left alone to play (and sort out their own conflicts) much, much more than Swedish kids. Kids have much more fun if adults just leave them alone…!) Last night, Sasha was really eating his ugali well! 🙂 Even with the green vegetable stew that was served with it. Myself, I have formed several correct sentences in Swahili, and picked up one or two when they speak with each other… It will get better!
I have unpacked the tiny little biogas digester I got with me from Sweden. It is, of course, adorable! It’s made as a tube type, though it’s so short to its width that it might work more as a tank… but without stirring… (The manufacturer has convinced me that a tube digester is better off without any stirring at all, unlike what it says in my thesis.) Today, I bought connections for it, to attach the gas tube. Thank God for standard pipe and thread sizes! I’ll try to use a 3/4″ water pipe, since it’s there already. I’ve also made arrangements for free cow dung. The only thing that remains to get now is some kind of burner for the gas, and we can start up the adorable little thing! 😀
Oh, and I seriously need to print some business cards that I can give out. Interest in my product is as high as ever… Remains only to see if they’ll actually buy it! 🙂
Sasha helps Esther and Delina cook chapatis
Esther supervising the building of our new home