Biogas systems in the Guatemalan highlands

Asociación Alterna, a NGO based in Quetzaltenango (Guatemala) implemented one of our SEPS projects between March 2012 and August 2013. Their goal was to demonstrate the feasibility and adequacy of biogas systems for small-scale productive units in the Guatemalan highlands.

Subsistence economies that involve growing crops and keeping backyard animals are common among rural and peri-urban households in Guatemala. Processing procedures require energy for cooking, roasting or baking, which is traditionally generated by using firewood and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Biogas systems can translate into a threefold alternative: providing clean fuel (biogas) and organic fertilizer (digestate) by treating organic waste (originating from the farm).

Alterna‘s approach is based on a partnership with existent organisations that possess a long and strong linkage to local farmers (e.g. cooperatives, farmer associations, NGOs). Through a careful assessment – involving both Alterna’s skills and knowledge of the local organisations – 14 pilot sites were selected for the installation of biogas systems. Particular attention was paid to accompanying users through the process of adopting the technology to their daily lives. The strategy comprises a daily journal entry by the users, weekly telephone calls as well as visits every 6-8 weeks during the initial six months of operation.

The intensive monitoring work during this demonstration phase was crucial to reach the current status of the project: By now, 13 systems have been producing gas for at least nine months. The ‘oldest’ system is already operating for more than one year. Current biogas users have become the best ‘emissaries’ for the technology among neighbours and associates of the involved organisations; not only by showcasing the technology in their farms and informing about their experience, but also by sharing digestates, whose fertilizing effect is receiving growing interest.

Based on the diverse lessons learned, Alterna plans to engage on a further project phase in order to scale up the diffusion of the technology. Yet again, their close partnerships with other organisations will be the baseline for their activities. The main goal is to develop plans and mechanisms with these local organisations, so that the diffusion of biogas solutions eventually becomes an integral part of their services. WISIONS will support this up-scaling phase for the diffusion of biogas technologies in the Guatemalan highlands.

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