Methodological and Technological issues in Technology Transfer

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Case Study 19

Dissemination of Biogas Digester Technology
Li Yue
Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS)

Keywords: China, rural energy, biogas, training, S S.

Small-scale biogas digesters have been reasonably successful in China and India for providing clean energy and high quality fertilisers in rural areas. The Asia-Pacific Region Biogas Research and Training Centre (BRTC), founded primarily to facilitate diffusion of biogas digester technology, has contributed significantly to promoting the development of biogas digester technology in developing countries. This case is a unique example of a South-South technology transfer.

Global methane emissions from livestock manure were estimated to be 20-30 Tg/yr. Manure management systems that store manure under anaerobic conditions contribute about 60% to this source. Biogas digesters have a proven record as an environmentally sound technology and find considerable acceptability in China and India. These digesters are designed to enhance the anaerobic decomposition of organic material and to maximise methane production and recovery. Moreover, this technology has proven to be suitable for temperate as well as tropical climatic conditions. In addition to reducing methane emissions from livestock manure, anaerobic digesters are very well suited to meeting rural energy requirements. This technology also reduces the demand for commercial fertilisers and, thus, helps protect the environment and improve human health.

The BRTC was established in 1981 in Chengdu, China, to spread the use of the technology in other countries. BRTC has since been responsible for training technical engineers in countries from Africa and the Asia-Pacific region. The parties involved in setting up this centre were the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade in China. The Chinese government was interested in the project because it provided a good opportunity to publicise biogas digesters in developing countries at a reasonably low cost. However, one of the major barriers to initiating this project was the financial resource needed to support trainees from developing countries. Furthermore, small farmers found it difficult to raise enough financial resources to cover the initial costs of constructing a biogas digester.
During the first six years of its operation, the centre received financial support from UNDP. Subsequently, the Chinese government undertook the financial responsibility for training engineers. Since the time of its inception, the centre has conducted 21 training workshops with over 270 participants from over 71 countries. During the period 1980 to 1990, this centre assisted the construction of over 70 digesters in 22 developing countries.

Most participants of the programme acquired the skills to construct, operate and maintain small-scale biogas digesters in their countries. The centre proved to be a valuable tool in demonstrating the usefulness of capacity building in transferring technology. In addition to sequestering methane emissions, the technology provided clean and convenient ways of energy generation.

Lessons Learned
Important lessons from this case are:
Technology transfer from one developing country to another works remarkably well.
Technology transfers among developing countries are limited because most advanced technologies are developed and owned by industrialised countries.
Greater emphasis on joint development of technology is likely to increase developing country participation.
In a technology transfer case between developing countries, financing can become an issue.

Hu Ronglu, 1998: Personal communication.
Safley, L.M., M.E. Casada, J.W. Woodbury, and K.F. Roos, 1992: Global Methane Emissions from Livestock and Poultry Manure. U.S. EPA Report 400/1-91/048, Office of Air and Radiation, Washington, DC, 68pp.
Zhao, Y., 1990: International exchange on biogas technology during 1980 to 1990. In China Biogas 1980-1990. Environmental Protection and Energy Department of Agricultural Ministry of China, Chinese Scientific and Technological Publishing House. pp. 53-57.

Fang Guoyuan, Deputy Director, Biogas Institute of CAAS, 13, Renminnan Road, Chengdu 610041, China.

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