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Biogas failure in Africa

Neil Noble

I'm hoping that someone will be able to answer three basic questions;

Why have so many organisations stopped building biogas digesters in Africa these last few years?
Why do many Africans believe there are now lots of 'white elephants'?
Why are there few, if any, published surveys of digester performance in Africa?


The prominent reason behind projects getting in africa are the bureaucratic delays and the political uncertanities.

hamza1 gravatar imagehamza1 ( 2017-08-14 13:15:53 )

5 Answers

Neil Noble

You are right that there have been many “white elephant” biogas projects in Africa and the technology’s reputation has been damaged because of this, while in Asia the story is different and biogas seems to be much more successful.

Some time ago (199) there was a review done by Practical Action of Biogas in Kenya Biogas Promotion in Kenya: A Review of Experiences by Stephen Gitonga which can be summarised as…. “According to a study (1997) by Practical Action, 1100 plants are in operation in Kenya. Most of the units were constructed under the Ministry of Energy’s Special Energy Programme sponsored by GTZ. Most biogas systems found in Kenya are between 4-16 cubic metres. Three cubic metres of gas is considered sufficient to meet the cooking and lighting needs of a family of 5 persons in Kenya. The per capita daily consumption of biogas is 0.6 cubic metres, which translates to an annual per capita consumption of 219 cubic metres of biogas. Uptake of biogas technology in Kenya has remained very low due to high capital costs for not only the plant, but also for the modified burners and lighting units. Inadequate maintenance and management support services required have further impeded uptake because plants are prone to cracking and leaking yet their operations require that they be air and water-tight. Lack of adequate water supplies, which is normally added in a ratio of between one and three parts water to one part feedstock, has also been an impediment.”

Some circumstances may still prove to be appropriate for biogas technology, even if some of other do not. Farming and rural families may not be the best focus for such a technology while institutions such as schools may work. A short description of one of the bio-latrines installed in a school is as follows although this does not include any assessment of the its continued success, I would need to contact our Kenya office to see if there is any up-to-date monitoring on this and the community centres in which biogas was also installed.


I need to preface this with the fact that my expertise and experience lies in Food Processing Technology - so this is not an authoritative view on Biogas. I have, however, worked in communities in South Africa where I have come into contact with suppliers and consumers.

Since the 80s there has been increasing attention to biogas in South Africa but it is mainly focussed on farm scale systems as well as urban domestic and food industry waste. There is a regulatory process for gas producers, managed by The National Energy Regulator (NERSA) who have established policy and feed-in tariffs. There has recently been a new interest in biogas plants at village level with NERSA approving 38 "village" plants in the two years to October 2013, with more being planned.

My hearsay based understanding. is that there were attempts at introducing biogas at household/village level at the end of the millennium at least by the Water Research Commission and CSIR. These seemed to have failed for social and community acceptance reasons.

An MSc Thesis by Anya Boyd at the University of Cape Town, which although it focusses on technology transfer of low carbon technologies as a means of mitigating global emissions, has a lot of solid information on Biogas in South Africa and also identifies players in the sector.

There is a Biogas Association in South Africa whose members list can be browsed online - also on the site is a paper from a 2013conference gives a broad overview of biogas in SA.

This might be more red herrings than useful information because of my lack of in depth involvement, but I am sure there is a lot of information available in South Africa to which, I believe, this should provide some kind of a starting point.


Hi Neil, there seems to be insufficient information regarding operation of biogas plants in Kenya. The key issue is the scale at which a plant can be effectively operated. Small scale to me doesn't seem to be ideal. But a lot needs to be done to challenge the status quo.

There are a few ideas we can exchange over this as it is my area of interest.

Elisabeth von Muench

Hi Neal, In case you are still following this thread, we have had similar discussions about biogas sanitation projects here on the SuSanA discussion forum:

See in particular this thread about biogas sanitation in Africa:

and here with a focus on Kenya:

Coming back to your original question: were you referring to biogas digesters in general or to biogas sanitation in particular?