Case: Sri Lanka - Standard Code for Domestic Biogas Systems

Development and Adoption of Sri Lanka Standard Code of Practice for Design and Construction of Domestic Biogas Systems

By Namiz Musafer, Practical Action Consulting (INFORSE contact person for Practical Action, Sri Lanka since 2003)

Brief History of Biogas in Sri Lanka

The multi faceted biogas technology has been introduced to Sri Lanka in 1970s by the University of Peradeniya. A pioneering role was played by Professor Milton Amarasinghe. Early biogas systems were influenced by the Indian Floating Drum design, which was predominantly a brick masonry structure with a floating steel drum to hold the biogas. Cow dung was used as the main feeding material. Biogas systems were installed at governmental offices and schools, rather than at homes at that time. Research and demonstration were the principle aims. Only a handful of practitioners were engaged. The department of agriculture played a significant role thereafter to popularize this technology further. During global oil crisis in mid 1970s, attention was drawn to biogas as an alternative solution that use indigenous raw material having less dependence on imports. At that time, the nation’s economic policy was import substitution.

Status in mid 1990s

Sri Lankan government changed its economic policy into an ‘open economy’ in late 1970s. Petroleum oil was no longer a global crisis. Despite a fair take off, interest in biogas systems, which hitherto was seen as an alternative to conventional energy dropped. Utilization of biogas technology had come to a standstill by after about 10 years. A nation-wide study was carried out by Practical Action (then ITDG) and its brain child Energy Forum with 2 local universities to assess the status of biogas systems in mid 1990s and it was found that over 60% of the biogas systems surveyed were dysfunctional. Lack of maintenance, not feeding or in sufficient feeding of raw material into the biogas systems, the official who initiated the biogas system in his respective institution getting transferred to a different location, poor designing and construction etc were the main reasons for this situation.

Re-awakening Efforts

The outcomes of the above study led Practical Action to fine tune the design of its project on Decentralized Energy Options. Its brain child Energy Forum which had been a project so far was strengthened further and transformed into an independent and autonomous institution registered as a local NGO. Interviews and discussions were held right throughout the country with those who used, promoted, designed and constructed biogas systems. Expert advice was sought. Putting the brains of the nation together with some external support, a national level campaign was carried out to repair and reconstruct the malfunctioning biogas systems demonstrating that they actually work well and continue to bring many benefits. This helped the mindset of the people to be positive about biogas technology gaining confidence of both decision makers and biogas users. As a result, biogas re-awakened in the country with a new life setting a fertile ground.

Capacity Building

So as to cater to the escalating demand for biogas systems, local human capital had to be capacitated. A wide awareness programme was launched by Practical Action using posters, leaflets, case studies, electronic media and presentations. This helped to boost the biogas sector. Masons on construction and extension officers on promotion and development were trained widely. Academic courses were developed at tertiary and university level. Working with the department of animal production and health which has a very extensive field level presence with qualified and enthusiastic veterinary surgeons and livestock development officers who deal directly with dairy and animal husbandry farmers helped to disseminate biogas systems fast. Those capacitated were linked with them and others interested in having a biogas system including NGOs, governmental institutions and individuals. The students in particular took a keen interest in biogas, many of whom selected biogas as their project under school curricular.

Scaling Up

Local and international training provided by Practical Action to the field level officers of department of animal production and health and others paid good dividends. Practical Action set up over 1,000 biogas systems with support of international and local donors. Indian Floating Drum systems dropped its popularity due to some of its inherent features. Chinese type fixed dome continuous biogas systems proved to be working excellently. Dry batch biogas systems designed by National Engineering Research and Development Centre was partially successful. Biogas systems, used as a source of energy for lighting and cooking (with few exceptions of electricity generation, water pumping and incubators etc) were extended to integrate with organic farming, dairy food production, livelihoods development, environmental management and food security. Over 500 extension officers and 300 masons were trained by Practical Action. Over 1,000 dairy and organic agriculture farmers and 25,000 students and people attended awareness programmes.

Technical Advisory Committee (TAC)

Momentum of biogas systems getting popularized prompted Practical Action to focus on the biogas sector in a systematic manner, well integrated within Sri Lanka ensuring quality of construction, after installation services, teaching, awareness and designing. As a result, the experts in the sector were invited to advise the biogas programme of Practical Action forming a TAC on biogas. Its first meeting was held in the year 2003 with 12 biogas experts and practitioners representing different institutions having a stake in promotion of biogas systems. In 2004, a subcommittee was appointed to look into setting up of draft national standards for biogas systems. Practical Action requested Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), through its engineering standardization division to this effect, which was approved by its board of directors. Board also approved the experts who were serving the above TAC to be the TAC for standardization of biogas systems.

Standardization Process

TAC after many consultative discussions among its members produced a brief structure identifying the key chapters to be included in the standards document. Similar experiences and documents from China, India and Nepal were used. General discussions held to formulate standards did not get TAC that far. As an alternate strategy, sub committees were formed with 1 expert responsible to write different chapters with 2-3 other experts contributing. A strict time line to deliver results was agreed. The chapters developed by subcommittees were put together in the structured order. This helped to get the first pre-draft version of the standards. A residential workshop was held in 2005 where all members of TAC sat together reviewing and revising above with in-depth intellectual discussions, debates and arguments. The outcome of this workshop was the draft Sri Lanka Standard Code of Practice for Design and Construction of Domestic Biogas Systems for SLSI.

Launch and Adaptation of National Standards

According to requirements and practices, SLSI approved and released same for public comments in March 2006. Technical comments of all interested parties were entertained for 1 month. Newspaper advertisements in all local languages appeared. In support, Practical Action organized a public workshop where officials of SLSI and TAC members too attended to discuss the standards. Any public member could attend this upon confirmation. Practitioners from different parts of the country were specially invited. After incorporating comments by TAC, SLSI approved the final version. The first ever renewable energy related national standards were launched by the minister of Science & Technology Professor Tissa Vitharana in a grand event in Kandy, ‘the city considered as the heart of biogas movement in Sri Lanka. A publication on ‘biogas technology – design and construction’ too was launched by minister of Livestock Development P B Ratnayake at the same occasion.

Lanka Biogas Association

After the launch of National Standards of Biogas Systems, Practical Action started deviating from implementing ground level projects related to proven technologies covered by the Standards. It continued with popularizing adhering to standards and introduced a new technology ‘plug flow biogas systems’, a technology transferred from Indian Institute of Science. Many other institutions learnt and adapted the biogas systems covered by national standards. They now operate in developmental as well as commercial sectors. SLSI embarked with Practical Action in setting up standards for Institutional and Farm Biogas Systems. Practical Action, with its extensive experience in biogas technology, people and networking, set up the Lanka Biogas Association as an independent and autonomous body looking into the interests of the biogas sector especially from energy, environmental and agricultural perspectives. Most of TAC members were elected as office bearers. This national body is gaining strength over time serving the nation.

Lessons Learnt

Running a national programme depends heavily on few persons spearheading with support from many others. In this case, it was Sanjeewani Munasinghe who laid the foundation in 5 years and Namiz Musafer, who initiated the biogas standardization process and establishing Lanka Biogas Association, took biogas sector to the heights in the following 4 years. Setting national standards was a successful exercise in this case. Efforts were based on proven technologies and experiences. All known stake holders in the country took part in it. SLSI demonstrated a remarkable interest in response to a national need and a group of biogas enthusiasts. Political will and support from bureaucrats were there despite scope of biogas sector cutting across mandates of many ministries and institutions. Institutions that mainstream biogas such as department of animal production and health, provincial energy ministries and some NGOs adopt standards to deliver high quality products and services.

Special Acknowledgements

SLSI, G K Upawanse, Ajith de Alwis, Athula Jayamanne, K Sapumohotti, Dharmasiri Dissanayake, Kithsiri Dissanayake, Kapila Abeygunawardena, Jayampathi Devasurendra, K A R Eranda, Ajith Kumara, Bandula Chandrasekera, A. Bulathgama, W A M S J Pushpakumara, Ranjith Samarakoon and Neeshiya Gunaratne, National Engineering Research & Development Centre, Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority (then Energy Conservation Fund), Department of Animal Production & Health, Ministry of Livestock Development, Ministry of Technology and Research (then Ministry of Science & Technology)


Namiz Musafer, Minutes of the Technical Advisory Committees, different meetings, 2003 - 2006
Namiz Musafer, Workshops reports of different workshops, 2003 - 2006

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