Human Waste to Biodiesel Project in Ghana A Go

A pilot facility has gone online in Ghana to convert human waste, or fecal sludge (FS), into biodiesel. The event was celebrated on World Toilet Day where researchers at Columbia University’s Engineering School in conjunction with Ghana with Waste Enterprises, Ltd., the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), and the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly, are working together to take research developed in the lab to the community. The goal is to prove out a much needed new sanitation model for people in emerging countries.

“The FS to biodiesel pilot project could potentially address sustainable sanitation and introduce a new dimension into the sanitation value chain not only in Kumasi but globally, thus helping to ‘kill two birds with one stone,” said Anthony Mensah, Waste Management Director for the city of Kumasi. “The Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly is therefore delighted to be part of this novel partnership.”

Entering its second year, the project is led by Kartik Chandran, an associate professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia University’s school of engineering and applied science and Ashley Murray, Founder and CEO of Waste Enterprisers Ltd, a Ghanaian company that is working to reinvent the economics of sanitation in the developing world.

As part of this project, Chandran is developing an innovative technology to transform fecal sludge into biodiesel fuel and is working on converting a waste-processing facility into a biorefinery.

“This is a very exciting project for us,” said Chandran. “We are aiming to create a next-generation urban sanitation facility that will set new standards and serve as a model around the world. With the capacity to receive and treat 10,000 liters, or 2,500 gallons—a full sanitation truck carrying concentrated fecal matter from at least 5,000 people—of fecal sludge per day, this facility reaches way beyond the lab scale.”

In the pilot phase that is targeted for nearly a year, the researchers will test Chandran’s bioprocess technology for converting the organic compounds present in fecal sludge to biodiesel and methane, two potent sources of renewable energy.

“Our goal is to develop a revenue-generating fecal-sludge-to-biodiesel facility that can transform sanitation from an expensive burden into a profitable venture. If we figure out a way to make waste management profitable, governments and citizens that currently bear the financial, environmental, and public health costs will all be better off,” said Murray.

Chandran and Murray are working closely with researchers at KNUST and a team of process engineers to improve the biodiesel yield from FS and will also be exploring the commercial viability of a business model based on creating biodiesel from human waste.

“This project is about more than a technology breakthrough, it’s about creating economically sustainable approaches to waste management that can eliminate the sanitation crisis in developing cities,” added Murray.

The team hopes its model can be replicated and adapted around the world.

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