US-Ghana Team Gets Grant To Turn Human Waste Into Energy

A US-Ghanaian team has been awarded US$ 1.5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a biorefinery that will convert fecal sludge to biodiesel and methane.

Kartik Chandran, an associate professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia Engineering is leading the team that includes Ashley Murray, founder and director of Waste Enterprisers, and Moses Mensah, a Chemical Engineering professor at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Chandran may involve the Columbia University Engineers without Borders Ghana team, for whom he acts as faculty advisor, as well.

Chandran and his team aim to develop a bio-process technology to convert the organic compounds present in fecal sludge to biodiesel and methane, two potent sources of energy, and thus convert a waste-processing facility into a bio-refinery. The bio-refinery will not only be an economical source of fuel, but, by minimizing discharge of fecal sludge into local water bodies, it will also contribute to improved human health and sanitation.

Earlier Waste Enterprisers conducted an exploratory study, funded by the Gates Foundation, to identify promising fecal sludge reuse and management options for Greater Accra, Ghana. Their study incorporated detailed analyses of emerging energy-related reuse options.

Two of many challenges developing countries face are unsafe water and a lack of affordable energy. With the help of the new $1.5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ghana may be able to combine these lacks into an asset in the form of biodiesel.

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