24-Year-Old Yemeni Engineer Develops Micro-Biogas Plant That Converts Trash Into Fuel

By Amanda Froelich, The Mind Unleashed

It has been more than two years since the Yemeni crisis began and in that time, an alarming 17 million people (60 percent of the population) have become food insecure. Many people do not know where their next meal will come from and in some villages, electricity hasn’t even been restored. To survive, over 3 million citizens have abandoned their homes and found refuge elsewhere. Those who stay behind face many challenges, including broken down public services, scarce medical care, a cholera epidemic, and a lack of electricity.

Though the future looks bleak, it is not without hope. Some, like chemical engineering graduate Omer Badorkhon, are taking action to help neighbors in their country. The 24-year-old invented a micro-scale biogas device that transforms trash into fuel. Because it combats indoor pollution, supplies clean fuel to rural homes, and helps curb global warming, the young inventor won the Young Champions of the Earth prize from United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and polymer company Covestro. With the $15,000 prize money, he aims to construct 50 to 80 units.

Childhood memories of seeing his mother cook in a smoke-filled kitchen provided inspiration for the endeavor. And last year, while designing a landfill in Mukalia City with a group of students, the 24-year-old came up with an idea to combat indoor pollution. Badokhon realized that recovering biogas from the landfill would take several years and would only serve one city. That’s why he challenged himself to create a micro-scale plant for individual homes. Reuters reports that Badokhon’s goal was to keep the city streets clean from trash (which has led to a cholera epidemic) while at the same time provide family units with clean cooking fuel and lighting and organic fertilizer.

“In some villages, electricity has not been restored since the conflict began in 2015,” the inventor told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “In Mukalla City where I now live, I remember how desperate I felt trying to complete university assignments by candlelight when power shuts down for four to six hours every day.”

Thanks to Badokhon’s hard work, the micro biogas plant will soon be realized. Each device will be constructed locally using either plastic or fiberglass and 1,500 homes will pilot the invention over the next eight months. Badokhon will also be using his $15,000 prize money to build the first batch of 50 to 80 units. Thanks to the Yemeni oil company PetroMasila, an additional $10,000 was received to further his research.

The awards jury claims that the project will benefit the populace in a variety of ways. First, it will prevent global warming from worsening by utilizing organic waste that produces methane. It will also reduce widespread dumping of waste, which is the major culprit for the cholera epidemic. Finally, it will supply clean fuel for rural homes where more than 3 million people still cook over open fires. Smoke inhalation can cause respiratory illness and even death.

Credit: Foreign Policy

Biogas, which is a renewable source of energy produced when bacteria break down biodegradable material in oxygen-deprived chambers, can be used in its pure form for cooking, combusted to create lighting and heat, and refined into natural gas. After tinkering with his project for months, the inventor refined a biochemical catalyst that breaks down organic waste at an increased speed. When combined with specially designed fermenting chambers, the technology doubles the amount of biogas produced from one quantity of waste feed.

Badokhon says Yemenis, on average, produce half a kilo of organic waste per day. This means a family has 2-4 kilograms per day to use for a biogas unit. This can provide two hours of cooking fuel without a catalyst. Or, as the inventor puts it, “sufficient to make lunch.”

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