Carnegie Mellon University-Rwanda Students Help Families in Bugesera Produce Renewable and Cheap Energy-Carnegie Mellon University Africa - Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University-Rwanda Students Help Families in Bugesera Produce Renewable and Cheap Energy

Four MasterCard Foundation (MCF) scholars from Carnegie Mellon University-Rwanda travelled to the Bugesera District to participate in community work around biogas plant construction.

Biogas is a clean and renewable fuel that can be produced by an individual. Each day, the operator feeds household by-products, such as food waste, kitchen waste, and manure from livestock, into the biogas system. The biogas digester, a large tank filled with bacteria that digests organic waste and produces flammable gas, creates methane gas that can be used to cook meals, light homes, and for other energy needs.

Students at field day in Bugesera

The MCF Scholars–Christian Iradukunda, Samantha Naa Adjorkor Tetteh, Sylvia Makario, and Rahab Wangari–accompanied by Elvine Binamungu of the Netherlands Development Organization, met with Vedaste Hagirimana, a young biogas entrepreneur in Bugesera, who spoke with the scholars about his business, Bugesera Solutions Biogas Company (BUSOBICO).

Hagirimana talked the Scholars through the process of how biogas is created, and they got a chance to get their hands dirty by helping to finish construction of the biogas plant in one of the households.

“Digging, as well as joining and screwing in bolts, isn’t easy, but meeting members of the community made it all worthwhile,” says Tetteh. “It was especially fun because some of the neighbourhood kids saw all of us working in our overalls and covered in dirt, and come over to watch us. We played with them for a short while and then showed them how the complete biogas system worked when we were done. They were very excited about it!”

Students at field day in BugeseraThe Scholars also visited a family that have been using the system for a few months to see the benefits of biogas at work. Before using the system, the family had to light charcoal to boil water and to cook, which was time consuming. Since switching to biogas, they are able to boil water in less than five minutes and to produce gas for more than one hour of cooking every day

“The most convenient and impactful aspect of this project is that a family can produce biogas on their own and do not need to rely on an outside source,” says Iradukunda.

In addition, waste that has been fully digested exits the biogas system in the form of organic fertilizer—a safe, liquid fertilizer that the family uses for crops and sells to generate income. The fertilizer increases agricultural productivity, and saves the family money that would otherwise be spent on chemical fertilizers. Unlike chemical fertilizers, biogas fertilizer is organic and does not have detrimental environmental effects.

“It was wonderful to see how the Scholars seemed to draw inspiration from how I manage my business, and the joy I get from improving my community,” said Hagirimana. “I love having so much to do, and providing solutions for my community makes me very proud.”

The Scholars’ went on this trip to observe and participate in a project already in place by the Opportunity for Youth Employement (OYE) project, a Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) project in partnership with The MasterCard Foundation. The objective of the project is to improve the livelihoods of out-of-school youth by creating self-employment opportunities in the renewable energy private sector. OYE is a multi-country program with a goal to create employment for 4,000 Rwandan youth to establish 70 new youth-led renewable energy initiatives within five years.

“It was very interesting to see how OYE is generating solutions through self-employment,” says Makario.

Check out all the pictures from the students' experience on FlickR.

  • The Biogas system costs 550,000 Rwanda Francs, or about $660, for the initial construction. NGO’s and SACCO’s are the main funders for this project.
  • The criteria for having this system installed is for each household to have a minimum of two cows and access to at least 20 litres of water a day.
  • At the moment, 9000 households in Rwanda use biogas, with a target of 10,000 household by July 2017.
  • OYE’s goal with this project is to have at least two young entrepreneurs in every sector.
  • The main purpose of OYE is to improve the cooking conditions for the community.
  • The system takes 30-50 days after construction and feeding before regular gas can be produced and ready for use.
  • Biogas is an investment. Every day, once a day, the bacteria in the digester must be cared for as one would care for an animal. If the bacteria have too much or too little food, their health declines dramatically. The bacteria must be fed every day with a mixture of cow waste and water.

Fast facts