Creating a biogas network in the South Pacific

By Mathias Huckert 30 May 2016, 12:00AM

“The more you know, the more you are responsible for this knowledge of yours”. 

This is the mantra that Usufono Fepule’ai inculcated in his students with when they finally received their certificates on Friday morning at the organisation’s campus.

The group that had learnt everything about the principle and also the construction of biogas-systems, gained a lot of knowledge in the past six weeks. In this period of time, 28 people from different places all over the planet came to the campus of Y.W.A.M. (Youth With A Mission) and learnt as much as they could from Mr Fepule’ai, who in the past had studied the functioning of this sustainable resource in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Usufono Fepule’ai had shared his knowledge in workshops before, but the recent one was special for him. 

“I think this workshop, which in fact was not an easy one, has been very productive. These people who came to us are really blessed. There has been so much more activity this time than in the years before.” 

Within the training, the participants first passed through three weeks of theoretical lessons on biogas, for which they also had to pass two exams. 

After that, they had the chance to apply their knowledge to the field during the second half of the six-week long workshop. 

For Mr Fepule’ai, who coordinated the workshop on sustainable technologies along with his wife Sose Utu Fepule’ai, the knowledge he was able to share during that time is also a gift that hopefully will now be present all around the world.

“We really want to take this out to the whole of the Pacific and even beyond. I told our students here, if they now go back to their countries and try to establish biogas there, they will be very lonely with this important idea. But if we all work together, as we did here in our workshop, we can spread this technology. Networking is the key to establish the knowledge about biogas. This technology should have been in the Pacific 30 years ago. To multiply things and to finally achieve our goal, there has to be a network of people who know about biogas. With our workshop, we laid the foundation for this network.”

During the workshop, the group also shared visionary ideas on other sustainable energies, which can be used in the future. 

“We started planning to connect biogas with solar energy. With this powerful resource, we can generate all the power for our base here. I mean, all these things are already there. The sun is free, the sea is free and the water is free. They just need to be used by us to generate energy”.

The main resource used in the project still was biogas, which is in fact generated by the waste that otherwise would stay unused. The waste produced by the base’s kitchen as well as the toilets and the pigs is stored in an underground tank in which then biogas but also high quality fertilizer is produced practically on its own.

But to reach this stage, the training’s participants had to do a lot of working and learning. “We noticed that especially the local participants and those from the surrounding island countries rather adapt knowledge by visual and kinaesthetic learning. But they went through all the processes and therefore there will be no excuse for them not to bring this technology to their countries, because to me, that is the secret: they must make use of what they learnt here in Samoa to have success with it,” Fepule’ai told Weekend Observer. 

To understand this secret, the participants lived, learned and worked together on the campus for a duration of six weeks. 

According to Fepule’ai, this was by no means an easy endeavour, due to all the different cultures the participants came from to learn about biogas in Samoa.

“In the beginning, we were a bit nervous because it was the first time for us to have them stay here, but actually it worked out quite well. Of course there are good times as well as bad times and some of them really had to adapt to the work ethics we demanded from them. But we are a missionary organisation, so hard work is something our participants have to get used to”.

In the end, 28 attendees of the workshop got used to the amount of work that it takes to learn everything about biogas. Even though the participants came from different countries such as Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Indonesia and of course Samoa with some of them being sent over by their governments to gain knowledge, they all were able to achieve a certificate which proves the expertise they have acquired.

One of those who could hold one of the certificates in his hands after all was Laisiasa Tora from Fiji. The man who was sent over by his home country’s government along with some of his colleagues finally had the chance to learn about biogas in Y.W.A.M.’s training.

“I missed my chance to participate here in 2014, so I was very lucky to come to Samoa this year. I met Usufono  in my home country and he told me about his idea of biogas. That’s how I got invited to learn everything. The workshop gives me the opportunity to set up biogas systems in my home country and I think we will benefit from this kind of resource”, Mr Tora explained.

There were also participants who had worked with Y.W.A.M. before, like Mr Dominic Manning, who is originally from Fairbanks in Alaska, USA. 

“I was working [with Y.W.A.M.] in Vanuatu during one of their conferences. This was where I heard from Usufono about the biogas and about a year later during another conference in Papua New Guinea, I watched him and a team building one of the systems, which seemed very interesting to me. What I also find quite impressive, is that with these systems, countries which are usually cut off from the gas system can now run their own business, so that is a highly profitable resource”. 

After a more theoretically workshop one year ago, Mr Manning decided to go more practical next time.

“With this workshop, we were able to build a system from the ground on, which was an instructive experience for me. I am sure that in Vanuatu, people will benefit from that, but if I find the time, I might even build one for my parents in Alaska”.

The final outcome of the workshop certainly is an impressive one. Together, all the 28 graduates were able to build a gigantic dome that functions as the gas tank on Y.W.A.M.’s campus. The dome was built during the last three weeks of the workshop.

The construction might be a huge benefit for the usage of sustainable energy, but it is also an achievement each and every one of the students can be proud of.

By Mathias Huckert 30 May 2016, 12:00AM

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