Pig Manure Sweet Money for Thai Farmer
Author: Ploy Chitsomboon and Pisit Changplayngam
"Back in the old days, people knocked on my door and complained about the smell," said Ong-Arj, who owns 4,000 pigs in Nakhon Pathom, 55 km (35 miles) west of Bangkok in the heart of Thailand's hog country.
"Now? They hardly even notice. People around here are happy to show you how to get to my house," Ong-Arj told Reuters after showing off a biogas plant he designed himself during a tour of his 9.7 hectare (24 acre) enclosed pig farm.
Using a simple system to capture the methane gas from pig manure and convert it into electricity, Ong-Arj slashed his power bill by thousands of dollars and cut gas emissions that harmed the environment and annoyed his neighbours.
"The smell has gone. The flies have gone and I have more cash in my pocket," said the 35-year-old father of two.
Thailand has begun to embrace biogas -- created from sewage, manure or grass -- as a cheap, environmentally friendly way of slashing its reliance on imported fuels.
The Ministry of Energy has set a target of building 1,540, 100 MW bio-gas plants by 2011, many of them fuelled by solid waste and polluted water.
"We are looking for the most available renewable energy sources and pig manure is abundant," said Panich Pongpirodom, director-general of the Department of Alternative Energy Development.
Thailand has around 5.8 million pigs and one 100-kg (212-lb) hog produces up to two kg (4.4 lbs) of waste per day.
For Ong-Arj, biogas was a last-ditch effort to save his 17-year-old hog farm from going under due to falling pork prices and rising costs.
"I was almost ready to give up," he said. "But after I learned you can use pig waste to make gas, I knew this was a way to pay the bills," he said.
Ong-Arj looked at a biogas pilot project at Chiang Mai University, but it was too costly.
After cajoling his bankers into a 1.5 million baht loan, he set to work designing his own system.
"Co-generation units cost millions of baht. So I did my own research and modified a car engine myself," he said, adding his 30,000 baht unit was easier to repair than pricier foreign models.
The pig waste is flushed into a covered 20 metre by 60 metre (66 ft by 196 ft) lagoon, about the size of six tennis courts.
As it decomposes it produces methane -- a colorless, odourless gas -- which is used to fuel two electric generators that produce 500 kilowatts a day.
That is more than enough to run three pig houses, a feedmill and the family home -- saving Ong-Arj about 600,000 baht (US$17,543) a year in electricity costs.
"My air conditioning can run all day and all night now," Ong-Arj said, adding he hoped to sell his excess power to the provincial power grid and lure other farmers to biogas.
Ong-Arj, who also markets pig manure to local growers, is proud that he has found another pig byproduct -- electricity.
"In pig farming, the only thing you can't use is the squeal," Ong-Arj said.
(US$1 = 34.20 Baht)