Tourist island rebuilds with biogas

 By Jim McClelland

This project in Sri Lanka is aiming to bring biogas to 1000 hotels and households by the end of 2016. What makes it particularly unusual is that it is being spearheaded (as part of the EU SWITCH-Asia initiative) not by an energy company, but People in Need (PIN), a non-governmental, non-profit organisation…

The prime holiday destination of Sri Lanka fits the image of an island paradise almost to perfection. With lush vegetation and unspoiled beaches, the tourist industry there is booming and visitor numbers are up year-on-year.

However, with the island still recovering and rebuilding from destructive and tragic effects of climate and conflict events in the last decade, this new wave of success brings with it demands and expectations that place a strain on resources and infrastructure.

Behind the scenes, hotel and restaurant facilities must deal with increasing volumes of waste and rising energy bills. Furthermore, at national level, resilience planning is a challenge for island nations with limited access to conventional sources of energy. As a result, development of sustainable and reliable alternatives can be essential for economic strength and stability, reducing reliance on fossil-fuel imports.

An innovative new biogas program currently under way on the island therefore represents a potential game-changer for Sri Lanka. It is being spearheaded (as part of the EU SWITCH-Asia initiative) not by an energy company, but People in Need (PIN), a non-governmental, non-profit organization founded on principles of humanism, freedom, equality and solidarity.

Turning Sri Lankan resorts sustainable via biogas

PIN has been active in Sri Lanka since 2005, helping community rebuilding following the tsunami, and has been particularly effective supporting displaced persons in the aftermath of the civil war, ending in 2009. Headquartered in Prague, PIN is active in humanitarian aid relief work around the world, for instance striving to get urgent food and medical supplies to tens of thousands of refugees in areas such as war-torn Syria.

The Lanka Biogas initiative is a joint partnership between PIN and local partner Janathakshan, funded by the European Union on a budget of $745,066. The project is focused on up-scaling biogas technologies for sustainable development, responsible tourism, economic growth contributing to poverty reduction and climate change mitigation.

The benefits range from a 120-room hotel managing up to 1100 pounds (500 kilograms) of waste a day, whilst saving 3 percent on energy costs, to a family farmer no longer needing to trek up to 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) in search of firewood for cooking. Although the initiative has an installation target equivalent to 1,000 biogas units by end of 2016, the clean and green benefits extend far beyond just local energy generation, particularly for hotels, as Program Manager and acting Country Director for PIN in Sri Lanka, Hugo Agostinho explains:

“Waste management is a huge burden in Sri Lanka and hotels (with 20 or more rooms) need to comply with environmental regulations regarding waste and wastewater management.

“By investing in biogas technology, hotels will reduce the bad smell produced by organic waste, cut the energy bill by not having to store organic waste in cold chambers and introduce the gas produced with the biogas technology into their energy consumption. Also the slurry, which is another output of the process, can be used as an organic fertilizer.”

SEE MORE: Biogas gets greener by Robin Wylie


The project aims to reduce organic waste collected by local authorities by 10,000 tons per year, as well as GHG emissions by 2,895 tons CO2 equivalent. On a whole-island scale, the numbers soon add up, concludes Agostinho:

“In Sri Lanka, if every public and private institution and organization producing 220 pounds (100 kilograms) of organic waste daily had a biodigester onsite, at least 1,000 LKR ($7) per day could be saved by local authorities in waste management. That same 220 pounds (100 kilograms) treated with biogas technology means 132 pounds (60 kilograms) less CO2-equivalent emissions per day.”

Ultimately, to achieve its ambition of creating an enabling environment for large-scale dissemination of biogas, the project will need to work equally at macro and micro levels. Supply and demand targets that need to be hit include: influencing policy frameworks; identifying financing schemes and incentives; growing local supply chains; building skills capacity and establishing vocational training institutes; enhancing diversity and inclusivity through empowerment of women; plus engaging consumers and clients to stimulate markets.

Leaving such a legacy of economic resilience, environmental improvement and social change is a big ask, but its achievement would be transformational for Sri Lanka. It might not lead to tourists taking selfies in front of biogas plant, but it would help make their dream holiday a more sustainable reality.

about the author
Jim McClelland
Editor + journalist for supplements to The Times + Sunday Times, also quoted in Guardian, Sunday Telegraph. I blog for such as GE + Gap. Active on social media. Specialisms include Sustainability.