Solar Power isn't Feasible!

Solar Power isn't Feasible!
This cartoon was on the cover of the book "SolarGas" by David Hoye. It echoes the Sharp Solar slogan "Last time I checked nobody owned the sun!"

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cleaning Nigeria using everything AND the kitchen sink!

(Photo:The students of Bell's High School do the "Frontline SMS" logo cheer in front of their completed kitchen waste biogas digestor to share with National Geographic Emerging Explorer colleague Ken Banks, whose Frontline SMS technology is being used by Solar CITIES to help biogas users across Africa share results and innovations and troubleshoot their systems.)

A tale of two Insinkerators

At the end of August, 2010, Solar CITIES delivered two Insinkerators, donated to our cause by Emerson Electronics and the Insinkerator corporation, to their new homes in Nigeria.

One we placed in the kitchen sink of the visionary former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has been championing green technology and reforestation in his country and throughout Africa, and the other was given to Naijatomo Holistic Waste Management Company founder Balogun Olowusegun, who has dedicated his company to helping solve Nigeria's solid waste problem (Naijatomo means "clean nigeria").

These Insinkerator appliances were connected to home-scale kitchen-waste-to-cooking-fuel-and-fertilizer biogas systems so that all organic wastes now are used to produce useful products rather than ending up in plastic bags clogging the sewers and causing floods and health hazards.

From these small seeds we expect a new green revolution to sprout; the end result of our trip to Nigeria was President Obasanjo's announcement of the creation with us and regional experts of Africa's first "Green Economy Center", to be housed at the Presidential Library and Museum, which will work to disseminate appropriately scaled clean energy, water and waste-recycling technologies throughout Africa.

We see the Insinkerator being a key upstream component that will allow every household to participate in meaningful solutions to Africa's environmental challenges as well as to the downstream issue of mitigating climate change.

Ironically, we finished installing the Insinkerator and Nigeria's first household scale kitchen-waste-to-biogas system on August 27th, 2010, and we learned from watching a Nigerian television news report that night with His Excellency that exactly 151 years earlier, on August 27th 1859, "oil was discovered in Titusville, Pennsylvania, leading to the birth of the oil age".

President Obasanjo, who has just finished building Nigeria's first large scale biogas system (2500 scm per day from corn processing wastes with Indian biofuels expert K.S. Rao at the Obasanjo factory "Temp Starch and Glucose Limited") felt it appropriate that his nation, which has received both blessings and curses because of the oil age, become Africa's leader in clean, distributed generation, renewable energy, starting with kitchen and food processing wastes. The Insinkerator technology, which is available in domestic and industrial sizes, is seen as the first step in the scale up to an efficient "biofuel" age in Africa.

(Photo: H.E. President Obasanjo's commercial biogas reactor, built by Indian technical engineer K.S. Rao at the Temp Starch and Glucose Factory on Quarry Road in Abeokuta. Right is the digestor tank, connected via moisture traps in the piping to the factory. Left is the temporary gas storage and pressure vessel (telescoping design). Mid-picture you can see the small lube compressor that pressurizes the gas up to 3 bar for delivery to the factory boilers. The 2500 scm of biogas produced here provides 1/6th of the fuel requirements for the factory. Obasanjo is leading the country toward a clean renewable energy fueled future.)

Solar CITIES would like to thank David McNair, Kendall Christiansen, Craig Sumner, William Chris Kostman Virginia Busch and the entire Insinkerator/Emerson Electronics team for their vision, their support and help, and their belief in our Middle East/Africa mission.

(Left to right: T.H. Culhane, Mrs. Obasanjo, His Excellency President Obasanjo, Paul Chido Iwunna, Dr. Charisma Acey. Photos courtesy of Dr. Charisma Acey.)

Left to right: Dr. Moses Oyatogun, Chief Iyke, Diamond Technical Corporation, T.H. Culhane, Paul Chido Iwunna and, smiling as T.H. presents Balogun Olowusegun and Naijatomo with an Insinkerator to aid in their development of clean energy and waste management solutions for all Nigeria.

During the last week of August, 2010, Solar CITIES founder Dr. T.H. Culhane, and team and board members Paul Chido Iwunna and Dr. Charisma Acey presented His Excellency President Olusegun Obasanjo and his wife with an Insinkerator "food-waste-to-fuel-feedstock" appliance to use with the home-scale "kitchen-waste-to-biogas" digestor that we built just outside the former Nigerian leader's kitchen.

The Insinkerator unit was a gift from St. Louis, Missouri based Emerson Electronics and their Milwaukee, Wisconson based Insinkerator division.

Outside the kitchen, Obasanjo's chief engineer, Jerry, demonstrated the installation of the Insinkerator to the staff and to visitors and guests before putting the new large-diameter sink, purchased especially to fit the new appliance, into the kitchen for daily use.

Now equipped with its food-waste-to-fuel-feedstock unit, all the organic wastes flow immediately into the below ground biogas digestor that Culhane and his team built with the Obasanjo staff.

Dr. Moses Oyatogun of the Department of Forestry and Wildlife Management, College of Environmental Resources Management at the Abeokuta University of Agriculture explained to the former President and the crowd why he believes that Insinkerators can have a major impact all over Nigeria and the African continent (contact him at

"The basic idea", Dr. Oyatogun explained, "is that food scraps contain an enormous amount of energy and all the micronutrients needed to keep the local ecology healthy, yet ironically we throw these riches away and we do so in such a way that we actually create major health problems. The Insinkerator, as a first line of ecological defense, makes it not only possible, but actually convenient for every family and household to participate in Nigeria's improvement."

His Excellency Obasanjo, himself a farmer with decades of experience in improved agro-ecology, spoke passionately about Nigeria's need to realize the benefits that can be captured from the waste streams of homes, farms and industries, and suggested that organic waste grinding technologies could be used at many different scales.

T.H. and His Excellency shared a handshake over their agreement and their conviction that food waste grinders like the Insinkerator have the potential to play a major role in helping to produce clean energy, stop deforestation and clean the streets and natural environments throughout Africa, while providing valuable fertilizer to keep the Green Revolution going, all the while providing multiple micro-economic opportunities.

Outside the Obasanjo home, led by Nigeria's first democratically elected two-term President, everyone took turns throwing various common food wastes into the Insinkerator in a dedication ceremony just before the sink was installed inside the kitchen, connected to the pipes leading to the biodigestor and commissioned.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (center) drops scraps from his kitchen into his new insinkerator, a gift from Solar CITIES and Emerson Electronics/Insinkerator Corporation, at a press ceremony where he explained how food wastes in Nigeria will now go from being a problem to being a solution for a healthier, cleaner and more secure Africa.

Solar CITIES was also encouraged by His Excellency to invite Balogun Olowusegun and Immanuelle Thonda from the visionary and holistic waste management and recycling company "Naijatomo" (Clean Nigeria) to the former President's home, as well Chief Iyke from the Lagos-based Nigerian Insinkerator sales and service company Diamond Technical Corporation (contact

T.H., Paul and Charisma of Solar CITIES and the US based Emerson Electronics/Insinkerator Corporation present an Insinkerator as a gift to Naijatomo founders Balogun Oluwasegun (red shirt) and Immanuelle Thonda (far left) as Dr. Moses Oyatogun, director of the new Green Economy Center (Green outfit) and Chief Iyke of Diamond Technical Corporation, the Nigerian Insinkerator dealers (white shirt) share the celebration.

At the end of the day, Solar CITIES presented a second Insinkerator as a gift to Naijatomo so that they could incorporate it into their waste management system. This unit was also a gift from Emerson Electronics and Insinkerator corporation to the Solar CITIES Middle-East/Africa clean energy initiative.

A few days later Chief Ike and Dr. Moses returned to look at how the Insinkerator, now installed in the Obasanjo kitchen, connects to the home-scale biodigestor that Solar CITIES built just outside the kitchen door, discussing its benefits with Mrs. Obasanjo, who particularly wants to see these solutions implemented in such a way that they benefit women and children, who bear most of the burdens of cooking, water fetching and waste disposal.

Culhane showed Chief Iyke and guests and visitors how the Insinkerator's output can be output with a valve either directly to the common drain, or diverted to the biogas digestor, located below ground for automatic gravity feeding of the Insinkerator slurry.

Back inside the dining room, President Obasanjo called a meeting to officially launch the "Green Economy Center for Research and Development", to be housed at his new Presidential Library and Museum where all types of Environmentally sustainable technologies will be showcased so that Nigerians and other Africans, as well as visitors from all Nations, can gain firsthand experience with green solutions to ecological and economic challenges.

Solar CITIES was appointed by His Excellency to be international advisers and coordinators to the Green Economy Center, which will be registered as an NGO and housed at the Presidential Library. Dr. Moses Oyatogun, from the College of Environmental Resources Management in Abeokuta ( was appointed the director of the new center, and Naijatomo and Diamond Technical Company, as holistic waste management and Insinkerator-representatives and environmental consultants, were appointed to be business partners/sponsors of the NGO.

We conceive of the Insinkerator as a pivotal game changing technology that is the centerpiece of our home-scale solutions package for waste, water and energy problems.

Dr. Iyke, who has been importing, selling, installing and repairing Insinkerators since 2004, explained some of the reasons that these marvelous devices have not yet become popular in Nigeria and the rest of Africa (currently Nigeria is the only country to have a company representing the Insinkerator product line.) Among the reasons were:

1) Lack of building codes or standards that would make installation easy and inexpensive.
Currently neither the sink flanges, heights and dimensions, nor the normal piping used in Nigeria make installation of an Insinkerator a plug and play operation like it is in the U.S. Diamond Technical Company is working with the Abuja Environmental Board and has authored a bill to go before the government calling for standards that will make putting in an Insinkerator as easy as putting in a toilet (an area where there are plumbing standards in the housing code).

2) A very high import tariff (45%) that drastically increases the retail price of the Insinkerators so that they are out of reach for most consumers. Government needs to see these appliances as a net benefit to Nigeria on many levels and remove barriers to free trade. If the terms of trade were favourable to Nigerian companies to bring them in by sea to Lagos and sell them near the true market price, Insinkerator sales from Nigeria could open up the entire African continent market, benefiting both the US and the Nigerian economies .

3) High air transportation costs because of low volume importing of the units (which weigh between 7.5 and 15 kg).
Chief Iyke lamented that there is little investment confidence in Nigeria and that it is difficult to get foreign companies to extend a credit line or ship a large quantity of units in bulk on consignment. He said that if wholesale distributors in the U.S. would develop a relationship of trust with his company and others in Nigeria and give them the same business advantages that other countries get, the Nigerian market demand would drive a very good business. Sea transport of containers with Insinkerators would bring the costs down to the point that he could offer units near the US price. Currently Diamond Technical Corp flies in small orders of units.

The prices in Nigeria, distorted by the 45% clearance tax, are currently as follows (installation costs 5,000 Naira, equivalent to $33):

Badger (0.5 HP): 49,000 Naira ( = $ 326, as compared to $89 at Home Depot in the US). Chief Iyke noted that if he got volume shipments he could cut the price in half, to 25,000 Naira ($166).

Model 55: (.55HP) 55,000 Naira (= $366)
Model 65: (.65HP) 65,000 Naira (= $433)
Model 75 (.75HP): 75,000 Naira (= $500)
Model Evolution (.75 HP): 85,000 Naira (= $566)

At these prices, roughly 365% more than the US cost, and especially relative to the Nigerian economy, Insinkerators are out of reach for all but the wealthiest in the country. Even among the wealthy they are considered a low priority luxury. For this reason we chose to install Model 55 units into both the former President's kitchen and that of Naijatomo, since this model is closer to what the consumer market may be able to afford in the near future. The Evolution models, while much more efficient, flexible in terms of feedstock (able to grind even bones, corn cobs, seeds and pits) and quiet, are out of the price range considered tolerable in the Nigerian market until volume imports create transportation economies of sacle and the clearance tax is reduced or removed. The former President's aim in having an Insinkerator and a biogas digestor in his own home is to show his commitment to what he hopes with be a popular everyman/everywoman solution to the energy and waste problems plaguing his country, so he chose to have models of these technologies that were affordable and appropriate.

One thing President Obasanjo discussed was looking into the possibility of licensing to manufacture in Nigeria itself, so that key high quality parts and essential motor control technologies could be brought into the country and assembly of the final product could be done in country. This form of quasi-import substitution would radically reduce costs until they approached US levels. The advantage would be huge volume sales (Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation whose approximately 150 million people make up 1/6th of Africa's total population) and market leadership for Insinkerator throughout the continent (the current market competitor in Nigeria is South Africa's "Sinkmaster" product line, but Chief Iyke says, "Their concept for environmental management in Africa is good, but they don't last. Insinkerator uses quality parts, and that is what we need to build consumer confidence in this unique waste disposal solution.")

Chief Iyke showed the Insinkerator promotional video to the Obasanjo Green Economy Group and later we had him show it to Dr. Sowole, medical director of the Sacred Heart hospital where we were building another biodigestor that the materially poor could use and learn from. Dr. Sowole loved the concept but commented "I hope we will see black faces in these promotions". Culhane assured them that Insinkerator already had literature in many languages (including Arabic) and Chief Iyke informed the hospital that Diamond Technical Corp had already filmed and was in production of a food disposer video featuring Nigerian talent. The key factors in launching the public awareness campaign would be clean energy, reduced reliance on forest-derived fuels (90% of the deforestation and consequent habitat loss in Nigeria is due to wood being felled for direct fuel or charcoal, with attendant respiratory risks compounding the soil erosion and biodiversity loss threats) and the diminishing of foul plastic bag wastes acting as breeding sites for pathogenic bacteria. The Insinkerator/Biogas solution thus fits into both environmental and public health campaigns.

"What we need now", our colleagues in Nigeria told us , is for the American and European companies to trust us and invest in us as individuals fighting on the same team and help us grow the Insinkerator and household/community/municipal biogas markets; right now many people mistrust Nigeria because of the bad press we get relating to internet scams and such but they shouldn't. Countries can't be bad; individuals can, but our countries are made up of many individuals, good and bad, and we who are working hard on making Nigeria and the world a better place need to work together."

Culhane explains the biology of methanogenesis to the students of Obasanjo's Bell's Secondary School. Solar CITIES believes that women in particular have the right to become stewards of the primary energy, water and waste recycling technologies used in a household since most consumption and production occurs in the kitchens and bathrooms, which are traditionally female domains.
Balogun Olowasegun of Naijatomo Holistic Waste Management company, addresses the teachers and the press, explaining how point-source separation of organic and inorganic wastes (made even more convenient by an Insinkerator) can lead to immediate clean air/water/and land benefits for Nigeria.
Culhane explains to the press that Solar CITIES has built 4 digestors in Abeokuta, one at His Excellency Obasanjo's home, one here at the Bells School, one by the kitchen of University Professor and Green Economy Center director Moses Oyatogun, and one at the Sacred Heart Hospital where all sectors of society can see it functioning. In addition Naijatomo is building one, and two Insinkerators have been installed to effortlessly feed the biodigestors.

Building an ARTI INDIA style Biogas Digestor at Belles Secondary School in Nigeria

Culhane learned how to build ARTI style biodigestors from Dr. Anand Karve in Pune India, and has made simple modifications to suit local conditions and budgets. Here a 2" rather than 4" feedpipe is being installed to keep costs low. The slurry put out by an insinkerator is small enough in particulate sizes to permit smaller and less expensive piping.
This finished above ground 2000 liter biogas reactor outside the school cafeteria is merely in need of an industrial sized Insinkerator to turn all of the schools' wastes into feedstock slurry. In the meantime, students pound the food in water with a large traditional African wooden mortar and pestle.

Solar CITIES and Naijatomo finish the training with the Bell's school science students.

Jimo (Obasanjo staff driving pool), a teacher from the Bell's school, the head plumber/mechanic for the Bell's school, Balogun Oluwasegun from Naijatomo, Dr. T.H. Culhane and Dr. Charisma Acey from Solar CITIES and Emmanuelle Thonde from Naijatomo flank the new teaching digestor at the Bell's school.

The students of Bell's High School do the "Frontline SMS" logo cheer to share with National Geographic Emerging Explorer colleague Ken Banks, whose Frontline SMS technology is being used by Solar CITIES to help biogas users across Africa share results and innovations and troubleshoot their systems.

Dr. Charisma Acey and Dr. T.H. Culhane pose in front of our third of four biodigestors that we trained our colleagues to build in NIgeria; this one is behind the kitchen at the Sacred Heart Hospital in Abeokuta, where all social classes have access to it and can learn from it.

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