Social Acceptance of BioGas Technology within the Palestinian Community in the West-Bank
Methodology and Research Seminar, AIES Fall 2016
Supervisors: Dr. Thomas H Culhane, Dr. Tareq Abu-Hamed and Suleiman Halasah
A Biogas system is a living source of energy and liquid fertilizer production that is a green technology which has been accepted and fairly appreciated within the Palestinian communities who are living in the Westbank in both urban and rural areas. Palestinians, whether they own the home-made or the factory made biogas systems, have been complaining about the technology’s designs. Although they have a satisfactory level of understanding of the Biogas technology and they are aware of it's importance in creating a sustainable lifestyle from environmental, economical and educational aspects, they are not investing enough time and effort in refining the technology's design so that it suits their daily needs. According to the model of “Accelerating Diffusion of Innovation: Maloney's 16% Rule” , they are still far to the right of the curve and tend to not be really involved in the research and development process of the biogas technology ! The intention of being involved in the R&D has to come from intrinsic motivation within the stakeholder themselves.
Permaculture Principles, Technology Diffusion, Renewable Energy, Maloney’s 16% Rule, Everet Rogers Theory of Innovation Adoption.
In the field of Permaculture, we learn key Permaculture principles, such as “Observe and interact, Catch and store energy, Obtain a yield, Apply self regulation and accept feedback, Use and value Renewable Resources and services, Produce no waste…” ( David Holmgren, 2002). But before we can apply them to our study of the social acceptance of biogas in particular and Sustainability and Environmental Justice in general (as defined as a field of academic study and research), it is necessary to form an understanding of how Permaculture connects with the other aspects of our study. Permaculture is defined as a “ system of agricultural and social design principles centered on simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. It is “ a lifestyle of permanent culture” , from which the name comes, and is actually “a creative design process based on whole- systems thinking informed by ethics and design principles” that can be applied to the technology I am studying here. ( Bill Mollison and David Holmgren ,1968)
A Biogas system or “biodigester” is a technology inspired by nature whose design is based on an animal stomach,. It uses a popular permaculture design approach called “biomimicry” in which a machine mimics the patterns and the structures found in nature to design solutions for our environmental challenges that meet with our needs and are integrated within our ecosystem. According to Professor Thomas Culhane, an expert in small biogas, “Understanding the relationships within the different elements and factors in nature to build our own technological designs and skills that guarantee the well functioning of our economic, social , and educational system, in coherence with our cultural understanding and norms, seems like a recipe for success, especially because we can assume that systems that persisted over eons of evolutionary time and through trials by natural selection are robust.. Adopting such a holistic and resilient approach will help us plan better for the future, especially when available renewable and eco friendly energy sources are a big challenge, using the local resources to find solutions for current obstacles and avoid potential difficulties. Permaculture encourages us to find an easy transition from being a passive consuming community into more productive and sustainably living community.” Of the many Permaculture Principles I referred to above there are some that I can see Biogas Technology particularly representing: Produce No Waste. Integrate rather than segregate. Catch and store Energy. Use and value Renewable resources and services. Design from pattern to details. Use small and slow solutions. Use and value diversity. Creativity use and respond to change.
In response to the Permaculture Design course that I have participated in, I started my path of change toward Sustainable living and justice by visiting several Eco villages and Eco- centers. I volunteered in several trainings and recently I helped organize a service learning field trip for building Biogas, in small scale facilities, where American college students and their professor through their Ecotourism activity came to help build Biogas systems in several rural communities in the Westbank- Palestine during January 2016. In the same year, during the summer, I was encouraged to help in different new biogas systems in an urban community in the Westbank. I noticed the different perception of the technology from the different stakeholders, how they think about it, how they deal with it, how they develop their lifestyle with it, how they maintain it. The findings of this research will help in deeper understanding and better planning for future educational trainings and experience; As in January 2017, there will be new training workshops for building Biogas systems in Jordanian communities and Refugee camps, which share similar socio- economic and cultural patterns and values to the Palestinian communities, and at the same time they share a similar climate. So my interests in conducting this Research study have wide applicability to real on the ground field work that I am a participant stakeholder in.
Anaerobic and Aerobic Decomposition are widely known concepts around the world in which organic waste is turned into something usable, and nutrients stay in their ecological cycles. Biogas as a Technology is not newly discovered; it has been practiced in the Mediterranean region and India and China since hundreds of years ago. People knew about Biogas and composting practices since the time of the ancient Persians several millennia ago.
National Geographic explorer Dr. Thomas Culhane, who is a professor of Environmental Sustainability and Justice at the University of South Florida with whom I have worked on biogas projects in Portugal, Germany, Israel and Palestine, has said . “In the field of industrial ecology, the mantra is that, in nature, there is no waste. And we are a part in nature. Everything we produce is a material. We produce energy and matter and it comes back around and is transformed into something else.” Biogas as a clean and renewable Technology could contribute to a sustainable energy supply and enhance small home level energy supply safety”. ( Thomas Culhane,2015)
By investing in Biogas technology, the stakeholders will increase their energy portfolio, particularly since Biogas can be considered a form of stored solar energy which is a fermentation byproduct of photosynthetically energized plant material and the animals that consumed the primary producers in the trophic hierarchy. So places like the Westbank- Palestine where fossil fuel energy resources are absent, that have a mediterranean climate, which is characterized by high rate of sunshine during the year, long summers and short winters, are an appropriate setting for it.
To get an idea of how biogas technology, when seen as a form of solar energy, could penetrate the West Bank, we can look at studies of the the Diffusion of Solar Water heating systems ( SWHS) technology within the Palestinian communities in the West Bank- Palestine, comparing to the Jordanian community which has similar socio-economic and cultural values. The physical landscape gives comparative advantages to renewable energy technologies, and biogas digesters should track solar heaters once there is sufficient awareness of the benefits. Interestingly, the diffusion of solar water heating systems in the Palestinian community is not the same as the Jordanian communities, and this study will help in understanding different important factors that affect the diffusion of the technology. The same factors should apply, i.e. the high electricity prices and the open market with Israel (which is an established leader in Solar water heating systems) should encourage other forms of renewable energy in the construction of buildings by legislation. The penetration of solar hot water systems in Palestine didn’t affect the palestinian governmental policies so much as it helped the local people to understand their needs and be aware of the economic value of Solar water heating system. (Sawsan Issa, 2009). Today Israel is also an early adopter and innovation champion of small scale biogas systems and this is having an impact on the rate of technology diffusion into neighboring Palestine. As Everett Rogers explains it, this is the normal observed process in which “an innovation ( Technology) is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system” (Everett Rogers ,2003).
Recently, some research was conducted in the West Bank- Palestine targeting the rural communities, and studying the social acceptance of a small scale biogas units through the socio economic evaluation and feasibility assessment. This research focused just on building certain models of Biogas systems ie. ARTI model ( Appropriate Rural Technology Institute ). (Dania Maraka, 2014). The feasibility and economic conclusions of the study was based on the assumption that Biogas technology is primarily applicable in rural areas and that systems are to be fed primarily with animal manures and did not include the economic and social returns from urban systems utilizing abundant and troublesome food wastes.
Materials and Methods:
The main research intention is evaluating the natural diffusion of small scale biogas technology, and studying the social acceptance and appreciation of the BioGas technology, through measuring the level of invested time and effort in this particular technology, and studying the Biogas user's needs and its’ connection to the renewable energy technological development. For this I will use oral interviews as my research methodology, by employing open-ended general and specific questions . The interview’s questions are basically investigating the following:The general understanding of Biogas Technology, the period of time of maintaining (acquiring) and using the system, how the device is meeting the needs and the lifestyle of the stakeholder, the challenges (limitations) and the motive that the early adopter had for choosing the given Biogas system design, as well as their willingness to recommend ( promote ) the Biogas Technology within their communities or abandon it !
I conducted four pilots (site visit ) interviews with users and adopters of IBC ( Solar C³ITIES) Home made designed Biogas systems as a green sustainable source of energy. In one of these sites, the stakeholders have the commercial manufactured system (HomeBiogas) in addition to the Hand-made system. Each interview lasted for about an hour with the different stakeholders of the same site (when applicable). There is one stakeholder who is still in the building process of the biogas systems, the three other sites already have the technology, and they have usage experience which is different from one to another. A standard set of predetermined questions was investigated in several rural and urban environments in the west bank, by means of site visits. For some questions regarding technology awareness, acceptance and appreciation, I analyzed the responses of the four stakeholders, from different angles which include social, environmental, economical, educational, and political circumstances. After analyzing these interviews I did a comparison between the different sites that use the same home made design.
I targeted in my interview questions these major common understanding and community behaviour and response:
Social Axis: through measuring community norms and cultural background understanding, social patterns and functions, family structure and characteristics, decision making habits and relationship to women’s empowerment , awareness of the individual circumstances and cultural environment i.e. values and habits, Successful stories as a tool of inspiration and motivation, social networking and social media advertizing, affecting technology diffusion .measuring lifestyle, level of satisfaction of current users ,individual level of responsibility toward global and regional and local concerns, Rural and urban circumstances challenges.
Environmental Axis: through measuring the Safety and health awareness and understanding the connection ( relationship ) between relying on nonrenewable fossil fuel sources and the global environmental crises responsibility e.g. pollution and climate change. Organic waste management practices. In a particular regions with a challenging very dry and hot climate most of the months during the year, which is getting warmer as an effect of global warming. The limitations of fossil fuels, understanding and awareness of self- sustaining systems and lifestyle, Awareness of advantages of Biogas produced from their own system as a clean and renewable resource over the conventional gas through comparison !
Economical Axis: Awareness of needs and sustainable ways to meet those needs, individual income, measuring the stakeholders understanding of the benefits and limitations of their local resources, the individual level consumption and production patterns. Awareness of a particular Biogas system design and understanding its’ advantages and disadvantages, understanding the difference between the biogas technology and different biogas system designs that have different implementation cost and expenses, measuring maintenance challenges.
Educational Axis: Awareness of technical support challenges and development. Training and follow up practices, the importance of independant lifestyle and freedom appreciation, through off-grid community building willingness, and sustainable living practices responsibility.
Political Axis: Awareness of Energy safety supply and its’ prices stability. Governmental and Non- governmental fundamental understanding. Educational and environmental organization and institutis support and the awareness and the importance of the renewable energy and its’ relationship with the available local resources, taking in consideration the evaluation of the effects of legislation policy challenges.
Result & Findings:
After visiting and holding an interview with four different users and adopters of IBC or ARTI hand-made and the factory made biogas system (Homebiogas) I found that Palestinians in the Westbank tend to be aware of the environmental and economical benefits of the BioGas technology, from which their motivation to adopt it is driven. But they are still not motivated enough to invest more time and effort in the technology R&D process. Unfortunately it is still not in their primary priorities list. According to my methodology, I found the followings:
Site one : La vie Cafe’ and Restaurant in Ramallah City
Background: The IBC Hand-made Biogas system is still under construction. No actual practice or use of the technology has yet occurred. The system is in the garden of the Cafe’ which is in an urban area.
Social findings: The Cafe’ is a social and cultural hub for many local and international visitors and customers. The adopter of the Technology is the owner of the cafe’, and he is the one who is building it. He and the gardener and some of the workers in the restaurant will be maintaining the Biogas system.
Environmental findings : the cafe’ owner and his family tend to have high level of appreciation and acceptance of the Green, clean and eco-friendly energy sources. He has deep faith in Biogas technology as a renewable source of energy. Which in his opinion can be applicable in both urban and rural areas. He already has a waste sorting system in their house and in the Restaurant. He is well adjusted to the basic task of separating organic from the non-organic waste. They use the food waste in their compost pile in their Cafe’ garden. Thus they can make organic fertilizer to enhance the quality of their garden’s soil. His interests in building biogas system comes from his desire of getting the optimal benefit from the food waste they produce, which can be achieved by using a more efficient green practice than composting. By building or buying a biogas system they can gain fertilizer and energy in the form of gas from the same amount of food waste they generate. But they are very slow in building the system, because they are aiming to apply more environmental principles through the building process. Based on the environmental friendly lifestyle they are adopting, they want to reuse the plumbing and insulation materials like pipes and styrofoam in the construction instead of buying new ones.
Economical findings : From his calculation of his monthly Gas bills being around 800 NIS, he is looking to save between 20%-25% of the Gas expenses monthly which is around 200 NIS, based on his calculations. Of course he is still looking for a good quality fertilizer for his garden and for his trees in his Educational Arboretum and being able to produce his own fertilizer more quickly than the traditional composting he does also saves money but he has not calculated how much.
Educational findings: He already knows about the Biogas technology, since it is an old technology, but he is learning more by building it. He wanted to have it from before but he became more motivated after meeting with the biogas expert (Dr. Thomas H Culhane ) and discussing the technology with him. The second educational motive is that he and his family have مشجر جذور Mashjar Juthour ( which in Arabic means Roots Arboretum). This arboretum is located in عين قينياAyn Kiniya, a village located 7km northwest Ramallah. It is an environmental educational park for the public, for families and especially schools, and it also holds trainings and gives voluntary opportunities for local and international visitors, coming mainly from Ramallah city, as it is the closest educational green area to the city.
Political findings: He and his family boycott Israeli products as a way of resistance. But driven by environmental principles and values he might buy the Homebiogas Israeli system if it is economically feasible. There are no local policies to prevent neither encourage green technology, but there are some laws that prevent him from doing any activity or owning any device that attracts flies and insects which could spread diseases in the neighborhood. He said, “We should maintain a clean and healthy environment,so the neighbours won’t complain and it won’t be against the law specially because they live in a city.”
Technical (Technology design ): The design was still under construction through a very slow process but an environmentally friendly one. He is putting in effort and thinking of the design while in the building process. He is trying to add improvements on the design and leave a reduced ecological footprint. But he is still not giving enough time to finalize building it . He might need some help and follow up from the biogas experts team if he can not solve any problem that might happen to the biogas system. By the end the design should be efficient, easy to use and attractive since it will be in the restaurant’s garden which is an open space for public.
Site Two: Farkha Ecovillage قرية فرخة البيئية
Background: It is a rural area south of salfeet district in the middle of the west bank. The Solar CITIES Hand-made biogas facility is on the rooftop of a house . The biogas system is in a poor condition. Currently the biogas system doesn’t work. It worked for short time after construction, and then it worked for intermittent periods of time! The family is still separating the food waste and making a lot of composting for enriching the soil in their house garden and educational farm but they aren’t regularly feeding the digester.
Social findings : The user of the Biogas system is the mayor of Farkha village. His Profession is in the Environmental educational field. He works through the agricultural relief- ministry of Agriculture - with the Governmental schools. He is also a social activists, and a leader of the volunteerism movement in the village. His wife is a farmer and a member in a women's cooperative that produces olive oil products. Feeding the Biogas system was a family practice experience for them. It included a 14 year old relative who is a neighbor.
Environmental findings: Last year Farkha has become the first ecovillage in Palestine, after holding the first Ecovillage design education training course (EDE) in palestine. They established an environmental agricultural and educational farm in the village, where they hold several environmental trainings through hosting school and college students, volunteers and experts. They have built several environmentally friendly technologies. Last year in January 2016 , Solar Cities and American students from Mercy College New York with their professor Dr. Thomas Culhane built the first hand-made IBC tank biogas system in the village. The Biogas users in farkha village tend to have positive level of acceptance of the Biogas Technology and a high level of appreciation. They believe that the production of gas is cleaner and harmless to the environment . They always prefer renewable and alternative energy resource. At the same time they are dissatisfied about the design. Nonetheless his family is still collecting the food waste and making compost for their house garden and the educational farm.
Economical : the Biogas system that they have was only used a few times and produced gas that lasted for few minutes and was not considered feasible economically or worth the effort. But they are aware of the benefits of the biogas technology. They told me they had expected a satisfying amount of gas production and organic liquid fertilizer for their plantations and were disappointed by the small amounts obtained (despite the fact that they had been told about the limitations of a system of the size they have) !
Educational findings: They learned about Biogas technology after owning it. As a member in the Global Ecovillage network, since Farkha is the first Ecovillage in Palestine, they have an active educational environmental center that accepts volunteers, students and interested people to visit and participate in the trainings in the farm and learn more environmentally friendly living technologies and renewable energies, in which Biogas system is a major example.
Political Findings: Green and Renewable energy is perceived as a method of liberation for Palestinian society. Biogas technology holds the promise of freedom from hegemonic forces controlling access to fossil fuels and electricity.
Technical ( Technology design ) The Hand-made design that they have wasn’t seen to work except for a few times. Because this inexpensive system has no sulfur filter and the stove was not made for biogas, there was a perception that biogas smells bad inside the kitchen. The family and his wife said they “are not happy about the smell.”The Biogas needs a different and special stove, and since it produces very little amount of gas, it wasn’t felt worthwhile having a second stove which would make the kitchen very crowded and disturbing” according to the mayor’s wife. She stated, “These issues in the Hand-made design make us lose interests in feeding it and we prefer giving the food waste to the compost pile from which I can make fertilizers to our plantations in the garden and in the training farm”. She added: “As a farmer, I think composting is great and fulfilling my garden need. I am very satisfied about it” The Mayor and his family need constant help and consultancy from a Biogas expert to help them fix the current biogas system and maintain it for future use. The design in general needs to be improved, since the gas smells bad from the hand-made system when not burned, it might need to be moved to the farm and used in an open kitchen. For the house maybe buying the Factory made Homebiogas which has a built in sulfur filter might be more practical( easier to deal with it) and more attractive. They don’t have enough experience to implement the suggestions or to try to fix the system. The Mayor said: “We are not talking about it yet to people ,because we want it to be a working system first then we can encourage people to build or have one”
Site Three: Al Taneeb ( Hakuritna حكورتنا) Farm- Irtah village:
Background: The farm Hakuritna in arabic means Garden. And it is owned by Al Taneeb family as a source of income and serves as an educational center. It is located in a rural area in Irtah village south Tulkarim . They own 3 Hand-made biogas systems. One has been in the farm since 2013. It is an ARTI (Appropriate Rural Technology Institute) Biogas system design, but it has been really functioning only since one year ago when the biogas expert, Culhane and his students, came and changed its location from the plantation to an area next to an outdoor kitchen and fixed some plumbing. . Taneeb also has two IBC Biogas systems: one is in a greenhouse inside the farm near the outdoor kitchen and the other is next to the family house, they both are not really functioning.
Social findings : The user of the Biogas system is a farmer and political activists and his wife is the main farmer in the farm and a social activists who is a head of Women's cooperative in the village, that works on women empowerment through establishing small economic and educational projects. Most of the family members are involved in feeding the Biogas system.
Environmental Findings : Biogas systems are felt to provide a model for sustainable living by turn food waste into energy in the form of gas that can be turned into electricity and also by producing a very rich liquid fertilizer.
As such they are considered by the Taneebs, who studied working versions of nearly identical systems at the Eco-village in Tamera in Portugal, to be an environmental miracle permitting household food waste and agricultural waste to be considered as valuable local resources that can be turned into energy and liquid fertilizer instead of as sources of disease or as health nuisances. So they see these local resources to be an environmental solution for one of the major environmental issues within the Palestinian society in the form of renewable energy and liquid soil conditioner. They recognize on a theoretical level that Biogas is a great way to clean the environment and create a reality in which we all live healthy. This is particularly important to the Taneebs as the stakeholders have two brothers who have cancer, one who died and the other who is still fighting for his life.
Economical findings : The Farm owners are very satisfied with the liquid fertilizer the ARTI system produces. They are already realizing huge savings of money without the need to buy fertilizer from the market. It also produces small amount of gas, which is satisfying , relatively to the size of the biogas system. That contributes in saving small amounts of money, instead of buying more conventional gas cylinders for the farm. The biogas produced is enough to cook a short meal and make tea and coffee in the farm. They report that this seems to be saving around half a conventional cylinder per month.
Educational : He understands the technology now better and at a deeper level, by having the system running and after taking a training course about biogas from the expert (TH culhane). They have the farm as a way to earn a living and also as a training ecological center, through an agreement with Al Khadouri university for Agricultural and Environmental Studies in Tulkarim district. They feel that having a working Biogas system in the farm is an inspiring example of sustainability methods through a rich learning experience that school and college students can get by visiting the farm, besides the local visitors , tourists and local and international volunteers.
Political findings : Farming for the Taneeb family is a form of resistance and a path to liberation and a sustainable and self sufficient way of living. It is also a way of maintaining the land and fighting against the occupation and the capitalist system. Their farm hosts many school children and local and international visitors, volunteers and tourists. Using the biogas facility as a model of the renewable energy; to teach and give training to young people in the farm is a political weapon to recover self-determination.
Technical ( Technology design ) : Of the two different systems, the ARTI has a limited size, and the Taneebs feel it could produce more gas if it has bigger size, however they feel it is too expensive to build a bigger size. The IBC tank design is not being used at all because of a design flaw in the Gas storage tanks and the insulation of the biodigester, intended to keep out the cold, is also keeping heat from getting into the digester. They feel it could work for rural and urban areas if the design were improved and if it become easier to maintain and use it. IBC systems need more follow up from the expert to help in fixing them; meanwhile they are giving suggestions and say they are willing to implement and try them to find out solutions for the design issues.
Site Four: Jericho - Oqbet Jaberعقبة جبر ٌRefugee camp
Background: The stakeholder is a refugee since 1948, who comes from a bedouin heritage. He and his family live in a refugee camp that is between urban and rural environment. He has two factory made biogas systems (Homebiogas) and one handmade IBC biogas system which he disassembled. He is using one of the tanks for storing water. Just one of the factory made system works and the other is not functioning at all, because of what he says is “the lack of communication and reliable support from the maintenance department at Homebiogas company”.
Social findings: He is a science school teacher. He is a social activist and a chief and representative of الكعابنة Al Kaabneh tribe. He is an active member in Clans committee for conflict resolution between different tribes in Palestine. He has big family of 14 members from two wives who live in two different houses. His wives have lack of awareness and therefore attention toward renewable energy and Biogas system. His daughters who live a “normal traditional life” go to school and work inside the house. His sons who cares about their smart phones and computer screens, work outside the house. They in general appreciate a “comfortable lifestyle”. Biogas in his opinion is “a system for the era before and maybe after the fossil fuel era if the technology design succeeds to develop to cope with the modern lifestyle”. There is no willingness to help from his family members in maintaining the biogas system.
Environmental : He volunteered in past activities for protecting nature through the Israeli nature protection department. He appreciates the biogas technology as a method of turning food waste into energy (Gas) and liquid fertilizer. But he is not sure if it is a valid renewable energy source. This is because food waste in his opinion is not always available, especially in the poor communities and societies where people suffer from hunger issues. It solves the organic waste management issues and cleans the surroundings which provides a healthier environment. But he said he used to close the ecological loop even before he owned biogas system, since he feeds his goats and sheeps on the food waste comes from his two kitchens and use the animal manure as a fertilizer for his trees for the two houses garden.
Economical : Before having the Homebiogas system he has to buy one gas cylinder every 20 days for each of his two houses and after Homebiogas usage, he buys one cylinder every 40-35 days for each kitchen.He doesn’t do a lot of Agriculture in his small backyard garden. He just has trees, so he uses the liquid fertilizer for his trees in the garden in the winter more than in the summer, because he thinks the liquid fertilizer is not good for trees in the summer. He claims it can destroy them as it has a high concentration of nutrients, especially in a very warm summer in Jericho. So the extra spill of the liquid fertilizer is creating a problem of flies and mosquitoes in the summer for him since it is liquid not solid. He says the animal manure is easier for him to collect and bag, but the volume of liquid is harder for him to control.He describes the biogas system as a cow that is actually competing with his sheep and goats for the limited amount of food wastes the two kitchens produce, which means buying more feed for the goats .
Educational findings : His biggest motivation behind having the biogas system was his curiosity and desire to do a practical experiment of the Biogas systems as he always likes to learn about things both theoretically and practically as a general science teacher. But maintaining a biogas system in his opinion for long time may be an entertaining experience for people who have plenty of time to experiment and try and do research but isn’t practical for his circumstances.
Political Findings: He supports the good and efficient technology from any place whether it is an Israeli product or from different place. He already has the Israeli system and is in contact with the Israeli supplier sometimes.
Technical ( Technology design ) findings : The hand-made design and the factory made HomeBiogas system follow the same principles, utilizing similar basic design features . The factory design is considered better because it is well made (no problems with potential leaks), has a wide funnel for easier feeding and stores and pressurizes its own gas.. But he feels both designs should be developed and improved to meet with the modern lifestyle and need to require less time and effort , and to be easier to use and maintain and be attractive, and he says it should be easier to maintain its cleanness so that it doesn’t attract flies and insects which brings diseases and threaten human health. He declares that he needs constant follow up and support from the homebiogas company and the Solar CITIES expert. The Manufactured design and the hand-made design need improvement and development. He reports that the IBC tank design needs improvements to the gas storage component and the feeding pipe, which has to be wider and needs a cover or a lid. His Homebiogas unit needs a cover to protect it from the sun. One of his two units also suffers from a sandbag stability issue that caused a bag to tear and leak sand. This unit is now dysfunctional.
Nonetheless, in principle he thinks the Biogas Technology could work for rural and urban areas if the designs were improved. His final comment was that the biogas systems take up too much space for a crowded refugee camp area with many families competing for the small space available, particularly since they are used to using small propane gas bottles that hold a lot of gas with a tiny footprint. As the family grows he wants to be able to use whatever space he has for more rooms. Space is a limited resource he said.
Discussion & Analysis:
Social finding analysis: The Biogas system interviewees have different levels of environmental awareness and are from different professions and fields. They all have big families except for the Ramallah project, which has a smaller family but whose food waste production is the biggest because of the restaurant contribution. Most of the stakeholders have been experimenting with hand-made IBC tank biogas systems. In two cases (Tulkarim and Farkha sites), woman's role is very powerful and impact the whole experience in which each one of them is a farmer and a member in a women's cooperative. In most of the cases the community around the biogas adopter or user is willing to cooperate and participate in maintaining the biogas system but in the case of Jericho , the user gets no support from his family which might explain why he is disappointed.
Environmental finding analysis: Though from different backgrounds all of the stakeholders have sufficient environmental education levels for understanding the core concepts of the technology and they all have basic environmental interests and show high levels of environmental awareness and responsibility toward global and local environmental issues.
Economical finding analysis: all of the stakeholder showed that their economic motivation is the highest priority , and after this the environmental motivation. These findings are similar to the history of Solar water heating system diffusion in Palestine.
Educational finding analysis: all of the stakeholder have educational centers connected to their work profession except for the case in Jericho who used to be a teacher but is not involved in any form of education any more, which might explain why all of them are interested in investing effort and want to keep trying the experiment with different levels of involvement in the R&D process. Nonetheless, the system user in Jericho is not willing to put in more effort and has no sustainable vision for maintaining any of the systems; his educational motivation is to fulfil his own curiosity and he felt a need to try the hands on side of Biogas System for himself, as opposed to believing there was a practical utility for the systems as problem solvers in his community life.
Political finding analysis: Most of the cases boycott Israeli products as a method of resisting occupation and injustice except for the one who is in Jericho for whom it is not an issue at all. The others boycott Israeli products in general but just one of them said he would never buy the Israeli Homebiogas system since his farm in Tulkarem was demolished three times by the Israeli military.The users in Ramallah and Farkha said they might use the factory made Israeli Homebiogas product at some point.
Technical Design: all of the Stakeholders know the difference between the biogas technology and the design , and recognise that issues or problems in the particular design or in the way the biogas system was constructed are not related to the principles behind turning waste to energy and fertilizer and doesn’t change their beliefs about Biogas technology in general . They all willing to encourage their community to adopt it once the designs work, but if it doesn’t work they are not going to abandon it. The fault is perceived to be in the design of the particular system and a shortage of expert support and follow up, not from Biogas technology in and of itself.
The bedouin leader in Auja felt that if the systems could be designed to improve the functionality of the space they are in they would win more acceptance. The idea that the top of the digester could be used as a counter top or table top had great appeal, and a digester designed so that one could do one’s chopping and cooking and waste disposal right at the surface of the digester could actually save space since most open areas from the ground to the chest level aren’t well utilized to begin with. A biodigester, he felt, could be made to serve as a waste receptacle replacing garbage bins with the top surface being useful for doing work and the sides could even be used to grow hanging vegetables and herbs using vertical farming techniques fertilized by the liquid compost that comes from the digester. Solar CITIES has experimented with such designs (for example in a kitchen in Ireland) but so far they have not been developed adequately or deployed. And even though the residents of Auja are interested in such systems it is unlikely that they will independently put effort into developing them. Still it is instructive to hear what they have to say about it and get a sense of what would meet their needs, which is something that can not easily occur in the abstract. For this reason we are glad to have had the opportunity to build the systems on their property so that their observations could come from direct experience. I learned a lot from the Auja interview about how people see the digesters once they actually confront them in their personal space and this information informs all of my efforts moving forward.
Conclusion & Recommendation:
To summarize my findings after conducting the four interviews: I find people from the four different sites -- the urban, rural and the refugee camp with bedouin heritage -- are very motivated by the anticipated economical and the environmental outcomes of the technology, respectively. They all have a satisfactory level of awareness about the technology, benefits and challenges. But they are not investing enough time in the technology because building or maintaining a biogas system is not considered a priority compared to other social, and family activities.
The seeming contradiction here is that each of the adopters we built with are in fact normally on the far left of the innovation curve in terms of their activism and dedication to social and environmental causes. The issue here seems to be that while they are innovative in the areas in which they are already involved, the technology of biogas is still unfamiliar enough that they have not yet seen enough proof of concept to become highly motivated to work through the troubleshooting issues and investments needed to make it work reliable.
I recommend in the future a comparison between the theoretical and practical understanding, awareness and acceptance of the biogas technology, from different dimensions: social, economic, educational, cultural, political and environmental circumstances but, based on these findings, in addition would now include a comparison of educational attainment in specific areas of expertise. It will be interesting to compare non college educated biogas system users interviews and non-biogas system user college student interviews; to get an idea of how education/social class affect responses and acceptance of the technology. Another parameter that seems crucial is how comfortable the user is with general engineering and construction and “bricolage” (tinkering and creating or inventing things from scratch). Personalities used to inventing should demonstrate a more rapid acceptance of systems that aren’t yet perfectly engineered. Finally, further comparison with users who have the commercial factory made HomeBiogas systems would shed a lot of light on what barriers there are to small scale biogas caused by design issues rather than the technology itself.
In general my study showed that people accept Biogas as a Technology but they are not happy about the current designs that they have. People like their easy to use electrical devices and stoves and they are used to the comfortable life which they know for sure that they can get in in the fossil fuel era. And since there is still conventional gas available in the local market, average people won’t feel the need to participate and invest more time in the R&D of the Biogas technology. Human nature is attached to it’s comfort and security zone and it is hard to change their practices easily. People to the right of Rogers innovation diffusion curve generally need time to adapt to and adopt unfamiliar technologies and accept the imperfect designs. Having the community as a lab to test the technology design and select the right stakeholders to participate in the R&D is a good approach, but stakeholders selected should have high intrinsic motivation for participating and be willing to be responsible and take part in improving the technology and design. In a certain sense, the issue, as in many cases in economics, is one of supply side or demand side drivers affecting acceptance. Some of the cases, like Tulkarem and Ramallah, were demand side -- the stakeholders had asked for the technology from the beginning and so they can be expected to continue the journey with the right level of outside assistance. But in the two other cases where stakeholders showed their disappointment, like Farkha and Jericho, we see that they were “supply side driven” -- the possibility to have digesters and be part of a study was offered to them without their own deep interest and they simply accepted the offer.
On the other hand, the now successful ARTI India biogas system that is on the farm in Tulkarm was introduced as a “supply-side” initiative in 2013 at a time when the Taneeb family had no interest or knowledge about biogas. It sat unused for two years as an example of a disappointing technology and source of complaints until the summer of 2015 when Fayez came to the Solar Village in Tamera Portugal and saw successful systems of the same design as well as successful Solar CITIES IBC designs being used. His enthusiasm increased and he began questioning why his system in Palestine wasn’t performing as well. At that time he then invited the expert and his students to visit and do experiments as well as improve the “failed system”. Even with all that renewed enthusiasm, it wasn’t until the winter of 2016 when Dr. Culhane and Mercy College and I went to his farm and built the two IBCs and moved and repaired the ARTI system that it began being used on a daily level.
This shows that diffusion of these technologies is part of a dynamic learning curve. Based on my experience with this case I believe It would be a mistake to decide that certain people are simply trapped at one or another point on the innovation diffusion curve and that there is there is no hope for the “supply side” systems.
Since biogas systems are durable, it appears that it may indeed be okay to let them sit unused for as long as it takes for people to truly grasp their potential and then assist them in “dusting them off” and putting them into service. And since even the bedouin in Jericho acknowledges that the technology will be useful in crisis situations or after the fossil fuels become unattainable, I doubt that he or the mayor of Farkha will completely abandon the systems. As much as we hate to think about it, that time of crisis may be closer than we think. It is in the spirit of ensuring nobody has to suffer a lack of fuel and fertilizer and the grim future that might create that I continue my passion for this work.
Generally , I am quite satisfied about the progress of my work. I stayed on track through the process, following my research proposal. I find this kind of very qualitative methodology research into social perceptions to be very challenging and complex so that analysing the results and making the findings simple to understand and clear to the audience isn’t as straightforward as a typical engineering project . I am particularly happy to have found a living example that connects the theory of innovation diffusion and adoption to the practice of permaculture design and sustainable development. From the theoretical research I have done and the practical results of using this framework to analyse the responses I got I now have conceptual tools to help accelerate the use of this technology to help my community. By using insights from social science and economics I can recommend approaches to the biogas experts and engineers and companies that can overcome further disappointment or rejection..
In general, conducting this study was very exciting to me, although I am also disappointed by the results I found, hoping that the communities would have enthusiastically embraced do-it-yourself biogas and joined us in being bricoleurs who would make this technology socially acceptable.. But I appreciate the opportunity to do the project and in learning more about something I did one year ago, when I first accompanied Solar CITIES and the Mercy students to build the experimental digesters and install commercial HomeBiogas systems.. During the interview , I felt I had achieved progress in terms of confidence and following the scientific method from the first interview to the last one. I gained new skills like being objective and not being biased in the question writing. I enhanced existing skills I already have like analysing and converting data into a readable and useful format to address a specific audience.
In this study I am targeting the researchers, developers , experts and designers who are working to improve the design of the Biogas technology and want to start the diffusion of the technology in developing communities, through measuring the factors and barriers to biogas technology in the Westbank. As I graduate from the Arava Institute for Environmental studies (AIES) and start my further graduate and professional work with household and community biogas I try to find better and more efficient ways of promoting and marketing the technology and creating higher level of awareness about the Biogas Technology within Palestine in the Westbank. The limitation of time made me change and narrow down my methodology that I proposed at the start of the semester. I proposed to do this study and to conduct a survey study within two different college level environmental studies programs in the West Bank and then measure the difference of acceptance between both and try to understand the gap between the theory level and practical level in terms of social acceptance and diffusion considered from two parallel streams of technology education ( informal and formal settings). I still recommend to have this comparison studied in the future. Nonetheless I feel that this study will have great utility to the field of small biogas both here and in other lands where its use in urban as well as rural settings and on the home scale. It’s use is still considered a novel and unfamiliar approach to dealing with the massive problems caused by organic wastes.
- Culhane, T. cited in “Harnessing the Power of Human Waste to Survive” by Johnna Rizzo in Newsweek Special Edition, 3/8/15.
-Isaa, S. 2009. Barriers to widespread adoption of Solar Water Heating Systems(SWHS) in Jordan. Master Thesis, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
-Maraka, D. 2014. Socio Economic Evaluation and Feasibility Assessment of Small Scale Biogas Units for Rural Communities in Palestine. Master Thesis, An- Najah National University.
-Rogers, E M. 2003. Diffusion of Innovations. 5th ed. New York: Free Press. PP 37- 62.
-WWW.PermaculturePrinciples.com, accessed on 21/10/16.