Nature Go Back to Nature: Small Advanced Biogas Plant Using Natural Agricultural Wastes in Green Birth Farm, Taiwan

Nature Go Back to Nature: Small Advanced Biogas Plant Using Natural Agricultural Wastes in Green Birth Farm, Taiwan

Published: 2022.05.26
Accepted: 2022.05.23
12
Master's Program of Green Energy Science and Technology, Feng Chia University, Taichung, Taiwan
Institute of Green Products, Feng Chia University, Taichung, Taiwan
Institute of Green Products, Feng Chia University,Taiwan
The Rotary Club of Taichung Light-Up (D3461), Taichung, Taiwan

ABSTRACT

Taiwan was vying with the rest of the world to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of converting to renewable energy and lowering carbon emissions by 2030. Reducing the use of chemical pesticides and establishing a bio-circular economy in the agricultural system are two steps that can be implemented, as Green Birth Farm has done. Green Birth Farm has various natural resources and has established a bio-circular economy, however, the system still needs significant improvements in bioenergy processing. This project was undertaken as part of an effort to meet the United Nations SDG targets as well as to encourage the aboriginal people and small farmers to adopt the same farming practice. Apart from that, government and stakeholders’ participation is required to support green synergy solutions programs so that the desired improvements can be implemented rapidly.

Keywords: Sustainable Development Goals; Renewable Energy; Bio-circular Economy; Green Birth Farm

INTRODUCTION

Renewable energy and natural ecosystem are inseparable because bioenergy come from nature and go back to nature, which is also the concept that is adopted and implemented by Green Birth Farm (Figure 1). Green Birth Farm is one of the very few farms that implement the adaptation of the “natural agriculture system” in Taiwan and is located in Meixi Tribe, Nantou County, and is also known as the Seediq Tribe's seat. The owner of Green Birth Farm, Walis Perin, was a politician concerned about the aboriginal people's rights. He decided to resign from politics in 2007 and begin to manage the Green Birth Farm based on a noble purpose: to create job opportunities; a stable living industry for small farmers; and promote the tribe. He focuses on natural symbiotic relationship. All water, soil, hens, pigs and plants are taken from nature and returned to it to fully realize the aboriginal people's spirit and the notion of “living together with the land”.

Green Birth Farm is implementing the concept of a “natural agriculture system,” a sustainable farming approach that was learned from master Han Kyu Cho of the Janong Natural Farming Institute. It has been practiced in Asia for over 40 years. Natural agriculture system is a self-contained system that involves cultivating indigenous microorganisms (IMO) such as fungi, bacteria, and protozoa and reintroducing them into nutrient-depleted soil to boost microbial activity and fertility (Keliikuli et al. 2019). In Green Birth Farm, they took IMO from the mountain area and brought them back to the farm and used them as a natural fertilizer for the vegetables/plants by composting them. The agricultural residues were mixed and became animal feeds for pigs and chickens. There’s no wastewater produced by this system because they can reuse the water after washing vegetables and fruits since there are no chemicals involved. This system is far more efficient for the bio-circular economy.

The idea of a small Advanced Biogas Plant appeared and was discussed in September, 2020 between Prof. Chen-Yeon Chu of Feng Chia University (FCU) and Walis Perin, the owner of Green Birth Farm. The project was supported by the USR project: The Participatory Guarantee System Project of Tribes Creation under Taiwan’s Ministry of Education. Feng Chia University (FCU) has joined the USR project which is described in the article "Farming and Nature Symbiosis - Meixi Tribe Green Farm," in 2020 (Icefish 2020). In terms of discussions that have been carried out, the most challenging scenario that Green Birth Farm has faced is that it consumes a lot of electricity to meet its needs especially in drying the biofertilizer. Meanwhile, it is well known that agricultural residues can be used for biogas production to support the electricity need in the small farm. So as a conclusion, the decision was made to build a small Two-phased Biogas Power Plant and Solar Photovoltaic (PV) systems in Green Birth Farm to produce electricity and conduct it back to the farm to cut the high electricity costs.

As a follow-up to this idea, Solar PV systems and a small Advanced Biogas Power Plant with a capacity of 5 kWh per day for each system had been implemented in Green Birth Farm. The Advanced Biogas Power Plant system is a closed-loop system that was designed similar to the Biowaste to Bioenergy System model using Two-stage Biohythane Production patent technology that existed in Manado city, Indonesia with certain modifications to match the bio-circular economy system that existed in the farm. However, at present, these systems can only totally produce 45 kWh of energy per day. Hopefully, these systems can produce double the amount of energy in the future.

NATURAL AGRICULTURE SYSTEM IN GREEN BIRTH FARM

Nantou County is Taiwan's second-largest county, located in central Taiwan. Green Birth Farm is located in Ren’ai township, one of the mountain indigenous townships in Nantou County, which has a population of 15,850 people and covers an area of 1,273.5312 square kilometers, making it the county's second-largest township. Geographically speaking, Green Birth Farm is located in between the Central Mountain Range of Taiwan. There’s also a small river flowing beside Green Birth Farm, which is called Meixi River (Figure 2). Meixi River is located in central Taiwan and is a part of the Wuxi water system. Green Birth Farm was named after the bio-circular economy system that is used. This farm offers a variety of agricultural products such as tomatoes, cabbages, and other vegetables, and all of these items are grown using a natural farming approach, which means they are highly nutritious and safe because they are pesticide-free.

The “natural agriculture system” (Figure 3) that was used is based on the Korean Natural Farming (KNF) system. The Korean Natural Farming is a self-sufficient farming technique that uses indigenous microorganisms (IMOs) — bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and protozoa – to produce fertile soil instead of inorganic fertilizers. Since there is a symbiotic interaction between plants and beneficial IMOs, Green Birth Farm uses this strategy to save money on external fertilizers while also minimizing soil damage from pesticides. Microorganisms transform nutrients into a form that can be absorbed by plants. The plants, in turn, produce food for the bacteria. This is known as closed-loop farming, and it maximizes the use of on-farm resources while recycling farm wastes and lowering external inputs. Balai eggs and Balai pigs (Figure 4) are the livestock goods produced by this farm. The eggs are organically fermented and can aid in the smooth functioning of the intestines. Kampo herbal extracts are also included. These herbal essences are created on the farm as well.

To execute the Korean Natural Farming (KNF) method, a four-step process involves capturing, cultivating, and maintaining indigenous microorganisms (IMOs). First, a location to collect the microorganisms must be identified. The best place to gather IMO is near the rhizosphere of plants with sugary roots. These carbohydrates attract microorganisms and nematodes that are dominated by bacteria. The second step is to cultivate the IMOs, the third step is to multiply the IMOs, and the final step is to inoculate the soil. Any type of container could be used to collect the microbes, including a plastic container or a ceramic bowl. When it comes to cultivating IMOs, however, the rule is never try to harvest them during wet seasons, as too much moisture encourages pathogenic germs to thrive (Cho 2010). Furthermore, the length of time it takes to cultivate IMOs is significantly influenced by the weather. In cold weather (20°C), the collecting process takes 4–5 days, but in hot weather (>20°C), it takes 3–5 days (Park and DuPonte 2010). The advantage of employing this method is more environmentally friendly compared to traditional farming methods, as it leaves a less carbon footprint, and the cost varies based on the instruments used. On the other hand, this four-step process takes about 25 days to complete.

Green Birth Farm raises native hens and "Balai pigs" in addition to producing various kinds of exotic fruits and veggies on a vast scale. Pig and fowl feed is made from mildly fermented natural materials. This farm produces fodder from agricultural wastes generated by the natural farming technique as explained above. The agricultural residues produced is collected and mixed with soybean meal and organic kitchen wastes obtained from the Puli area using a mixer before being fed to the livestock.

IMPLEMENTATION PROCESS AND SYSTEM BUILD-UP

The discussion was between Prof. Chen-Yeon Chu from Feng Chia University (FCU) and Walis Perin the owner of Green Birth Farm. It is known that both parties had aboriginal blood which made them have a similar concern about promoting and educating the tribe communities. In this discussion, many aspects were raised and discussed by both parties. They discussed the Green Birth Farm both in terms of its geographical layout, the natural farming and livestock systems used, as well as the potential from a renewable energy perspective. The bioenergy implementation project in Green Birth Farm is related to the purpose of the United Nations SDG number 3 point 9: “substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water, and soil pollution and contamination” and number 7 which is to provide an affordable energy.

Although all of the techniques employed at Green Birth Farm are natural, the biowaste is generated. Animal wastes can be reused as soil nutrients to boost soil productivity, and agricultural waste is always used to generate fodder for the native fowl and Balay pigs. However, as the number of animals on the farm grows, so does the amount of animal wastes produced. In this situation, more space was required to accept the animal excrement, and dumping the waste in a landfill would pollute the air in the surrounding villages. To solve this issue, the bio-gaseous energy approach is highly suitable. With this condition, building a biogas power plant would be the most suitable option. Green Birth Farm is currently consuming a high amount of electricity to provide the best treatments for its animals and crops, if this farm can provide its electricity independently and channel it back for farm usage then it will cut off lots of the electricity bills. This will increase the efficiency of the bio-circular economy system that is used.

Other than the biogas power plant, considering that this farm is located in a fairly spacious area and receives a lot of sunlight every day, there’s another idea that popped up to save on electricity costs. It is to put solar panel systems and convert it into electrical energies. There are some other options and potentials that existed on this farm, it is to build a wind power system and hydroelectric power generator. Knowing that Green Birth Farm is also located in between the Central Mountain Range of Taiwan, this results in a strong enough wind intensity on the farm to run a wind turbine. Furthermore, the Meixi River, which runs alongside the farm, is an upstream river with a strong enough current to generate energy that could be used as another electricity source.

After the discussion, the small Advanced Biogas Power Plant system was designed by the Institute of Green Products of Feng Chia University (IGP.FCU) (Figure 5). IGP.FCU had designed and built multiple biogas pilot power plant systems in certain other countries such as Indonesia and Thailand. The Advanced Biogas Pilot Power Plant system that he designed for the Green Birth Farm is similar to the biogas pilot power plant that existed in Manado city, Indonesia since 2019. However, there are certain modifications made to adapt to the farm conditions. The biogas power plant system that existed in Manado city has a capacity of 10 kW and consists of 4 tanks that were connected: a collecting tank, a mixing tank, and 2 anaerobic digestion tanks. The collecting tank is used to insert raw materials such as animal manures and organic waste, then it flows to the mixing tank to go through a mixing process, then the liquid will flow to the anaerobic digestion tanks to produce methane for the biogas. After all this process, the biogas will be stored and channeled to the gas generator, and the generator will turn it into electricity. And the liquid waste of this system will be stored in a reservoir which is used by the village communities as a free natural fertilizer (Sinsuw and Chu 2020; Sinsuw et al. 2021).

As for the small Advanced Biogas Plant system in Green Birth Farm, it was modified from 4 tanks to 7 tanks. The system consists of a collecting tank, a mixing tank, 2 anaerobic digestion tanks, a sediment tank, an aeration tank, and a final sediment tank. The final residue of this process will flow through the sediment/liquid separator, where the sediment residue will be channeled back to the 1st anaerobic digestion tank and the liquid residue can be used directly as free natural fertilizer. This mechanism is called a closed-loop system.

After the design process had been completed, the development process began. The engineer, Arlex Chen, from IGP.FCU and his team managed to prepare all the materials needed to build the Advanced Biogas Power Plant system in Green Birth Farm and start assembling all the parts. The build-up process includes the placement of tanks, assembling pipes, connecting the electrical panel to each pump with multiple cords, and setting up the Control Panel. As for the Solar PV system, it was installed on the highest roof of a building in Green Birth Farm.

BIO-CIRCULAR ECONOMY AND EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES

The Advanced Biogas Power Generator in Green Birth Farm was built of 5 kW capacity and can run for 3 hours per day. This means that this pilot power plant can provide 15 kWh of electricity daily. As for the Solar PV system power capacity was built of 5 kW and the system can run an average of 6 hours per day. So, the solar panel system can provide 30 kWh of electricity. In total, these systems can provide 45 kWh of electricity per day in Green Birth Farm. Besides bio-circular economy purposes, this project aims to be a new educational tourism spot which is able to provide new knowledge about Green Synergy Solutions system. Recently, a course entitled “Smart City and Environment Simulation” that was taught by Prof. Chen-Yeon Chu in Feng Chia University (FCU) had taken place on this project as a field study. The students were invited to visit Green Birth Farm and inspect the Solar Panel system. Besides explanations that were provided by the farm owner and teacher about the history and systems that is used in Green Birth Farm, they were also given a prototype of the solar panel system to learn about how it works.

This project also plans to empower the indigenous social awareness on renewable energy and to increase sustainability for green energy applications in aboriginal regions with capacity building, best practices, and accelerating the development of renewable energy technologies in the symbiosis energy of the indigenous community. Consequently, the land and natural resources on which they depend are inextricably linked to their identities, cultures, livelihoods, as well as their physical and spiritual well-being. However, indigenous peoples often lack formal recognition over their lands, territories, and natural resources and are usually the last to receive public investments in essential services and infrastructure. This legacy of inequality and exclusion has made indigenous communities more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and natural hazards. Symbiosis energy for rural community development is an innovative model of social awareness. It has social and environmental benefits for the community to be self-sustained. This project allows interaction and building of bilateral and cultural exchanges to develop renewable energy technology and economic sustainability to increase the inclusive sustainability of indigenous communities for green energy applications in the aboriginal regions. Currently, most indigenous people’s land is located in remote rural areas, and it is difficult to connect the centralized power grid for access to clean energy. Therefore, this project demonstrated the best practice model for developing the indigenous green energy farm with the small-scale distributed renewable energy system. This project aims to help developing economies build green energy farms with access to distributed renewable energy. Therefore, this project will help promote renewable energy including the development of low carbon technology and alternative energy sources. The project can help build up the green energy smart farms in developing economies and build sustainable and resilient communities.

RECOMMENDATIONS

This project may cover a broad and varied range of objectives, but it also encounters various difficulties in its application such as limited land area, lack of budget, and a lack of local community understanding of renewable energy systems' use and operation. Herein lies the importance of incentive from the government and institutions to support the development of renewable energy systems in the future. The small Advanced Biogas Power Plant system in Green Birth Farm can currently only produce 45 kWh of electrical energy per day, but it is hoped that this system may be upgraded and expanded in the future to be able to produce at least twice as much electrical energy as it can now. As for educational purposes, this project aims to educate and motivate the aboriginal community on how to operate the advanced biogas power plant system and the natural agriculture system based on the high-efficiency bio-circular economy adopted by Green Birth Farm. Students can also learn how renewable energy systems work and they can continue to disseminate these systems to other aboriginal small farms.

REFERENCES

Keliikuli, A., et al., Natural Farming: The Development of Indigenous Microorganisms Using Korean Natural Farming Methods. Sustainable Agriculture, 2019: p. 9.

Icefish, A. Farming and Nature Symbiosis - Meixi Tribe Green Farm. 2020 17 August 2020 [cited 2022 15 March]; Available from: https://www.pgsfcu.org/post/%E8%BE%B2%E4%BD%9C%E8%88%87%E8%87%AA%E7%84%B6%E5%85%B1%E7%94%9F%EF%BC%8D%E7%9C%89%E6%BA%AA%E9%83%A8%E8%90%BD%E7%B6%A0%E7%94%9F%E8%BE%B2%E5%A0%B4.

Cho, H.K. and A. Koyama, Korean natural farming. 1997.

Park, H. and M.W. DuPonte, How to cultivate indigenous microorganisms. 2008.

Sinsuw, A. and C.-Y. Chu, Towards Sustained Community on the Manado Rural Area by Developing Biogas Production Technology Towards Sustained Community on the Manado Rural Area by Developing Biogas Production Technology. 2020. https://ap.fftc.org.tw/article/1871

Sinsuw, A.A.E., C.E. Wuisang, and C.-Y. Chu, Assessment of environmental and social impacts on rural community by two-stage biogas production pilot plant from slaughterhouse wastewater. Journal of Water Process Engineering, 2021. 40: p. 101796.

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