Research Grants/Fellowships/SBIR

Development of a Robust Anaerobic Biogas System for Use in Developing Countries

EPA Grant Number: SU834724
Title: Development of a Robust Anaerobic Biogas System for Use in Developing Countries
Investigators: Skerlos, Steven J. , Cook, Sherri , Dorer, Heather , Hwang, Jinhyung , Li, Zijia
Current Investigators: Skerlos, Steven J. , Bandari, Aditiya , Coir, Elizabeth , Collins, Michael , Cook, Sherri , Dorer, Heather , Frederick, Tiffany , Gupta, Anisha , Hwang, Jinhyung , Kaniz, Nasrin , Li, Zijia , McCleary, Emmie , Nagal, Adam , Schulman, Bryan , Sung, Catherine , Twill, Kevin
Institution: University of Michigan
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Project Period: August 15, 2010 through August 14, 2011
Project Amount: $9,888
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2010) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Technology that utilizes renewable resources is by no means groundbreaking in today’s advanced society. Even people that live the most primitive of lifestyles have sustainable technology available to them, such as the anaerobic biogas digester, which converts waste and organic matter into methane and a nutrient-rich effluent. The methane can be burned for cooking and heating, thereby replacing the burning of wood, and the effluent can be used as a natural fertilizer for plants, thereby replacing harsh chemical fertilizers used to increase crop yield. Such technology, however, has not become standard in homes in which it would be both feasible and beneficial, which is largely due to the added upkeep that biogas digesters entail.


The goal of this project is to develop and improve small-scale biogas digesters for families living in the rural areas of Central America, although these digesters can have applications for low-income families in the United States as well. Specifically, the team aims to implement a biogas digester that is more robust, meaning that it will have less sources of failure than previous systems, in an effort to make these digesters more reliable for its users.


The foundation of this research is built upon this team’s field experiences in rural Nicaragua. The most pressing problem for the implementation of biogas digesters in this area is the time and effort necessary to maintain the system coupled with poor digester performance, as the families find little incentive for spending time on maintenance if the payoff, which is the biogas output in this case, is low. Consequently, digesters frequently fail due to neglect.

Expected Results:

For Phase I, the team will focus on deploying a low-cost, robust prototype biogas digester in a rural Nicaraguan community. A feasibility study on the proposed system will be performed by building several small-scale replicas here in the United States. These replicas will used to test the durability of system components and determine points of weakness. Necessary modifications will be made to improve the reliability and durability of the system based on the results of this study. We will then analyze the amount of work input a family must place into maintaining the digester and calculate the cost of the system as well as its methane production. Additionally, we will perform a technical analysis on the system to determine cost benefits and further modify the design to improve its effectiveness.

This project is part of the Multidisciplinary Design Minor through the courses Engr 355/455/456. It challenges students to find sustainable solutions for the world’s problems.

Supplemental Keywords:

alternative energy, animal waste to energy, developing nation,

Progress and Final Reports:
Final Report