Sustainable Anaerobic Digester/Cook Stove Design to Promote Health, Environment, and Economic Prosperity for Indigenous People of Ecuador

EPA Grant Number: SU833920
Title: Sustainable Anaerobic Digester/Cook Stove Design to Promote Health, Environment, and Economic Prosperity for Indigenous People of Ecuador
Investigators: Melcher, Jim , LaShell, Beth , May, Don , Kestenbaum, Emily , Williams, Laurie , Schooley, Megan , Shuler, Phil
Current Investigators: Williams, Laurie , LaShell, Beth , May, Don , Kestenbaum, Emily , Melcher, Jim , Schooley, Megan , Shuler, Phil , Milofsky, Rob
Institution: Fort Lewis College
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2008 through August 14, 2009
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2008) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Challenge Area - Agriculture , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


The acquisition and use of biomass fuels for heating and cooking presents a ubiquitous problem for the majority of people on three continents. Inefficient cooking and heating practices (wood burns at 5–8% efficiency and cow dung at 60% of that of wood, which implies an open-fire efficiency of only 3–5% for dung) not only pollute the home but deplete biomass resources and require increasing amounts of time and energy for fuel acquisition. These factors challenge the sustainability of local and global environments as well as the health and economic prosperity of vast numbers of people in the developing world. Properly designed and used, an anaerobic digester (a process of converting organic wastes to methane) mitigates a wide spectrum of these environmental undesirables: it improves sanitation; it reduces greenhouse gas emissions; it reduces demand for wood and charcoal for cooking, it provides a sustainable source of high quality fertilizer for crop production, and helps preserve forested areas and natural vegetation. But for the developing world, biogas’s greatest benefit may be that it can help alleviate a very serious health problem: poor indoor air quality.

In response to these issues, we propose a holistic approach to design, develop, and implement an anaerobic digester with an integrated efficient burner system for three villages of indigenous Quechua people in the mountains of central Ecuador.


The Fort Lewis College student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (FLC-EWB) is currently working with the villages surrounding Mount Chimborazo in central Ecuador - inhabited by the indigenous Quechua people of Puruha nation. During the recent FLC-EWB implementation trip, data collection and needs assessment was conducted throughout the Chimborazo communities. It was through this activity that the household open fire problem and utilization of biomass (including collected firewood, dried dung, and crop residues) came to the surface as issues that universally exist in all of the villages. Our goal is to use this as a “test bed” to develop a model biogas digester/cook stove system that can be used in countless other communities in Ecuador, the Andes, and potentially other areas around the world.

The entire project will be student designed and integrated into three engineering department courses, as well as into three sustainable agriculture courses. Construction and testing of prototype systems will be conducted at a high-altitude agricultural experiment station located in Hesperus, Colorado (San Juan Basin Agricultural Experiment Station). Fort Lewis College students will provide maintenance, operation, health and environmental education, with the communities, that compliment the project objectives. Field evaluation of the biogas fertilizer will include both crop production test beds and greenhouse trials.

Expected Results:

This project will design, construct, and test a simple and affordable anaerobic digestion unit incorporated with an efficient cook stove design to meet the daily cooking needs of an average Chimborazo household. Specifically, the anaerobic digester will produce at least 2 m3/d of biogas using local animal and food wastes as the feedstock. This integrated system will eliminate indoor air pollution; reduce the environmental impacts of biomass burning and fuel collection; and convert waste products to value-added organic fertilizer.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 2 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Anaerobic digester, stoves, energy, efficiency, sustainable energy, health, indoor air quality, environment, fertilizer, Engineers Without Borders, Fort Lewis College,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report