Shift builds underground domes to capture methane from animal waste. The gas is cleaned and piped into homes in remote villages for safe cooking. 

As technology rapidly develops here in Canada, and we hear of ever more promising ways to generate renewable energy, we often forget that there are many parts of the world where the way of life is far simpler. People living in such places aren’t necessarily turning to robots or AI to make their lives easier – they’re searching for straightforward, low-cost solutions that easily mesh with their environment and daily routine.

In the Western world, the push for renewable energy is underpinned by a concern for environmental health, and the focus has been on wind, solar and geothermal energy. In developing countries, environmental considerations are important to be sure, but they are largely secondary to major health issues.

Take India and Pakistan for example, where millions of people reside in villages and still use firewood for heating and cooking meals. It seems unfathomable that there are still millions of people who spend hours each day going out, cutting down trees, and foraging wood for their daily needs. What’s worse is that they burn this wood in poorly ventilated homes and end up inhaling a lot of wood smoke. This leads  to severe respiratory problems. There are countless stories of women in these villages hospitalized because they inhaled excessive wood smoke while preparing meals.

This problem isn’t small –unsafe energy impacts millions of people around the world, and according to the World Health Organization, leads to almost 4 million preventable deaths a year.

A secondary problem that emerges in these villages, which are predominantly farming communities, is pollution caused by livestock like cattle. The FAO reports that globally, livestock generate more than one third of the world’s methane emissions, a greenhouse gas that traps 23 times more heat than carbon dioxide. The report also states that livestock are responsible for more global warming than “cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.”  Many solutions have been proposed to address this including altering our diets to reduce meat/dairy consumption, but a more feasible and certainly more expedient approach is to capture the methane released by the world’s 1.5 billion cows.

This has led to the emergence of biogas – clean energy produced from animal (and also food) waste – as a solution to the twin problems of unsafe energy and climate change. The way the underlying technology works is by using naturally occurring bacteria in airtight tanks to break down animal waste and capture the resultant methane gas. The impurities are removed from the gas, and then piped to people’s homes where they can cook in a smoke-free setting. When the methane gas is burned in the homes, it converts into carbon dioxide which is far less harmful to the environment than direct methane emissions.

Biogas represents a fourth major way besides solar, wind, and geothermal to sustainably generate energy and it is what underlies the work that my nonprofit, Shift, does. Shift uses simple, low-cost domes to convert animal waste into clean cooking gas to help people living in remote villages without access to reliable safe energy. Both health and environmental outcomes are improved.  You can find out more here:

Fahad has always had an interest in finding simple, elegant solutions to complex, global problems. He developed the idea to turn animal and human waste into energy while pursuing his MBA at the Ivey Business School at Western University. Fahad considers himself a global citizen having grown up in four countries, but calls Toronto, Canada home.

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