March 19th, 2012

Teaching Sustainability across Scale and Culture: Biogas in Context

By Shaunna Barnhart


Teaching sustainability invariably involves teaching about energy – its use, its sources, its environmental impacts, and its social implications. This paper explores how one renewable energy alternative – biogas – is adapted and applied across scale and culture. Biogas is made by capturing the methane released during anaerobic digestion of organic matter such as manure, sewage, and food waste. In Nepal, biogas is a household scale technology used to create a cooking fuel that replaces firewood and improves both environmental and human health. In the United States, biogas is used as part of large-scale waste management systems for livestock, wastewater treatment, and landfills to create electricity for on-site use and for sale into electric grids. In Sweden, biogas is used as part of a regional effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel usage by using locally generated biogas for district heating, electricity, and vehicular fuel. By comparing these three cases, we gain insight into how one technology is adapted across diverse needs and from household to regional scales in the pursuit of more sustainable energy practices. Such an exercise can be an asset in the classroom to teach students about the importance and relevance of place-based solutions that address diverse cultural and economic realities.

Full PDF: BarnhartJSE2012

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