Potential for domestic biogas as household energy supply in South Africa

Sunset S. Msibi, Gerrit Kornelius


Biogas is a clean and renewable form of energy accessible to low-income households through anaerobic digestion of readily available organic waste. The objectives of this desktop study were to investigate the feasibility of biogas use for substitution of presently used solid fuels in rural and peri-urban households, the subsequent health co-benefits, and the constraints to adoption of domestic biogas technology in South Africa. The energy demand of low-income South African households for cooking with fuelwood was found to be 27 MJ/day and the total energy demand 68 MJ/day. This is equivalent to 2 500 L/day/household of biogas for cooking and 6 250 L/day/household of biogas for complete substitution of conventional domestic fuels. Complete substitution of fuelwood used for cooking and household fuelwood use with biogas can result in the avoidance of 43% and 85.4% respectively of total disability adjusted life-years lost (702 790) and mortalities (22 365) from indoor smoke as a consequence of solid fuel use. Approximately 625 000 households in South Africa can potentially benefit from bio-digester fed with cattle and pig waste, on the basis of livestock numbers. It is infeasible to operate a domestic bio-digester fed solely with human waste, chicken waste and food waste because of insufficient feedstock. Non-sewered households with access to on- and off-site water supply generate sufficient greywater for feeding a domestic bio-digester for cooking purposes. This is, therefore, recommended over the use of drinking water.


Domestic biogas technology, anaerobic digestion, organic waste, household energy supply, indoor air pollution, South Africa

Full Text:



Amigun, B., Parawira, W., Musango, J.K., Aboyade, A.O. and Badmos, A.S. 2012. Anaerobic biogas generation for rural area energy provision in Africa. In Kumar, S. (ed) Biogas. InTech. Online at: http://www.intechopen.com/books/biogas/anaerobic-biogas-generation-for-rural-area-energy-provision-in-africa [Accessed: May 2017].

Bond, T. and Templeton, M.R. 2011. History and future of domestic biogas plants in the developing world. Energy for Sustainable Development 15: 347–354.

Carden, K. Armitage, N. Winter, K. Sichone, O. and Rivett, U. 2007. Understanding the use and disposal of greywater in the non-sewered areas in South Africa. Water Research Commission, Cape Town.

Damm, O. and Triebel, R. 2008. A synthesis report on biomass energy consumption and availability in South Africa. GTZ (Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeid) Programme for basic energy and conservation (ProBEC). ProBEC and LHA Management Consultants, Pretoria, South Africa.

De Bruyn, C. 2013. Nersa registers six KZN biogas production operations [WWW] Engineering News. Available from: https://m.engineeringnews.co.za/article/nersa-registers-six-kzn-biogas-production-operations-2013-10-28 [Accessed: June 2014].

Department of Environmental Affairs. 2012. National environmental management: Air quality act (39/2004): Highveld priority area air quality management plan – Gazette No. 35072. Pretoria, South Africa.

Department of Minerals and Energy. 2003. White Paper on the Renewable Energy Policy of the Republic of South Africa. Pretoria, South Africa.

Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. 2007. Free basic water implementation strategy 2007: Consolidating and maintaining, Version 4. Pretoria. South Africa.

Deublein, D. and Steinhauser, A. 2008. Biogas from waste and renewable resources. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH.

Dioha, E. Dioha, J. and Nfor, B. 2012. Operating and financing biogas plant. Journal of Energy Technologies and Policy 2 (5): 25–37.

Everson, T.M. and Smith, M.T. (Eds). 2015. Rural livelihoods through biogas generation using livestock manure and rainwater harvesting. Volume 1: Research report. Report to the Water Research Commission.

Ferrer, I. Garfí, M. Uggetti, E. Ferrer-Martí, L. Calderon, A. and Velo, E. 2011. Biogas production in low-cost household digesters at the Peruvian Andes. Biomass and Bioenergy 35: 1668–1674.

Fulford, D. 1988. Running a biogas programme: A handbook. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.

Garfí, M. Ferrer-Martí, L. Velo, E. and Ferrer, I. 2012. Evaluating benefits of low-cost household digesters for rural Andean communities. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 16: 575–581.

Gaudex, L. 2014. A health and demographic surveillance system of cattle on communal rangelands in Bushbuckridge, South Africa: Baseline census and population dynamics over 12 months. MSc. dissertation, University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Gautam, R. Baral, S. and Herat, S. 2009. Biogas as a sustainable energy source in Nepal: Present status and future challenges. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 13: 248-252.

Ghimire, P.C. 2013. SNV supported domestic biogas programmes in Asia and Africa. Renewable Energy 49: 90–94.

Greben, H.A. and Oelofse, S.H.H. 2009. Unlocking the resource potential of organic waste: a South African perspective. Waste Management and Research 27: 676–684.

Hennekens, E. 2012. Biogas as domestic energy solution? Potentials and barriers of the technology for low-income households in South Africa. Master thesis, Wageningen University, Netherlands.

Mengjie, W. 2002. Biogas technology and ecological environment development in rural areas of China. Chinese Academy of Agriculture Engineering Research. http://www.ecosanres.org/PDF files/Nanning PDFs/Eng/Wang Mengjie 12_C19.pdf.

Nahman, A. and de Lange, W. 2013. Costs of food waste along the value chain: Evidence from South Africa. Waste Management 33: 2493–2500.

Ng’wandu, E., Shila, L. and ter Hegde F.E.W. 2009. Programme Implementation Document: Tanzania Domestic Biogas Programme. Stichting SNV Nederlandse Ontwikkelingsorganisatie, Den Haag, Netherlands http://area-net.org/wp-content/uploads/ 2016/01/Tanzania_Biogas_Programme.pdf. [Accessed May 2017].

Parawira, W. 2009. Biogas eechnology in Sub-Saharan Africa: Status, prospects and constraints. Reviews in Environmental Science Bio/Technology 8: 187–200.

Pathak, H., Jain, N., Mohanty, S. and Gupta, N. 2009. Global warming mitigation potential of biogas plants in India. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 157: 407–418.

Pérez, I., Garfí, M., Cadena, E. and Ferrer, I. 2014. Technical, economic and environmental assessment of household biogas digesters for rural communities. Renewable Energy 62: 313–318.

Rajendran, K., Aslanzadeh, S., and Taherzadeh, M.J. 2012. Household biogas digester – A review. Energies 5: 2911–2942.

Resources Centre for Sustainable Development, 2008. Biogas manual. Assam, India. http://www.build-a-biogas-plant.com/PDF/biogas-tech-manual2008.pdf [accessed May 2017].

South African Local Government Organisation (SALGA). 2014. Guideline on technologies for reducing energy poverty in low-income households (Draft). SALGA, Pretoria.

Smith, M.T and Everson, T.M. (Eds). 2016. Improving rural livelihoods through biogas generation using livestock manure and rainwater harvesting. Volume 2: Guideline Report. Report to the Water Research Commission.

Statistics South Africa. 2010. General household survey. Pretoria, South Africa. Statistics South Africa.

Statistics South Africa. 2011. Agricultural households. Pretoria, South Africa. Statistics South Africa.

Statistics South Africa. 2013a. General household survey. Pretoria, South Africa. Statistics South Africa.

Statistics South Africa. 2013b. In-depth analysis of the general household survey data. GHS Series, volume V, Energy, 2002–2012. Pretoria, South Africa.

Surendra, K.C. Takara, D. Hashimoto, A.G. and Khanal, S.K. 2014. Biogas as a sustainable energy source for developing countries: Opportunities and challenges. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 31, 846–859.

Van Nes, J. and Nhete, T.D. 2007. Biogas for a better life: an African initiative. Appropriate Technology, 34 (4), 58–62.

WHO (World Health Organization). 2002. The World Health Report 2002: Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life. Geneva, Switzerland.

World Bank 2017. Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) database from the SE4ALL Global Tracking Framework. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/ eg.Elc.Accs.Zs [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Yadvika, Santosh, Sreekrishnan, T.R. Kohli, S. and Rana, V. 2004. Enhancement of biogas production from solid substrates using different techniques – a review. Bioresource Technology, 95, 1–10.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17159/2413-3051/2017/v28i2a1754


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2017 Gerrit Kornelius, Sunset S Msibi

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.