Cooking and heating remain the most energy intensive activities among the world's poor, and thus improved access to clean energies for these tasks has been highlighted as a key requirement of attaining the major objectives of the UN Millennium Development Goals. A move towards clean energy technologies such as biogas systems (which produce methane from human and animal waste) has the potential to provide immediate benefits for the control of neglected tropical diseases. Here, an assessment of the parasitic disease and energy benefits of biogas systems in Sichuan Province, China, is presented, highlighting how the public health sector can leverage the proliferation of rural energy projects for infectious disease control.
Sustainable strategies that integrate rural energy needs and sanitation offer tremendous promise for long-term control of parasitic diseases, while simultaneously reducing energy costs and improving quality of life. Government policies can enhance the financial viability of such strategies by introducing fiscal incentives for joint sanitation/sustainable energy projects, along with their associated public outreach and education programs.
First, the effectiveness of biogas systems at inactivating and removing ova of the human parasite Schistosoma japonicum is experimentally evaluated. Second, the impact of biogas infrastructure on energy use and environmental quality as reported by surveyed village populations is assessed, as is the community acceptance of the technology. No viable eggs were recovered in the effluent collected weekly from biogas systems for two months following seeding with infected stool. Less than 1% of ova were recovered viable from a series of nylon bags seeded with ova, a 2-log removal attributable to biochemical inactivation. More than 90% of Ascaris lumbricoides ova (used as a proxy for S. japonicum ova) counted at the influent of two biogas systems were removed in the systems when adjusted for system residence time, an approximate 1-log removal attributable to sedimentation. Combined, these inactivation/removal processes underscore the promise of biogas infrastructure for reducing parasite contamination resulting from nightsoil use. When interviewed an average of 4 years after construction, villagers attributed large changes in fuel usage to the installation of biogas systems. Household coal usage decreased by 68%, wood by 74%, and crop waste by 6%. With reported energy savings valued at roughly 600 CNY per year, 2-3 years were required to recoup the capital costs of biogas systems. In villages without subsidies, no new biogas systems were implemented.