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Saturday, July 16, 2005

Human Feces Powers Rwandan Prison

By Cyrus Farivar | Also by this reporter

02:00 AM Jul. 16, 2005 PT

Imagine eating food that was cooked using natural gas generated from your own human waste. Thousands of prisoners in Rwanda don't have to imagine it -- they live it.

Prisoners' feces is converted into combustible "biogas," or methane gas that can be used for cooking. It has reduced by 60 percent the annual wood-fuel costs which would otherwise reach near $1 million, according to Silas Lwakabamba, rector of the Kigali Institute of Science, Technology and Management, where the technology was developed.

Last month, the Rwandan prison biogas facilities received an Ashden Award for sustainable energy. The award, which comes with a prize worth nearly $50,000, is given by the Ashden Trust, a British charity organization that promotes green technologies.

"It's turning a negative social situation in terms of the Rwandan genocide into something that can benefit local people in the local area," said Corrina Cordon, spokeswoman for the Ashden Awards.

Many of Rwanda's 120,000 prisoners are incarcerated because of the genocidal campaign. The prisons are overcrowded by a factor of 10, Lwakabamba said.

He added that prison overpopulation has created a situation where the facilities have significantly increased energy needs. The overcrowding also leads to large amounts of human waste that the prisons cannot adequately process.

Lwakabamba said that prior to the construction of biogas facilities at a prison situated atop a hill at Cyangugu in southwestern Rwanda, some human waste was being thrown down the hill, near natural bodies of water such as Lake Kivu.--

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