Mt. Everest Biogas project
This is an interview with Lakpa Rita Sherpa, a world famous Sherpa climber. Please listen as he describes the Mt. Everest Biogas Project and it's benefits to the Sherpa community at the base of Mt. Everest.
For climbers all over the world, summiting Mount Everest represents a lifetime dream and one of their greatest achievements. But when they leave Mt. Everest, their human waste is left at the nearby Sherpa village of Gorak Shep. Today’s average climbing season produces nearly 12,000 kg of solid human waste. While recycling and trash programs are now in place, no real solution exists for the human waste generated by the climbing community. Modern treatment plants are impractical to build and maintain in this isolated corner of the world, so this waste is currently dumped into unlined pits at Gorak Shep, contributing to an increasingly polluted water supply. Despite all the efforts to clean up Mt. Everest, it is this environmental disaster that we are addressing, and we need help to get there!
In April 2010, a group of volunteer engineers and architects from the Seattle area formed the non-profit Mt. Everest Biogas Project to address this environmental issue. We have designed a biogas system that will safely break down the human waste and create clean burning methane gas for the Sherpa community. Our design includes not only the biogas digester, but also a small shelter to minimize temperature variations. This is a familiar technology; biogas digesters are used prolifically throughout Nepal, India and China.
Our design has been peer reviewed by local technical professionals and now it’s time to implement it. The biogas system concept was presented to Nepalese officials and teahouse owners in 2014. Now that the design is nearing completion, it is time to give them an update and begin planning to break ground.
We are trying to get 4 or 5 technical team members to Nepal in May 2016 to present the proposed design as well as to meet with local contractors and plan for its construction. We hope to raise $10,000 to make this trip happen; to help pay for the airfare and cost of getting to Gorak Shep. Once in construction, our project will use locally available materials and manpower; hire local construction companies; and help build community investment in preserving Mt. Everest for future generations.
Although we are formally affiliated with Engineers without Borders (EWB) and Architects without Borders (AWB), we receive no funding from either organization. Our only contributions are from the volunteer team members both in their technical expertise and personal time. Traveling members are volunteers and will be paying their own living expenses and taking time off from work to make this trip happen. Please help us raise the necessary funds to realize our design!
If our design is sustainable at Gorak Shep, then the potential for replicating the design in other high altitude locations with the same environmental issue of human waste can be achieved.
For the Sherpa communities that dwell in the foothills of Everest, this mountain is sacred. Please help us climb high for them and keep it that way. Donate now. Be a part of preserving this world treasure. It’s a place dreams are made of and we have an opportunity to help keep it that way.
Details of the digester design can be found on our web site: www.MtEverestBiogasProject.org
So let me summarize the trip first and then provide a link to our new Facebook page that was developed along the way to Everest base camp by one of the volunteers on the trip. She writes much better than I, so bear with me while I try to summarize what was accomplished. So here goes.
A major milestone was achieved when we met formally with the two agencies Sagamartha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC) and Buffer Zone Committee (BZC) that control who and what can be built within the Mt. Everest National park. This was a key meeting in that the biogas project needed their approval to build at Gorak Shep or all the design effort over the past 6 years would be for naught. We met in Namche Bazar, they listened, they liked what we were proposing to do and they signed a three party memorandum of understanding with us. Equally important, they agreed to take ownership of the biogas system following construction at Gorak Shep which was a critical "exit strategy" for the team. We were elated after the meeting because this was the formal go ahead we needed.
Then on to Gorak Shep and along the way, we met with other members of BZC and ultimately the teahouse owners at Gorak Shep. Incredible support from everyone we talked to. We were flying high by the time we got to Gorak Shep even though we were at 17,000' and the elevation was starting to show its affect on us.
At Gorak Shep, we briefed the teahouse owners on the design and then laid out the planned location of the biogas system. Part of the plan was to dig a 6' deep hole to run water infiltration tests but unless you are fully acclimated to the altitude, that is a tougher job than we planned. Fortunately, 8 young volunteers from the tea houses helped us and in 3 hours it was done. Then on to Everest base camp before heading down mountain. Anyway you cut it, the hike/trek to Gorak Shep is tough. Hiking down is not much easier because the distance still has to be covered.
Back in Kathmandu, the trekking team met the rest of the biogas team who had been meeting with potential subcontractors and re-affirming their interest in the project.
One final stop at Kathmandu University before heading home. It has been the intent of the project to ultimately involve the academic community in the biogas project A Seattle University engineering professor, who is part of the biogas team, has established a formal relationship between Seattle University and Kathmandu University to conduct lab/bench level tests of the actual human waste from Everest base camp. The project has predicted performance data but the testing and resultant test data would answer the question, "will the system work at Gorak Shep"? The testing started a year ago, shortly after the earthquake in Nepal and the students have struggled with the project. Not exactly a pleasant engineering test program but they persevered and when we were there, they showed us clean burning methane gas produced from the human waste from base camp. Great way to finish the trip.
For a much more detailed day by day trip report, please go to the new Facebook account called The Mt. Everest Biogas project. Lots of pictures and written with great enthusiasm by one of the team members, Brenda Bednar. I hope you enjoy her writing and can feel the excitement that we felt.
I will try to provide more frequent updates as we move into the next critical phase of the project: fund raising for the construction at Gorak Shep. If we are successful in raising the funds, construction could start as early as next spring.
Take a minute and do a search on Sherpa documentaries and you will find a recent Discovery channel 97 minute documentary on Everest from the Sherpa standpoint. Scenery is stunning and the insight into the Sherpa community, Nepalese government and the climbing community is a bit disturbing.
Lots of similar articles on the problem but few solutions to the problem but ours