Dr. Esther Muindi is soil and water management expert from the school of agricultural Sciences and agribusiness, Pwani University. She is passionate about climate change mitigation and would like to study green house gases (GHGs) associated with biogas technology during her 6 months postdoc period with the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague - Biogas Research Team.
1) Can you tell us about your background and experience in the field of biogas? What initially sparked your interest in this area of research?
I am a soil and water management expert specialised in water resource management and plant nutrition. My interest in biogas research began in 2010 when working as a lecturer in the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries in Kenya. I was introduced to biogas technology while taking students on academic trips and was amazed by the possibility of using cattle waste to provide energy in rural areas. This is what sparked my interest.
2) What specific research projects or studies have you been involved in related to biogas technology? Could you share some key findings or highlights of your work?
My first project focused on assessing the potential of coffee waste as a biogas substrate. Together with other scientists, we found that although coffee husk is a suitable substrate for biogas production, it must be mixed with cow dung in order to initiate anaerobic digestion. In the second project, we evaluated the potential of moringa tree leaves as a biogas substrate. The results showed that moringa waste is not capable of producing biogas. The third project, which focused on evaluating theuse of kitchen waste for the production of biogasfound that indeed, kitchen waste is a good substrate for biogas production. However, the pretreatment of the waste by grinding and the right substrate-water ratio were essential to facilitate anaerobic digestion. The introduction of methanogenic bacteria by adding cow dung or bioslurry (digestate) from another biodigester is also key when using kitchen waste substrate. The fourth project focused on integrating agrowaste and bioslurry improvement to mitigate climate change and improve crop and livestock production systems in Kenya. In this project, we found that combining bioslurry with a certain level of inorganic fertiliser provides better yields and soil health than the use of either fertiliser or bioslurry alone.
3) Coming to the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague, what are your expectations and objectives for your visit? Are there any particular research collaborations or areas of expertise you hope to explore during your time here?
In addition to new scientific networking and collaborations, my objective is to acquire knowledge and skills in measuring greenhouse gases (carbon and methane) in biogas and cattle waste. I am also eager to learn new methodologies of modelling climate change. I look forward to exploring collaborations in atleast these two key areas.
4) How do you envision the knowledge exchange between your home institution in Africa and the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague benefiting both parties? What unique perspectives or insights do you hope to bring to the table?
Initiating a collaboration between my university (Pwani University) and the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague is a priority. Some of the areas that will be explored include exchange programmes, collaborative research to address the existing gaps in biogas technology and green/ renewable energy research, and collaborative research to address other existing researchable areas in the field of agriculture, reclamation, social sciences, environment, education, etc. Some of the unique perspectives and insights I hope to bring on the table include experiences gained while undertaking research related projects in the Kenyan context. Sharing of experiences will be beneficial to both institutions.
5) In your opinion, what are some of the key challenges or opportunities in the field of biogas in Africa? How do you see your research contributing to addressing these challenges or capitalising on the opportunities?
The challenges in Africa generally include lack of adequate documented data to support policy, carbon credits application, and lack of strong/adequate support from the government and funding agencies. There is also a lack of recommendations for the application of bioslurry for farmers’ use. Very little research has been conducted on the use of anaerobic digestion boosters and gas handling.
The opportunities that can be tapped include goodwill of government to promote biogas research and innovations. There exists the need for bioslurry recommendations for food security, soil, and environmental health and the need for research that can boost the anaerobic digestion process, reduce water usage during digestion, develop efficient methods of handling biogas, and for documented evidence that can support carbon credits application for biogas users.
The Knowledge and skills obtained will be used in synthesising available and future data to come up with documentation that can inform policy and also provide a basis for carbon credits calculation.
6) Are there any specific aspects of biogas technology or waste management that you would like to further delve into during your time at Czech University of Life Sciences Prague? Any particular techniques, methodologies, or areas of research that you are eager to explore or learn more about?
I would like to get exposure to biogas technologies in Europe and Asia, and organic waste treatment and management in Czech republic.
7) Collaboration and networking are essential in advancing research. How do you plan to engage with researchers and students at Czech University of Life Sciences Prague to foster collaborative partnerships and exchange knowledge?
I would like to collaborate in seeking for research grants by jointly developing research proposals, disseminating of scientific findings, as well as mentoring where possible.
8) The field of biogas is constantly evolving. How do you plan to disseminate and apply the knowledge gained from your visit to Czech University of Life Sciences Prague when you return to your home institution? Are there any plans for implementing new initiatives or projects?
I would like to synthesise the available data and advise the government and other key biogas players on the role of biogas technology in climate change mitigation. In addition, I will use the acquired knowledge and skills while mentoring my graduate and postgraduate students to strengthen future research. The acquired knowledge and skills will be incorporated into the research activities of the university's biogas unit to strengthen our scope and output.
9) Biogas has the potential to contribute to sustainable development and energy solutions. How do you see your research aligning with the broader goals of sustainability and addressing environmental challenges in Africa?
Knowledge and skills in greenhouse gas measurements and modelling for climate change are key at this time and age globally. The alignment of my research to the broader goals revolve around informing policies and influencing future research approaches in the areas of food security and nutrition, sustainability, environmental health, and climate change.
10) Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring researchers in the field of biogas, particularly those from Africa or other regions with unique challenges and opportunities? What steps can they take to make a meaningful impact in the field?
The technology is broad and unique because it acts as a waste management approach, energy source, and amendment source for soil health. There is a need to look at approaches that can improve digestion efficiency, slurry management, gas handling, as well as digitalisation of the entire process. Biogas technology is such an approach. It is green energy and green energy is the future. It also contributes towards soil health and healthy soils=healthy lives.
Check her journey to Prague in a short video here.