Shorufa has been cooking on a clay stove since she was a teenager.
Lately, she has been coughing a lot from years of being exposed to smoke. Her eyes water every time she goes near the stove.
Meanwhile, collecting firewood, dung, leaves and wood residues falls squarely on her daughters' shoulders.
While there is romanticism associated with this form of traditional cooking, many women like Shorufa suffer from respiratory diseases such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), bronchitis, and asthma caused by indoor pollution.
Every year, indoor air pollution contributes to 49,000 premature deaths in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, more than 41 percent of households in Bangladesh still rely on firewood as the main source of cooking fuel, says the UN.
Now imagine Shorufa using a gas stove we use in urban areas, but it is powered by the waste generated from her own house.
She would no longer be exposed to the health hazards, and her daughter would no longer be required to gather fuel.
An Australian social enterprise ATEC has introduced SobujShakti, a biodigester system, which essentially tries to address the woes of Shorufa and her daughter.
"The system has the power to cover all household cooking needs and supply 20 tons of high quality organic fertiliser for crops, per year," said Shuvasish Bhowmick, the Country Director of ATEC Bangladesh,.
He said, "Being flood resistant, extremely durable, and movable makes it the ideal solution for the Bangladeshi market and a valuable asset for its end-users. Usually, it takes three hours to install the system in any rural household".
Shuvasish informed us that besides producing biogas for cooking, SobujShakti can also produce fertiliser and fuel that can be sold to other farmers. The organic fertiliser is excellent for any crop.
How the technology works
A biodigester system requires organic waste, like animal and human excreta, to produce fertiliser and biogas.
It consists of an airtight, high-density polyethylene container within which excreta is diluted in water flow continuously and are fermented by microorganisms present in the waste.
The fermentation process is anaerobic, it takes place without oxygen, and the bacteria responsible for decomposition are methanogenic and they produce methane, also known as biogas.
SobujShakti is a compact and cost effective container for a biodigester system to produce biogas that can serve as a renewable energy source and can be used for cooking.
A sustainable energy source
This renewable energy source could be a great alternative for natural gas as the gas reserve in Bangladesh is alarmingly depleting.
As a matter of fact, the Power Sector Master Plan (PSMP) initiated in 2005 was mainly based on gas with the perception that Bangladesh has an abundance of gas reserves. But the reality was different.
According to Bangladesh Power Sector Master Plan (PSMP) revised 2015 version, the gas production and supply continued to increase up to 2018 and declined afterwards.
Since then, there has always been a gap between the demand and supply of natural gas.
As the share of local gas decreases in the energy mix, we will need more sustainable alternatives.
Shuvasish said, "We work with biogas and it is a promising sector for a country like Bangladesh."
"In our country only 12 percent of people get natural gas for cooking which is very unfortunate," he informed. "And LPG serves another 10-12 percent of the population."
According to the World Bank, four billion people around the world still lack access to clean, efficient, convenient, safe, reliable, and affordable cooking energy.
"LPG is expensive and not a sustainable solution. In our country, we mostly import it. But most importantly, we do not have any sustainable energy source for cooking in rural areas."
"And unhealthy smoke causes bronchitis among the women in the village area," claimed Shuvasish. "And such inconvenient way of cooking also contributes to deforestation as well."
He informed us that the Bangladesh government has been promoting conventional biogas plants for a very long time since the independence of the country.
However, conventional biogas plants have several problems such as they require huge land, they are difficult to install during the rainy season, the installation is time consuming etc.
Shuvasish said that ATEC's SobujShakti biodigesters can play a key role to solve these issues.
"We have been doing our research in Bangladesh since 2018 and finally the project kicked off this year. Our product is compact and easy to install for producing biogas using natural and available resources," he said.
SobujShakti can be installed in a five to six feet hole, and it is flood protected and portable.
This biodigester can be used in rural areas on a large scale since cattle manure can be easily found there.
"We can use it for 25 years and the price is also reasonable."
Shuvasish further informed us that the product has been installed across Bangladesh and so far they have received positive reviews from the users.
ATEC is focusing on their customer care services to help users and farmers. They have been monitoring each and every user so far.
Although the on-going pandemic has hampered the growth of the product, Shuvasish plans to make more people aware of the product and get them habituated with it.
Journey of ATEC
Talking about their current Bangladesh projects, Shuvasish stated, "In Bangladesh, we are producing the LLDPE biodigester in Narayanganj. We launched our product a couple of months ago and already we have sold around 100 units."
"We are selling our system through IDCOL partner organisations. So we do not need any outlets. We are sending our product to the last mile customer through our partner organisations."
Founded in 2016, as a start-up social enterprise, the Australian company ATEC also has its business operations running in Cambodia since 2017.
ATEC is a joint venture between Engineers Without Borders and Live & Learn.