University of Calgary

Spotlight on Sustainability: Student helps bring power to remote Chinese village

UToday HomeApril 12, 2013

By Jennifer Allford

Elizabeth Romo-Rábago is seeking funding to get a biodigester for people in a leprosy village in ChinaElizabeth Romo-Rábago is seeking funding to get a biodigester for people in a leprosy village in China so they can convert waste into methane for cooking. Photo by Irene HerremansIf Elizabeth Romo-Rábago has her way, about 100 villagers in a remote leprosy community in Yunnan province in China may soon be converting their waste into gas to cook their food and fuel their village.

Romo-Rábago, a Masters student in Sustainable Energy Development, says the villagers of JiuDao YaKou make about $80 a year, have limited access to the power grid, and spend much of their time collecting wood and agricultural residues to burn for cooking and heating.

“We can cook from the waste that we generate,” she says. And working with Eco-Village of Hope Society (EVHS) — a non-profit that helps a number of leprosy communities in China —Romo-Rábago set about examining biodigesters being used in different parts of the world that convert waste into fuel.

“Specific microorganisms that can eat organic material release biogas that has very high energy content, because it contains 60 per cent methane, and methane is very similar to the gas that we usually use in our stove,” she explains.

“If you enclose all of this organic material under anaerobic conditions, with no oxygen at all, we can capture this biogas and connect it directly to the stove and generate gas that we can burn in a very environmentally friendly way because it doesn’t release toxic materials.”

Romo-Rábago, who volunteers with EVHS, is working with the group to secure funding to bring a biodigester to the village. “We always look to young, bright, talented people to bring something new and sustainable to the table,” says Renay Eng-Fisher, the founder of EVHS. “We’re hoping that we can build the model and be able to introduce it to people in 156 leprosy colonies in Yunnan province.”

Romo-Rábago, who has a BSc in biology, also volunteers at the Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan Society, started Ciclomanias, a social enterprise that produces hand-crafted goods from recycled materials and develops environmental workshops in Mexico and Canada. She was also part of the student team that assisted the Office of Sustainability develop the 2011 Sustainability Report.

“I really enjoy being part of the change and collaborating with others to make this world a better place to live,” she says.

Romo-Rábago wants to build a career working with renewable energy. “I want to provide services to communities that want to be independent from the electricity grid — how to build solar panels and biodigesters in communities and help them to be sustainable and self-sufficient.”

Spotlight on Sustainability is an ongoing series profiling the work of students, faculty and staff. To submit story ideas please contact the Office of Sustainability.


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