Indonesian tofu industry: generating biogas and building community

02-01-2013, Kalisari, Central Java, Indonesia

With the right people and the right technology, a localised tofu wastewater stream that was a significant environmental hazard is becoming a reliable energy source and a model for sustainability across Indonesia.

With REEEP support, the team at BBPT (Badan Pengkajian Dan Penerapan Teknologi) in Indonesia have been investigating four things:

  • What are the best technology options to convert waste water from Indonesia’s tofu industry into biogas
  • What are the national and provincial policy and regulatory settings that would support this process
  • What financial models can be applied to make the business case for this model
  • The possibility to implement MRV in the biogas production especially to address the newly launched domestic carbon market, “Karbon Nusantara”, in Indonesia

The project is multi-purpose. It is taking what is traditionally considered to be a waste product (waste water from tofu production) and diverting this highly acidic product from its usual course, i.e. into paddy fields and streams, into an LPG replacement cooking fuel for residents. The financial and management model is then being used as a teaching opportunity and an icon project within this province and for other provinces of Indonesia.

The town of Kalisari in Central Java province is home to about  600 tofu-producing SMEs. To date, two biodigesters have been installed with funding from the Indonesian government, on land donated by the local district government.

The first of these biodigesters, Kalisari I, takes waste water from 13 businesses and is supplying enough energy for cooking for 27 households. The second, Kalisari II, is supported by 7 tofu production businesses and is supplying 18 households. Each member of these household collectives, known as BIOLITA (Biogas Limbah Tahu – Biogas from tofu waste water), pays a fee of 20,000 Rupiah (approx. €1.57) to access the energy and maintain the system.

BPPT representatives, local government and the Kalisari community in front of the Kalisari I Biogas Plant

Under normal circumstances, a household will typically buy three or four LPG cylinders a month at 17,000 rupiah each, totalling the equivalent of €4.01 per month. Clearly there is a financial saving for each household and this is the most powerful drawing card for ensuring people’s participation.

Additionally, however, there is also an energy security argument as, at times, the supply of LPG can be unreliable and occasionally also hazardous.

The environmental benefits of the project are numerous. In short, the reduced release of toxins (tofu wastewater is highly toxic with a pH of 4) benefits both local agriculture and local waterways.
This protects biodiversity values and quality of agricultural production but also saves the government money, now and in the future, in addressing this issue. There is also a GHG reduction in that cooking fuel is from a cleaner source.

BPPT is giving safety training to local women who will use biogas for cooking.

As with many infrastructure projects, and particularly localised projects with low immediate economic return, the challenge for the project is securing the funding for the infrastructure. The model still requires government or donor support for infrastructure.

If investors were to pay for the infrastructure, thereby requiring a return on investment, it is highly probable that the fee for residents would then increase thus reducing the economic logic for participation. With the current model, once the infrastructure costs are covered, and community ownership has commenced, the energy source becomes financially sustainable.

For this project, as is the case with many other REEEP projects, the role of community has been fundamental to its success. The technology is a critical element, but it is actually working thanks to the efforts of committed community leaders and the extensive community engagement processes and capacity building programmes.

The success of these very local pilot projects is now rippling beyond the boundary of the village. The pilot projects have been recognised in the Central Java province plan as an activity to respond to Indonesia’s 2011 National Action Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions (RAN-GRK).

The Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources is using these projects in Banyumas district as models in their Energy Self-Sufficient Village programme. Students from the local high school and from General Sudirman University have come to visit and learn about the environmental, biological and economic processes.

Related Projects