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Waste Energy and Currency Powering Up Food Stall in Semarang

Suyatmi and her husband can earn up to Rp5 million a month from running the methane and waste powered food stall and have been able to send their sons to college. Source: Hartatik

January 14, 2019

By Hartatik

Semarang, CENTRAL JAVA. For the past three years, the modest food stall erected at the entrance of Jatibarang Landfill in Semarang, Central Java, no longer uses money as its currency, but plastic waste. 

The Methane Gas Foodstall was initiated and developed by Agus Junaidi, the former head of the Technical Unit of the Jatibarang Landfill. 

“The idea came after [I] light a match above the piling waste, there was blue fire coming out of [the match stick]. At nights, the staff here cooked sweet potato using methane gas,” said Junaidi to Ekuatorial. 

He added that one cubic meter of methane gas equals to 0,48 kilograms of energy from liquefied petroleum gas, LPG or locally known as elpiji.

Thus, the 46-hectares of landfill, he said, has the potential to produce at least 72 cubic meter of methance gas per well, or 720 cubic meter per ten wells. 

The methane gas was distributed to at least 100 households in Bambankerep village in Semarang, as an alternative source of energy for cooking. 

“It was a simple consideration, to help people living near the landfill to be able to use methane gas to cook, for free,” he said. “This gas is dangerous when released to the atmosphere so we might as well put it to good use.” 

The costs to distribute methane gas to houses were covered by the regional budget. A total of Rp200 million (US$14,202) was spent to install blowers and 1.2 kilometers of pipes, and the handing out of basic stoves to 100 households. 

Suyatmi, who manages the Methane Gas Foodstall with her husband, Sarimin, said that methane gas produces blue fire, which cooks faster, similar to elpiji. 

“It does not blackened cooking appliances at all. [We] use special stove and if we want to cook, we just open the pipe tap,” said Suyatmi who used to sort waste with her husband at the landfill before she was offered to run the foodstall. 

Waste as currency

For payments, they started with only receiving plastic waste, but they have recently started accepting metal scraps and papers. 

Their consumers are mostly waste pickers from Jatibarang Landfill. After they consume, they could write down the bill, which will be settled with the waste collection that they have brought in. 

“It was quite arduous before, for people to eat here, because they need to scale the waste [first]. But, now, they can just write down the bill first, then we scale the waste and calculate the [price] difference,” she said. 

One kilogram of plastic waste is worth of Rp1,000 (US$ 0,071), meanwhile paper waste and cardboxes are worth of Rp1,500 (US$ 0.11) and Rp1,100 (US$0,078), respectively. 

The food prices range between Rp6,000 (US$ 43) to Rp11,000 (US$ 78). 

Suyatmi, caretaker of the Methane Gas food stall weighs a sack of recyclable waste from a customer. Source: Hartatik

The waste collected in exchange for food will be picked up by larger garbage collectors from neghboring towns including Demak and Kudus. 

“[We] can earn more than one million rupiah (US$70.79), sometimes even two million rupiah (US$141.57) per pick up,“ said Suyatmi who earned at least five million rupiah (US$353.93) each month and able to send her sons to college. 

Alhamdullilah [praise to God], all because of waste.” 

Apart from its economic value, the supply of methane gas has been useful for Bambankerep villagers during the temporary gas termination, following the Jatibarang Waste Power Plant development. 

“Methane gas from the landfill is usually used to boil water. Before there was gas from the landfill, one three-kilogram LPG cylinder will run out within a week. This methane gas supply has allowed us to save,” said Agusmanto, one of the villagers. 

Suprapto, one of field supervisors of Jatibarang Landfill, said that the gas supply cut is temporary as development for waste power plants in the landfill continues.

“When the project is completed, the supply lines will be opened again,” he said. 

Waste to energy

Based on the 2018 Presidential Regulaton on the acceleration of development of waste to energy conversion facility, Semarang and 11 other cities, — DKI Jakarta, Tangerang, South Tangerang, Bekasi, Bandung, Surakarta, Surabaya, Makassar, Denpasar, Palembang and Manado –, have been selected as pilot cities in the implementation of the program. 

The development of Jatibarang Waste Power Plant, contracted to a Malaysian company, costs a total of Rp71 billion (US$5 million), — Rp44 billion (US$4 million) of which is grant from the Danish government, Rp18 billion (US$1 million) from the Ministry of Public Works and People’s Housing and the remaining Rp9 billion (US$ 638,984) is from Semarang administration coffers. 

The development of the waste power plant and landfill conversion is expected to produce up to 0,8 megawatt of power. 

Suprapto adds there are two technologies being developed; harnessing landfill gas, which will be converted into electricity using turbines and incinerator with 12 megawatt capacity. 

“The incinerator is a sophisticated technology, does not take up space, but significantly reduce waste up to 90 percent,” he said. “Meanwhile, methane gas technology does not reduce waste, however, it would reduce air pollution.”

For the conversion turbines, he said, will be operational by April 2019, while the incinerator is targeted to start operating by January 2019. 

Suprapto, the Jatibarang Landfill field coordinator shows the pipe that channels methane gas from waste wells to the generator of power plant. Source: Hartatik

Winardi Dwi Nugraha, environmental expert from Semarang’s Diponegoro University said that the power plant is an alternative solution to tackling solid waste issues. 

“I think waste conversion to energy using incinerator does not emit emission or dust pollution which would harm the environment because the technology applies high temperature incineration,” said Nugraha. 

However, Yuyun Ismawati, a senior advisor of Indonesia Zero Waste Alliance, said that more than 30 percent of waste burning, including using incinerator, will produce ashes, such as fly ash and bottom ash. 

Based on the government regulation issued in 2014 on toxic and hazardous waste management, both ashes are categorized as toxic and hazardous wastes and must be managed in a specific facility. 

“If the waste power plant project in the 12 cities will be built in accordance to the 2018 presidential regulation, then those cities must have toxic and hazardous waste management that meets the standards,” said Ismawati. 

Meanwhile, Semarang Mayor, Hendrar Prihadi, said that waste is becoming a serious issue in the city, especially plastic waste. 

“With innovations which we continue to initiate, Jatibarang landfill can become the source of renewable energy in Semarang. We are currently developing waste management at the landfill to produce three types of energy, — gas, electricity and fuel for vehicles –,” said Mayor Hendrar. EKUATORIAL.

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