Biogas plant on Mount Everest: only the money for construction is still missing

The Nepalese south side of Mount Everest
The Nepalese south side of Mount Everest

Bringing the excrements down from Mount Everest is one thing, what happens to it in the valley is another. As reported, from this spring onwards, all mountaineers on the Nepalese south side of Mount Everest and on the neighboring eight-thousander Lhotse will have to collect their excrement in special “poo bags” and bring it back to base camp. This news made headlines around the world. But virtually no one asked what should happen to the faeces afterwards.

Careless disposal

Faeces from Everest are disposed of in a pit
Faeces from Everest are disposed of in a pit

The poo bags will probably also be put into the blue garbage cans that have been used to collect faeces at base camp since 1996. So-called “shit porters” then carry the garbage cans down the valley, where their contents are disposed of in pits near Gorak Shep (at 5,180 meters) or Lobuche (4,940 meters), the last settlements before the base camp. A careless behaviour.

As a result of climate change, the permafrost is also thawing in the Everest region and the glaciers are melting faster and faster. This increases the risk of bacteria entering the groundwater from the buried faeces or being transported further down the valley with the increasing meltwater.

Biogas for the lodges

Planned biogas plant
Planned biogas plant

One solution could be the biogas project planned in Gorak Shep. Two Americans, Dan Mazur, head of the US expedition operator Summit Climb, and Garry Porter, a former engineer for the aerospace company Boeing, founded the “Mt. Everest Biogas Project” in 2010. In 2017, the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) presented the project with the Mountain Protection Award. Since then, the planned biogas plant has gone quiet, but that doesn’t mean that work on it has stopped.

The idea seems amazingly simple: the faeces from Everest are poured into a digester, in a plant measuring just under 100 square meters. Warm water is added to start the fermentation process. At a temperature of ten to 20 degrees Celsius, methane gas is produced, which is then drained off and collected.

The biogas can be used for cooking in the lodges. The resulting effluent is also to be used: as fertilizer in new greenhouses next to the gas plant, where yak fodder is to be grown. Effective insulation and a solar system ensure that the digester remains at the right temperature even when it is extremely cold outside. The plant is expected to process around 12,000 kilograms of faeces per year – according to estimates, this is roughly the amount that is carried down the valley by the “shit-porters” every year during the Everest season.

SPCC to take over after two years

All technical problems seem to have been solved. Engineers and scientists from the universities in Kathmandu and Seattle in the USA have confirmed that the biogas plant will be operational. It has also been decided who will look after the plant: In the first two years, there will be three Nepalese employees on site – supported by experts who will come to Gorak Shep at irregular intervals. After two years, the project is to be handed over to the environmental protection organization Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), which is already managing the Everest Base Camp on behalf of the Nepalese government. The government will then also cover the estimated costs of 34,700 US dollars per year to operate and maintain the biogas plant. The money is to come from the “pollution fees” that are already due. They currently amount to 200 dollars per member of an expedition.

The biogas plant is to be built near Gorak Shep

Plant could be ready in spring 2025

That would actually take care of everything – except for the financing of the construction. The Mt Everest Biogas Project has launched a fundraising campaign. The goal is to raise around 650,000 dollars – around 550,000 dollars for the construction costs and the rest to finance the first two years of the plant’s operation. “We are still missing around 90 percent of the money,” Dan Mazur writes to me. I ask him when the biogas plant in Gorak Shep could realistically go into operation. “In time for the 2025 Everest season, so on 1 March, 2025,” replies the experienced expedition leader, who has been climbing Everest and other eight-thousanders for more than 30 years.

In view of the millions that are spent on Mount Everest every year, the sum required to build the biogas plant seems manageable. And everyone involved should actually be interested in solving not only the waste problem, but also the faeces problem quickly, effectively and sustainably. After all, who wants to climb a dirty, stinking mountain?

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