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Cleaning Up Mount Everest

Run by the MountEverestFoundation.org.

CLEANING UP MT. EVEREST (Converting poop to power) 

For climbers all over the world, summiting Mount Everest represents a lifetime dream and one of their greatest achievements. But when they leave Mt. Everest, their human waste is left at the nearby Sherpa village of Gorak Shep. Today’s average climbing season produces nearly 12,000 kg of solid human waste.  While recycling and trash programs are now in place, no real solution exists for the human waste generated by the climbing community. Modern treatment plants are impractical to build and maintain in this isolated corner of the world, so this waste is currently dumped into unlined pits at Gorak Shep, contributing to an increasingly polluted water supply. Despite all the efforts to clean up Mt. Everest, it is this environmental disaster that we are addressing, and we need help to get there!

 Porters carrying blue barrel toilet drums at Gorak Shep.The famous Hillary Step going up towards the summit of Everest (Richard Pattison Photo).

In April 2010, a group of volunteer engineers and architects from the Seattle area formed the non-profit Mt. Everest Biogas Project to address this environmental issue.  We have designed a biogas system that will safely break down the human waste and create clean burning methane gas for the Sherpa community. Our design includes not only the biogas digester, but also a small shelter to minimize temperature variations. This is a familiar technology; biogas digesters are used prolifically throughout Nepal, India and China.

Our design has been peer reviewed by local technical professionals and now it’s time to implement it.  The biogas system concept was presented to Nepalese officials and teahouse owners in 2014. Now that the design is nearing completion, it is time to give them an update and begin planning to break ground.

We are trying to get 4 or 5 technical team members to Nepal in May 2016 to present the proposed design as well as to meet with local contractors and plan for its construction. We hope to raise $10,000 to make this trip happen; to help pay for the airfare and cost of getting to Gorak Shep.  Once in construction, our project will use locally available materials and manpower; hire local construction companies; and help build community investment in preserving Mt. Everest for future generations.


 Just a bit of the rubbish collected from basecamp and Gorak Shep being burned and processed for transport to lower altitude. Woman using Biogas stove.

Although we are formally affiliated with Engineers without Borders (EWB) and Architects without Borders (AWB), we receive no funding from either organization.  Our only contributions are from the volunteer team members both in their technical expertise and personal time.  Traveling members are volunteers and will be paying their own living expenses and taking time off from work to make this trip happen.  Please help us raise the necessary funds to realize our design!

If our design is sustainable at Gorak Shep, then the potential for replicating the design in other high altitude locations with the same environmental issue of human waste can be achieved.

For the Sherpa communities that dwell in the foothills of Everest, this mountain is sacred.  Please help us climb high for them and keep it that way.  Donate now.  Be a part of preserving this world treasure.  It’s a place dreams are made of and we have an opportunity to help keep it that way.

Proposed Location and Design of Everest Base Camp Biogas Shelter in Gorak Shep, by Joseph Swain.

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Students and Professors Making Biogas in the Laboratory at Kathmandu University February 2016

Everest Biogas Project: Anaerobic Digestion of Human waste

Training Phase:

To be familiar with working condition, we practiced extraction and insertion of seed sludge in the reactors.We also practiced testing the following parameters:
  • TS/VS
  • pH
  • E. coli
Sealing of the Reactors:

We sealed and tested the reactor many times to prevent any gas leaks.The types of seals used and their result are as follows:
  1. First, plastic zips were used at the joint between two pipes. Sealing tape was used at the cap. We checked the gas leak using Nitrogen. Nitrogen was flushed into the reactor and soap solution was applied on the joints to check any leakage. The presence of soap bubbles indicated gas leak.
  2. 100% adhesive silicone sealant was used next. Presence of bubbles was seen in the gluewhich caused the glue to peel off the joints.
  3. M seal PVC solvent cement was used. This was comparatively the best seal by far. However, we could observe gas leaks in some reactor after a few days. 
  4. Plumbing M seal was used in those reactors which were leaking.
  5. To ensure complete air tight condition we used hot gun.
 
 
 
Phase 1:- Fig. 1. Sample collection, 2. Weighing, 3. Grinding, 4. Mixing, 5. Refluxing with Nitrogen gas 

August 9th 2015:

We went for seed sludge collection in four different sites;
a) Bansghari, Dhulikhel
b) Khadpu (municipal waste)
c) Bhaisipati- 2 sites
  • To collect the seed sludge, a spoon was attached to a long stick. The sludge was collected in 5 liters container.
  • 250g of seed sludge from 3 sites and 1 kg of municipal sludge were blended along with 5 kg of water.
  • 2.5 kg blue barrel waste (BBW) was blended with5 kg water.
  • 30-40 gm of blue barrel waste and 20 gm of seed sludge (starting inoculum) were separately taken in blue cap tube for DNA test.
  • We then separately sieved the BBW and seed sludgewith 1 mm mesh for easy extraction via syringe.
  • The sieved BBW and seed sludge were mixed together.
  • 10-20 ml of the mixture was taken in pink cap test tube for DNA test.
  • 800 gm of the mixture was weighted and filled in each reactor.
  • The reactors were flushed with Nitrogen gas on 10th August, 2015 in order to maintain anaerobic condition.
  • The temperature of the incubators were set at 10oC, 20oC, 30oC and 37oC using temperature regulating sensors.
  • The reactors after coding were placed in the respective incubators.
Gas Check:
  • After all the setup, there incubators were left in their running condition.
  • The gas production was checked using water displacement method. For this, 20gm NaOH was dissolved in 500 ml distilled water to make NaOH solution.
  • First gas check was conducted on 11th August which showed no result.
  • Gas check was conducted at regular intervals from August to October. There were no signs of gas production from any reactors.
Problems:
  • In spite of maintaining the required conditions, there was no sign of gas production.The speculations for failure of our experiment are:
  • Use of inactive seed sludge. The digesters at the sample site were dysfunctional due to earthquake.
  • Over dilution (1:3) and sedimentation of sludge.
  • Air tight condition might not have existed (though gas leak test didn’t show leakage).
  • The new set up was delayed due to blockade and internal political conflicts, which caused fuel crisis. University was closed due to the crises and the situation resulted on lab access resulting on continuation of the experiment.
  • The incubators were shut on 15th October 2015.

 
 
 
Phase2:- Fig. 1. Sample collection, 2. Grinding, 3. Mixing, 4. Measuring, Filling, 5. Sealing New Set Up :
 
January 27th, 2016

Seed Sludge Collection: The seed sludge was collected from two functional biogas digesters at Taukhal, Panauti.


Starting Inoculum Preparation:
  • 25% seed sludge and 75% water was prepared per reactor.
  • For this, we took:
    • Seed sludge:     250X18= 4500g 
    • Water:         750X18= 13500g

      Note (consideration):
    • 1kg=1L (about)
    • Inoculum for 18 reactors were prepared to prevent handling error.

  • Seed sludge was finely ground for 2-3 minutes.
  • Seed sludge and water was mixed in 20L bucket and stirred well.
  • All 16 reactors were filled with 1L of the starting inoculum.
  • Reactors were flushed with Nitrogen on 29th January, 2016 to maintain anaerobic condition.
1st February, 2016
  • Fresh NaOH was prepared as done before.
  • The temperature of the incubators were set at 10oC, 20oC, 30oC and 37oC using temperature regulating sensors.
7th February, 2016: Though water was not displaced, there was few bubbles production from 20oC and 37oC reactors which is a good sign.
 
 
Group photo

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Biogas Shelter Design by Joseph Swain: December, 2015

Building Section with long-term Storage

Building section looking North

 

Floor Plan

Floor Plan 

 

South Elevation

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Engineers Attack Mt. Everest's 12-Ton Poop Problem

A new waste-to-energy system could help power a nearby Nepalese village

Photo: John Harper/Corbis

For many amateur climbers, summiting Mount Everest represents one of life’s greatest challenges and achievements. But for the Nepalese and foreign professionals who work there, the larger challenge is figuring out how to keep the place clean.

Efforts to beautify what’s frequently called “the world’s highest garbage dump” have been under way for more than a decade, with mixed results. Spent oxygen canisters, empty beer bottles, and tattered tents recovered from the mountain can often be reused or recycled, but human waste is a messier problem. Each year, porters haul down some 12,000 kilograms of poop from base camps at Everest and the nearby Pumori, Lhotse, and Nuptse mountains. Getting the material off the mountain is one thing; however, properly disposing of it is another.
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The waste is currently delivered on foot to Gorak Shep, the nearest village to Everest, sitting at 5,164 meters (3.2 miles) above sea level. The porters drop the poop into unlined pits, leaving the raw excrement to slowly dehydrate and break down in the open air, which, at such high altitudes, can take years. In the meantime, the waste mars the landscape and potentially contaminates the town’s water supply. Both the Nepalese government and the climbing community recognize that this method of disposal is a hazard to environmental as well as human health, but given the remoteness of the site and the magnitude of the problem, solutions have remained elusive.

“In places like Alaska they have an expensive solution—they helicopter the waste out—but that’s not available in a lot of developing countries where there aren’t even treatment plants they can helicopter it to”—Garry Porter, Mt. Everest Biogas Project

A team of volunteer engineers might be just what Nepal needs, however. Members of the Mt. Everest Biogas Project, as it’s called, say they have a potential fix: a specially designed biogas reactor that can transform Gorak Shep’s fetid trenches into energy. Not only would it eliminate the need for the poop pits, it would also provide the village with a bountiful, free source of methane, which could be used as fuel for cooking and heating homes.

Garry Porter, a retired Boeing engineer based in Seattle, and his buddy Dan Mazur, a professional mountaineer, hatched the idea back in 2010. Mazur lives in Nepal and Tibet for half the year and regularly leads climbs up Everest, so he was well aware of the poop predicament. Porter became intimate with it in 2003, when he attempted to scale Everest. “The Nepalese consider this their sacred mountain, and we’re defecating on it,” he says.

Thousands of biogas reactors already operate at lower altitudes throughout Nepal, but temperatures at Gorak Shep prevent the needed waste-devouring bacteria from thriving. Recognizing this, Mazur asked Porter if he thought it would be possible to create a biogas digester that could function in the cold. Porter did, and the project was born.


After recruiting about a dozen other engineer volunteers, Porter and his team began brainstorming a solution, keeping in mind that they could use only materials that are readily available in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. Rather than build something from scratch, they decided to figure out a way to insulate the preexisting design, a 6-cubic-meter model that, if kept warm enough, could process all the climber waste currently dumped in Gorak Shep.
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Having worked through several iterations, the team settled on a relatively straightforward solution. The digester itself will be swaddled in R-50 (heavy) insulation, and a 200-watt resistor coil—similar to those found in water heaters—will deliver heat. The contents of the digester, which is buried in the ground, must remain at 30 °C or higher. Given the ground and air temperature, the engineers calculated that doing this would require an average of 100 W, a figure that they doubled to be safe.

There was another problem, of course: Gorak Shep has no access to electricity. (A few telecom companies serving climbers have photovoltaic installations for their own needs.) Consulting meteorological databases, the team determined that—given the maximum summer and minimum winter temperatures, plus days of cloud cover and snow—an array of 16 photovoltaic solar panels would be able to produce the needed 200 W. A bank of Exide LMXT 2-volt batteries, which are designed for use with solar arrays, is also needed to keep the digester running at night and on overcast days. The whole thing will be topped off with a shelter, which the volunteer group Architects Without Borders has offered to design.

Porter and the other engineers recently submitted a 27-page “Basis of Design” for peer review to engineers not involved in the project. In February, it was returned with the reviewers’ stamp of approval. The Nepalese government, residents of Gorak Shep, and the climbing community have all responded enthusiastically as well. Now the biogas team is working on estimating the price—certainly in the thousands of dollars, the engineers say—of building and installing the digester, which will be funded entirely by donations. Construction is tentatively slated for 2016. “Our intent is to build one, get it up and running, train local operators—and then the horses leave town,” Porter says. “But we will have people in Seattle and Kathmandu who can provide technical support for the life of the system.”

If successful, the project could be replicated in other locations that are too cold for traditional digesters. “In places like Alaska they have an expensive solution—they helicopter the waste out—but that’s not available in a lot of developing countries where there aren’t even treatment plants they can helicopter it to,” Porter says. “If we can bring this technical solution to bear on a universal problem, then hey, that’s great.”

This article originally appeared in print as “Waste-to-Energy at the Roof of the World.”
About the Author

Rachel Nuwer is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based journalist who writes for the New York Times, Smithsonian, Scientific American, and New Scientist among other publications. A globe trotter, she's been in 51 countries and lived in six.
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Update on Mount Everest Biogas Research Project: Things are progressing well here, we're heading back to Kathmandu University tomorrow to finalize the experimental procedure, extract DNA, and go through sample analysis. Its been a great trip, things have gone well for the project, more time for training would always be beneficial but that being excepted I don't know if it could have worked any better. This doesn't mean the experiments will work the way we want, only time will tell, but I think its valuable that we're undertaking them. -Dr. Mike Marsolek, Professor of Environmental Engineering, Seattle University.

Mike mixes a waste sample while Bed Mani photographs at KU biology lab. Mingma, Mike, Murari, Dibya and Bed Mani building lab scale biogas reactors at Kathmandu University.

Reactor Gas Leak Testing

  • Materials
    • Soapy water
    • Nitrogen gas with regulator
    • Reactor bottle with valves attached
    • Silicon caulking
  • Procedure
    • Attach nitrogen gas tank to bottle through gas line
    • Adjust regulator to 4 atm = 15 psi
    • Open bottle valve, open regulator, fill bottle to 4 atm, close bottle valve and regulator
    • Apply soapy water around lid/seals/gaskets
    • If leaking apply silicon caulking back to top

Reactor Startup Procedure

1. Prepare starting inoculum
  • Prepare enough inoculum for 20 reactors + 4 extra = 24.
    • Start with 500 mL inoculum (250 g digester sludges + 250 mL water) + 500 mL slurry (250 g BBW + 250 mL water) per reactor
    • Require 20 L starting inoculum for 20 reactors.
    • Make with mixture of Gobar sludge, high altitude, and fresh sludge from Municipal Digester (Photo Right: Professor Bed Mani tests biogas reactor methane output in th KU lab)
  • Prepare ‘inoculum mixture’:
    • Require approximately 6 kg
    • Use 3 kg ‘high altitude’ gobar sludge
    • Use 1.5 kg fresh digester sludge from local municipal plant
    • Use 0.5 kg gobar sludge from three local digesters )total 1.5 kg)
    • Mix well in small (5 gallon) bucket
  • Into large bucket add (roughly):
    • 6 kg BBW
      • Also collect five samples of 30-40 g BBW into 50 mL centrifuge tubes, label clearly, use these for TS, VS, Helminth egg, and VFA analysis.
    • 6 kg inoculum mixture
    • 12 kg (or 12 L) water
    • Mix very well
    • This is the ‘starting inoculum’
  • Collect five 40-50 mL samples of this starting inoculum into 50 mL centrifuge tubes. Label clearly.
    • We will use these samples for DNA extraction.
2. Add 1-L of this prepared starting inoculum per reactor and flush headspace with nitrogen.   
3. Assemble reactor lids, seal tightly, label, place in incubators.
4. Analyze TS, VS, Helminth Egg, and VFA of BBW samples.
5. Extract DNA from ‘starting inoculum’ samples. back to top
Materials
  • One 5 gallon bucket, one 10 gallon (approximately) bucket (if possible)
  • Mixing tool with long handle
  • Wide mouth funnel
  • 50 mL centrifuge tubes
  • Mixing rod/device
  • 12 L Water
  • Soap and water for washing, paper towels, garbage receptacle, ethanol for rinsing.
  • Boxes of gloves. Photo Right: Bed Mani showing the biogas reactors inside the 37 degree incubation chamber at KU

*Sampling Procedure: 

  • Remove reactor from incubator
    • Mark all activity on checksheet
  • Mix reactor sludge vigorously
  • Attach biogas effluent tubing to biogas measuring tool via quick-connect connectors
  • Verify NaOH solution is still viable.
    • Per 500 mL NaOH solution, add 20 g solid NaOH per 500 mL water. Add phenolphthalein.
  • Verify at least 500 mL water in water displacement vessel.
  • Open valve allowing biogas to pass through NaOH solution and displace water
  • Measure mass of displaced water
    • Mark on checksheet
  • Close valve and disconnect reactor
  • Using 50-mL syringe and corresponding tubing attach to sampling tube of bioreactor
    • Ensure attachments are tight.
  • Mark with scissors and tare aluminum dishes for TS/VS analysis
  • Remove the desired volume of sludge sample, place in aluminum dish for TS and VS analysis or in temporary dish for partitioning between different sample assays.
    • Separate some sample for Helminth Egg, VFA, or DNA extraction if applicable.
  • Pull a volume of blue-barrel waste equal to sample volume into 50-mL syringe.
  • Add these solids into reactor, disconnect syringe, mix solids, and replace reactor. Photo Right: Mike Marsolek and Bala Ram Shrestha BSP-Nepal
    • For 37°C Reactor: HRT = 20 days, sample/feed 100 mL every 2 days
    • For 30°C Reactor: HRT = 30 days, sample/feed 70 mL every 2 days
    • For 20°C Reactor: HRT = 60 days, sample/feed 50 mL every 3 days
    • For 10°C Reactor: HRT = 120 days, sample feed 25 mL every 3 days 

*Sample Analysis

  • TS/VS on biosolids removed (see checksheet)
  • Methane production via water displacement (fill in checksheet)
  • Helminth egg every X samples? (every other sample in last two residence times?)
  • Once experiment is nearing completion, collect some of extracted solids for DNA extraction.
    • Repeat this, one sample for one DNA sample, on three different sampling dates near end of experiment.
  • Similarly save necessary mass of solids from three time points near end of experiment for VFA analysis (and other?) to send to lab.

Reactor Trial Startup Procedure

  • First gas test all bottles.
  • Then prepare enough slurry to operate two reactors.
    • Need 1-L per reactor, prepare 2 L total slurry
      • 0.5 kg BBW + 0.5 L water
      • 1 L or kg sludge
      • Also add acetate to ‘kick start’ bugs
        • Final goal is 50 mM acetate
        • Prepare stock solution of 1 M acetate (20.4 g per 150 mL water)
        • Add 50 mL of stock solution per 1-L sludge (per reactor) for 50 mM final concentration.
      • Purge headspace with nitrogen.
      • Swirl to mix well. Photo Right: Students at Kathmandu University build reactors in the biology lab
  • Carry out sampling/feeding/sample analysis procedure for multiple points (can sample every other day) until students are consistent.
  • **I recommend first walking through sampling/feeding procedure with water in reactors, then using actual sludge

We all know of the terrible, devastating earthquakes that have hit Nepal and many of us are already giving donations to help with that crisis. Even though our efforts may seem small compared to the rebuilding Nepal must endure, our work is still important. Thousands of pounds of human waste continues to pollute a sacred mountain as well as the homes and health of many. Your financial help is needed to make this stop. Please give what you can. Thanks, Kirk Robinson and Garry Porter 

Tentative Biogas research budget:

1. transport of 75 kgs waste from bc -lukla: $252

2. transport of 75 + 12 kgs (moshe gobar gas sample) = 87 kgs waste from lukla-ktm: $83.

3. transport of 87 kgs from ktm airport to halchowk: $20.

4. generator repair $50.

5. two refrigerators: $245.

6. labaratory supplier (kupandole) (20 bottles (2l) with fittings): $600

7. gobar gas sampling in kavre (transport): $100

8. gobar gas sampling supplies: $65.

9. 21 days in shakti hotel: $630.00

10. advance cash to mike: $200.

11. ncell recharge cards for mike: $20.

12. Mike's plane ticket: $1360.

13. Mike's travel insurance: $90.

14. Reactor supplies bought by Mike in Seattle: $750.

15. Dna extraction supplies bought by Mike in Seattle: $550.

16. Temperature controllers bought by Mike in Seattle: $160.

17. 2 Heaters for hot boxes: $60.

18. Electrical stabilizers: $20

19. Additional laboratory supplies $300.

20. Electrical cords and power strips, etc: $50

21. Daily expenses for meals, etc: $30 / day. (Mike will pay himself).

22. labor cost from grad student/ faculty at KU. TBD 
 
 
 
Puti Sherpa prepares tea for us over a biogas flame in her home in Lukla. Large scale anaerobic digester and biogas unit in Kathmandu, powered by human waste. Mike Marsolek photo  back to top
 
  
 
Porter carrying human waste down from Mount Everest base camp. Biogas unit at private home in Kathmandu. Mike Marsolek photo.
 
  
 
Mike Marsolek samples biogas reactor effluent while Bed Mani Dahal from Kathmandu University looks on. Mingma  Sherpa collect human waste sample from Everest base camp.
 
  
 
  Large scale biogas purification system lies idle at Kathmandu University. Mike Marsolek photo. Large scale biogas tank filling system lays idle at Kathmandu University. Mike Marsolek photo. back to top
 
 
 Mike Marsolek poses with holy men at Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu. Photo by Nepali Guide. Nepali family watch while Mike Marsolek from Seattle Uinversity checks the outlet from their biogas reactor
 
   
 
 Photo number 1 - Puti Sherpa and Thile Nuru Sherpa gather a biogas sample in Lukla. Normal biogas feed stock is cow dung. Mike Marsolek Photo. Earthquake damage at Bhimsen Tower in Kathmandu. Photo by Mike Marsolek. back to top
 
 
Puti Sherpa and Thile Nuru Sherpa gather a biogas sample in Lukla. Reed bed for researching alternative waste treatment at Kathmandu University. Mike Marsolek photo. Visiting laboratory and professors at Kaathmandu University. Mike Marsolek photo

 

Mount Everest Is Covered In Human Poop. This Plan Could Turn It Into Energy. Article by Emily Atkin - Climate Progress .  www.CleaningUpMountEverest.com .

Garry Porter remembers being at Mount Everest’s south base camp in 2003, watching Sherpa porters haul down blue barrels filled to the brim with human feces.

“What they do is, they have a poop barrel, and they haul it to a teahouse village,” Porter said, explaining how Sherpas in Nepal deal with the waste left behind by the estimated 700 climbers and guides who spend two months on Everest every climbing season. “When they get it off the mountain, they dig a hole, and dump it.”

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Mount Everest’s poop problem. In March, the chief of Nepal’s mountaineering association said so much waste had accumulated that it’s threatening to spread disease. Right now, it’s estimated that climbers leave behind up to 26,500 pounds of human feces every year.

It’s a huge issue for the Sherpa guides, and others who live and work around the mountain. “It has a serious effect to our environment,” said Kami Diki Sherpa, who runs a shelter for the Everest porters, in a 2013 interview. “It has polluted our water source.”


But with all this talk about the problem, there hasn’t been much mention of proposed solutions. And that’s because as of now, there really aren’t any — except for one. To build an anaerobic digester in a small village near Everest’s base, and convert all that human poop to biogas, which can then be used by the Sherpas as an energy source.
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If and when the digester becomes fully operational, it would prevent the nearly 14 tons of solid waste dumped in pits every year, with some additional growth capability for the waste already on the mountain. It would not address the excrement from the current tea houses, where thousands of trekkers arrive annually — but if it’s successful, a secondary digester could be built.

“It is kind of crazy,” said Porter. “But we’re doing it.”

Before he retired, Porter was a lead engineer at Boeing, where he managed a fleet of aircraft for NATO. But he was and is also a climber — he scaled Mount Everest back in 2003, making it all the way to the South Summit (that’s less than a mile away from the true summit, but he says he was forced down due to high winds).

When he returned to base camp, he noticed the porters carrying down the blue barrels of human excrement. He didn’t like it — it was “unceremonious,” he said. And when he talked to the Sherpas down in the small village of Gorak Shep at the base of the mountain, where the waste was dumped, he felt even worse.

“This mountain is sacred to them,” Porter said. “Us Westerners leave our crap on their mountain, and it just didn’t seem right.”
Kami Diki Sherpa, who works in Gorak Shep and was interviewed by Porter’s team about the biogas project, agreed. “We Sherpa people believe this entire mountain as abode for our deities,” she said. “We worship our mountains. We don’t even go to climb just by ourselves for fun as respect to our deity. Such pollutions are very offensive for our deities.”

After that experience, Porter said he wanted to spend his time giving back to the Nepalese people. Lucky for him, he was retired. “I was looking for something that really challenged me,” he said. “And this was it.”

"Us Westerners leave our crap on their mountain, and it just didn’t seem right.
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So he contacted his friend Dan Mazur, an urban planner and Everest guide who’s lived half his life in Nepal, and they agreed: they’d build an anaerobic digester, a big metal vat full of water and microorganisms that break down waste and produce biogas.

These systems are pretty widely used. In Washington D.C., for example, the Water and Sewer Authority has an on-site digester that processes 1,600 tons of excrement into biogas every day. The gas produced there provides enough energy to keep parts of the city’s water treatment plant running if extreme weather knocks out power to the area.

Digesters are arguably even better, though, when they’re in poor or developing countries. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, small-scale anaerobic digesters like the one Porter and Mazur want to build on Everest are commonly used in rural communities to meet heating and cooking needs. China, for example, has an estimated 8 million anaerobic digesters. Nepal — where the one in question would be built — already has 50,000.

But building a digester on Mount Everest would be uniquely difficult. To do it, Porter and Mazur would have to figure out how to keep it running without access to power lines. They’d have to figure out how to keep it warm and functional in Everest’s frigid, harsh environment. They’d need to find a way to use local materials to build it, and local workers to monitor and operate it. And they’d do it all via volunteer work, without being paid a dime.

It’s been 12 years since that decision, which began what is now called the Mount Everest Biogas Project. But, Porter says, the end result is finally on the horizon.

 
Yaks carry supplies to Mount Everest’’s base camp. Any supplies needed to build and maintain the biogas digester need to be able to be carried by humans or Yak. CREDIT: AP Photo/Tashi Sherp

After more than a decade, partnering with a 12-person all-volunteer staff mostly based in Seattle, Washington, Porter says he’s finally figured out the solution to his biggest problem — how do you keep a digester running at a warm temperature at the base of one of the coldest, windiest places in the world?

To understand that, it’s good to know the basics of how digesters work. With a digester, instead of dumping collected waste it in a pit, it would be put in a big tank. In this case, the tank would be about the size of a small car. There, microbacteria would feed on mixture of organic waste and water, producing biogas. But in order to keep the microorganisms processing the waste, the digester must maintain a temperature of between 68 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. It cannot dip under that temperature, because if it does, “it will shut down,” Porter said. “Then you’ve either got to clean it out and start over, or get it warm again.” Not a very pleasant process for a vat of liquid feces.
Fortunately, there is a power source already established at Gorak Shep that Porter says can keep the digester running: solar power.

According to Porter, a solar array will charge up a bank of batteries; the batteries will drive a resistance coil — the same type of inductor that powers home water — and the coil will heat up the digester.
“It’s not a high-tech solution,” Porter said.

It really can’t be high-tech if it’s going to work on or around Mount Everest. Gorak Shep, a village consisting of only six or so teahouses (where climbers rest and get food), is extremely remote. Any material that the digester needs must be able to be sourced from there, or must be brought up by humans, or by yaks.

"… there’s a good chance you get a touch of altitude sickness …

“It’s a five to six day hike, 17,000 feet,” Porter said. “You’re gonna feel it, and there’s a good chance you get a touch of altitude sickness doing it.”

But Porter says he’s figured it out. He and his team have run their data by consulting firms EcoTope and OutBack Power Technologies to confirm their calculations — that a digester can, in fact, run consistently in such a high altitude and harsh weather. And now, they’re teaming up with Architects Without Borders to find the best way to build a shelter around the digester, to keep it from being directly exposed to the elements.
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When that’s done — sometime this year, Porter says — the Mount Everest Biogas Project will begin fundraising. In 2016, they’ll start construction of the digester at Gorak Shep. For a year, they’ll run it solely with water, to prove it can stay heated, and train the Sherpas how to operate it. And if all goes well, Porter says the digester should be processing human poop into energy by 2017.
For what it’s worth, Sherpas interviewed in 2013 enthusiastically welcomed the possibility of a digester on the mountain. But Pasang Chhering Sherpa, owner of the Himalayan Lodge, was skeptical it could be done.

“I liked the concept very much but it has been few years that you have been doing the survey but we did not see any results, I hope it won’t disappear,” he said. “There are so many researchers come here with different subject but they never come back with the result.”
One of the managers of D.C.’s anaerobic digester system, however, said the idea should work if Porter’s heating system is consistent, and if there is enough waste to keep the system running at all times.

“Digesters are very fickle, and they crave consistency … You have to have enough mass to keep the heat,” said Chris Peot, the director of resource recovery at D.C. Water. “But in theory, it certainly should work.”

Aside from keeping the system heated, another potential obstacle is that human feces is not a great fuel for a digester — compared to animal excrement, it does not produce a ton of methane. “It will work,” Porter said, “it just won’t produce as much gas for a given volume of waste.” In other words, a lot of poop will be needed to make a little bit of fuel.

Fortunately, Mount Everest has no shortage. If the digester processes all the waste it can, it would produce approximately 35,000 cubic feet of biogas every year. That’s not enough to totally power Gorak Shep, but Porter says it could much-needed nearly sustainable fuel.
Whether the digester works or doesn’t, though, it’s clear something has to be done soon. As tourism only stands to increase on the mountain, so does the waste problem — and the waste problem only stands to get worse with climate change, which is expected to cause thawing that unearths waste that’s been frozen for decades.

“Yes, climate change makes the shit problem much worse,” John All, director of the American Climber Science Program, told ThinkProgress. “Throughout history, we have dumped waste into crevasses and it disappeared. Now the glaciers are what is disappearing, and there is nowhere for the waste to go.”

“Additionally, because it is far warmer then it used to be, the waste doesn’t stay frozen and the smell becomes quite potent in the heat of the day,” he added.
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One thing that’s clear is who should pay for cleaning it up: the climbers. Though Porter estimates the digester could be costly — anywhere up to $100,000, he said — an extra charge within the now-$25,000 climbing fee is small price to pay for getting to scale the highest mountain in the world.

“It’s climbers’ poop, so guess who’s going to pay to keep this thing going,” he said. ” You! It’s your poop.”

Mount Everest Bio Gas Community Survey 27th May

Village Name – Gorokshape
Altitude – 5128 mts. asl
Number of Tea houses - 6 including a porter Shelter.
1) Pemba Nima Sherpa (Tea house owner – Snow Land Highest Inn)
  • What do you think about the human wastes coming from Everest Base camp?
-Ohh… awful...  Pollution everywhere.  Our main water source has been polluted. The dumping site is along the main trail to EBC, sometimes our local animals (yaks) fall into the pit. Even though it has been moved to different location now, I think it takes so many years to disintegrate because of the cold climate the pollution will remain there for many years.
  • What do you think about the bio gas plant project?
Good solution, but I have not seen anybody using Bio Gas above 2600 mts. would be very challenging but now you guys came up with Engineer so we are positive.
  • How will the local benefit from the project?
The most importantly we will get rid of every year growing human waste pollution problem, secondly if the plant works fine then we will benefit as fuel or electricity, at least the Porter shelter will be benefited.

2) Phura Sonam Sherpa (owner, Buddha lodge and Kalapathar Lodge)
  • What do you think about the human waste coming from the EBC?
Somehow we benefited from mountaineers and expeditions but the human waste from EBC….. That’s has been a big issue for many years. In the beginning the quantity of human waste was manageable but over years the number of expeditions grew up and now it is big problem and there is not any solutions..
The dumping sites are everywhere, porters wash the barrels in the lake, and also it has been big problem for the animals, it has ruined the scenery and the environment. Now no open space left for more dumping sites so it has been moved near the Changri Glacier but same problem will continue. I don’t see any solution. Also the new site is
Just above the main trail.
  • What do you think about the Bio gas plant project?
It is very good news for us but since it is cold place, it won’t be easy. We are thankful to you guys for kept trying and positive about the success of the project.
  • How you will benefit from this Bio gas project?
    • First of all, not only this particular community but whole valley will have a less polluted glacier, the most popular destination, the Everest base camp and its surroundings will have better environment with beauty.
    • If enough gas produced from the plant then we will have option for light and fuel. We will use less kerosene for cooking and heating.
    • Porters will benefit, since cheaper fuel will reduce their food expenses.
3) Pasang Chhering Sherpa (owner, Himalayan Lodge)
  • What you think about the human waste problem here?
It is very big problem for us; our small community here has been directly affected. But I think the whole trekking route will face this problem, on the main route to the most popular destination EBC, in about 5 – 10 meters distance you will see those human waste dumping pit and all those blue barrels they use to carry the human waste from the base camp.
Both Khumbu and Chhangrinup glaciers are very important glaciers which feed the major river, like Dudh koshi. We are sad but we cannot do much with its fast melting problem but at least if could get some solution to stop polluting these glacier would be great help.
  • What do you think about this concept of bio gas plant?
As I told you, any solution that could help to reduce pollution would be great help. I liked the concept very much but it has been few years that you have been doing the survey but we did not see any results, I hope it won’t disappear. There are so many researchers come here with different subject but they never come back with the result.
We hope this Bio gas project won’t disappoint us but it won’t be that easy because it is a cold place.
  • How you will benefit from the project?
Most importantly we will have better environment here. The people who love Mt. Everest. And dream to step on top and all the helpers who help them to fulfill their dreams will feel less guilty if they see this plant which will convert their waste into something useful instead of polluting the glacier and this beautiful land.
We get cheaper fuel which means all the trekkers and porters will also be benefited.
4) Kami Diki Sherpa (owner, Yeti resort and also runs the porter shelter)
 
What you think about the human waste problem around here?
It has been a big problem and growing more and more every year. It has a serious affect to our environment.
We Sherpa people believe this entire mountain as abode for our deities. We worship our mountains. We don’t even go to climb just by ourselves for fun as respect to our deity. Such pollutions are very offensive for our deities.
It has polluted our water source. Now there is not any open place left for more dumping site. Because of the cold climate this waste inside the pit remains for many years. They (porters) wash those blue barrels in this lake. Now it has been moved behind this glacier (chhangrinup glacier), even that is just above the main trail. How further down it would go in future? I don’t see the solution..
  • What do you think about the Bio gas plant project?
Nothing impossible! I am excited to see that here. If we could get enough gas then will be different story but even just enough for the porter shelter also will be a great help for the porters.

Everest Base Camp Drinking Water Sampling Report

27 May, 2014. Report on Sampling conducted by Rukman Sunwar, Thile Nuru Sherpa, and Dr. Daniel Mazur, under the auspices of the Center for Urban Waters, Dr. Justin P. Miller Schulze, Dr. Andy James, in conjunction with Dr. Mike Marsolek, Seattle University, Environmental Engineering, with Garry Porter, Director of the www.MtEverestBiogasProject.org .

On 14 May, our collection team gathered 7 water samples from the following locations:

1) Mount Everest Basecamp;

2) Gorak Shep Lake;

3) Kala Pattar Spring;

4) Pipe from Pumori;

5) Gorak Shep Glacier River;

6) Kyakpa Yul Human Waste Pits;

7) Lobuche Reservoir.

These water samples were divided into three groups (A,B, and C):

A) filtered and spiked with a small amount of materials provided;

B) filtered and put into petri dishes and incubated

C) filtered and bottled.
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Closeup photo of waste pit contents at Kyakpa Yul Equipment used in petri dish innoculation

Closeup photo of waste pit contents at Kyakpa Yul.  Equipment used in petri dish innoculation. back to top

Mr. Rukman Sunwar collects a water sample at Kyakpa Yul > Porters carrying human waste drums from Mount Everest base camp to be dumped into the pits at Kyakpa Yul

Mr. Rukman Sunwar collects a water sample at Kyakpa Yul. Porters carrying human waste drums from Mount Everest base camp to be dumped into the pits at Kyakpa Yul

Petri dishes after incubation Porter chops stone inside a new human waste pit at Kyapa Yul

Petri dishes after incubation.  Porter chops stone inside a new human waste pit at Kyapa Yul.

Porters carrying out tins, bottles, paper, and plastic from Mount Everest basecamp Rukman Sunwar collecting a water sample from Mount Everest base camp

Porters carrying out tins, bottles, paper, and plastic from Mount Everest basecamp. Rukman Sunwar collecting a water sample from Mount Everest base camp.

Porters preparing to empty their human waste drums from Everest basecamp into the pits at Kyakpa Yul Rukman Sunwar collects a water sample from Gorak Shep Lake. Rubbish floats in the pool behind him

Porters preparing to empty their human waste drums from Everest basecamp into the pits at Kyakpa Yul. Rukman Sunwar collects a water sample from the Lobuche reservoir, surrounded by rubbish on all sides

Rukman Sunwar collects a water sample during a snowstorm at the Gorak Shep Glacier. In the background one can see an ice tower and a bridge over the stream Rukman Sunwar collects a water sample from a dirty looking pool at the Kala Pattar spring in Gorak Shep

Rukman Sunwar collects a water sample during a snowstorm at the Gorak Shep Glacier. In the background one can see an ice tower and a bridge over the stream.  Rukman Sunwar collects a water sample from a dirty looking pool at the Kala Pattar spring in Gorak Shep.

Rukman Sunwar collects a water sample from Gorak Shep Lake. Rubbish floats in the pool behind him Thile Nuru Sherpa filters a water sample through a petri dish innoculation grid

Rukman Sunwar collects a water sample from Gorak Shep Lake. Rubbish floats in the pool behind him.Thile Nuru Sherpa filters a water sample through a petri dish innoculation grid. 

Team of workers at Gorak Shep washes out the Everest basecamp human waste drums so they can be reused. Thile Nuru Sherpa prepares the petri dishes for incubation

Team of workers at Gorak Shep washes out the Everest basecamp human waste drums so they can be reused. Thile Nuru Sherpa prepares the petri dishes for incubation. 

Thile Nuru Sherpa filters water into a sample bottle Thile Nuru Sherpa spikes a water sample

Thile Nuru Sherpa filters water into a sample bottle. Thile Nuru Sherpa spikes a water sample. back to top

Tweezing the innoculation grid into the petri dish Waste created by the water sampling project

Tweezing the innoculation grid into the petri dish. Waste created by the water sampling project.

Water sampling workbench Worker fills jugs at the carpet washing station in Gorak Shep using the pipeline from Pumori. Another worker carries a basket of laundry and a water drum in the background

Water sampling workbench. Worker fills jugs at the carpet washing station in Gorak Shep using the pipeline from Pumori. Another worker carries a basket of laundry and a water drum in the background.

Workers at Gorak Shep sorting out tins, bottles, paper and plastic from Everest basecamp. Kala Pattar and Mount Lobuche in the background

Workers at Gorak Shep sorting out tins, bottles, paper and plastic from Everest basecamp. Kala Pattar and Mount Lobuche in the background. 

Justin P. Miller-Schulze, Ph.D. January 2014

  • Sample Collection
  • Samples (~200 ml) were collected in early November
    • Samples were syringe-filtered through 0.45 µm filters
    • Samples were frozen for some (but not all) of the period between collection and analysis (~1 month)
  • These sample collection and storage procedures are a departure from standard protocols
  • As such, data should be viewed as qualitative
  • The table to the right details the Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) that we analyzed the samples that were collected at the 4 Everest Base Camp sites in late October/Early November
  • These CECs are a suite of compounds that we chose to investigate impacts of human wastewater (and a few other things) on water quality. The list is not exhaustive, but our data at this stage indicates that data on these compounds can give insight on relevant sources of impacts on water quality.

 

CEC

Use/Application

Acetaminophen

Pain Reliever (Tylenol)

Atrazine

Herbicide

Caffeine

Stimulant

Carbamazepine

Anti-Seizure Medication

Cotinine

Nicotine Metabolite

Ethyl Paraben

Anti Microbial

Ethyl Vanillin

Articifical Flavoring

Ibuprofen

Anti-Inflammatory

Methyl Paraben

Anti Microbial

Mecoprop

Herbicide

Nicotine

Stimulant

Paraxanthine

Caffeine Metabolite

Ensulizole

UV Filter (Sunscreen Agent)

Propylparaben

Anti Microbial

Ractopamine

Feed Additive (Swine)

Sulfadimethoxine

Antibiotic (animal)

Sulfamethoxazole

Antibiotic (human)

Sulfamethazine

Antibiotic(animal)

Sucralose

Artificial Sweetener

Theobromine

Caffeine Metabolite/Chocolate Ingredient

 

The table to the right details what percentage of the 19 CECs were found at levels above our method Limit of Detection (LOD) in each sample. The method LOD is a measure of the contamination from our lab and the sample collection. back to top

 

Table 1: % of CECs detected in each sample

 

Site

% of CECs Above LOD

Everest Head of Lake

0

Everest Bottom of Lake

21

Everest Lobuche Reservior

47

Everest Debouche AVG

5

 

 Sampler Notes:
Head of Lake at Gorak Shep, closer to the old human waste pits, but looked less contaminated (but it's the same lake).

Summary/Conclusions

  • All data comes with the caveat of single samples (no replicates) and long transport times in possibly un-refrigerated conditions
    • For obtaining preliminary data, this is fine
    • If more definitive information is desired, we would want to do some more representative stability studies and obtain more replicates at each site

That said, the single field blank collected did not show excessively higher contamination as compared with our lab blanks (which is good)

Summary/Conclusions

  • Seems to be clear human impacts in Bottom of Lake and Lobuche samples
    • The acetaminophen, ibuprofen, caffeine, paraxanthine, and nicotine levels are the biggest indicators for these sites
    • Some of the CEC concentrations at these sites approach or exceed the concentrations observed at sites in the Puget Sound Region with septic influence (acetaminophen, ibuprofen)

Interesting that ensulizole (sunscreen agent) was detected, at relatively high levels, at 3 of the 4 sites

–For example, at our dock, we haven’t seen concentrations >5 ng/L over the past year

Summary/Conclusions

  • There are some interesting absences for these samples, also:
    • Sucralose and caffeine are relatively ubiquitous in the Thea Foss waterway, but are not seen in the majority of the Everest samples. 
    • Sucralose, in particular, is quite stable as far as we know, and so degradation during transit is not anticipated  back to top

Everest Base Camp Data

For all plots:

  • A lack of colored bar indicates the measured concentration was below the method Limit of Detection
  • The error bars represent the analytical uncertainty associated with that value
  • Concentrations are in ng/L, or parts-per-trillion. For comparison, a standard cup of coffee (~250 ml) has 200 mg of caffeine in it, which would be 800 million ng/L

Summary/Conclusions
  • All data comes with the caveat of single samples (no replicates) and long transport times in possibly un-refrigerated conditions
  • –For obtaining preliminary data, this is fine
  • –If more definitive information is desired, we would want to do some more representative stability studies and obtain more replicates at each site
  • That said, the single field blank collected did not show excessively higher contamination as compared with our lab blanks (which is good)

Summary/Conclusions

  • Seems to be clear human impacts in Bottom of Lake and Lobuche samples
  • –The acetaminophen, ibuprofen, caffeine, paraxanthine, and nicotine levels are the biggest indicators for these sites
  • –Some of the CEC concentrations at these sites approach or exceed the concentrations observed at sites in Kitsap County with confirmed septic influence (acetaminophen, ibuprofen)
  • Interesting that ensulizole (sunscreen agent) was detected, at relatively high levels, at 3 of the 4 sites
  • –For example, at our dock, we haven’t seen concentrations >5 ng/L over the past year back to top

Summary/Conclusions

  • There are some interesting absences for these samples, also:
  • –Sucralose and caffeine are relatively ubiquitous in the Thea Foss waterway, but are not seen in the majority of the Everest samples.
  • –Sucralose, in particular, is quite stable as far as we know, and so degradation during transit is not anticipated

Mount Everest Water Sampling Project. Chemicals of Emerging Concern. 6 November, 2013

Today Tenji Sherpa and Dan Mazur, advised by Garry Porter, all under the supervision of Dr. Justin P. Miller-Schulze, Ph.D, conducted water sampling in and around the villages of Gorak Shep and Lobuche, in the shadow of Mount Everest, in order to identify Chemicals of Emerging Concern as tracers of water quality.

The purpose of this sampling is to collect water samples at locations around the Everest Base Camp that will be analyzed for a set of Chemicals of Emerging Concern, such as caffeine, nicotine, ibuprofen, etc. These non-toxic chemicals will be used to assess human impact on drinking water sources at the Base Camp.

Because these chemicals are present in the human diet (caffeine in
coffee/tea) and everyday activities (ibuprofen for pain relief, nicotine in cigarettes, etc.) it is critical that samples are collected using methods to prevent sample contamination.

This water sampling is a joint venture between the following organisations:

1. Engineers Without Borders;

2. Centre for Urban Waters;

3. University of Washington;

4. Mount Everest Foundation for Sustainable Development;

5. SummitClimb;

6. SummitTrek.

Thank you very much.
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Gorak Shep on a snowy sunny day in November. In background are Cholatse, West Ridge of Everest, Everest Summit, and Nuptse. Mila Rai and Tenji Sherpa sampling water at the reservoir in Lobuche Village, below Gorak Shep

 Gorak Shep on a snowy sunny day in November. In background are Cholatse, West Ridge of Everest, Everest Summit, and Nuptse. Mila Rai and Tenji Sherpa sampling water at the reservoir in Lobuche Village, below Gorak Shep. 

Water sampling instruction sheet, water samples, and equipment on the table at the lodge in Lobuche Lake at Gorak Shep. This is the current water source as other sources are frozen at the moment. Buildings of Gorak Shep, Tawoche, Cholatse, and Lobuche in the background.

Water sampling instruction sheet, water samples, and equipment on the table at the lodge in Lobuche. Lake at Gorak Shep. This is the current water source as other sources are frozen at the moment. Buildings of Gorak Shep, Tawoche, Cholatse, and Lobuche in the background.  back to top

Gorak Shep worker filling water container at the lake. Cigarette butts and other rubbish litter the water and the bank here. We took a water sample from this exact spot. Close up of the water sampling gear in action - gloves, syringe, filter, bottle.

Gorak Shep worker filling water container at the lake. Cigarette butts and other rubbish litter the water and the bank here. We took a water sample from this exact spot.  Close up of the water sampling gear in action - gloves, syringe, filter, bottle. back to top

GPS position of Kyakpa Yul, where the newest waste pits are located. Lobuche Village is located below Gorak Shep. Lobuche is more busy than Gorak Shep.

GPS position of Kyakpa Yul, where the newest waste pits are located. Lobuche Village is located below Gorak Shep. Lobuche is more busy than Gorak Shep.

Tanji Sherpa standing in the Kyakpa Yul, surrounded by the newest waste deposit from Everest base camp. Tenji Sherpa standing in front of pit for burning rubbish in Gorak Shep.

Tanji Sherpa standing in the Kyakpa Yul, surrounded by the newest waste deposit from Everest base camp.  Tenji Sherpa standing in front of pit for burning rubbish in Gorak Shep. back to top

Tenji Sherpa holds frozen water pipe in Gorak Shep. In warmer temps, it would be flowing with water from a lake near Pumori. Background - Khumbutse, Cholatse & Everest West Ridge. Tenji Sherpa taking a water sample at the location where the Gorak Shep people fill their water jugs. Mounts Khumbutse and Changtse in background.

Tenji Sherpa holds frozen water pipe in Gorak Shep. In warmer temps, it would be flowing with water from a lake near Pumori. Background - Khumbutse, Cholatse & Everest West Ridge. Tenji Sherpa taking a water sample at the location where the Gorak Shep people fill their water jugs. Mounts Khumbutse and Changtse in background.

Tenji Sherpa standing in front of the old waste disposal pit at the head of the Gorak Shep Valley. Tenji Sherpa standing in Kyakpa Yul, where the newest waste pits are located. In background are Changtse, Everest, and Nuptse.

Tenji Sherpa standing in front of the old waste disposal pit at the head of the Gorak Shep Valley.  Tenji Sherpa standing in Kyakpa Yul, where the newest waste pits are located. In background are Changtse, Everest, and Nuptse. back to top

Tenji Sherpa standing in lower right. Here waste was buried in the ground and waste is still sorted and burned here. In the background - Gorak Shep, Tawoche, Cholatse and Lobuche. Uncovered waste recently deposited in Kyakpa Yul, where the newest waste pits are located.

Tenji Sherpa standing in lower right. Here waste was buried in the ground and waste is still sorted and burned here. In the background - Gorak Shep, Tawoche, Cholatse and Lobuche. 

Worker seting up an electric water pump for teahouses in Lobuche Village, below Gorak Shep. National Geographic Logo

Worker seting up an electric water pump for teahouses in Lobuche Village, below Gorak Shep. back to top

National Geographic Article From 13 May, 2013: Mt. Everest Biogas 

On Mount Everest, Seeking Biogas Energy in a Mountain of Waste by Will Ferguson for National Geographic News.

Nestled in the shadow of the world's tallest mountain, the tiny village of Gorak Shep has a very messy problem.
The Sherpa community literally is running out of space to put human feces from the Everest, Pomori, Lhoste, and Nupste base camps. Each year, porters haul more than 12 metric tons of excrement down the mountains and dump it into open pits at Gorak Shep. A spring 2012 National Science Foundation (NSF) survey found contamination of one of the two major sources that supply water at Gorak Shep.
A volunteer group of Seattle-based engineers is working on an innovative solution to the problem, one that also will provide a big energy benefit. Earlier this month, they completed a design for a biogas reactor to convert climbers' feces into methane gas to serve as a cooking fuel for the Sherpa villagers. Construction could begin as early as next year. If it is a success, the Mount Everest Biogas Project will be the world's highest-elevation biogas reactor and proof-of-concept for an invaluable tool to protect iconic high-mountain ecosystems.
 
A Better Tribute
 
The genesis of the idea was a realization that Seattle climber Garry Porter had shortly after his attempt to summit Everest a decade ago. Porter's small expedition made it to Everest's South Summit, only 120 meters beneath the true summit, before being forced down the mountain due to high wind conditions. back to top
 
 A climber from Seattle, disturbed by the amount of waste he saw being generated at Everest base camp (seen here at night), helped start the Mount Everest Biogas Project to turn that waste into energy. Below, porters carry waste away from base camp. Photograph by Alex Treadway, National Geographic Years of garbage clutters Camp IV, left behind by the 4,000 or so climbers who’ve passed through over the past 60 years. Although efforts to control pollution and haul out refuse have seen success at Base Camp, abandoned tents, food waste, empty oxygen bottles, and other types of junk continue piling up at higher elevations. Camp IV is at 26,000 feet. Photograph by Mark Jenkins
 
A climber from Seattle, disturbed by the amount of waste he saw being generated at Everest base camp (seen here at night), helped start the Mount Everest Biogas Project to turn that waste into energy. Below, porters carry waste away from base camp. Photograph by Alex Treadway, National Geographic.  Years of garbage clutters Camp IV, left behind by the 4,000 or so climbers who’ve passed through over the past 60 years. Although efforts to control pollution and haul out refuse have seen success at Base Camp, abandoned tents, food waste, empty oxygen bottles, and other types of junk continue piling up at higher elevations. Camp IV is at 26,000 feet. Photograph by Mark Jenkins
 
Upon returning to Mount Everest base camp, he watched a steady procession head down the mountain to the village of Gorak Shep below. "I remember seeing a group of Sherpa men carrying these blue barrels of human feces to dump at Gorak Shep," Porter says. "I couldn't shake the feeling that my final tribute to Nepal and the people of Everest was having my waste dumped in these open pits. It just didn't seem right."
 
Gorak Shep serves as a launching pad and acclimatization stop for many trekkers. But there are no electrical, sanitation, or water-supply systems.
 
Porter, an engineer who spent 34 years at the Boeing Company before his retirement, contacted his friend and Everest guide Dan Mazur and they agreed to tackle this issue together. Mazur, an organizer for the Mount Everest Foundation for Sustainable Development in Nepal, had previously worked with lowland farmers who used biogas digesters to convert animal dung to methane gas. He suggested a similar system could work at Gorak Shep. back to top
 
 Traffic chokes the Hillary Step on May 19, 2012. Some climbers spent as long as two hours at this 40-foot rock wall below the summit, losing body heat. Even so, 234 people reached the top on this day. Photograph by Subin Thakuri
 
Traffic chokes the Hillary Step on May 19, 2012. Some climbers spent as long as two hours at this 40-foot rock wall below the summit, losing body heat. Even so, 234 people reached the top on this day. Photograph by Subin Thakuri
 
In biogas production, bacteria feed on organic waste (like feces) and produce several gases as a byproduct. One of these is methane, which is the primary component of natural gas and can be burned for heat and light, or converted to electricity. One cubic meter of biogas provides about two kilowatt-hours of useable energy. This is enough to power a 60-watt light bulb for more than a day, or an efficient 15-watt CFL bulb for nearly six days. A biogas reactor at Gorak Shep could address the fecal contamination problem while providing the perennially low-income community with a sustainable source of methane gas for energy, especially for cooking, Porter says
 
But the harsh conditions of Mount Everest, which have challenged so many climbers, tested the skills of the engineers. back to top
 
For starters, air and ground temperatures are below freezing most of the year at Gorak Shep, which sits at an altitude of 5,164 meters (16,942 feet) and briefly served as the first Everest base camp in 1952. Biogas production stops entirely when the temperature hits freezing, says Robert Spurrell, former director of research and development at the Weyerhaeuser Company, who is serving as technical manager for the Everest biogas project. Normally, recirculating water heated by methane gas inside a reactor offsets cold outside temperatures.
 
However, because the biogas reactor at Gorak Shep will run exclusively on human fecal matter-a poor methane—producing fuel source—this won't be possible. Spurrell explains that organic waste can be divided into two groups: carbon-rich or nitrogen-rich. Animal waste contains a lot of carbon cellulose which gives it a high carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, around 20:1. This promotes methane production. Human waste on the other hand has a low carbon to nitrogen ratio, around 6:1. This makes it a poorer quality fuel source.
"In essence, if we use the methane gas in our system to heat the recirculating water, the energy production will be too low to provide cooking fuel to the villagers," Spurrell says.
 
To make things even more difficult, all building materials have to make a five-day, rugged journey to the village via pack animal or strapped to a human's back. "It's not like we can go to Lowe's or Home Depot," Spurrell says. "We definitely chose the hardest place on Earth to do this."
 Team member Hilaree O’Neill steps across a bridge of aluminum ladders lashed together above a crevasse in the Khumbu Icefall. Considered one of the most unpredictable hazards on Everest, the icefall is an ever shifting labyrinth of loose, jagged blocks. Photograph by Andy Bardon
 
Team member Hilaree O’Neill steps across a bridge of aluminum ladders lashed together above a crevasse in the Khumbu Icefall. Considered one of the most unpredictable hazards on Everest, the icefall is an ever shifting labyrinth of loose, jagged blocks. Photograph by Andy Bardon
 
The engineering team arrived at a renewable energy solution to the temperature problem. Porter says they will use nine or ten off-the-shelf, 0.8-by-1.2-meter solar panels to heat a large tank of water inside a storage building, built over the underground biogas reactor. A heating coil, running from the water tank to the digester's interior, will provide enough energy to keep temperatures inside the digester around 86°F (30°C). Porter says the 8-cubic-meter digester system, including the storage building and solar panels, will cost approximately $15,000 to $20,000. It could process 16 metric tons of human waste per year, more than the current annual climber load hauled down to Gorak Shep. That amount of waste would produce more than 1,000 cubic meters (35,000 cubic feet) of biogas. That may not seem like an enormous amount of fuel; the average U.S. home that heats with natural gas uses about double that amount in a single winter. But it's an amount that can go a long way in Gorak Shep to serve as a much-needed sustainable alternative fuel for cooking. back to top
 
Saving Native Vegetation
 
Sherpa communities in Nepal and alpine conservationists think the Mount Everest Biogas Project could not only solve the fecal contamination problem but also has potential as an alternative to burning fossil fuels and Everest's native plant species. Mingma Tenjing Sherpa, a lifelong resident of Nepal's Khumbu Valley and the project's liaison with the Sherpa community, says an increasing number of foreign visitors are creating an insatiable demand for cooking fuel, campfires, and hot water. This in turn is leading to the overharvesting of Everest's natural resources.
 Headlamps trace a path to the summit a few hours before dawn. Without tighter safety rules, climbers will continue to face more hazards on the mountain than altitude and the elements. “The most dangerous thing about Everest,” said one guide, “is everyone else who’s trying to climb it.” Photograph by Kristoffer Erickson Hundreds of climbers converge at Base Camp on the Nepali side of Everest. The crowded, colorful temporary village offers up hot bucket showers, Internet access, and fresh baked goods. Photograph by Anjin Herndon
 
Headlamps trace a path to the summit a few hours before dawn. Without tighter safety rules, climbers will continue to face more hazards on the mountain than altitude and the elements. “The most dangerous thing about Everest,” said one guide, “is everyone else who’s trying to climb it.” Photograph by Kristoffer Erickson. Hundreds of climbers converge at Base Camp on the Nepali side of Everest. The crowded, colorful temporary village offers up hot bucket showers, Internet access, and fresh baked goods. Photograph by Anjin Herndon.
 
Chief among these is the endangered alpine juniper, a bedrock plant species of high-alpine ecosystems like Sagarmatha National Park where Everest is located. Alpine junipers supply habitat and food for species endemic to the region and prevent soil erosion and desertification. "They grow only a few centimeters every century," explains Thomas Culhane, a National Geographic Explorer and founder of the sustainable energy company Solar Cities. "However, they have been exhaustively harvested for fuel wood since 1962. We are inadvertently destroying local plant species and turning iconic ecosystems like Sagarmatha into high-altitude deserts." (See related story: "Rainforest Advocate Taps the Energy of the Sugar Palm.")
 
In 2003, two international nongovernmental organizations, the Mountain Institute and the American Alpine Club, began conservation efforts to protect and restore alpine juniper and other cushion plant species. Culhane says the conservationists promoted kerosene as an alternative to burning juniper. The push to replace native plant fuel with kerosene has since resulted in an annual preservation of some 80 tons of shrub juniper in the Everest region alone. back to top
 
Burning kerosene presents problems of its own, however. The expense and occasional unavailability of kerosene drives both foreigners and locals back to poaching the delicate vegetation, Culhane says. In addition, burning the fossil fuel adds to the atmospheric carbon load; the issue hits home on the mountain, where global warming has caused the retreat of Everest's glaciers.
Culhane says organic waste from the restaurants, lodges, and toilets of new development projects at Everest Base Camp, Gorak Shep, and farther down the mountain, offers an abundant feedstock for biogas. (See Culhane demonstrate an aluminum-can battery that can power an LED light in this blog post.)
 
 Before sunrise Danuru Sherpa burns juniper in an offering at Base Camp. A seasoned Everest hand, he first summited at age 18. Now 33, he has reached the peak at least 12 times. Why keep climbing? Danuru, who has two young daughters at school in Kathmandu, told writer Mark Jenkins: “Because I need the money. Photograph by Andy Bardon Climbers descend through the Khumbu Icefall after spending time higher up on the mountain to acclimatize. This part of the icefall is known as the Popcorn Section, because that’s what its jumbled (and jumbo) blocks of ice resemble. Photograph by Andy Bardon
 
Before sunrise Danuru Sherpa burns juniper in an offering at Base Camp. A seasoned Everest hand, he first summited at age 18. Now 33, he has reached the peak at least 12 times. Why keep climbing? Danuru, who has two young daughters at school in Kathmandu, told writer Mark Jenkins: “Because I need the money. Photograph by Andy Bardon.  Climbers descend through the Khumbu Icefall after spending time higher up on the mountain to acclimatize. This part of the icefall is known as the Popcorn Section, because that’s what its jumbled (and jumbo) blocks of ice resemble. Photograph by Andy Bardon.
 
"There is a commonly held perception that there isn't enough organic material in these mountains for a biogas program," Culhane says. "However, we found that this is simply not the case." back to top
 
Culhane went to Sagarmatha in spring 2011 to evaluate renewable alternatives to burning fossil fuel. He says the area is no stranger to solar power, thanks to Nepal's 55 percent alternative-energy subsidy. The government support, coupled with the desire of westerners for modern amenities, has led to solar-powered Internet cafes and lodges with hot water, warm meals, and light-up LED signs at nearly every village on the trail to Everest.
 
But solar alone is not enough to stop juniper harvesting and kerosene burning entirely.
 
"When the sun isn't shining, you are going to need another source of power," Culhane says. "Biogas could be the answer."
 
This story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visit The Great Energy Challenge.
 
 
Recent News:

Mount Everest Foundation Team meeting with BSP-Nepal (Bio Gas Support Program). From left: Murari K. Sharma (MEF), Maya Sherpa (Nepal Mountaineering Association). Arnold Coster (Mount Everest Expedition Leader), Dan Mazur (Mount Everest Expedition Leader), Bala Ram Shrestha (Excecutive Director, BSP-Nepal), Mimgma Sherpa (Namche Buffer Zone Committee.), Nathaniel Janega – Engineer with Mt Everest Biogas Project, Subodh Shrestha, Prakash Lamichhane (Assistance Director). Photo by Deha Shrestha. Nathaniel Janega – Engineer with Mt Everest Biogas Project presenting his slide show, with him Mr. Mim Hamal (SNV Senior Advisor). Photo by Deha Shrestha.

Mount Everest Foundation Team meeting with BSP-Nepal (Bio Gas Support Program). From left: Murari K. Sharma (MEF), Maya Sherpa (Nepal Mountaineering Association). Arnold Coster (Mount Everest Expedition Leader), Dan Mazur (Mount Everest Expedition Leader), Bala Ram Shrestha (Excecutive Director, BSP-Nepal), Mimgma Sherpa (Namche Buffer Zone Committee.), Nathaniel Janega – Engineer with Mt Everest Biogas Project, Subodh Shrestha, Prakash Lamichhane (Assistance Director). Photo by Deha Shrestha. Nathaniel Janega – Engineer with Mt Everest Biogas Project presenting his slide show, with him Mr. Mim Hamal (SNV Senior Advisor). Photo by Deha Shrestha.

Proposed System to Heat Digester. Photo Nathaniel Janega Proposed biogas system. Photo Nathaniel Janega

Proposed System to Heat Digester. Photo Nathaniel Janega. Proposed biogas system. Photo Nathaniel Janega. back to top

Image of proposed project site from Google earth. Photo Nathaniel Janega Plan view of the site. Photo Nathaniel Janega

Image of proposed project site from Google earth. Photo Nathaniel Janega. Plan view of the site. Photo Nathaniel Janega.

View of Future Building from South West. Photo Mike Eliason of Architect View of future buildings back from North East. Photo Mike Eliason of Architect

View of Future Building from South West. Photo Mike Eliason of Architect. View of future buildings back from North East. Photo Mike Eliason of Architect.

Recent News:

During April and May of 2012, Arnold Coster and Jon Kedrowski, while engaged in the month long project of climbing to the Summit of Everest with a succesful SummitClimb Everest expedition, heroically spent their rest days below basecamp studying the contamination of the drinking water and the drainage of the soil for installation of a biogas digester to convert the human waste from basecamp into useful cooking gas and fertilizer for local farmers. Well done Jon and Arnold! Here is a preliminary report of their findings.

 

 Porter dips water from a barely flowing spring at Gorak Shep. We studied water samples from this spring in 2010 and found them to be contaminated.

Recent News by Jon Kedrowski, Ph.D.: The water quality testing in the Khumbu was done primarily in five locations:  On the Khumbu Glacier at Basecamp, at the bottom of the glacier where it comes out and starts a river, and at Camp 2 on the Everest Route.  I also surveyed and tested water sources in and near Luboche (4900m) and Gorak Shep (5200m).

Most of the sources at all locations had anywhere between 2 and 20x the USEPA legal limit for drinking water contamination for E.Coli and Total Coliforms.

I am looking forward to presenting the complete surveys and findings to the Mount Everest Biogas Team in their next Meeting in Seattle.

 

 Gorak Shep, a busy tourist village at the edge of the Khumbu Glacier at 5,180 meters / 17,000 feet. At the bottom of the photo, you can see porters carrying toilet drums. 

Recent News by Arnold Coster: The soil percolates very well: I dug three holes: one next to the porter house on the right. One halfway towards the dry lake and one in the dry lake. All in the same line. There where each 25cmx25cm and 40 cm deep.

The water soaks out in minutes. During the presoaking the holes almost empty straight away. After the presoaking it a little slower but not much, you see the water level drop and the slowest hole took only 8 min.

The soil consist of sand, small stones and gravel and its really hard to dig a hole. There is nothing solid like clay in the soil and between the rocks are air gaps. It's kind of loose, Therefore the soil percolates very well.

This is what I can tell you now, exact numbers I can send you later. I don't think they really matter though, It's pretty good if 25 liter soaks away in 8 min and this is a pretty low tech inaccurate test also. 7 or 8 min doesn't really matter for the conclusion. 

Cleaning Up Mount Everest

While visiting our world’s highest mountain, climbers, trekkers, and walkers take away great memories, lots of photos and new friends, but leave behind their untreated waste. This needs to stop. At the Mount Everest Biogas Project our mission is to convert human waste from base camp into environmentally safe products for the people of Nepal, by designing a biogas system that can operate at high altitudes (above 5000 meters / 16,400 feet). The Mount Everest area is a destination for climbers, trekkers, and walkers from all over the world. Climbers come to the mountain to participate in one of the world’s most prestigious and challenging events – an icy and freezing cold and windy summit attempt to the top of Mt. Everest or one of its sister peaks. Trekkers, hikers and walkers come to experience the wide and beautiful trails through green terraced villages, the high altitude walk to world famous Everest Basecamp, and to trek up the spectacular view ridge of Kala Patar for one of a kind views of our world’s highest peak. You wont find any snow on these hiking trails, but lots of friendly sherpas and amazing views. At the Mt. Everest Biogas project, we are designing a new solution that will help out not only everyone’s favourite big mountain, but an innovative idea that can be broadened to high mountain environments round the world.

For further details, please visit www.MtEverestBiogasProject.org , www.CleaningUpMountEverest.org and www.MountEverestFoundationforSustainableDevelopment.org .

 
 
Stunning cloud swirls atop Everest (Alex Holt). Gavin sets off for Lhotse. Check out the winds aloft (Alex Holt). SummitTrek.com team in Everest basecamp. Trekkers walk up Kala Patar view ridge. Mount Pumori in background (Miyako Mori).  

Short Term Goal:

The immediate goal is to construct a biogas digester which will operate at lower temperatures at Gorak Shep (elevation 5,180 meters / 17,000 feet) and evaluate its effectiveness in converting human waste from Mount Everest into methane gas for the local community and fertilizer for crops. Back to top

Gorak Shep (elevation 5,180 meters / 17,000 feet) with Mount Pumori in the background.Biogas Diagram. Back to top

Long Term Goal:

The long-term goal is to utilize 100% of the waste products generated in the base camps of Mt Everest and surrounding peaks in an anaerobic digester system which will generate methane gas and fertilizer. And second, to replicate the system in other high altitude areas thereby improving the lives of the people and the environment by reducing pollution, deforestation, health risks and costs to obtain alternate fuel sources and to produce high quality agricultural fertilizer to help out local farmers. Back to top

 

Building the biogas digester dome.What a biogas plant looks like after back filling. 

 

Traditional Nepalese cooking method before biogas. Burning wood on an open and chimneyless fire inside the house, where everyone breathes the toxic smoke, especially the cooks.On the way out of basecamp we took photos of glacial lakes for doctor Ulyana Nadia Horodyskyj, who is studying glacial recession. Back to top

 

 Everest basecamp toilet with blue barrel below slightly visible Back to top

 

Using slurry from the digester to increase crop yields by as much as 20 percent. Why there are so many respiratory problems in Nepal. Before biogas they burned wood indoors with no chimney. Back to top

 

Here is one low-tech method of making biogas at higher elevations by stacking compost as insulation on the lid of the digester and covering with black plastic.  Namche Bazaar, the largest village near to Everest, has suffered horrible deforestation, note the town has barely a single tree, the hillside stripped of vegetation , and the landslide on the right side of the photo. Back to top

Biogas Schematic.  Back to top

 

SummitTrek Spring 2011 team in Lobuche with Nuptse behind (Chris Howard) .Pramila Kumari resting beside a lake inside the Khumbu Glacier on the way to basecamp. Back to top

 

Porters with heavy loads on the way up to Namche Bazaar. Everything in this region has to be carried in on the backs of porters. There are no roads. (Stewart Edge).  Deforestation in action: Woodcutters carrying firewood over the Monjo bridge. Back to top

Yaks with blue barrels. Packing up basecamp at the end of the Everest Season. Each April and May Everest basecamp is home to 500-1000 people from Nepal and countries from all over the world.

  

Everest basecamp at 5300 metres / 17,380 feet. On the left, the west ridge of Everest, in the centre, the famous Khumbu Icefall, right: Mount Nuptse. View of Mt. Everest from Kala Patar (Rick Gross).   Back to top

For further details, please visit www.MtEverestBiogasProject.org , www.CleaningUpMountEverest.org and www.MountEverestFoundationforSustainableDevelopment.org .

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