Biogas is a mixture of gases (containing predominantly methane) produced by the microbial activity and which may be used as fuel. You have learnt that microbes produce different types of gaseous end-products during growth and metabolism. The type of the gas produced depends upon the microbes and the organic substrates they utilise. In the examples cited in relation to fermentation of dough, cheese making and production of beverages, the main gas produced was CO2. However, certain bacteria, which grow anaerobically on cellulosic material, produce large amount of methane along with CO2 and H2. These bacteria are collectively called methanogens, and one such common bacterium is Methanobacterium. These bacteria are commonly found in the anaerobic sludge during sewage treatment. These bacteria are also present in the rumen (a part of stomach) of cattle. A lot of cellulosic material present in the food of cattle is also present in the rumen. In rumen, these bacteria help in the breakdown of cellulose and play an important role in the nutrition of cattle. Do you think we, human beings, are able to digest the cellulose present in our foods? Thus, the excreta (dung) of cattle, commonly called gobar, is rich in these bacteria. Dung can be used for generation of biogas, commonly called gobar gas.
The biogas plant consists of a concrete tank (10-15 feet deep) in which bio-wastes are collected and a slurry of dung is fed. A floating cover is placed over the slurry, which keeps on rising as the gas is produced in the tank due to the microbial activity. The biogas plant has an outlet, which is connected to a pipe to supply biogas to nearby houses. The spent slurry is removed through another outlet and may be used as fertiliser. Cattle dung is available in large quantities in rural areas where cattle are used for a variety of purposes. So biogas plants are more after build in rural areas. The biogas thus produced is used for cooking and lighting. The picture of a biogas plant is shown in Figure 8.
The technology of biogas production was developed in India mainly due to the efforts of Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) and Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC). If your school is situated in a village or near a village, it would be very interesting to enquire if there are any biogas plants nearby. Visit the biogas plant and learn more about it from the people who are actually managing it.