A Biogas Digester Could Solve Everest’s Growing Poop Problem

Mike Lavery | ClimbingClimbing
A rendering of the digester. Photo: Mount Everest Biogas Project

Mount Everest has a poop problem. The 1,200 people that try to climb the world’s highest peak every year make a lot of it and the poop fairy doesn’t like the cold. Right now, Sherpa’s have taken it upon themselves to haul out the mess by hand – roughly 28,000 pounds of it this year. Gross.

Sherpa’s hauling your poop. Photo:Mount Everest Biogas Project

Gorak Shep, a frozen lakebed at 17,000 feet has become the makeshift dumping grounds. The human waste is discarded into open pits, where in theory it should dry out and degrade. Cold temperatures though inhibit its decomposition, and some are worried about leakage into local groundwater.

An open waste pit. Photo: Mount Everest Biogas Project

Gary Porter, of the Mount Everest Biogas Project, is looking to solve all of this with a simple biogas digester that would use bacteria to turn poop into useable fertilizer and methane gas. These systems are common around the world, but the cold temperatures on Everest pose a problem for the bacteria, which only do their thing when kept warm.

The solution? Mr. Porter wants to build a large, insulated digester in the ground, covered by a hut and heated by solar panels. In theory, this should keep the system at a nice 68 degrees for the bacteria to do their work. Prototypes have shown promise and the project already has the green light from the Nepalese Government. The biggest challenge now is cost.

The design of the digester. Photo:Mount Everest Biogas Project

Porter is looking to raise $500,000 to build the digester. The high cost being mostly due to transporting materials to such a remote location. Hopefully the project is a success, because hauling mountains of poop from one place to another doesn’t sound like a sustainable solution.

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