People have been using biogas for over 200 years.
In the days before electricity, biogas was drawn from
the underground sewer pipes in London and burned
in street lamps, which were known as “gaslights.” In
many parts of the world, biogas is used to heat and
light homes, to cook, and even to fuel buses. It is collected
from large-scale sources such as landfi lls and
pig barns, and through small domestic or community
systems in many villages.
Step 1: Gather Up
Tools and Materials
• Corrugated cardboard
• Shredded paper (for insulation)from appliance boxes work best) • Cardboard box (with fl aps, approximately
• Duct tape 25 cm by 35 cm by 16 cm deep)
• Black tempera paint, powdered • Plastic spoon
• White glue • Utility knife
• Plastic container, approximately 500 ml • Meter stick or metric tape measure
• Oven thermometer • Felt tip marker
• Aluminum foil (45.7 cm by 7.6 m roll) • Sunglasses
• 1 Large aluminum foil cake tin • Paint brush, 3- to 5 cm wide
(15 cm by 30 cm by 8 cm deep) • Oven mitts
one large turkey sized oven bag
Step 2: Tools and Materials
• Tubing cutter
• Adjustable wrench
• Rubber gloves
• Electric drill with ¼” bit, or cork borer
• Hot glue gun, with glue sticks
• Electrical or duct tape
• Sandpaper (metal fi le will also work)
• Used 18L clear plastic water bottle
• Large Mylar helium balloon
Plastic water bottle cap (with the “no-spill”
• Copper tubing (40 cm long, 6.5mm (1/4”)
• T-connector for plastic tubing (barbed, 6mm or
• 1 cork (tapered, 23mm long)
• Clear vinyl tubing (1.5 m long, 4mm or ¼-inch
• 2 barb fi ttings (¼” x ¼”)
• Ball valve (1/4”)
• 6-8L manure pellets (goat, sheep, llama, rabbit,
or other ruminant)
• Rubber gloves
• Large plastic funnel (can be made from a 4L
plastic milk jug with bottom removed)
• Wooden dowelling or stick (30 to 50 cm long,
2-3 cm thick)
Step 3: Build It! 1
The apparatus you are going to build uses a discarded
18 litre water container as the “digester.” A mixture
of water and animal manure will generate the
methane, which you will collect in a plastic balloon.
The 18 litre water container performs the same task
as the stomach of a livestock animal by providing
the warm, wet conditions favored by the bacteria that
make the methane.
The main hazards in this activity are from sharp
tools such as tubing cutters and scissors. Exercise
caution while using any tool. There is no risk of
explosion due to the leakage of methane because the
gas develops so slowly that it dissipates long before
it can reach fl ammable concentrations in room air.
Exercise the normal precautions in the use of Bunsen
burners: keep hair and clothing away from the burner
while it is lit.
Step 4: Built It! 2
Water bottle: Many hardware and grocery stores
now sell purifi ed water that they bottle on site.
They often collect containers that can no longer be
refi lled because of dirt or damage to the bottle. These
unrefi llable bottles are frequently available for free.
Ask to speak to the clerk in charge of refi lling bottles.
Ask for a used cap as well.
Mylar balloons: Check with any local fl orist or novelty
Tubing, valves, T-connectors, barb fi ttings: Check at
your local hardware or plumbing supply store.
Manure: If you do not know someone who has
domesticated rabbits, sheep, llamas or other similar
pellet-producing animals, you can often purchase
sheep or steer manure by the bag at your local garden
Step 5: Built It! 3
A. Prepare the biogas collection system
1. Cut a 20cm piece of copper tubing. Round off the
sharp edges of the freshly cut tubing using sandpaper
or a metal fi le.
2. The Mylar balloon has a sleeve-like valve that
prevents helium from escaping once it is fi lled. This
sleeve will help form a leak-proof seal around the
rigid tubing. Push the tubing into the neck of the
balloon, past the end of the sleeve, leaving about 2cm
protruding from the neck of the balloon, as shown
3. Test the tube to be sure air can enter and leave the
balloon freely, by blowing a little in through the tube.
The balloon should infl ate with little or no resistance,
and the air should be able to escape easily through
4. Securely tape the neck of the balloon to the tube
as shown in the illustration.
5. Using a drill or cork borer, make a small (4mm)
hole in the center of the stopper. Add a few drops
of hot glue around and inside the hole and insert the
stem of the ¼-inch T-adapter into the cork.
6. Screw the two barb fi ttings into the body of the
ball valve. Tighten with the adjustable wrench.
7. Cut two sections of vinyl tubing, each 25cm long.
Use them to connect the balloon to the T-adapter,
and to connect the ball valve to the Bunsen burner.
Assemble the rest of the gas collection system
according to the diagram below.
Step 6: Bulit It! 4
B. Prepare the manure mixture
This is a job best done outside, with rubber gloves!
1. Cut the bottom off a 4L plastic milk jug to make a
2. Place the funnel into the neck of the plastic water
bottle and scoop in small amounts of manure.
3. Use a stick or piece of dowelling to push the
manure through the neck of the bottle if it gets
4. Add enough water to bring the level close to the
top of the water bottle.
5. Use the stick to stir up the manure and water
mixture, releasing any bubbles of air that might be
6. Clean up carefully. Use soap and wash hands
Step 7: Bulit It! 5
C. Final Set-up
1. Snap the cap onto the top of the manure-fi lled 18
litre water bottle.
2. Be sure the
ball valve is
closed, but that
gas moving from
the water bottle
can pass freely
T-adapter to the
3. Set the biogas
generator in a
such as over a
heat register or
radiator or in a
sunlit window. If
the biogas generator is placed in a window, be sure to
wrap the outside of the container in black plastic or
construction paper, to discourage algae from growing
inside the bottle.
Step 8: Test It!
For the fi rst few weeks, your biogas generator will
produce mainly carbon dioxide. When the aerobic
bacteria use up all the oxygen inside the bottle, the
anaerobic bacteria, which make methane, can take
over. It can take up to a month for the generator
to start making biogas with enough methane to be
When gas begins to accumulate in the balloon, test it
by attempting to light the Bunsen burner:
1. First, open the clamp or valve so that biogas can
fl ow back from the balloon to the Bunsen burner.
2. Have a friend squeeze the Mylar balloon gently
while you attempt to light the Bunsen burner with
a match or spark igniter.
3. If your Bunsen burner ignites, your biogas
generator is a success!