Director Iosif Gerasimenok is determined to develop biogas from sludge at Minskvodokanal. Photograph: Patrik Rastenberger/NEFCO.

The Unitary Enterprise MinskVodokanal, the local waterworks, has set up its head office in Ulitsa Pulihova next to one of the forks of River Svislach that meanders through the region.

In no time at all after our entry, Iosif Gerasimenok, the director of the waterworks, has organised a meeting of all local partners to discuss a project that NEFCO is planning to finance. The meeting is followed by a tour of the laboratories and the basins and pumping stations where sewage is treated. The local determination to bring problems to the fore and improve the treatment of sewage and sludge in the Belarusian capital is certainly impressive.

Sludge is currently stored in gigantic pools 6 to 8 metres deep outside Minsk. Altogether some 900,000 tonnes of sludge has been dumped in these pools. MinskVodokanal generates some 3000 to 4000 cubic metres of sludge each day. The sludge is dried with a centrifugal dryer, which reduces the daily amount to some 160 tonnes of dry sludge. The pools cover an area of approximately 75 hectares and generate substantial emissions of methane and phosphorus in the surrounding environment.

NEFCO has engaged in discussions with Nordic Investment Bank, Swedfund, SIDA and MinskVodokanal regarding the possibility of building of a plant to extract biogas from the city’s waste sludge. The conditions are considered to be good and the project will also include a combined heat and power station that would use biogas to generate power for the facility and some of the city’s 1.8 million people.

A biogas extraction system would mean an annual reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of around 84,000 tonnes. The project would also reduce the discharge of nutrient salts and heavy metals into local water ways. Total costs are expected to come to EUR 27 million.