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USF PCGS Expands Partnership with the University of Havana and Center for Marine Science to Introduce Biodigester to Cuba

Jun 9th, 2017

The University of South Florida's Patel College of Global Sustainability and College of Marine Sciences have partnered with the University of Florida and the University of Havana to bring a biodigester to Cuba's shores.

PCGS Faculty Dr. TH Culhane and Dr. David Randle drove a biodigester from USF Tampa to Key West, where they met with the University of Florida's extension office. From Key West, Dr. Culhane and Dr. Randle handed off the biodigester to the UF team, where it sailed to the Hemingway Marina in Cuba.

"The USF Patel College Biodigester project can be described as the literal Food Energy Water NEXUS," explained Dr. Culhane. "It is the heart of sustainability in that this one central yet decentralized technology provides simple but effective solutions to our food energy water and waste management challenges, it is economically, socially, and environmentally viable, can be built anywhere by anyone, and engages students at all levels in what is possibly the best STEM curriculum activity for education and development."

This biodigester was funded by the SEA Grant, which was awarded to Dr. Randle, Patel College of Global Sustainability, and the College of Marine Science last year by the University of South Florida. The Grant was given to the college to be used for the BLUE Community Consortium, a community of 30 organizations that are all working together to create sustainable tourism initiatives. Specifically, this grant and the consortium aim to strengthen their relations with Cuba.

The prototype for the biodigester was built at the St. Pete Eco Village, which is part of the BLUE Community Consortium. While building the prototype, Dr. Culhane and Dr. Randle discovered that they needed to purchase a pump, one that would not make the biodigester accessible to developing countries. Before bringing the biodigester to Cuba, they had to redesign the whole thing, ensuring that the biodigester would be efficient and affordable.
The purpose of bringing biodigesters to Cuba is two-sided. It is meant to strengthen USF's relationship with the University of Havana as well as bring new technology to Cuba that will provide renewable energy and food waste improvements to the island. This island, while largely untouched, is starting to see the effects of tourism. It's once pristine water is now slowly getting contaminated, and the biodigesters aim to fix this.

The biodigesters were assembled by Dr. Culhane and Dr. Randle upon arrival at the Hemingway Marina. They also trained members of the Center for Marine Science at the University of Havana on how to keep the digesters running after their departure.

"What fascinated me the most was how many people in Havana already had an interest in biodigesters," said Dr. Randle. " While many people didn't have a full understanding of the biodigesters, they had an initial understanding and were eager to learn more."

A local restaurant at the Hemingway Marina has expressed interest in hosting the biodigesters.
This will have a positive impact on not only the local community, but also internationally. The Hemingway Marina was hosting an International Fishing tournament the week the biodigesters were installed, showing that the reach will not just be local, but global.

If this biodigester is successful, PCGS plans to locate more digesters, based on funding availability.

More information on PCGS and our biodigesters can be found on the PCGS website.