Mount Everest. 8,848 meters. An eternal symbol of exploration and adventure.
Standing at nearly 9,000 meters tall and with barely enough air to sustain life for more than a few minutes, Mount Everest represents a seemingly insurmountable physical and mental challenge to many and is regarded as the crown jewel of mountaineering.
Climbing the tallest mountain in the world, however, is far from the glamorous, romantic affair it seems. When Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the top of the mountain in 1953, it was arguably the loneliest place on earth. Over the last 65 years, more than 4,000 climbers have followed in their footsteps and left behind everything from empty oxygen cylinders to broken climbing gear along with human waste.
A recent report by Grinnell College estimates that approximately 12 tons of feces are left on the mountain each year, which are either buried in the snow along the route or dumped in rudimentary toilets to be emptied near water supplies in the south. In the face of such difficulties, a team of engineers from Seattle has set about to create a solution to the growing waste problem.
Launched in 2010, the Mount Everest BioGas Project’s mission is to solve the growing waste problem. Founded by experienced mountaineer Dan Mazur and former Boeing engineer Gary Porter, the project’s goal is to deploy a visionary solar powered biogas system capable of operating at high altitude, an immense technological challenge. The digester is a large tank filled with bacteria which work to break down waste and produce methane gas and organic fertilizer. This ensures the eco-friendly disposal of human waste left behind by climbers at Everest Base Camp. The methane gas produced is a sustainable form of energy ideal for developing regions and can be used for heating, cooking, lighting, and other needs. Since 2012, the project has expanded its engineering team and made significant progress; the design of the digester has been completed and they are set to begin construction this year.
The BioGas team have also tested their work with Kathmandu University and are working to get Nepalese youth involved in the project. Singapore American School students have been in close contact with the BioGas Project leadership, particularly project manager Gary Porter, since the beginning of last year. They form the small executive team of the up and coming Everest BioGas Project initiative at SAS. Led by seniors Taylor Buechel and John Tsao, the group has launched an advocacy and fundraising campaign with the hopes of gaining enough funds to break ground on the project. Just over the past six months, the team has raised a total of S$20,000.
Additionally, Gary Porter will be visiting the school in March as part of the GIN Speaker Series where he will talk about his project’s history, challenges as well as how he combined his passion for both mountaineering and engineering. In doing so, the Executive Team hopes to raise awareness for their initiative and further involve the SAS community in this exciting project.
The Executive Team is also planning an expedition up to Mount Everest Base Camp in the summer to get a first-hand look at the work being done as part of the project.
“Because it’s there!”
These immortal words uttered by the legendary British mountaineer George Mallory have defined the human quest to conquer the universe. Mount Everest represents a small, but nonetheless significant part of that effort. As an avid outdoorsman myself, what saddens me is the lackluster disregard that others seem to have for our environment. What people seem to forget, and what the BioGas Project strives to remind us of, is our duty to protect Mount Everest’s community, physical beauty, as well as its historical significance. This task should not be taken lightly and we must ensure that it continues long after we are gone.
Why should we care? Because it’s there!
It is important to recognize that great historical schools stand on the shoulders of giants. The work we have been able to accomplish recently is only possible because of the equally impressive work of leaders and faculty over many generations before us.
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