Tofu wastewater used to produce biogas and clean rivers in Indonesia


Compared to wind and solar renewable energy, the production of biomass energy is more closely related to human activities. The Indonesian National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) utilizes wastewater from soybean-based tofu productions to produce biomass, providing renewable energy for cooking purpose. And the researcher introduced the wastewater treatment mechanisms to mitigate the waste pollution problems.

Neni Sintawardani, a senior researcher at the Research Center for Environmental and Clean Technology (PRLTB) under the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) and the main driver of the project, stated in an interview with RECCESSARY that the tofu manufacturing process produces a large amount of waste, especially wastewater, which causes serious pollution to the surrounding areas. Because this type of waste is rich in nutrients and low of pH, it can easily lead to excessive algae growth, resulting the oxygen levels in the water decreases, making it unsuitable for other organisms to grow.

 (Photo: BRIN)

According to Neni’s research data, 1 ton of soybeans can produce 4 tons of tofu and generate 15 tons of wastewater with a high chemical oxygen demand (COD). Chemical oxygen demand refers to the amount of oxygen needed to oxidize organic matter in wastewater using chemical methods. Based on the Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration website, COD data represents the organic content in the water and is an important parameter for wastewater testing.

Neni and her research teams have built an anaerobic wastewater treatment plant in Sumedang Regency, West Java, Indonesia, where the place is famous for their tofu production. The plant aims to address the wastewater issue generated during the tofu production. The biogas produced during the process is also used as an alternative energy source, capable of meeting the cooking needs of approximately 90 households in the community.

The project initially started in 2015 and was handed over to the local community for self-management 3 years later and still operates until today. Due to its significant success, the project has attracted interests from many people from other regions. However, Neni lamented the limited funding, stating, “I can give them the idea, but I can’t build the wastewater treatment plant without any funding.” Neni revealed that the initial funding for the project was SDG 150,000 (about 111,000 USD).

The Indonesian government announced the Comprehensive Investment and Policy Plant (CIPP) in November last year, with a planned investment of 20 billion USD, to expand the development of renewable energy. She also stated that the government has finally begun to pay more attention to the development of renewable energy in Indonesia, but also believes that the support should be even greater.

She believes that there’s already a considerable amount of renewable energy research in this field. However, due to some circumstances, such as regulations, they still face some problems in the implementation process. “The point is that overcoming dependence on fossil fuels at this time is not something ridiculous, as long as you don't always compare it apples to apples,” she said.

Neni’s main research areas include the wastewater treatment and community health. She actively works to improve the lives of local women and children. In 2021, she beat out the other 22 candidates from ASEAN countries and win the Underwriters Laboratories-ASEAN-U.S. Science Prize for Women. This award recognizes her innovative research contribution to the country’s sustainable development.

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