WB 2015 – MSU Ecological Engineering in the Tropics

Costa Rica – MSU / UCR – December 26, 2015 – January 9, 2016

Dec. 30-31 – Connor


To start the day of December 30th we will be having breakfast in the city of Tilaran which is located in the northwestern region of Costa Rica. Tilaran is a small town with a population of around 2,500 people in the Guanacaste Province, located in the hills and overlooking the west shore of Lake Arena.

For more information on Tilaran: http://www.costaricadatabase.com/crdb/city.asp?action=2&q=TILAR%C1N&b=TILAR%C1N&p=5

After breakfast the group will begin our two-and-a-half-hour journey to Monte Verde to visit the University of Georgia Costa Rica Campus. Monte Verde or “green mountain” if you would like to brush up on your Spanish is such a spectacular yet fragile place that the American magazine Newsweek voted it number 14 on the list of “things to remember before they disappear”. This amazing reserve was also named by the locals in the list of “7 Natural Wonders of Costa Rica”. Renowned for its bio diverse cloud forests and bio tourist involvement from hiking of trails to zip-lining across rainforest canopies. Famous “Monte Verde Cloud Forest Reserve” shelters countless species of life known to Costa Ricans as “floras and faunas” or in English “plants and animals”. Such species include jaguars, ocelots colorfully plumed quetzal, and the largest area of naturally growing orchids on the planet. The reserve’s well-marked trails cut through ferns and orchids patches, while way overhead, hanging bridges of vines creating a forest canopy.  Known as a cloud forest due to its often “cloud/fog” filled state which is made possible because of its high elevation, proves much needed moisture that supports the vast amount of life in this forest.

For more info or activities: http://www.monteverdeinfo.com


Monte Verde is also the home of the UGACR campus, which is where our study abroad group will have lunch for the day. After lunch, we will all gather up and begin a tour of the campus’s anaerobic digester facility. For those who are unfamiliar, an anaerobic digester is a form of waste treatment which also produces useful methane gas that can later be used to create heat energy. Although there is much more to learn about these extremely interesting facilities including their functions and benefits, the UGACR uses their digester as a method of wastewater treatment and heat sources for cooking food on the campus.

For more information on UGACR: https://www.externalaffairs.uga.edu/costa_rica/


The MSU study abroad group will remain at Monte Verde until Friday January 1st performing interactive activities such as night hikes, tours of the rainforest reserve, and even taking a visit to the coffee production facility at Cafe San Luis on December. All while soaking up as much as possible about how Costa Rica takes an ecologically friendly approach to daily activities, preserve land through promoting sustainability.

For more information on Cafe San Luis: http://www.monteverdeinfo.com/cafe-monteverde-coffee-tour/DSC_0126 copy

Post Departure

Starting the morning of December 30th the group started the day in the beautiful  town of Talaran. Once finished with breakfast, we all loaded up on the bus and made the long and bumpy journey to the beautiful Monte Verde which ended up only being nearly an hour and a half drive instead of the previously estimated two and a half hour drive. When we arrived to our destination in Monte Verde, the study abroad group was warmly welcomed by the University of Georgia: Costa Rica (UGA) faculty and had our first lunch in their facility. An appreciation of the beautiful landscape and campus was immediately formed upon arrival along with delicious food grown primarily on the UGA campus. Words cannot describe the feeling that this atmosphere brings, but hopefully this will give you a better idea of the area which the study abroad group stayed.

On the first day at UGA, we were taken on a tour of the campuses anaerobic digestion systems which provide fuel for cooking all of the meals. The style of digesters used at the UGA campus are pug flow reactors supplied with pig and human waste to create biogas (methane) and perform nutrients and solid reduction of the waste. Closing out the night o December 30th the group was split into two teams and taken on an extraordinary night hike through the cloud forest on campus to observer nocturnal types of organisms. Here are some photos of interesting things that were caught on camera during the hike.

The photo on the left is a Costa Rican zebra tarantula and the photo on the right is an eyelash viper.

Starting the morning of December 31st, the study abroad group is went to the Monte Verde cloud forest biological reserve. Here we were able to observe organisms that are active during the day in their natural habitat as we hiked on trails through the cloud forest. While hiking the group decided to split into 3 sub-groups due to interest in terrain through the forest. While on the hike we observed many spectacular view-points and multiple species of birds, insects, monkeys and reptiles. Below are just a couple photos from our hike.DSC_0044 copy

Immediately after our visit to the biological reserve, we went back to the UGA campus for lunch, and then went of a walk to the Cafe San Luis coffee plantation to see a small scale coffee operation from start to finish. The unique thing about how Victor from Cafe San Luis produces his coffee is that he still used traditional methods for growing and processing his coffee beans to work to preserve the culture of how coffee is made. While on the tour it was clearly evident the love and passion that Victor had for his work; this warmed everyone’s heart and we all truly appreciated the sustainability of his methods. Victor also has a small scale plug flow bag digester on his property that we got to see. Unfortunately it was not functioning properly and this opportunity allowed us to brainstorm on why it was not operating as efficient as it should and how to fix the problem. The answer, an improper carbon to nitrogen ration within the digester reducing the biogas production. Below are some pictures from our visit to Cafe San Luis.


9 thoughts on “Dec. 30-31 – Connor

  1. What’s the history of Monte Verde? Has it always been a eco resort? If not, how long did it take for the cloud forest to be established?


  2. Based on the history of Monte Verde, there is quite an interesting story that goes along with this magnificent area. During the late 1940’s Costa Rica stabilized their army, which was an incredible feat considering they were the first country to do so. Around this same time 4 Amerian men werensentencex to prison for not registering for the draft while also struggling to afford taxes to support the war. Once released after 4 months, these men gathered a group of 44 Quakers who gladly accepted the invitation the invitation by the Costa Rican president to move there and help develop the country. In the areas near the continental divide that are now known as Santa Elena and Cerro Plano these families settled and started the first sustainable in the area, the Monte Verde cheese plant. Of the 3500 acres purchased by these families they set up a land protection plan to preserve the watershed of the mountains which began a movement in the direction of conserving the land surrounding them that provided life for their people. This information was found on http://www.monteverdetours.com/history-of-monteverde.html where if curious more about the history of Monte Verde can be found.


  3. How do you think that UGACR would benefit from increasing the influent waste to either of their digesters and in what ways could they do as much? It seems like if they wanted to produce even more energy for cooking then they could create a way to add the waste from their cows to their digester influent stream. Also, maybe they could get more pigs to increase the waste that way. This would definitely require some economic input to alter the way in which the cattle are housed (maybe restrict some to indoor use only to capture the waste) or even increase the size of the smaller digester.

    Does it seem like it would be worth it to increase their energy produced by the biodigesters in terms of money, sustainability, and other factors?


    • Considering that they claim to cook with only approximately 35% biogas, I think that if they increased their biogas output that it would definitely benefit UGACR monetarily. As far as collecting the cow waste and using it in the digester, this isn’t exact as easy as it is for the pigs. When i visited the farm to learn how to milk cows i was told that any cow manure that is produced on the paved area by actually does go into the digester, however the living space for the cows is much different for the cows than the pigs. The cows spend a majority of their time in the field grazing, while the pigs aren’t nearly as mobile and are fed from one trough. Therefore collection of their waste is much easier than going in the field and collecting cow pies. The idea of obtaining more pigs would definitely be a positive impact on the biogas production allowing them to have more energy for cooking, however the concern their is if the kitchens produce enough excess food material to sufficiently feed additional pigs. Specific values for things such as this weren’t provided, but it may be possible to have more pigs and produce more waste as long as housing facilities are adequate. Hopefully this answers your questions or at least promotes some progressive thinking.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The previous comment was left by Connor (me). I accidentally forgot that I was logged into Lauren’s WordPress profile when I made the reply while I was using her computer. I apologize for the confusion.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Just to follow up on Danielle’s question, should UGA use heat to better promote micro organism growth to further reduce the amount of bio solids that are still being produced to help generate more biogas to further reduce there independence from natural gas?


    • I think it would be great for a few of you to answer this – what does your energy and nutrient analysis of the system indicate? What is the efficiency of the system based on your calculations? We’ll discuss tomorrow, but let’s also share with our followers…


    • Using biogas to provide heat to their digester would definitely allow the system to be more efficient in biogas production by changing it to a thermophilic environment instead of mesophytic. The higher temperature would promote faster microbial growth which in turn would cause the methanogens to be more active therefore producing more methane gas for cooking/heating. The only issue with this method for this system in specific would be properly heating the digester along with maintaining an anaerobic environment since it is a bag design system. Not to say it impossible, but it definitely would be a bit more difficult than if say the tank was made of stainless steal instead of a plastic product.


  5. My urban planning analysis indicates that anaerobic digestion impacts the environment less than traditional waste disposal methods, as we have hypothesized and learned throughout this week. By assessing the carbon emissions created by one family, I was able to affirm our ideas mathematically.

    Additionally, I agree with Dan that UGACR would benefit from expanding its biodigesting systems. It seems the source of hot water heating needs reevaluation. Many facilities across Costa Rica have employed a low-pressure-high-temperature system that promotes sustainability. That system, in combination with increased capacity in both biodigesters could possibly increase the quality of life within the dorms.


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