Mt. Everest is overrun with human feces. Each year during climbing season–which starts this week and runs through May–climbers leave an estimated 26,500 pounds of human poop on the mountain. For years much of the waste has been bagged by Sherpas and discarded in a village called Gorak Shep, that sits at 16,942 feet. But the pits there are getting full and the bacteria from the feces endanger clean water in the area. It’s “become a problem that is causing pollution and threatening to spread disease on the world’s highest peak,” according to Nepal’s mountaineering chief.
A senior engineer with the Seattle-based Mount Everest Biogas Project, Nate Janega wants to convert the human waste to methane gas. It’s a common practice–cow manure is converted to fuel all the time–but the Everest elevation creates a challenge for the machines, called biogas digesters. The process needs a warmer climate than Gorak Shep can offer. So Janega and his team are building a new model biogas digester that will maintain the heat it needs through solar panels and insulation.