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Anaerobic Digestion in South Africa illustrated by image showing a biogas plant.

Anaerobic Digestion in South Africa – Biogas an Untapped Renewable Resource

The adoption of Anaerobic Digestion in South Africa is at an early stage in what will be a large and productive local industry if developed to even a small proportion of its full potential. For anyone familiar with the country it must be undeniable that they have large untapped renewable resources in all forms of renewable energy. The only clear exception is hydro-power in such a dry country.

Recently the reporter Halima Frost got together with the Secretary of the national trade body for the biogas industry, and wrote the following analysis of the potential for anaerobic digestion and biogas in South Africa:

The following article is republished with permission from Creamer Media's Engineering News:

 Twofold benefits of investment in biofuels

The South African biogas sector can attract up to R250-billion in local and international investment and contribute to a 15% reduction in the total greenhouse gas emissions generated by the country, says Southern African Biogas Industry Association (Sabia) general secretary Alberto Borello.

“The local biogas sector in 2020 includes 30 industrial-scale biogas plants and about 300 micro digesters, with the potential to establish 2,400 industrial biogas plants by 2030.”

Currently, the installation of 1,250 MW may be financially viable and can contribute to the creation of 30,000 permanent jobs and 142,000 temporary jobs.

Speaking at the inaugural World Biogas eFestival, hosted online by the World Biogas Association (WBA), last month, Borello said the amount of organic waste that South Africa is collecting and disposing to landfills could easily be converted into biogas and generate more than 10 GW of power.

He pointed out that biogas plants are the best solution for the organic waste management crisis.

Sabia promotes the production of biogas through the installation of biogas technologies at agri-industry processing facilities, urban wastewater treatment plants, and livestock farms.

Image is from Sabia showing biogas potential by numbers.

Borello further highlighted Sabia’s strategic vision, which includes the complete banning of organic and/or food waste entering a landfill site, consequently resulting in the introduction of separate organic waste collection for treatment at biogas facilities across South Africa.

He also discussed the recent ban on the disposal of organic liquid into landfills and the implementation of a separate collection for organic by-products in the major urban areas. This will then necessitate the construction of plants to process the organic liquid and transform the municipal organic waste into a resource.

Sabia also hopes to set targets for the recycling of biodegradable wastes and feedstocks, as well as promote the development, support, and creation of its payment for ecosystem services tariff to stimulate the recovery of organic residues.

Borello pointed out that, in the past five years, Sabia worked very closely with public institutions to expedite the implementation of the legislation for the reuse of the organic waste available since 2016, the development of environmental norms and standards for biogas projects, as well as the exclusion of biogas plants from the air-emission licence.

Global Presence

Borello has been selected to serve as a member of the newly formed World Biogas Association (WBA) Council, announced in the UK last month.

He enthuses that this is an opportunity to be a change-agent in the biogas industry for South Africa. “I am extremely honoured to serve on the WBA Council on behalf of Sabia.”

Being part of the WBA Council will increase the cooperation between the two organisations, with reciprocal benefits.

The role of the council will be to help provide a strategic vision for the WBA’s activities and to help clarify the major barriers to achieving the 12% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030 goal, according to the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The council hopes to achieve this by providing guidance on how to overcome those barriers in a way that will support the development of the biogas sector globally.

Further, the council hopes to aid in the creation of alliances and partnerships for the association and its members, as well as feeding into the association’s reports and publications.

Borello says Sabia and the WBA have worked closely over the past two years to achieve important goals in terms of the promotion of the biogas sector.

Sabia will continue to have access to studies, resources and reports, and gain insight from the lessons learned by countries that have successfully developed biogas sectors.

The WBA, in turn, will continue to have access to not only information regarding biogas policy development but also eventual business opportunities in South Africa, with assistance from Sabia.

— End of Engineering News Article —

Sabia Map of existing biogas plants in South Africa.

South African Biogas Potential Is Very Similar To Most Nations

The evidence is in and the global perspective is: Renewable energy is viable, reliable, and ready to goall that’s missing is the political will to kick start an energy revolution in South Africa.

An eloquent article by Greenpace said it all, back in 2016, and we quote:

Right now, renewable energy is actually already cheaper than coal and nuclear power at every step.

  • A unit of electricity from Eskom’s new coal plants cost about R0,80/kWh, from nuclear R1,00/kWh while a unit of electricity from solar photovoltaic cost R0,80/kWh and from wind only R0,60/kWh.
  • In addition, there are no input costs for wind and solar energy [and the anaerobic digestion of waste biomass]. So for example, while one needs to buy coal for a coal-fired power plant to generate electricity (and coal mining itself has massive environmental costs), solar and wind energy don’t have input costs like that – sunlight and wind are free.
  • Besides, the Greenpeace (SA) report shows that there could be about 7.6 million jobs in Africa by 2020 in the renewable energy sector and about 10 million by 2030. via Renewable Energy Myths (as recently archived)

First Posted on 12 May 2018:

SA Falling Behind on Renewable Energy

May 2018: South Africa is falling behind on renewable energy project implementation, even as other nations accelerate their plans for green energy.

According to data from Greenbyte, a renewable energy management systems manufacturer, SA lags far behind fellow BRICS country China which has 188 232MW (megawatts) of wind power capacity and 106 921MW of solar energy capacity.

SA has just 2,094MW of wind and 1,450MW of solar capacity.

Environmental activist organisation Greenpeace said the problem lay with renewable energy policy implementation.

“We have been stuck in a black hole for over two years while Eskom refused to sign the power purchase agreements for the recently approved 27 renewable energy independent power producer (IPP) projects, which has created massive policy uncertainty in the renewable energy space,”

said Nhlanhla Sibisi, Greenpeace Africa Climate and Energy campaigner for Anaerobic Digestion in South Africa.

“The utility was effectively holding the country to ransom, and national government did not intervene to ensure that the renewable energy projects went ahead. Added to this, the lack of an incentivising framework for rooftop solar and Eskom's own lack of investment in renewable energy have created a significant under-investment in renewable energy,”

Sibisi said.

We headlined this article “Anaerobic Digestion in South Africa”, but some readers will be more familiar with the terminology of “biodigesters”. Others would classify this topic as being connected with “waste to energy”, and of course, biogas plants are also, no doubt, referred to as “waste to energy plant” in RSA.

The following are excerpts from other (older) news items about Anaerobic Digestion in South Africa:

Behind-the-scenes look at the BMW Bio2Watt biogas plant (in 2015)

Image illustrates Anaerobic Digestion in South Africa.BMW South Africa recently announced it had started using green energy at its Rosslyn plant in Pretoria.

The announcement followed an agreement with Bio2Watt, enabling BMW’s Rosslyn plant to receive 25% to 30% of its electricity requirements from renewable sources.

The BMW South Africa/Bio2Watt renewable energy partnership is the first commercially-viable biogas project in SA.

The Bio2Watt biogas plant in Bronkhorstspruit is located on the premises of one of South Africa’s larger feedlots – Beefcor.

The location provides the project with proximity to key fuel supplies; grid access; and a sufficient water supply from Beefcor’s stormwater collection dams.

The biogas process relies on organic waste, which is directed into a digester where biogas is produced. This gas is then used to produce electricity, which is inserted into the power grid for uptake by power purchasers like BMW.

At the Bronkhorstspruit biogas plant, about 40,000 tons of cattle manure and 20,000 tons of mixed organic waste are fed annually into two anaerobic digesters that produce biogas.

The Bio2Watt plant in Bronkhorstpruit has the capacity to generate 4.4MW, and Bio2Watt [said in 2015 that it was] establishing more anaerobic digestion projects in South Africa.  via BehindBMWBio2Watt

The relatively low number of anaerobic digestion facilities in South Africa is even more surprising when you consider the quality of the locally available training, as provided in the video below:

South African Biogas Basics – Presentation by Mark Tiepelt on Biogas Basics in SA.

Conclusion – South Africa has real bio-energy potential

“South Africa definitely has exploitable bio-energy potential,”

stated Council for Scientific and Industrial Research principal engineer Crescent Mushwana at the launch of the South Africa Bio-energy Atlas in Pretoria.

Bio-energy is feasible from organic waste, residues from forestry and agriculture [lignocellulose], and eradication of alien invasive plants.”

“These all amount to ‘low-hanging fruits‘. ”

“The economic viability of biofuels from purposely cultivated crops is currently negatively affected by the low price of oil.”

Organic wastes are turned into biogas using simple devices called digesters.

Basically, these are air-tight containers in which a biological process called anaerobic digestion takes place. Ideally, the temperature has to be controlled for optimal efficiency. The result is a mixture of methane (the major part) and carbon dioxide gas. The methane can be used as fuel to generate electricity. The residues can be used as fertiliser.

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    • Abram Smit
    • May 26, 2018

    Howzit my china? Hundreds. What Eskom refuses to do. Eskom refuses to do man. Those okes are first going to have a fat indaba about what to braai.

    • R Lewis
    • June 2, 2018

    Don’t portray a totally black picture of south Arfican biogas developments. In response to business interest and requests for information, GreenCape has developed a report on the business case for biogas from solid wastes in the Western Cape. The report highlights the current status of biogas in the Western Cape and explores the drivers for financial feasibility.

    2017 status was as in the report which showcases 5 of the 21 biogas projects currently in existence or being planned. While the business case is highly site specific some general requirements for success are identified. You may easily be too negative. Thanks for your article.

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