The South African biogas industry is in its infancy and its true potential has not yet been realised, South African Biogas Industry Association (Sabia) VP Eddie Cooke said at a conference held in association with the Southern African-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in Johannesburg, on Tuesday.
He stated that more education was needed to further develop the industry and raise awareness of the benefits of biogas.
“There are many opportunities surrounding the treatment of biowaste in South Africa, including the construction of waste treatment facilities in rural areas, which would have the added benefit of providing an alternative energy source in remote areas where there is no electricity infrastructure,” Cooke said.
He noted that from a larger commercial point of view, industries would be able to use their own waste to produce heat and electricity and, in turn, reduce their carbon footprint and operational costs.
Cooke further pointed out that municipalities and government should start applying waste towards the production of biogas for electricity, energy, heat and thermal applications, as well as compressed biogas for transport in the public sector.
“This would reduce the country’s reliance on crude oil imports and reduce our trade deficit,” he stated.
Cooke highlighted that major challenges in the industry, however, included the fact that there was no feed-in tariff for biogass and that there was a general lack of experience in the biogas sector in the country.
“There are also challenges around financial viability, specifically on a smaller scale. There is an excessively long approval process for biogas projects,” he said, adding that banks were also reluctant to provide funding for biogas projects.
He added that biogas could be a job creating catalyst for the country and that additional income would be generated from recycling the waste used for biogas.
Southern African-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry Southern African Development Community manager Jens Hauser, meanwhile, told delegates at the conference that biogas could, in the long term, contribute to South Africa’s economic growth.
He highlighted that, owing to its labour-intensive nature, the biogas sector had the potential to create more jobs than solar or wind energy projects.
“There are many different skill levels [required by the sector] ranging from blue collar, unskilled workers, to highly trained engineers and technicians. There is a large range of potential jobs available, especially in rural areas,” he said.
Also speaking at the conference South African National Energy Development Institute Working for Energy senior manager David Mahuma said targeted interventions were required to develop a sustainable market for biogas projects in South Africa.
He pointed out that, in rural applications, switching from fuelwood and paraffin to biogas could potentially have major health and safety benefits such as less pollution and a lower risk of fires.
“It would also encourage responsible waste disposal,” he noted.
Meanwhile, Hauser pointed out that there was a fair chance that South African companies could participate in the biogas industry with more ease than in other renewable energy sectors.
“Looking at wind-energy development, for example, there is overcapacity on a global scale. Even though there is a [domestic programme] running that creates new wind projects, it is fairly small for an industry to set up a factory, owing to the competitive nature of the programme,” he explained.
He noted that the bioenergy industry could build on the back of sectors that were already well developed in South Africa, such as pumps, steel tanks, electric drives and agitators.
“Companies dealing in these industries could easily move into the biogas market,” he noted.