Renewable-energy and waste disposal solutions provider Global Energy has constructed a fully operational biogas demonstration plant using technology that has been designed to be more cost effective, manufactured locally and simpler to operate and maintain.
The plant aims to showcase the potential for biogas in South Africa and demonstrate the capabilities of Global Energy’s new technology, which has been specifically developed for application in Africa.
The company has invested R1.2-million in the development of a functioning plant on a cucumber, tomato and herb farm, between the towns of Malmesbury and Wellington, in the Western Cape.
The plant is producing biogas for the generation of electricity, and is in the final commissioning stages. It uses discarded organic produce from the farm as feedstock for the biodigester and currently processes 2.5 t/d of organic waste and is fully scalable up to 1 MW.
Global Energy directors Henry Thomson and Terence Sundgren state that biogas has great potential in the renewable-energy space. They explain that biogas technology has the ability to greatly diversify South Africa’s energy mix by adding electrical and heat energy to the energy grid while offering a viable clean organic-waste disposal method.
Since interested parties want proof that a biogas plant can operate successfully in South Africa, “the purpose of the project is to bolster market confidence. While it may not be the cheapest method of generating electricity, its combined benefits of waste management and diversified energy production make it a worthwhile investment for many private-sector industries”, explains Thomson.
Global Energy has been developing biogas technology for the past 18 months that is simple, affordable and efficient. The company uses anaerobic digestion principles, which have been well established through tried-and-tested European technologies, and scaled them down to a more feasible application for South Africa.
Sundgren states that the company has “taken proven designs and modified them to reduce costs and allow for local technology and equipment to be used in the production process”.
Using local technology has enabled Global Energy to significantly reduce the costs associated with biogas plant installation and upkeep, Thomson adds. Global Energy currently has two patents pending on this new technology and expects the plant to be open for viewing by prospective clients by the end of this month.
Local Biogas Industry
South Africa’s biogas industry is years behind the rest of the world, particularly European countries, in terms of uptake, predominantly owing to the costs associated with establishing a viable biogas plant, says Sundgren.
“South Africa’s biogas industry is truly in its infancy, with only a handful of companies currently active. “The local biogas industry is not subsidised and supported like Europe’s biogas industry and we have no local original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs) because of the industry being so small.”
He says local companies interested in biogas technology have to import OEM equipment from Europe that is not designed to be financially feasible within the local context and is very costly to import and install.
Thomson adds that local industry growth was further stunted by the failure of several large biogas plant start-up projects during the past two years. He states that project uncertainty, spurred by recent failures and significant associated costs, created uncertainty among investors and interested parties.
Local businesses and investors have shown mounting interest in biogas technologies amid harsher landfill restrictions and mounting energy costs, he emphasises. “In the Western Cape, for instance, local government has decided to restrict organic waste from landfill with the intent of eradicating organic waste to landfills by 2027.”
Thomson explains that biogas presents an attractive waste-management solution, which provides the added benefits of producing electricity, heat and enriched composts from unwanted organic waste materials while ensuring compliance to stricter waste management legislations.
“Global Energy fully expects that its new, Africa-focused technology, will disrupt the renewables sector,” concludes Sundgren.