The biggest potential for growth in the gas industry lies in finding additional gas resources that can replace traditional gases used in industrial processes to generate electricity, which is the reason waste management company Interwaste is generating methane gas from its landfill sites.
“With increasing demand from the industrial sector and ongoing pressures on the country’s gas resources for the generation of sufficient power, in conjunction with demanding power constraints across South Africa, one of the biggest challenges facing the industry is access to natural gas resources,” says Interwaste landfill director Leon Grobbelaar.
Currently, and likely more so in the future, there is great demand for identifying and implementing alternative gas and fuel solutions, he adds.
“ We are already seeing many such alternatives coming into play, all of which are going to create a very interesting gas landscape in the near future.”
Grobbelaar points out that Interwaste is involved in the generation of ‘green’, or methane, gas from its landfill site in Midrand, and supplies organic waste to a 4 MW anaerobic digestion plant in Bronkhorstspruit, Gauteng, built by South African biogas waste-to-energy company Bio2Watt.
He explains that ‘green’ gas is generated from biological, naturally occurring processes. Methane gas from landfill and from anaerobic digestion is produced as a by-product of bacteria eating and breaking down organic matter.
At the landfill site, the gas is flared from wells that have been sunk into the landfill to determine gas yield projections for future use.
The gas currently being generated from the anaerobic digestion plant in Bronkhorstspruit is being used to generate electricity, which is then transmitted to automotive manufacturer BMW’s Rosslyn plant.
Bio2Watt and Interwaste supply up to 30% of the Rosslyn plant’s energy requirements from renewable sources. Interwaste also has a licence for an anaerobic digester and intends to build one at its premises in Germiston in the near future.
He notes that one of the biggest challenges for such projects is shifting the mindsets of those who have worked in the gas space for many years. Traditional models still work, but, with reduced resources, it is critical that alternatives are identified, trialled and implemented to create a less resource-intense economy.
The initial outlay for such initiatives is also a barrier to entry. However, Interwaste points out that such an investment pays itself off quickly and that the challenge is to demonstrate the returns to municipalities.
“The effective use of landfill gases in generating usable gas for electricity and other industrial [purposes] will mean a vastly different gas economy locally,” suggests Grobbelaar.
He maintains that Interwaste’s aim is to consistently offer effective waste-management practices to the market beyond the normal waste-to-landfill model and divert as much waste from landfill as possible.
“It is about finding new solutions, innovations and best practices in waste management to ensure that we deliver solutions to the market – as a by-product of the waste we collect – that are sustainable, cost-effective and environment friendly.”
Grobbelaar notes that, with alternative energy sources becoming more popular across industries, this will catapult the economy from a resource perspective and it bodes well for economic development.
In the long term, shale gas has been identified as a leading technological advancement, but he asserts that exploiting the shale gas is certainly “nowhere near ready”, given that it is still only in the testing phases.
“South Africa and North Africa have the highest potential on the continent for such gas reserves and so, over time, this will certainly become an opportunity in this sector,” Grobbelaar points out.
He adds that South Africa in particular is said to have massive potential for unconventional gases such as shale and coal-bed methane gases, ranking eighth and twelfth in the world respectively.