Biomass solution brings new energy to degraded land

31st March 2017 By: Dylan Slater - Creamer Media Staff Writer and Photographer

A case study on renewable-energy development in conjunction with community upliftment has led to a proposal for biomass production and a 2 MW bioenergy power plant to be built in the Merafong local municipality, west of Johannesburg.

Mine rehabilitor and bioenergy/waste-to-energy power generation company Harambe Sustainable Ventures will develop the project.

The feasibility study – the Merafong Case Study for Renewable Energy and Community Upliftment – conducted by carbon and climate change advisory firm Promethium Carbon highlighted that degraded land can be used to create renewable energy solutions for communities.

The study, which was presented in Johannesburg on March 17, is funded by the Prosperity Fund under the British High Commission, stationed in Pretoria. At the same time, Promethium Carbon also launched an updated and extended Renewable Energy Toolkit.

The renewable energy project is aimed at diversifying the economic activities within the Merafong area and reducing the dependence of the local economy on mining, thereby building community resilience.

In addition, the local municipality, in conjunction with the West Rand district municipality, is developing a bioenergy industrial park where projects such as this have the required regulatory support for development.

The renewable-energy project will enhance low-carbon power production with reduced emissions, using the biomass energy source of grass, thereby contributing to South Africa’s national greenhouse-gas mitigation efforts, as well as restoring the local grasslands to their original, premining state.

Sites for the biomass production and bioenergy plant were identified for the Merafong bioenergy project through interaction with mining companies operating in the Carletonville area of the Merafong local municipality.

Promethium Carbon director Robbie Louw says this project will further open the power generation market in South Africa to small businesses, enabling them to develop small- scale renewable-energy projects for commercial use.

A by-product of the biomass production is biochar, which can also be used by land rehabilitators for remediating soil by increasing its carbon content. The bioenergy plant will also produce heat as a by-product, which can be used in cogeneration by new industries in the vicinity of the biomass power plant that have been attracted to the area. This heat can be used to heat water or in heat-exchangers for air-conditioning purposes.

The bio-energy plant will use a pyrolysis plant that will suppply heat energy to an Organic Rankine Cycle generator set.

Funding for the project will depend on a mix of equity, debt and concessionary funding. Debt funding will be secured from local institutions such as the Industrial Development Corporation, the Development Bank of Southern Africa and commercial banks. The loan will be paid back using revenue from the sales of electricity and biochar.