South African biofuels industry slowly growing

19th September 2014 By: Jonathan Rodin

Although a fledgling industry, biofuels in South Africa looks promising, owing to the high volumes of waste being produced that need to be managed and South Africa’s electricity constraints, says power technology, systems and solutions, equipment and aftermarket service provider Clyde Bergemann Africa.

“There is definitely a place for biofuels in South Africa as a future industry because it can enable companies to fill the gap in the case of a power shortage so that the business can continue,” highlights Clyde Bergemann Africa executive director Jeremy Kirsch.

He explains that the company’s involvement in the biofuels industry can be attributed to Clyde Bergemann Power Group’s experience in Europe.

“Although Europe has had experience of biofuels for longer than South Africa, one of the main drivers of the local biofuels industry is the ever-increasing price of primary energy sources – the cost of coal, oil and gas and the resultant cost these have on the price of electricity.”

Further, Kirsch points out that the cost of disposing of biowaste through historical and traditional techniques in Southern Africa, such as landfill and burial, has increased to the point where the investment in waste-to-energy plants is becoming viable.

Currently, biofuel projects in South Africa are subsidised by State-owned enterprises such as Eskom.

Kirsch says that, for a project to develop as an independent venture and generate profit – thereby leading to the subsequent development of the biofuels industry – there needs to be a market that is large enough to absorb the product.

The use of fossil fuels means that a finite resource is being depleted. The more it is used, the scarcer it becomes, resulting in increased prices, he adds.

Further, Kirsch notes that successfully using biofuels will lead to a fully renewable resource being realised, resulting in “energy being farmed.”

However, the use of biobased fuels and waste-to-energy power generation results in different types of operational problems in the power generation industry.

This gives rise to the use of a range of technology which Clyde Bergemann Power Group has developed to manage these operational issues, enabling the systems to operate efficiently and effectively.

These include boiler cleaning technologies, materials handling technologies, for the supply of fuel to the boiler, as well as handling the solid by-products of combustion and the technology for air pollution control.

Another area of expertise brought to the biofuels industry by Clyde Bergemann is energy recovery and heat recovery systems to ensure that the most efficient use is made of the available energy derived from biofuels.

Further, Kirsch explains, the biofuels and waste-to-energy market in Southern Africa is a fledgling industry, but that the market has many of the necessary elements for this industry to grow significantly in the future.

Rising traditional energy costs, the significantly increased cost of disposing of biowastes through traditional methods, the decreasing security of power supply in Southern Africa and the advent of suitable technologies to exploit energy available in biofuels and biowastes – all these begin to make this entirely feasible.

He explains that the two key ingredients for creating biofuels are sunlight and water. Although there is an abundance of sunlight in South Africa, water is scarce, with the contrary being the case in Europe.
South Africa is still trying to “find its feet” in terms of sensible regulation, says Kirsch.

He adds that “it is difficult to deduce” when South Africa will be able to adequately exploit biofuels, as exploitation needs to take place on a large scale to make it economically feasible.

However, Kirsch highlights that the company has been involved in several early projects in Southern Africa and regards biofuels and waste-to-energy as a growing market in which it aims to remain involved.