Scaling-up modern bioenergy in Africa – what next?

Modern bioenergy production could become an important part of the energy solution in Sub-Saharan Africa, addressing the challenge of increasing energy demand and improving energy access for poor people by making use of the large amount of biomass residues which are produced as a by-product of agricultural value chains. However, in spite of significant and growing investment, few of the bioenergy plants for electricity production at the sub-5MW scale in Africa are successfully operating. What are the barriers – and solutions? Where should investment focus for greatest success?

E4tech recently completed in-depth research and analysis for the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) on the barriers and opportunities for uptake of bioenergy technology at the sub-5MW scale (excluding households) in Sub-Saharan Africa. The work was undertaken together with LTS International and the University of Edinburgh.

Through 18 biogas and gasification plant visits and wide-ranging literature review and stakeholder consultation, the study found that:
• Anaerobic Digestion (AD) is the most suitable technology for replication at this scale and there is considerable commercial investment.
• However, among the 12 Anaerobic Digestion sites visited, only three were technically and commercially viable. These three had a concentrated feedstock available on-site, had an overt commercial orientation and had managed to successfully valorise several of their outputs.

There is clear potential for AD in SSA. To help to unlock the potential of additional deployment, future research for AD should focus on understanding waste and by-product feedstock availability from key industries; adapting technology better to local conditions while reducing cost; and developing more viable business models. In contrast, the barriers encountered for gasification suggest that further research at this point is unlikely to help scale up and increase future deployment.
The findings have important implications for modern bioenergy investment in Sub-Saharan Africa. DfID are using these findings to shape their future research investment in bioenergy. The report was well-received at the AEBIOM European Bioenergy Future conference in Brussels and also the FAO/GIZ Investa workshop in Rome, presented by Senior Consultant Ralph Ripken. The detailed Technology country case study report and the Executive Summary of the final project report can be found here.

Learn more about E4tech’s work in Biomass Systems here.

Top row (left to right): AD plant at Finlay Tea, Kericho, Kenya; Community gasifier in Ssekanyonyi, Uganda; Locations of visited AD plants.
Bottom row (left to right): AD plant at HPW, Adeiso, Ghana; AD plant at SOGAS Abattoir, Dakar, Senegal; Location of visited gasification plants.

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