The Sustainable Approach – Powering Africa through biomass energy

Countries within the great African continent are blessed with enough resources to see them benefiting from biomass energy.

Biomass is an important source of energy and the most important fuel worldwide after coal, oil, and natural gas.

Bio-energy, which is derived from biomass, is expected to be a pivotal resource, which will contribute to global sustainable development.

Dr Segun Adaju, the Project Manager of the Bank of Industry/United Nations Development Project (UNDP), Access to Renewable Energy (AtRE) Project, notes thus: “Biomass is a clean renewable energy resource derived from the waste of various human and natural activities. It excludes organic material, which has been transformed by geological processes into substances such as coal or petroleum.”

The energy of biomass is extracted from three distinct sources, the largest energy source of biomass being wood (contributors include the timber industry, agricultural crops and raw materials from the forest); the second largest source is waste energy (main contributors are municipal solid waste and manufacturing waste); and the third largest source is alcohol fuels ‑ derived mainly from corn.

Accordingly, in the developed world, biomass should become more important for dual applications such as heat and power generation. This is so since most countries within and across the African continent have a lot of resources for biomass energy; the continent is blessed with an environment and geography that supports the growth of anything.

Importantly, biomass energy is especially relevant for Sub-Saharan Africa where over 80 percent of the population relies upon wood, crop and animal residues for meeting their household needs (mainly cooking). Notwithstanding extensive plans for electrification and provision of fossil fuels, a vast majority of households in Sub-Saharan Africa will still depend on biomass resources for their energy needs for at least the next two decades.

It is also critical to note that African countries have adequate biomass resources for biomass energy because there is waste like sawdust and/or wood chips, which should not waste away.

These countries can convert them into energy by simply putting the waste into small devices called bio-digesters, so that they can digest those waste through bacteria and the rest, scientists know more about that.

Since African countries have so many resources (biomass energy resources), developing biomass industries in the continent will have more impact and it will ease some problems affecting the development of the continent.

For instance, developing biomass industries in African countries will create more jobs; it will create adequate energy and it will solve the problem of how do we deal with waste.

To effectively use resources for biomass energy, policy makers in African governments need to know the technologies that are available and how to apply them. There are also many technologies that can be imported and used to develop local (African) technologies.

More so, to tap into these resources, the first thing is for African governments to create awareness so that people know that the waste they are even generating in their houses is actually money and it is a material to generate energy.

Crafting of policies is a crucial step if the continent is to effectively utilise its resources for biomass energy.

Adaju concurs: “We need government’s support in terms of policy so that we can be able to use our resources to generate our needs. It is not all the time we have to import what we want to consume or use so we need government’s policy to encourage production, and to support entrepreneurs.”

The World Bank’s Director for Sustainable Development in the Africa Region, Jamal Saghir, said partners now need to foster mainstreaming of biomass into national economic policies.

“The development of biomass energy is closely linked with forestry, agriculture, indoor air pollution and health, environment and climate change, rural electrification, and gender development,” he said. “And all these linkages have to be explicitly recognised and harmonised to have a unified sustainable approach.”

This means Africa must embrace biomass energy and utilise it as a developmental tool. One of the major reasons why unemployment is high in the continent and why manufacturing companies are shutting down is because of energy is insufficient. If African countries have adequate energy, there will obviously be more employed people.

Without doubt, biomass is an important source of energy and the most important fuel worldwide after coal, oil, and natural gas.

 

August 2013
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