Promising biomass conversion results for Namibia

biofuelss09 November 2013, Windhoek – A study conducted on Namibia’s biomass processing for energy production indicated that biomass from bush encroachment is a prospective fuel source by saving of fossils fuels, securing of agricultural productivity and preserving the environment.

The study was conducted by STEAG Energy Services GmbH in colaboration with Transworld Cargo between February and October 2013 on a budget of N$1 million. The results of the study where presented to stakeholders by researchers of STEAG Energy Services on Thursday morning this week. According to statistics provided by the study, bush encroachment affects 26 million to 30 million hectares of farmland and is estimated to cause overall economic losses of N$ 1.6 billion a year.

However, at the same time, bush
encroachment constitutes an immense economic opportunity as well as a potential energy asset. Biomass as a national energy source has great potential to play a major future role in the national energy supply of the country. Effective debushing programmes not only contribute to increase agricultural productivity, they also have an effect on improving the national energy supply base, which has the potential to increase self-sufficiency in energy and to bridge a demand gap of energy supply expected to take effect as of 2016.

The national energy generation capacity in the country totals up to approximately 500 mW and even with the recent upgrading of the Ruacana power station, the country’s own production of power is not sufficient for the total national power demand. Even more so is the fact that a high amount of electricity is imported from neighbouring countries which is said to be cheaper than the self-production as a result of higher local power productions costs.

According to the study, in order to avoid a possible demand gap from the year 2016 onward, new power generation capacities have to be realised. This includes rehabilitating the Van Eck power station near Windhoek. This project is expected to be completed in 2014/2015.

The identified biomass utilisation options focus on local consumption and export opportunities. Findings show that local utilisation of biomass for power generation is based on favourable “leveled costs of energy production” which are in the range of N$1.0 to N$1.1 per kilowatt hour.

The value is lower than previous estimates but corresponds to international benchmarks of biomass power plants and power generation.

Priority utilisation options identified by the study include decentralised biomass power plants, decentralised hybrid power plants based on biomass and solar as well as biomass fuel supply including wood chips, white pellets and bio-coal for industrial and power generation applications.

The production of biomass fuels for national and foreign markets would include torrefied biomass (bio-coal/black pellets), biomass pellets (white pellets) and biomass chips.Potential priority markets would include Windhoek and the Erongo region as well as biomass supply for Europe.

All these areas are said to have potential high-volume demand for biomass. The study also found that although there is no real bio-coal market established in Namibia, these pellets can have a wide spectrum of applications.

Bio-coal pellets or so-called black pelets are superior to white pellets with regard to bulk and energy density and overall transportability, but marketing opportunities for bio-coal pellets are currently not available in Namibia due to a general lack of production and familiarity with the product.

However the potential of bio-coal pellets could be much higher than biomass pellets because their material properties are close to fossil coal, hence, according to the study, a fossil coal can be better substituted by bio-coal than by usual biomass pellets. Okahandja was chosen as a potential site for the decentralised biomass power plant.

A full feasibility study on site evaluation, technologies, biomass sourcing, employment effects and economics will then be conducted to draw the outlines of a realistic scheme.

– Namibia Economist

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