Bush for Power

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NAU Looks Into Using Invader Bush for Energy By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Invader bush presents a unique opportunity for farmers and other groups of people to become electricity suppliers to the Namibian market, which is faced with a power crunch. The bush, which has infested 26 000 hectares of land in the country, threatens the sustainability of the beef industry by reducing the carrying capacity of the land. Apart from losses amounting to N$100 million per annum on commercial farms, the state loses around N$13 million in tax revenue according to studies that were done in 1994. Opportunities exist to use Namibia’s bush resources for biomass energy purposes such as cooking fuel, large-scale electricity generation, charcoal production and ethanol production. This would enable the country to turn this threat into an opportunity that could partly help Namibia solve its shortage of generation capacity. According to Consulting Services Africa (CSA), these opportunities could yield significant economic benefits for the entire nation. Invader bush can be made into charcoal briquettes, which could substitute firewood especially in deforested regions; it can be used to increase charcoal exports to South Africa and Europe; produce ethanol; made into charcoal to power a charcoal power station and also to produce wood gas, which could be used in modified diesel generators for electricity production. In 1999, CSA conducted an in-depth study to determine the feasibility of using invader bush to power the Van Eck power station and a proposed new power station in Grootfontein, but this was not going to be less expensive than the price of electricity from Eskom at that time. The Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) through its Bush Utilisation and Debushing Committee has compiled a project proposal that will be submitted to donors for possible funding. Claus Hager, NAU’s Manager: Research and Development said the importance of the livestock industry should not be discounted, but that also a sustainable way of utilising wood in order to derive economical benefits from it should be considered. He said it would be a dynamic industry in renewable energy apart from increasing livestock production. One of the main options the sector is looking into is the generation of electricity from biomass, with the first thing being a feasibility study into it. “I hope we will go beyond the feasibility at some point,” he said. The technology already exists also for the production of wood gas in Namibia. Wood gas technology can be imported from South African manufacturers. A presentation prepared by CSA for the union says wood gas production is an old technology that has been refined over the years. Biomass, in this case chips of wood, is converted into wood gas, otherwise known as carbon gas, which is free of impurities. This gas can be used in modified electric generators to produce electricity by replacing 80 percent of the diesel, said Hager, adding that this would be probably a cheaper product compared to the current cost of fuel, especially if the fuel price hikes are to continue. Another option, that of ethanol production, would ensure the use of a fuel that produces less pollution than petrol. CSA says scientists have developed a highly efficient microbial-based technology to convert cellulose products such as wood into ethanol. “The potential benefits to commercial farmers, the environment, the Namibian energy sector and the Namibian economy could be immense,” says the consulting firm. It adds that large-scale sustainable bush control in Namibia will require finding a large-scale environmentally friendly use for the bush and to implement the options. The union should discuss with donor agencies to determine their impressions and initial ideas on how best to tackle bush encroachment and deforestation problems by among others coordinating with relevant authorities on the use of bush for the Van Eck power station, a decentralised electricity generation using wood gas, establishment of a Public Private Partnership in briquette manufacturing and also the establishment of an ethanol production plant in Namibia using invader bush as feedstock. While this is the case, the union feels that the sustainable solutions to invader bush would be based on the speedy establishment of the envisaged Woodlands Management Council, which would set the framework for the wood industry. “The Woodlands Management Council would need to create a conducive environment for a wood utilization industry,” Hager added. He also noted that “lucrative markets for Namibian beef already exist and no efforts should be spared to ensure the contribution the industry is making to the attainment of Vision 2030 is maintained and further developed.”