Bioenergy Potentials iin West Africa
By Kshitij Goyal, India (PPRE 2016/18)
The energy demand of West Africa is characterized by high dependence on traditional biomass and hence the challenges of access to clean, efficient and modern energy services, particularly cooking energy. The challenges relate to the widespread use of fuelwood (firewood and charcoal) extracted from the natural forest in an unsustainable manner. According to the energy balance of the region (2015), about 68% of the total energy demand for overall energy mix for most countries in West Africa comes from traditional biomass. In addition, almost 84% of the population use wood and charcoal for domestic cooking.
The consequence of unsustainable and inefficient utilization of wood resources is contributing to the destruction of the natural forest, smoke-related health problems and overall environmental challenges in the region. Other consequences of unsustainable harvest and utilization of forest resources, leading to deforestation and other environmental challenges, is the direct effect on food production thereby negatively affecting food security.
Over the past years, several national governments took various intervention strategies to reduce the heavy dependence of the populations on traditional biomass by:
(i) Promoting efficient cookstoves for both wood and charcoal
(ii) Implementation of plantation and woodlot projects to supplement the wood requirements of the populations for both the construction industry and for cooking
(iii) Promote alternative cooking fuels such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and kerosene
(iv) Promotion of renewable energy resources including biogas, biomass produced from agro-industrial waste and invasive plant species such as ‘typha australis’.
The national interventions of the past had mixed results with some intervention having little success. However some of the gains made were eroded by increases in populations particularly in the urban areas as the demand for fuelwood increases as a result.
One of the key barriers identified in promoting sustainable and efficient production and use of biomass and modern Bioenergy relate to adhoc and unplanned approaches. Most of the countries in the region either do not have policy frameworks or no guiding principles when it comes to planning and implementation of biomass supply and demand. However, there are opportunities of producing and using modern, sustainable and efficient bioenergy products and services.
The following strategic approaches provide opportunities for bioenergy production and utilization:
- Production and utilization of sustainable bioenergy services (including the use of efficient stoves, production of briquettes and sustainable production of biofuels) that support increased food production, etc.
- Better management and expansion of the natural forest resources that support socio-economic development in the rural and periurban areas through sustainable management techniques.
- Encourage increase food production and processing to add value for employment creation and income generation through increased and efficient agricultural production, the utilization of the produce & products to address food security as a priority.
- Utilizing the agricultural/food residue for transformation into biofuels to increase energy access and alleviate poverty, including energy poverty.
- Encourage production of non-food energy crops on already identified and agreed lands, taking into consideration identified sites for production of food, feed and fibre, biodiversity and other environmental considerations.
- Encourage, where possible, efficiency in the entire value chain of production on biomass and bioenergy fuels and devices and their utilization.
Potentials for bioenergy in the region can therefore be summarised in the following programme of activities:
- Promotion of cleaner, alternative and efficient modern cooking fuels and stoves: New, efficient and modern fuels and stoves including bioethanol, methanol, biogas, briquettes and very efficient improved cookstoves. Modern fuels and stoves provide opportunities in the production, processing and marketing for socio-economic transformation and employment generation particularly in the rural areas. Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) is not a biofuel but can be used as a substitute for traditional biomass because of its cleanliness and efficiency.
- Efficient production and use of energy resources: Sustainable and more efficient production of wood and biomass resources such as charcoal and their use to maximise output.
- Agro-industrial waste:
- Briquetting and carbonization of agro-industrial waste for ease of carrying and use. Various processes are used including carbonisation and then briquetting and vice versa. Some of the agro-industrial wastes include groundnut shell, cotton stalks and also an invasive plant called typha australis.
- Biogas: Biogas production from animal/human waste provides opportunities that are yet to be fully exploited. The use of municipal liquid waste could also be used for biogas production. The opportunities are broad and not only in the domestic sector but in institutional, commercial and industrial sectors for cooking, power generation or lighting.
- Municipal Solid Waste (MSW): The use of this waste as a source of energy has not been exploited. Unfortunately, residents of municipalities pay for the waste collection only to be dumped or buried with negative health, social and environmental consequences. Yet, technology has evolved for transformation of any type of waste into energy. This means of deriving energy from waste has multiple benefits to the consumer: cleaner and healthier environment, energy access and savings on fuel cost.
- Better Forest management: The concept of forest management needs to be reinforced for efficient and effective harvesting of forest resources in a sustainable manner. Several forestry management concepts were developed and tested in the 1990s including Community Forestry, Joint Forest Park Management and Community Controlled State Forest. Effective participation of rural communities in forest management for sustainability and efficiency is crucial. Development of institutional, legal and organizational reforms for the development of these concepts is however required to implement and enforce better forest management. The forest resources of the region, if better managed, could provide sustainable supply of fuelwood.
- Biofuel production: Biodiesel and Bioethanol: The cultivation and production of biofuels provide some opportunity to rural communities in providing modern and efficient fuels. However, the issue of sustainability in the production and utilization, especially when it comes to growing of crop only for energy purposes, is critical. The ECOWAS Bioenergy Strategy encourages production of bio-crops from only approved land allocations and using agreed crops within the countries. In the production and processing of the crops, consideration should be given to the aspects of water, land and other natural environment using the GBEP Sustainability Indicators, UNEP/FAO Decision Support Tools, etc.
- Biodiesel for Multifunctional Platform (MFP): MFP is a multi-faceted device powered by a diesel engine with multiple functions performed simultaneously. It produces energy for electricity that can be used for productive purposes, while pumping water, charging battery and cereal grinding simultaneously. The MFP is being used in some countries for providing energy access to rural communities in the ECOWAS region. The use of biodiesel/pure plant oil (PPO) as a source of fuel on the MFP make it attractive in some rural communities producing their own fuel to provide energy services.
- Bioelectricity generation: Electricity generation from biomass at scales ranging from a few kilowatts for rural village to megawatts offers opportunity to increase energy access at reasonable rates. In some countries, biomass residues are huge and provide opportunity for such services.