The energy and food sector cross-over is fast tracking its way in West Africa, with the impetus being placed on electricity access and job creation – with energy access a key priority for many African regions, creating an economically sustainable production of renewable energy remains high.
Establishing a ‘sustainable industry within the community’ remains the key theme for newly formed energy and agriculture group, Wesaf Energy, who are exploring this growing market. The founders have identified ethanol, a bi-product of sugarcane, as a reliable and sustainable feedstock, which will be a huge driver for local content.
Bioethanol: a sustainable feedstock
The firm has set up a pilot project in the rural village of Inokun in the Manyu Division of South West Cameroon, which is the first of many to be installed in rural communities in the region. According to the energy firm, Brazil, India and the US are the leaders in global sugar and ethanol production respectively, and have championed successful production models that have shaped the biofuels industry.
Studies showed that the energy firm could follow suit and aim for capacity of between 2-3 million fuel gallons of ethanol per year on their nucleus estate, which will be on 322 hectares of land owned by the company – based on feedstock availability from the estate and out-growers.
Through careful technical planning and feasibility analysis, the firm believes the advancements of accessible technology and intentional power generation by installing a solar farm to supply the plant and create surplus.
The self-sufficiency of sugarcane ethanol plants from bagasse means that we can eliminate any utility cost as a conscious drive to keep operating costs low – being profitable, low maintenance and efficient are ultimately our main goals.
Cameroon does not yet have a blending policy in place but there is ethanol demand in Cameroon mainly as potable alcohol for the beverage industry. Reinforcing the decision to opt for a flexible production strategy.
Distillers in Cameroon have already expressed interest. The firm has explored the use of ethanol stoves and has collaborated with west and east African company in regards to the provision of ethanol stoves in Cameroon. These low cost clean burning stoves would be the perfect alternative to firewood burning, which has adverse effects on health.
It is estimated that 1 litre of ethanol will last for between 5-7 hours on one of the stoves and Wesaf would aim to supply both the stoves and the ethanol at affordable costs for inhabitants of rural communities.
Sugarcane ethanol production comes with the added bonus of energy co-generation. This factor can have a huge impact on the village of Inokun and its surrounding area.
The idea is to be able to produce enough electricity through bagasse and incorporate solar and hydropower units to produce additional electricity for auxiliary power to the plant, a surplus for the village and surrounding area.
The firm's solar unit will be set up in Phase 1 of the pilot project. Access to this electricity will be under the remit of the firm's co-operative who will negotiate off take agreements for the disbursement of the power with local distributors.
Wesaf's chief technical partner has a rich history in setting up ethanol facilities in East Africa and in addition has a huge interest in bringing this growth to West Africa.
Discussions for a full EPC contract with them are well-advanced and financial execution also at an advanced stage. We envisage starting work on the ground in early 2017.
Driving agricultural growth
The energy company's agribusiness is the second arm of the business, which runs in tandem with its ethanol programme. Through the Wesaf co-operative farming association, out growers programmes for sugarcane for ethanol production will be set up.
This method has been implemented successfully by the Kakira sugar company in Uganda who boast an out growers network of nearly 3,000 farmers providing cane for the plant.
Taking note of the success of other successful sugar and ethanol producers in Africa is invaluable, as their examples can be used to achieve our own ambitions.
Development of the farmers is also very important and helping each farmer improve his ability to grow a better crop is not only valuable to the individual but to the co-operative in terms of greater produce to market globally meaning wealth generation for the members and the company as a whole.
Preserving raw products
Introducing cold storage rooms for the preservation of produce will also be a feature of our facility. One problem that was identified from a study, is the lack of proper storage.
Farmers must charge base rates for their produce and in some cases throw some away, as there is a short life expectancy, due to the lack of a facility to store produce properly.
With an adequate cool storage facility, goods can be can be marketed at fairer rates and help get the produce of the region to further markets through careful harvest, cool and store produce with export in mind.
The Cameroonian government has now incorporated a renewable energy law in 2015 paving the way for independent renewable energy projects.
The legislation provides tax breaks, vat exemptions in all areas, and even provides an obligation for local utility providers to purchase a quantity of electricity from renewable providers.
These satellite projects will contribute towards the alleviation of poverty among rural communities.
This can be achieved both through the buying of local cane and other raw materials sourced but also from the creation of jobs in various different facets of the project.
Inokun has an educated and willing population ready to work and we see this as huge encouragement to create opportunities for people of all interests giving them earnings, which in turn boost wealth generation in the entire region.