South Africa has large tracts of underutilised land suitable for biofuel crops, Raoul Goosen, the Industrial Development Corporation’s (IDC) specialist in green industries, said this week at a presentation by Uhuru Energy, a biogas company co-operating with IDC on several projects.

Mr Goosen said the Department of Energy and the Southern African Biogas Industry Association were working together on an incentive scheme for biogas, which was expected to be in place by next year.

Biogas for electricity generation

Uhuru founder David Sonnenberg said although South Africa had small natural gas resources, biomethane produced from the conversion of biogas from feedstocks such as manure, sewage and crops could be used in the same way as natural gas for electricity generation, heating and transport.

Mr Sonnenberg said the Department of Energy had allocated only 1%, or 16MW, of its renewable power target to biogas. But if it were to allocate the 9,600MW it had targeted for nuclear power to biogas instead, this would require only a 300,000ha area to grow the feedstock and would create 300,000 permanent jobs.

Sonnenberg added that biofuels plants were adapted to use crops available in the vicinity, and in South Africa those could include succulents, spekboom and moringa, which needed little water and could be harvested year-round.

IDC investment

The IDC has financed several biogas schemes, at dairies, piggeries and an abattoir, and an 8MW plant at South African Calcium Carbine in Newcastle, Mr Goosen said.

IDC’s Goosen said the national financial institution had achieved its target of investing ZAR5 billion (US$472 million) a year in green energy projects and this portfolio is now about ZAR15 billion (US$1.4 billion).